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What to expect from last season’s top half of the Atlantic Division in 2022-23


After I kicked off my return to hockey writing final week, I began with what I discovered to be some of the fascinating pockets of the league: that may be the 4 groups that have been the dregs of the Atlantic Division in 2021-22.

There was a transparent divide between the division’s eight groups, with 4 (Florida, Toronto, Tampa Bay and Boston) being within the league’s top-10 with 107 factors or extra, and the opposite 4 (Montreal, Ottawa, Detroit and Buffalo) within the league’s backside quarter, ending over 30 factors from a playoff spot.

These backside groups, nonetheless, had aggressive summers, apparently aiming to truly win hockey video games within the close to future. I count on every of them to be higher and at roughly the identical time – which I discover fascinating – and so I wrote as a lot.

What that article failed to say was that the opposite backside groups being higher on the identical time clearly hurts one another’s possibilities of taking a step up the standings. A group getting solely just a little higher would possibly really see that group fail to maintain tempo and fall additional behind.

It additionally did not point out what to make of the groups who have been as soon as Cup contenders, who noticed themselves eradicated from playoffs within the first spherical (Leafs), second (Panthers and Bruins), and Cup Last (Lightning).

Will the Division be as sturdy? Are any of these groups considerably higher, or weaker?

The solutions right here could have a giant say in whether or not the underside 4 groups have an opportunity to catch anybody, and if any of those groups have an opportunity to catch Colorado and really win the Cup.

There was no scarcity of strikes, and every roster appears to be like totally different. Let’s get into how, beginning with the group that went farthest within the playoffs, and dealing our manner again.

Tampa Bay Lightning

I do not suppose there’s a lot of a case to be made that the Lightning are going to be “higher” in 2022-23.

That does not imply they will not be formidable, however wage cap considerations price them Ondrej Palat, who’s been a type of sneaky “subsequent layer” gamers after the celebs who’ve contributed huge worth to their Cup runs. He tied for the group lead in playoff objectives this previous run with 11.

Additionally they traded Ryan McDonagh to Nashville (for D-man Phillippe Myers, and ahead prospect Grant Mismash), and all McDonagh did final 12 months was end second on the group in ice time all through their playoff run, averaging 22:26 per recreation. On high of that, the Bolts misplaced Jan Ruuta to the Penguins, who had repeatedly been paired with Victor Hedman over the previous couple of seasons.

Nonetheless, what they did, was guarantee they saved their most significant items.

They prolonged Mikhail Sergachev and Erik Cernak and Anthony Cirelli for eight years every. Additionally they prolonged Nick Paul for seven years, and count on extra from 24-year-old Brandon Hagel whom they acquired on the deadline. They’ve nonetheless bought Steven Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Level, Hedman and Andrei Vasilevskiy. They added Vlad Namestnikov to choose up a few of the slack, they usually suppose there’s extra there from younger guys like Ross Colton and Cal Foote.

What I see is a rattling good, confirmed group with the kind of core that ensures they’re going to be aggressive, and as soon as once more, hell to place away within the playoffs.

However roster-wise they’re most likely a small proportion worse, they usually will not have Cirelli or Zach Bogosian till about December on account of shoulder surgical procedures. Quite a few their gamers would have spent the beginning of the low season rehabbing, together with Brayden Level. I believe there’s the chance there – after three straight Cup last runs for a slower begin to the season.

Florida Panthers

The reigning President’s Trophy champs took the other street from our subsequent group, the Toronto Maple Leafs: after a crushing post-season defeat, they traded out a vital core piece and flipped the look of their roster totally.

Their model of “going for it” says they did not consider in the way in which they have been constructed final 12 months. Jonathan Huberdeau was fifth in Hart Trophy voting, and was shipped out alongside D-man MacKenzie Weegar, who put up over 40 factors from the back-end.

You solely do one thing so drastic in case you consider totally in what’s coming the opposite manner, and what’s coming again to them in Matthew Tkachuk, who had over 100 factors final 12 months to go along with a extra bodily edge (a deciding issue, for my part, is why they valued him over Huberdeau).

So it is Huberdeau out, Weegar out, Mason Marchment signed with Dallas, Claude Giroux signed with Ottawa, and Ben Chiarot signed with Detroit. With these names gone, they’ve added Colin White, Nick Cousins, Marc Staal, Anthony Bitetto and Michael Del Zotto (the latter two spent a while within the AHL final season).

Tkachuk is a particular participant getting into his prime and an exquisite addition. Perhaps that makes them higher, or not less than totally different, than a one-for-one swap with Huberdeau. After that, it is nearly unimaginable to argue they’ve improved this low season (which might have been awfully laborious after profitable the President’s Trophy and the wage cap current).

There’s nonetheless a ton of expertise right here and an excellent group. However they bought career-year output from various gamers final season (objective highs from Barkov, 39, Bennett, 28, Reinhart, 33, Verhaeghe, 24, and Duclair, 31, the latter of whom could miss many of the common season with an Achilles tear).

Nearly all the pieces went proper. Like Tampa, I would say if something, they’re a couple of proportion factors worse when simply assessing their roster.

