By: Brennen Krikorian
We are less than two months away from the start of the 2019-2020 NHL season and it couldn’t come soon enough. While there is no way of predicting which teams will exceed expectations or underperform throughout the season, I will have my predictions of how each division will shape up this season here on Edge Sports Network. Let’s start with the Atlantic Division.
*Italicized Names = Playoff Teams*
1) Tampa Bay Lightning (2018-19 Record: 62-16-4, 128 Points)
The Tampa Bay Lightning are looking to build on what was both their best, and most disappointing season in recent memory. During the regular season, Tampa Bay seemed unstoppable, winning an NHL record-tying 62 games. They posted a scoring differential of 98, which was more than 30 goals higher than the next best team.
However, the playoffs were a completely different story. They made a quiet exit as they were swept by a Columbus team that barely made the playoffs.
This season, they bring back much of their star-studded roster with the hopes of going much further in the playoffs and making a legitimate run at the Stanley Cup.
Players such as reigning MVP Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos lead the high scoring offense. Reigning Norris Trophy finalist Victor Hedman, young star Mikhail Sergachev, and recently acquired Kevin Shattenkirk create a strong anchor on defense. Vezina Trophy winner Andrei Vasilevskiy looks to continue his dominance between the pipes.
Depending on whether or not current restricted free agent Brayden Point re-signs, this team looks to be an early favorite to win a Stanley Cup.
2) Toronto Maple Leafs (2018-19 Record: 46-28-8, 106 Points)
It seems like every year the Maple Leafs create the same storylines.
Will this be the year Toronto lives up to the hype? Every year it’s been the same disappointing result. Toronto has been the victim of three straight first-round exits, with the two most recent ones coming at the hands of the Boston Bruins.
Head coach Mike Babcock and GM Kyle Dubas have solidified a talented, win-now roster led by the superstar center tandem of John Tavares and Auston Matthews, as well as All-Star goaltender Frederik Andersen. However, while trying to win sooner rather than later, Toronto made the decision to re-sign William Nylander at the beginning of last season. At the time it may have been a good idea, but it has now left them no cap space to sign arguably their best player in Mitch Marner.
The current team in Toronto should have no problem succeeding in the regular season purely because of talent. Should Marner remain unsigned throughout the season and into the playoffs, the Maple Leafs may be looking at a fourth straight first-round exit.
3) Florida Panthers (2018-19 Season: 36-32-14, 86 Points)
After years of mediocrity, it looks like this may be the year that the Florida Panthers become relevant. With the fantastic off-season that Florida had, look for both GM Dale Tallon and head coach Joel Quenneville to be early favorites for GM of the Year and Coach of the Year.
Tallon took what was an already talented group of players and filled in the holes through both free agency and the draft. Adding forward Noel Acciari from Boston and blue-liner Anton Stralman from Tampa Bay provides this team with strong depth and a winning mentality that can rub off on the rest of the team.
They also fixed their goaltending issue substantially by signing arguably the best goalie in the league, Sergei Bobrovsky, and used their first-round draft pick on the National Team Development Program goalie Spencer Knight, who has the potential to be a future superstar.
This team is not only talented, but also incredibly young. Their projected top-line consists of proven NHL star Aleksander Barkov (23), the elite duo of Jonathan Huberdeau (26) and Vincent Trocheck (26), and former first overall pick Aaron Ekblad (23) manning the back end.
The Florida bandwagon is coming, and it doesn’t look like it’s going anywhere for a few years.
4) Boston Bruins (2018-19 Record: 49-24-9, 107 Points)
It’s hard to imagine that after being just one game away from winning the Stanley Cup, the Bruins will potentially be fighting for a Wild Card spot.
Unfortunately, that looks to be the reality of the situation. They took some big losses in free agency, headlined by Marcus Johansson’s departure to Buffalo and Noel Acciari leaving for Florida. While these two aren’t franchise changers, they both proved to be important pieces during the playoffs last season.
This Bruins team is obviously full of talent, but the majority of their key players are not getting any younger as they enter the back end of their careers. It is still likely that Boston has enough talent to compete this season and be successful, but the Bruins might be sellers at the deadline if they start the season poorly. If it gets to that point, it might just be time to rebuild around David Pastrnak and Charlie McAvoy.
5) Montreal Canadiens (2018-19 Record: 44-30-8, 96 Points)
For the past few seasons, it seems like Montreal has always been close to breaking through, but they have never been able to capitalize.
Since the 2014-2015 season, the Canadiens have only made the playoffs once, but were knocked out in the first-round. Their destiny this year might very well be the same.
Their aging defense and tough division might be too much to handle this season for the NHL’s most decorated franchise. However, it’s not all bad news for Montreal.
Players like Max Domi, Jonathan Drouin, and Tomas Tatar are looking to build off impressive seasons with the goal of becoming elite forwards. GM Marc Bergevin has also obtained plenty of draft picks this year with the hopes of pairing those picks with Jesperi Kotkaniemi, last year’s third overall draft pick. Stockpiling these picks could lead to one of the best young teams in the league. If Carey Price is able to remain elite for a few more years, Montreal’s best days may be ahead of them.
6) Buffalo Sabres (2018-19 Record: 33-39-10, 76 Points)
Due to the Carolina Hurricanes making the playoffs last season, the Buffalo Sabres now currently hold the longest playoff drought in the NHL.
The Sabres showed glimpses of good hockey this past season, including Jeff Skinner’s incredible 40-goal season that allowed him to sign an 8yr/$72 million deal. Buffalo also saw strong showings from franchise cornerstones Casey Mittelstadt, Jack Eichel and Rasmus Dahlin, but they were ultimately unable to perform well enough to earn a Wild Card spot.
They have the overall talent and youth to develop into a playoff team down the road, but with no cap space and more than half their team entering the final year of their contracts, the Sabres may not be returning to the playoffs for quite some time.
7) Ottawa Senators (2018-19 Record: 29-47-6, 64 Points)
There is no question that the Ottawa Senators have embraced a full rebuild to their organization.
In the past two years they have traded big time players like Ryan Dzingel and Matt Duchene, as well as their biggest trade last September with Erik Karlsson. GM Pierre Dorion’s plan for this team is simple. Draft and develop. So far, he has done good job in that department.
Ottawa was able to draft a young stars Thomas Chabot and Colin White in 2015. More recently, they used their 4th overall pick on fan favorite Brady Tkachuk in 2018. Tkachuk will pair alongside his best friend in juniors and Michigan standout Josh Norris, who the Senators received in the Karlsson trade.
The youth and potential are there for Ottawa, but right now it looks like the Senators will have to wait to compete. Hopefully they can add another top pick in this year’s draft to speed up the rebuild.
8) Detroit Red Wings (2018-19 Record: 32-40-10, 74 Points)
The Red Wings made one of the most underrated moves of the entire off-season, hiring NHL legend Steve Yzerman to take over as their GM. He is definitely going to have his work cut out for him due to the fact that the Red Wings have one of the oldest teams in the league that includes a defensive corps whose average age is over 29-years-old.
While their defense may be weak, their offense has some serious potential.
Forwards Dylan Larkin and Andreas Athanasiou are two of the fastest players in the league, which will be crucial if the defense isn’t able to hold up in their zone. They also made the most shocking selection in the draft by taking German defenseman Moritz Seider with the sixth overall pick.
Detroit has a lot to work to do before they become relevant again, but it seems like they have the right man for the job in Yzerman.
Cover Photo via: Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images
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