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22-23 Atlantic Preview: The Joneses of which to keep up with

The preview series ends with the three teams we’re all probably sick of hearing about

NHL: APR 08 Bruins at Lightning Photo by Andrew Bershaw/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s getting to that time....again.

Which means of course we now need to start looking at the competition that surrounds this team, starting with the teams that, at least in my opinion, the Bruins will have to actively keep up with this season. I’m sure you’re familiar with them.

Florida Panthers

Key Signings: Matthew Tkachuk, Colin White, Rudolfs Balcers, Nick Cousins

Key Strengths: Top 6 didn’t stop being any less skilled than it started, offense might still be good enough to overwrite everything in the Key Weaknesses column

Key Weaknesses: Goaltending still a massive and expensive question mark years later, defense is very dependant on first pairing, Paul Maurice isn’t really a sexy choice for coach

Last year, any negative opinion about the Panthers defense, real or imagined, you might’ve had was probably true. It just didn’t matter, because their offense was so finely tuned to cause destruction. Got them down by three? Better keep your foot on the gas, otherwise they’ll mount a furious comeback! And over time they got really really good at that!

And then...they got decked in four games by the Lightning. And they didn’t look great against their first round opponents either.

So they went out and did the biggest splash of the offseason.

Matthew Tkachuk getting to play on a line with one of the many contenders to Bergeron’s Selke throne in Sasha Barkov, alongside the very very offensively gifted Carter Verhaeghe sounds like a one-way trip to a bad time if you’re not having a good night defensively, and backing that up with a very sneaky good pickup in Rudolfs Balcers to help Sam Bennett and Sam Reinhart, alongside some boring but safe choices in Colin White and Nick Cousins for the depth to keep the pressure on gives me the impression that while the inclusion of An Tkachuk means they’re gonna be a little meaner than they were, they’re still going to be a very, very good team offensively, particularly when they get Anthony Duclair back.

That defense losing Mackenzie Weegar on the other hand...hurts. A lot.

Weegar wasn’t the only objectively good defender on the Panthers, but man losing him means it is some shaky ground in their defensive depth; Gudas is fine but still a penalty magnet, Lucas Carlsson has been struggling to get into that lineup and make a name for himself, Marc Staal is older than the concept of geology...It’s gonna depend a lot on Ekblad and Forsling staying healthy and spending a lot of time on the ice trying to keep their netfront clear.

Oh right. That net still has a real question mark inside it.

Sergei Bobrovsky is once again their #1 goaltender. If only because he’s paid nearly $10 million a year to do...well...Bobrovsky things. Maybe this is the year Spencer Knight steps up,, that’s still a lot of pressure to put on a kid to outperform a dude who has forever been the hardest contract in the league to justify.

The Panthers are, as much as I doubt them, a big coin flip. There’s just as big a chance their high-flying ways sinks them this year as they go on to be exactly the same team with exactly the same ludicrous point totals. Probably the same finish as well.

Only in Florida can a team like this exist and be considered normal.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Key Signings: Ilya Samsonov, Matt Murray,

Key Strengths: Probably have another Richard season or two in Matthews before he f#!ks off to LA, absolutely blistering offense behind him, defense is admittedly okay

Key Weaknesses: Arguably their goaltending is worse than the Habs’, literally nothing will make them happy beyond leaving Round 1 with a victory, will absolutely blow every last strength up in search of that victory

I think it’s insanely funny that the team with more resources on planet earth for this dumb sport cannot find a way to win more than four games in the playoffs. I cannot think of comedy more beautiful; Several small country’s GDP goes into making sure Mitch Marner eats the right amount of Kale and Horse-Growth Hormone so he can put up like 110 points, an entire lichtenstein’s worth of marketing material just from the source itself...and still they cannot find their way to even the conference semifinals.

As for their usual crippling defect? It is...actually a repeat from last year! Just in a different way!

While the Offense is what it is (world class), and the defense is enough to probably keep them in most games, the biggest problem that faces the Toronto Maple Leafs is that they are betting huge on two goaltenders who have been going through an absolute disaster of a last few years, who have come to the place where they have ultimately zero excuse not to succeed. It’s gonna be great. They’re probably gonna be one of the stronger teams in this division and it will be ash in the mouths of each and every one of their fans. Nothing will satisfy them but the cup.

It is Boston’s sworn duty to end this charade when the time comes. I can feel it.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Key Signings: Almost nobody, like it matters.

Key Strengths: Being insulated against the ravages of the cap thanks to some french wizard, having Andrei Vasilevskiy, good cap lawyers

Key Weaknesses: Lol. Lmao.

I think, more than the actual team, I hate the discourse around the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Ludicrous amounts of crushing success marred by piss-ant players and ultimately tiny things that are technically legal to do but chafe against the rules just enough to feel like it’s unfair. And all sides of the argument will now fight into infinity over which matters more; success or fairness. It’s exhausting.

Exhausting especially now because it feels like the discourse around the Lightning is all we have now. We are robbed of any agency against Tampa, because we know there’s a good chance they’re not just going back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs, there’s a pretty good chance they’ll get to defend their title as Eastern Conference champions. They’ve been trading spaces with the Bruins and the Leafs for years as 1st, 2nd, and 3rd in the division for half a decade, and they don’t appear to be stopping any time soon.

Steven Stamkos at his age managed to put together a pair of seasons that basically invalidated any belief he might be cooked. Anthony Cirelli might be the best purely defensive forward in the league behind Bergeron. Brayden Point just kind of sprang out of the ether as a world class player. That fourth line seems designed as a lightning rod of ire. Vasilevskiy is the Vezina finalist until proven otherwise. Life is a meaningless chain of events until your inevitable demise. Eat Arby’s.

Whatever. I hope the B’s beat them every time they come to town and whoever they play in Round 1 drops them like a stone.

And that’s the division! Let’s get ready for hockey!