It will be as much as arguably their largest addition – head coach Paul Maurice – to make sure they’re constructed not only for common season success, however for the playoffs.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Regardless of the howls and yowls from blood-thirsty jowls round Ontario, the Leafs are runnin’ it again, child. Nothing might probably go fallacious.

Reverse the Panthers, there’s apparently front-office perception on this core of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, John Tavares, William Nylander and Morgan Rielly.

The Leafs are coming off 54 wins, ending fourth within the common season, earlier than placing collectively a first-round efficiency heralded by many as “totally different” regardless of the identical consequence because the earlier 5 playoffs – a first-round knockout.

The Leafs lose beginning goaltender Jack Campbell, who was both spectacular or atrocious, relying on which half of the season you cherry-pick, and Ilya Mikheyev, who was an impactful supplementary participant for the Leafs.

In return, the roster additions look one thing much like the season earlier than, the place the Leafs bought a seize bag of low cost gamers in hopes that somebody is ready to get away and have success.

Calle Jarnkrok is a dependable addition at an inexpensive worth, though not likely a needle-mover. Adam Gaudette is a possible break-out participant with some upside, and there is hope that the dash-gang of Nicolas Aubel-Kubel and Zach Aston-Reese can present a extra high-energy, bodily take a look at the underside of the lineup, the place the Leafs have usually housed older or punchier gamers. (If these guys hope to stay because the fourth-line guys, “sprint gang” higher seek advice from their final names solely.)

The most important change is that with Campbell gone, and Petr Mrazek dealt to Chicago, the group has positioned its bets on a bounce-back for Matt Murray (who’s coming off a .906 save proportion season, his finest 12 months since 2018-19), and Ilya Samsonov, who was an .896 final 12 months.

Murray is simply 28, but it surely’s laborious to search out many believers that he’ll be the man to take this group over the mountain, and Samsonov looks like a lottery ticket at finest (although with the shortage of different choices, it looks like they picked one of the best out there lottery ticket, not less than).

What the Leafs do have going for them is that final 12 months, of the 16 groups who made the playoffs, just one had a group save proportion worse than Toronto’s .899 (22n.d within the NHL). The group was good with out goaltending to start with.

If Murray and Samsonov are simply OK, the Leafs must be too.

The room for inside enchancment appears small. The core was wonderful final season, and when it comes to prospects on the way in which, solely Matthew Knies after his faculty season (or mayyyybe Nick Robertson?) strike as gamers who may very well be instantly impactful.

And so it goes: The Leafs have been excellent, and offered good well being can be excellent once more. They consider that in the event that they bang their head towards the door lengthy sufficient with this group, ultimately the rattling factor will open. And it could! It could, or they could concuss themselves within the course of and quit as soon as and for all. Keep tuned.

Boston Bruins

The Boston Bruins of tomorrow will look extra just like the Boston Bruins of previous, as each Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci have returned to offer a one-two punch down the center. The most recent face round can be behind the bench, as Bruce Cassidy was let go in favor of Jim Montgomery. Nonetheless, the core and tradition of that group ought to persist given Bergeron, Krejci, Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and Charlie McAvoy are all returning.

The Bruins’ largest query mark previous their growing old core is a giant one: can they survive the primary few months? Marchand had surgical procedure on each hips, and can be out till not less than December, and McAvoy had shoulder surgical procedure, protecting him out simply as lengthy. Matt Grzelcyk had work on his proper shoulder too, which is able to preserve him out till not less than November.

This feels just like the Islanders’ state of affairs final 12 months: the group had a brutal street journey whereas their new area was being completed (after which instantly COVID) to start out the 12 months, and the vibe was that if they may simply tread water lengthy sufficient, they ‘d be high-quality as soon as they bought to have some dwelling video games and get wholesome. However for the Isles, the season was too far gone earlier than they may get there.

There isn’t any scarcity of expertise on the Bruins. It will nonetheless be Bergeron and Pastrnak and Taylor Corridor and Krejci and Hampus Lindholm supplemented by guys like Charlie Coyle and Jake DeBrusk and Brandon Carlo.

Between Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark, I count on somebody to provide them saves. They will not all of the sudden be unhealthy, but it surely does really feel prefer it may very well be a wrestle at instances within the early going. They will want a superb 12 months from Nick Foligno, and perhaps one thing from Pavel Zacha, and some D-men to exceed expectations.

They have been the final group of the “large 4” within the Atlantic Division this previous season. I would count on them there once more, and if anybody from the underside rises up, I would think about the Bruins are the primary group they’re hoping to trace down.

What this implies for the remaining

There’s excellent news in right here for the underside groups within the Atlantic. I can not see a single group within the high half of the group that appears poised to be higher, and that is not precisely a knock.

We’re on the level the place with years of a flat wage cap, the groups who’ve been aggressive and attempting to win Cups are having their hardest time retaining deep rosters. Because the expertise has gotten shorn off the highest like a bartender clearing foam from a recent pint, a few of the great things has fallen to the groups down beneath.

It is one factor to rise to the highest, however staying there within the NHL’s present financial surroundings is sort of unimaginable. That is mirrored in one of the best of this division, and with that, the video games must be aggressive and nearer than ever.

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