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The wonderful world of the Atlantic Division Part 2: Fighting for the top spot

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Can the Leafs call themselves number one?

NHL: Toronto Maple Leafs at Florida Panthers Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports

Part one of the Wonderful World of the Atlantic included an early look at the teams expected to be at the beginning of the barrel in the Ottawa Senators, Buffalo Sabres, and Montreal Canadiens. Part two will cover the squads in the upper realm of the division...except for these guys.

Detroit Red Wings (17-18 Record: 30-39-13 (73 points), Finished 5th)

They’re supposed to be rebuilding, right?

Notable Additions

  • Filip Zadina
  • Jonathan Bernier
  • Thomas Vanek

Notable Subtractions

  • Henrik Zetterberg

The magical number here folks is 10 as that is the number of players with no-trade clauses on the Red Wings’ books. Detroit had some minor personnel losses, but Zetterberg is the biggest one on multiple fronts. He’s been the captain of the Red Wings for the last seven years and his presence will be missed.

Take this to mind for a moment: Zetterberg has been dealing with these back issues for some time now. And despite that, he still managed to put up at least 50 points over the course of four years. Pretty impressive if you ask me. But now it looks like the role of leader, both on and off the ice, has been placed on the shoulders of Dylan Larkin.

The 22-year-old nearly doubled his production from the 16/17 season with 16 goals and 43 points last year after making the transition to centre. A lot of those assists came off of Anthony Mantha goals, and he finally seemed to hit his stride after being hyped up for so many years. With a shiny new $30.5 million contract, Larkin will be looked upon to be a consistent top performer for Detroit. But he won’t be the only player on the team with expectations.

Enter Filip Zadina, the NHL prospect who most likely has the biggest chip on his shoulder after being passed by Montreal, Ottawa, and Arizona falling to the sixth overall pick. Zadina established himself as a dynamic weapon with the Halifax Mooseheads and is on a mission to prove those two teams wrong. This tweet says it all:

There’s a familiar name for Leafs fans joining Detroit, as Johnny Berns is back in the east. Ironically, he may be in a similar position he was in the last time around with Jimmy Howard not likely to give up his spot freely. Whether Howard’s play can back up that intention is another story. His numbers have fallen every year, and that contract (with a clause mind you) is most likely the the driving force behind what’s kept him in Detroit. But goaltending issues in Detroit aren’t a new thing, Petr Mrazek wasn’t the greatest and he was shipped over to Philadelphia last year.

Speaking of shipping — should we start the countdown on Vanek’s eventual trade now? The well-travelled veteran chose to take a victory lap with the Red Wings and most likely slides into the top nine somewhere. Perhaps he gives Kenny Holland a pick or two at the deadline.

Prospects wise, it’ll be interesting to see if Michael Rasmussen and Filip Hronek can push through and make the team. Rasmussen brings a lot of size to his game at 6’6” and looked like a beast for the Tri-City Americans in the playoffs with 33 points in 14 games. Hronek had a good season as well in the AHL, but could easily be sent back for another one in Grand Rapids.

But considering the other names on the Red Wings’ blueline, they may want to give him a long look at camp.

Florida Panthers (17-18 Record: 44-30-8 (96 points), Finished 4th)

If the Panthers had a theme song, it would be So Close by Shawn Hook

Notable Additions

  • Mike Hoffman
  • Bogdan Kiselevich
  • Michael Hutchinson

Not much to unpack here. Florida always seems to be right there in the remaining weeks of the season, something goes awry and they miss. Their core, made up of Aleksander Barkov, Vincent Trochek, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Aaron Ekblad, have been together for a couple of years and don’t have much playoff stories to share. Maybe this is the year where things finally work out in their favour.

The offence got a boost with the addition of Hoffman, giving Florida a pretty dangerous top six. Additionally, 2016 first-round pick Henrik Borgstrom looks to be a candidate to slide in as the third line centre. He’s got some dangling skills which could potentially translate well to the NHL, but playing centre isn’t easy. That said, there aren’t too many concerns as to what kind of impact he can have in his rookie season.

The blueline is roughly the same save for Kiselevich who signed out of the KHL. I don’t know too much about him, but I hear he can make a pretty first-pass.

