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Will Boston be able to handle the up-and-coming Atlantic Division?

The home division’s got teams on the rise, and Boston should hope to be one of them

Boston Bruins v Montreal Canadiens Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images

Hi there, we’re bringing back the THREAT INDEX.

America’s favorite way to describe teams without too much nuance!

Last year we talked about the NHL divisions and their threat to Boston’s chances of regular season success and a return to the postseason, and indeed if they’d win any of the games against them. And we’re gonna do it all again for this upcoming season, starting with the home division.

The balance of power is shifting for the Atlantic. The Leafs were in some way pretty good last season, a perennial playoff attendee has fallen off the face of the earth, Ottawa’s shown up out of nowhere, Montreal was up and down and looks much worse off after this offseason than they started, Tampa’s getting healthy, Buffalo benefited greatly from an unrelated team panicking...the only team that might be on course this year is Boston, who doesn’t seem to be super bothered by all of this (barring something horrible happening). The Atlantic Division stands to be quite interesting this year.

Without further ado, the THREAT INDEX begins anew!

Buffalo Sabres:

Last Year’s Performance: Last in Division

Key Signings/New Players: Jason Pominville, Phil Housely, Marco Scandella, Benoit Pouliot

Key Leaves: Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno, Dan Bylsma

Bruins record against in 2016: 4-0, season sweep

Assessment: The Sabres were a mess last season.

Hampered by injury, playing a system that made them quite allergic to having any one of their players with the puck or shooting it, defensively a disaster and it eventually culminated in their so-called “star player” getting so frustrated he basically held ownership hostage until they canned their coach. So that happened.

And then the Wild got kicked out of the first round and promptly panicked: They traded Jason Pominville and Marco Scandella to Buffalo for two players that were decidedly mediocre. They gave Robin Lehner a show-me contract. Benoit Pouliot’s back in division with them. They hired Sabres legend and Nashville Asst. Coach Phil Housely to take the reigns, they’re likely to have a full season of Jack Eichel, they filled their depth with solid, if not exactly flashy players and they now have much more even scoring lines than they did a year ago.

One slight problem they continue to face is their defense, which while boosted in the depth, still believes in Rasmus Ristolainen. Now, Ristolainen sure has the frame for top 2 defenseman but he’s....not very good. Like, at all.

How he plays and how it actually ends up effecting Buffalo are completely divorced. To play him as they did in 2016-17 is a tremendous mis-evaluation of the kind of talent he is. Of course, with a new coaching staff, the team could see it fit that he tries to match his 45 point season with a better partner or just in a different pairing altogether.

On paper, the Sabres will likely be looking to join the rest of the teams in the division trying to get into the playoff picture. They definitely got better over this offseason...but how much is based entirely on how Housely gets their system organized.

The danger this team gives is more Cool-Medium than it’s been in years. Finally things are balancing out, the issues of last year seem to have been brushed off as poor luck and poor’s just a matter of whether or not all the new stuff clicks. Or if Robin Lehner can keep it together.

Boston will probably be able to handle them, but they can’t assume it’s an easy 2 points anymore.

Detroit Red Wings

Last Year’s Performance: 2nd-to-last in Division

Key Signings/Players: Trevor Daley

Key Leaves: Possibly Andreas Athanasiou

Bruins record against in 2016: 3-1

Assessment: The Wings are boring. And bad. A lethal combination.

Everything about last season was a dumpster fire of a team that finally couldn’t rest easy on generational talent fixing their woes forever and ever and having no answers as to how to fix it. Now the teams is merely...alright at forward, brutal at defense, and sub-par in goal. They waited too long to fix it and now they’re stuck overpaying on players that in retrospect should’ve been given much lower contracts and much less term as former team favorites like Kronwall and Nyquist have been badly exposed. Things only get worse as one of their few young new talents actually worth a damn is considering Russia as a viable alternative to playing for the Red Wings.

The Wings are bone-chillingly Cold and they’re probably gonna be that way for awhile if Jeff Blashill and Ken Holland’s “quality” leadership has anything to say about it. After seeing Blashill’s handiwork in the world championships, I would be shocked if any Red Wings fan had any faith in the guy’s strategic mind.

Florida Panthers

Last Year’s Performance: 6th in Division

Key Signings: Evgeny Dadonov (technically returning)

Key Leaves: Jaromir Jagr, Reilly Smith, Jonathan Marchessault, Jussi Jokinen...

