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NHL Season Preview: Burning Questions For Each Atlantic Division Team

Last season in the Atlantic Division, there were some ups (Montreal starting 9-0-0) and some downs (Montreal not even making the playoffs, injuries to P.K. Subban and Carey Price, etc). The Florida Panthers would come out of nowhere to capture the Atlantic Division title. The Tampa bay Lightning, who finished second in the division in back-to-back seasons, would once again make a run for Lord Stanley’s Cup only to fall short.

Subban has moved on from Montreal, and in his place is Shea Webber. Nikita Kucherov is still without a contract as the Lightning once again return at least 90 percent of the roster from a season ago. Toronto continues their rebuilding phase behind head coach Mike Babbcock, while the Panthers look to build off of last season’s division title. Buffalo will also continue rebuilding and heading back in the right direction, while Detroit, Ottawa, and Boston could be looking at seasons in transition.

Where does your favorite team fit in to this season preview? Scroll down to find out. If your teams name is in, bold then they will be making the playoffs this season.

Atlantic Division Champion

Tampa Bay Lightning

Last Season

Wins

Losses

OT

Points

46

31

5

97

This season

Wins

Losses

OT

Points

50

25

7

107

Burning Question:  Will Nikita Kucherov suit up with the Lightning this season?

This Lightning have not been without some form of distraction since they were in the Stanley Cup Final against the Chicago Blackhawks in 2015. Heading into last offseason, the question was whether or not Lightning GM Steve Yzerman get upcoming free agent Steven Stamkos signed before the season. Flash forward to the end of the 2015-2016 season, Stamkos nearly became a free agent before Yzerman swooped in at the midnight hour to sign him.

 Now the Lightning face a similar situation with star winger Nikita Kucherov. With less than a week until the Lightning take the ice for the 2016-2017 season, a deal still hasn’t been reached, although there has been some chatter that both sides could be getting close.

 The Bolts will handle themselves accordingly with or without Kucherov, but I’d be remiss to say he isn’t a huge X-factor. On top of that, will superstar goalie Ben Bishop even be around if the Lightning make another deep playoff run?

 While there are a ton of things hanging over the Lightning organization they still have all the tools to conquer the Atlantic Division.

2nd Place

Montreal Canadiens

Last Season

Wins

Losses

OT

Points

38

38

6

82

This season

Wins

Losses

OT

Points

44

27

11

99

Burning Question:  Can Carey Price stay healthy?

Montreal comes into this season with high expectations following a severely disappointing 2015-2016 campaign. The team started off 9-0-0, but before long couldn’t, the wheels fell off and they finished 13th in the Eastern Conference. Carey Price and P.K. Subban went down with injuries, and the Canadiens were never able to recover. Subban is now gone, sent to the Nashville Predators in a shocking one-for-one trade for fellow All-Star defenseman Shea Weber. The Habs also acquired forward Andrew Shaw in a trade with Chicago and signed former Predator forward Alexander Radulov as a free agent after he spent time in the KHL the last few years, while also trading away center Lars Eller to Washington.  Most importantly for them, Price is back and should help the team make it back to the playoffs. However, Montreal won’t make it very far in their quest for the Stanley Cup in 2016-2017.

3rd place

Florida Panthers

Last Season

Wins

Losses

OT

Points

47

26

9

103

This season

Wins

Losses

OT

Points

40

29

13

93

Burning Question:  Can the Panthers continue the magic from last season?

Last season the Panthers ruled supreme in the Atlantic Division, but this season they won’t be able to sneak up on anyone. Jaromir Jagr continues to defy age when he netted 66 points last season at the age of 44. Derek McKenzie will be the new captain for the team and Jonathan Huberdeau will miss 3-4 months with a lower body injury. Up-and-coming center Nick Bjugstad will also miss time at the beginning of the season with an injury as well. Florida revamped their front office this offseason, and after losing defenseman Brian Campbell in free agency, they added Keith Yandle and Jason Demers in free agency to bolster their blue line, while also adding backup goalie James Reimer and signing Aaron Ekblad to a massive multi-year extension. This is a team with an old goalie in Roberto Luongo and great young skaters, and while this season they will return to the playoffs, the result will ultimately be the same as last season. Luongo will also need to once again reach into the fabled fountain of youth to help lead this team into the postseason.

4th Place

Toronto Maple Leafs (Wild Card)

Last Season

Wins

Losses

OT

Points

29

42

11

69

This season

Wins

Losses

OT

Points

38

31

11

91

Burning Question:  Can the Leafs’ talent come together this quickly?