Now this is the part where I sound like a broken record because Florida’s goaltending is make-or-break for them. Roberto Luongo put up some solid numbers last season. He’s also 39 and has a tendency to miss time due to injury. James Reimer is an okay backup (haha see what I did there), but has proved time and time again that he can’t take up the number one mantle for too long.

Tampa Bay Lighting (17-18 Record: 54-23-5 (113 points), Finished 1st)

Best team in the NHL on paper? Maybe, probably, yeah.

Notable Additions

  • They’re stacked
  • Nikita Kucherov’s extension
  • Artemi Panarin if the TAMPA-ring falls into place

Notable Subtractions

  • Uhhh Steve Yzerman as GM?

The Lighting are heading into the season as the team to compete for the Stanley Cup, again. The core of the team is still strong with Steven Stamkos, a signed J.T. Miller, Unfair Kucherov, Victor Hedman, Andrei Vasilevskiy, and McDonagh. They are what they are. An energetic team who plays with speed and should keep you on your toes at all times.

There are also players in line to take a step forward. Brayden Point had a fantastic year that isn’t talked about too much, after scoring 32 goals and 34 assists. His reliable play defensively was another thing to notice from the season.

The other surprisingly big contribution last year came from Mikhail Sergachev, who Tampa acquired from Montreal in exchange for Drouin. With how the left side on D already looks, he is most likely to be on the bottom pair with Brayden Coborn. But no biggy considering the other names there.

Vasilevskiy is coming off a Vezina-nominated season going 44-17-3 with a .920 Sv%. There were moments in the year where fatigue looked to be a serious factor, but he managed to work through it and be a go-to option down the stretch. The athleticism is something that stands out the most about Vasilevskiy, as well as his flexibility. It led to a good deal of highlight reel saves, including this one:

There’s been a fun little debate as to who is the deeper team between the Lightning and the Leafs. Subjectively I’d say, “Ha! Foolish discussion. The answer is obvious.” Taking away some of the bias though it probably falls in Tampa’s court. That can change depending how well the Leafs look, but name-depth and performance-depth are two different things.

Either way, Tampa will be one of the Leafs main competition to claim top spot in the division. The second team being...

Boston Bruins (17-18 Record: 50-20-12 (112 points), Finished 2nd)

There are not enough words to describe the feelings towards you, Bruins.

Notable Additions

  • Stephen Kampfer
  • Jaroslav Halak
  • John Moore

Notable Subtractions

  • Rick Nash
  • Riley Nash

Not much is different with the Bruins heading into the 18-19 seasons. They’ll still have Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak as their top line, Tuukka Rask is still going to be their number one, and Charlie McAvoy may push Zdeno Chara to another contract. All jokes aside, Boston has been doing a good job in adding youth to their core. Players such as Jake Debrusk and Danton Heinen contributed nicely to the team, and there’s an expectation that Ryan Danoto will be the next one.

With Riley Nash joining the Columbus Blue Jackets, there is a hole on the third line. That may go to 21-year-old Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson if he’s ready for the role.

After Chara and McAvoy, the defence falls to Torey Krug, Brendan Carlo, Kevan Miller and free agent signing John Moore. The Adam McQuaid trade could allow Carlo to get more minutes on the second pairing next to Krug leaving Moore to man the bottom pair with Miller. And maybe Kampfer has something to say about the shape of the blueline.

Boston may not have as strong expectations to contend for a Cup as Tampa, but there’s a strong belief they can cause a stir in the regular season. Can they beat out the Leafs for second or higher in the division?

I’ll leave the question in your hands for now? Although Leafs fans are excited to see what happens in the playoffs, taking the division would be a solid boost heading into the post-season.

Poll

Who wins the Atlantic Division this season?

This poll is closed

  • 50%
    Toronto Maple Leafs
    (395 votes)
  • 44%
    Tampa Bay Lightning
    (354 votes)
  • 5%
    Boston Bruins
    (40 votes)
789 votes total Vote Now

If you think one of the other seven can be the Vegas Golden Knights of the Atlantic and win the thing, let us know in the comments.