Bruins record against in 2016: 4-0, season sweep

Assessment: If Detroit’s problems were that they didn’t act soon enough and did too little to actually make a difference, Florida’s problems stem from doing too much, waaaay too fast.

Their injury luck didn’t do them any favors, but losing people in charge then bringing them back then kicking people upstairs has destroyed any opportunity for this team to get used to stable leadership. Making this worse, the team has lost or given up almost every player that had any reasonable impact on getting shots on net or getting goals from last year.

Their next season will have them likely wasting the talents of many of their genuinely good players like Huberdeau and Eckblad in some misguided attempt to “right the ship” by playing a style of hockey that didn’t exactly get them anywhere in years past in a division that’s just getting larger, but also faster and more skilled and way...way better coached. They’ve certainly put some solid scorers into their system, but how long can you ride the hope of them reaching the upper echelons of NHL talent without asking for a decent return for once? How long can you cling to the idea of “Owen Tippett might be fantastic!” before fans get bored or even worse...angry?

It really doesn’t look like this will end up being a good year for the Panthers. They’re Cool, bordering Cold and unless Boughner’s system can end up translating at the NHL level, they’re just gonna get colder.

Montreal Canadiens

Last Year’s Performance: 1st in Division, 2nd round exit

Key Signings: Joe Morrow (the traitor), Ales Hemsky, Jonathan Drouin, Peter Holland

Key Leaves: Almost every center of worth.

Bruins record against in 2016: 2-2

Assessment: You know this team.

As much as I’d like to say walking into 2017 without a single Center of note and a defense corps made from a random number generator is probably going to completely sink the Habs’ season, the reality is that Boston has had the Canadiens living rent-free inside the Bruins’ heads for the past three or four years. The coach didn’t matter. The goalie didn’t matter (and yes, they’ve tried, this started long before Rask took over). It’s a team problem and it’s the team’s responsibility to exercise Montreal from their psyches and attack them like a team who can take advantage of their weaknesses.

Namely, that their defense is an absolute dumpster fire if looked at a little harder than on paper. Shea Weber and Karl Alzner is a pairing based on being big and having highlight reel hits and nothing to the idea of actually getting shots blocked and getting pucks out. Jeff Petry will have to drag along the corpse of Jordie Benn to get anything done. The only pairing that might be worth a damn in MTL right now is Davidson and Schlemko, and they’ll likely be playing less than ten minutes a night. Carey Price will once again have his work cut out for him and the annoying part of it all is that he might just be good enough to erase all of that. He might’ve gotten so used to bailing out the Habs he might be impossible to break.

The Habs are a team that should be cooling off that are bolstered by a good defensive coach, the premiere goaltender in the sport, and a number of individual efforts (such as the acquisition of one Johnathan Drouin), and against Boston they have the advantage of being able to throw the team off their game like it’s nothing. For those reasons alone, they are a Medium-Warm team.

Ottawa Senators

Last Year’s Performance: 2nd in Division, Eastern Conference Finalist

Key Signings: Johnny Oduya

Key Leaves: Chris Kelly, Marc Methot

Bruins record against in 2016: 0-4, swept in regular season, 4-2 Senators win 1st round playoff series

Assessment: It’s kind of shocking how a team that was otherwise so dull and not-good at having or shooting or doing anything with the puck can not only resurrect systems that were widespread two decades ago and have it work in 2016-17, but to the point that they go to the Eastern Conference Final.

It’s only weird if it doesn’t work, I guess.

That said, the Sens have many of the same problems they had last year returning due to their general unwillingness to go over their “internal cap”: A miserable team effort in shooting, not really getting anyone that could fix that because of said internal cap, and thus relying on two or three players to do all the work for them, and otherwise playing a form of hockey that attempts grind opponents’ willpower into powder. Whether or not it works is completely irrelevant.