Yup, you read that right. I am as shocked as anyone by placing the Maple Leafs this high in my rankings. But I believe Mike Babcock will find his way back to the playoffs with a young Maple Leafs team, although they I don’t think their postseason run will last very long. This team will be built around prospects Auston Matthews, the first pick in the 2016 draft, William Nylander, and Mitch Marner, who will join Nazem Kadri and James van Riemsdyk up front. On the blue line, Morgan Reilly and Jake Gardiner will lead the way, although they’ll need some help from goalie Frederik Andersen, who was acquired in an offseason trade with Anaheim. The job is Andersen’s to lose, and it’ll be interesting to see how he holds up under the pressure of being a number-one goalie. This is a team similar to Tampa Bay in that they are building for the long-term, and I believe they will shock the media and the fans this season.

5th place

Detroit Red Wings

Last Season

Wins

Losses

OT

Points

41

30

11

93

This season

Wins

Losses

OT

Points

40

35

7

87

Burning Question: Will the Wings’ playoff streak come to an end?

Down goes the mighty Red Wings. Their 25-year streak of making the playoffs will officially end this season.  Pavel Datsyuk leaving will affect the Red Wings more than they ever thought. While the team still has numerous veterans that can carry the torch from Datsyuk, the goalie situation and their defensive corps will be their ultimate downfall. Petr Mrazek and Jimmy Howard have shown flashes of being good goalies in this league, but not enough for me to say they can be the backbone needed for this team. The blue line is even worse, as Niklas Kronwall is coming off injury and is getting older, while Jonathan Ericsson and Danny DeKeyser make far more money than what they’re worth. While Dylan Larkin is going to be a star, there’s not enough players like him on the roster that can put the puck in the net. They’re also going to have to swing a major trade if they want to beef up their blue line, as the team has virtually no salary cap space.

6th Place

Ottawa Senators

Last Season

Wins

Losses

OT

Points

38

35

9

85

This season

Wins

Losses

OT

Points

39

33

9

87

Burning Question:  Can Craig Anderson rebound and give the Senators a chance to make a playoff push?

This is a team ripe for a rebuilding phase, but one that is stuck in hockey purgatory. Not good enough to be a playoff team, but not horrible enough to own a top-five draft pick. The Senators are a team that’s very top-heavy, as they have one of the best defenseman in the league in Erik Karlsson, but their defensive corps as a whole is below average. They have some talented forwards in their top six, including Mike Hoffman (29 goals), Mark Stone, Kyle Turris, Bobby Ryan, and the newly-acquired Derrick Brassard. They’ll need Craig Anderson to step up in the crease, as his numbers were very average last season. If he regains his form, Ottawa could make a playoff push. But their defensemen will have to step up their game, as the Sens allowed more shots on goal than any other team in the league while also having the second-worst penalty killing unit. This team needs an influx of young talent to get back to the top of the standings in the Atlantic, but that’s not going to happen this season.

7th Place

Buffalo Sabres

Last Season

Wins

Losses

OT

Points

35

36

11

81

This season

Wins

Losses

OT

Points

37

32

13

85

Burning Question:  Will the Sabres’ goaltending hold up over the course of the season?

The Sabres are trending in the right direction with a combination of youth and veteran talent. During the offseason, they added prize free agent forward Kyle Okposo to step right into one of their top two lines. Expect second-year phenom Jack Eichel to continue to grow into one of the top young players in the game, while Ryan O’Reilly, Sam Reinhart, and Tyler Ennis should help carry the load offensively. In the next few years, depending on how well they continue to draft, this could one day turn into a scary team. My only concern with this team is the goaltending. Robin Lehner and Linus Ullmark are the only two goalies currently on the roster. Last season they two combined for 13 wins and 19 losses in 41 games played, as Lehner missed a lot of time to injuries. Chad Johnson filled in for him admirably, but he left as a free agent for Calgary. Buffalo can potentially score a tons of goals per game, but if Lehner can’t rebound and stay healthy, it could be a long season in Buffalo.

8th Place

Boston Bruins

Last Season

Wins

Losses

OT

Points

42

31

9

93

This season

Wins

Losses

OT

Points

37

33

12

84

Burning Question:  Can Tuukka Rask overcome a below-average defensive corps to help this team get back to the playoffs?

It was tempting to put Buffalo here, but in the end, I have the Bruins as the worst team in the Atlantic Division. Zdeno Chara is getting old…. I know, news flash right? To say the Bruins captain has lost a step would be an understatement. Tuukka Rask isn’t the same guy he was a few years ago despite still putting up decent numbers. This is potentially a good team that will struggle all season long even with three 30-goal scorers (Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and Loui Eriksson) last season. Eriksson left as a free agent, replaced by former Blues captain David Backes. Backes should provide some offense and a physical edge, but he’s also 32. His new contract could become a problem in a few years. Defensively, Chara isn’t the player he once was, and even though Torey Krug can provide some offense from the blue line, the rest of the defensive corps doesn’t inspire a lot of confidence. The Bruins will again struggle to keep the puck out of their net and will need to score a lot of goals just to keep up. This team will need to start rebuilding sooner than later.

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