Throughout this week, while the rest of the NHL gets into game action and the Capitals impatiently await Saturday’s season opener against the New Jersey Devils, we’ll take a look at how we think the Eastern and Western Conference standings will shake out and which team will sip from the Stanley Cup next June.
Today, we predict how the Atlantic Division will shake out:
1. Tampa Bay Lightning
Steven Stamkos scored 43 goals last season and should be closer to 50 this season with talented forwards Tyler Johnson, Ondrej Palat and Nikita Kucherov around him. Ben Bishop proved himself in the playoffs last spring but it’s always harder to get to the Final the second time around.
2. Montreal Canadiens
The Habs had the best goaltender (Carey Price) and one of the most dynamic defensemen (P.K. Subban) in the NHL last season, but lost to the Lightning in the second round of the playoffs. So they went out and signed former Caps sniper Alex Semin to a one-year deal and acquired Zack Kassian from Vancouver.
3. Detroit Red Wings
With Jeff Blashill behind the bench, Mike Green on the blue line and Brad Richards down the middle, the Red Wings made some significant additions over the summer to a veteran team that leans too heavily on veteran Pavel Datsyuk, who is coming off ankle surgery.
4. Florida Panthers
With veteran right wing Jaromir Jagr, 43, and goaltender Roberto Luongo, 36, the Panthers are hoping some veteran leadership will help speed the development of talented defenseman Aaron Ekblad and young forwards Jonathan Huberdeau, Nick Bjugstad and Aleksander Barkov. But can they squeak into the playoffs?
5. Boston Bruins
The Bruins didn’t just fire general manager Peter Chiarelli, they gutted their roster by trading Milan Lucic, Dougie Hamilton and Reilly Smith and seeing Carl Soderberg sign with Colorado. That puts a lot of pressure on Patrice Bergeron and Tuukka Rask to keep the Bruins afloat.
6. Buffalo Sabres
The excitement over newcomers Jack Eichel, Evander Kane and Ryan O’Reilly, along with new head coach Dan Bylsma, has the fans in Buffalo thinking playoffs. That’s probably a stretch for a team that finished last in the NHL last season, but it will be a lot more difficult coming out of Buffalo with two points.
7. Ottawa Senators
Andrew Hammond came out of nowhere to lead the Senators on a late-season run that fell just short last season and Hammond will be hard-pressed to live up to last year’s hype. The Sens have one of the league’s top offensive defensemen in Erik Karlsson, but will need more from Bobby Ryan (18 goals) if they hope to beat out Florida and/or Boston for a playoff spot.
8. Toronto Maple Leafs
Mike Babcock can coach, but he can’t score goals and without Phil Kessel the Leafs are going to have a tough time finding the back of the net. James van Riemsdyk and Nazem Kadri will do their part but the Leafs are in rebuild mode and are a long shot to get into the playoffs.