That said, those two or three players are world class players, and Boston fell for it constantly last year. Erik Karlsson imposed his will last playoffs and Boston felt it. Craig Andersen can be a nightmare for any team he fancies can’t score on him on a given night. Mark Stone is sneakily becoming one of their best players and top scorers. They have plenty of talent to continue being the most annoying franchise in the Atlantic. But they also play a style of hockey that, if attacked hard enough, folds like a house of cards and this HAS to be a year where their faults suddenly catch up with them and they return to where they usually are. Boston cannot allow them to be the new kid on the block and with the talent they have (newly secured, too!), they should be able to do so. They are Medium for those reasons alone, but could go all the way to Hot at a moment’s notice.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Last Year’s Performance: 5th in Division

Key Signings: Dan Girardi, Chris Kunitz, Mikhail Sergachev

Key Leaves: N/A

Bruins record against in 2016: 3-1

Assessment: Steve Yzerman is trying his damnedest to prove that even the best GM can make horrible mistakes that can completely sink all of the work they put in.

Because with a whole season of Stamkos, Kucherov, Kunitz, Johnson and players like Hedman and Stralman holding up the back end of things the Lightning will absolutely cause some havoc in-division and return to the NHL playoffs. They certainly seem poised to make a huge leap back into the proceedings and be a nightmare for any team that opposes them...

...And then that Dan Girardi signing happened.

Dan Girardi is a disastrously bad player of what looks like NHL hockey but is in fact not, because to call him an NHL player would be an indignity on the entirety of the NHL. He is a facsimile of a defenseman that made his previous team so much worse for having him on the ice. Hell, a couple years ago when the Lightning and the Rangers played, Girardi routinely got exposed for the plug he was and was a big part of their leaving the playoffs that year. Apparently that left some kind of impression on Steve Yzerman because TBL signed him after New York actively bought him out to be rid of him. What’s worse, Dailyfaceoff currently has him set to be Anton Stralman’s partner.

Why you gotta do Anton Stralman this way, Dailyfaceoff? What has he done to you?

Oh yeah, and the s#!tbird known as Jake Dotchin is likely to return. He’s not exactly a prize defender either. Their next big pickup is Mikhail Sergachev who is...a ways out in terms of playing in the NHL.

However, if things hold as they are, Tampa will still have a crazy good offensive core and two of the best swedish defenders money can buy with a half decent goaltender, so once again they’ll be a team gunning for playoff position in the Flortheast, and Boston should be careful not to let their guard down against them at any point. A Warm team from a warm weather clime.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Performance Last Year: 4th in Division, 1st round exit

Key Signings: Dominic Moore, Patrick Marleau, Ron Hainsey

Key Leaves: Brian Boyle, Matt Hunwick

Bruins record against in 2016: 0-4, regular season swept

Assessment: There’s a lot of buzz about this team’s offense. And there should be.

Auston Matthews is everything we thought he might be and probably a little more, William Nylander played like he wants to Sweden’s next star forward, players like Connor Brown and Nikita Zaitsev had great seasons, combined with every other player just seeming quite invigorated by what they ended up acheiving last year. It was a feel good story and Toronto fans should be happy about that. Top that off with Patrick Marleau? And you have a pretty scary team to defend against.

That said...they didn’t upgrade on the thing that chipped away at some of the optimism: Their own defense.

As of right now, the only 100% true blue not-gonna-get-moved-players at Defense are Zaitsev, Reilly, and Gardiner. Which is half a blue line, so you’d think they’d be fine right? Well...none of them are exactly fantastic shotblockers/chance ruiners. They play to Mike Babcock’s strengths in coaching: which is creating speed and running the offense. They haven’t been able to procure a stay-at-home player yet that’s actually been okay at blocking shots or ruining scoring chances, and while Liljegren might be good, he’s still some time away from the NHL.

This “good at offense” thing is also sort of a double-edged sword for the Leafs. While not to the extent of the Dallas Stars, they still have trouble in their lineup finding the right balance of players who can score and also backcheck. This does indeed extend to their golden children and to their new name-brand old guy: Patrick Marleau. If a team is willing to weather the storm of shots, they can tackle the Leafs in transition.

Of course, Boston last year played like they were getting punched in the face, so who knows. As a threat, they’re a Warm-Hot team. There are still issues that can be exploited, but Boston must take advantage of them and be able to attack them. Last year showed they can really only do one or the other on any given night and it cost them dearly.

Next time, we take on the Metropolitan division, a division that has made gigantic leaps, both forward and back.


What team in the Atlantic concerns you the most?

This poll is closed

  • 10%
    (70 votes)
  • 0%
    (1 vote)
  • 27%
    (190 votes)
  • 0%
    (4 votes)
  • 53%
    (370 votes)
  • 1%
    (8 votes)
  • 6%
    (48 votes)
691 votes total Vote Now