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Second City Hockey’s 2021-22 season preview: Atlantic Division

Can Boston keep hanging on despite its aging core? Will Toronto get over the hump? Can anyone beat Tampa?

Tampa Bay Lightning v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

With hockey season drawing ever closer, it’s time to take a glance around the rest of the league. We drop the puck on this season’s league-wide preview with a look at the Atlantic Division. Daily glances at the Metropolitan and Pacific Divisions will follow, ending with a one-team-per-day breakdown of the Central Division foes. To the east we go!

Atlantic Division

Boston Bruins

Last season: 33-16-7 (73 points), 3rd place in East Division, lost in quarterfinal round
Key additions: D Derek Forbort, F Nick Foligno, F Erik Haula, G Linus Ullmark
Key losses: D Kevan Miller, G Dan Vladar, F Sean Kuraly, F David Krejci, G Jaroslav Halak, F Ondrej Kase

The primary question surrounding the Bruins this season starts in net, where incumbent starter Tuukka Rask will be out until at least December with a hip surgery. He’s also not under contract, although all indications are that Boston is the only place he’s going to play. Linus Ullmark was brought in during the offseason as additional insurance in goaltending.

In front of net, Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron are still here but not getting any younger, while David Pastrnak and Charlie McAvoy have emerged into players that be counted on for high-level performances. Whether or not the older players, the younger players and whatever happens in net can be meshed into another Cup-contending team will be a mystery until the team takes the ice.

Buffalo Sabres

Last season: 15-34-7 (37 points), last place in East Division
Key additions: D Will Butcher, D Robert Hagg, F Vinnie Hinostroza, G Aaron Dell, G Craig Anderson
Key losses: D Sam Reinhart, D Rasmus Ristolainen, G Linus Ullmark, F Riley Sheahan

The Jack Eichel saga still has no resolution. The Sabres’ leading scorer from last season — Sam Reinhart — was traded to Florida and the team’s ice-time leader — Rasmus Ristolainen — was also dealt. This team is going to be bad with the only hope for those in western New York is that some of its younger players emerge during what’ll be an otherwise bleak season.

Detroit Red Wings

Last season: 19-27-10 (48 points), seventh place in Central Division
Key additions: D Nick Leddy, G Alex Nedeljkovic
Key losses: F Bobby Ryan, F Evgeny Svechnikov, F Luke Glendening, G Jonathan Bernier

It’s been a long rebuild in the Motor City, with the team now having missed out on the playoffs in the last five seasons after three consecutive first-round exits. The trade for Nick Leddy gives the Red Wings an offensive punch from the blue line while the trade for Nedeljkovic provides Detroit with a potential short and long-term solution to their questions in net. The development of its other young talent will be the determining factor of Detroit’s success or failure this season.

Florida Panthers

Last season: 37-14-5 (79 points), second place in Central Division, lost in first round
Key additions: F Joe Thornton, F Sam Reinhart
Key losses: D Keith Yandle, D Anton Stralman

There were no seismic shifts in the Florida organization during the offseason. A few albatross-like contracts were moved out with Keith Yandle and Anton Stralman now gone while Sam Reinhart was brought in via trade and veteran Joe Thornton was picked up in free agency. Outside of that, much of Florida’s roster remains the same as the one that competed for a top spot in the Central Division in 2021. Aleksander Barkov is still here. Jonathan Huberdeau is still here. Carter Verhaeghe is still here. Aaron Ekblad should be back from the fractured leg that cost him the back half of last season.

An intriguing battle to watch will be in net between high-paid veteran Sergei Bobrovsky and the up-and-coming Spencer Knight, a 20-year-old who was the first-round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft. Regardless of who wins out in net, the Panthers should be competing among the top teams in the division.

Montreal Canadiens

Last season: 24-21-11 (59 points), fourth place in North Division, lost in Stanley Cup Final
Key additions: F Christian Dvorak, D David Savard, D Chris Wideman, F Mathieu Perreault, F Mike Hoffman
Key losses: F Jesperi Kotkaniemi, F Corey Perry

After last season’s dazzling run to the Stanley Cup Final, Montreal’s ‘21-22 season had bad news delivered before training camp opened with the news that defenseman and team captain Shea Weber would be out for the entire season. Then one of the bigger offseason sagas unfolded with Jesperi Kotkaniemi receiving an offer sheet from Carolina and ultimately departing via restricted free agency. The Canadiens used the draft pick from Carolina awarded as compensation for the Kotkaniemi deal and then sent it to the desert in exchange for Christian Dvorak in an obvious attempt to replace the Kotkaniemi-sized hole in its lineup.

Everything clicked for Montreal last postseason as the Canadiens were on the verge of snapping Canada’s massive Stanley Cup drought. Given how competitive this division could be, the Canadiens may need things to click as well just to make it into the playoffs come 2022.

Ottawa Senators

Last season: 23-28-5 (51 points), sixth place in North Division
Key additions: D Nick Holden, G Filip Gustavsson
Key losses: F Evgenii Dadonov, G Joey Daccord

The Senators were expected to be terrible last season and they were for the first half of it — but they also went 14-8-4 in the final 26 games of the season. They have one of the most exciting young prospects in the league with 2020 No. 3 overall pick Tim Stützle dropped 29 points in 53 games during his rookie season. Other youngsters like Brady Tkachuk, Joshua Norris, Drake Batherson and Thomas Chabot have impressed as well. But Ottawa also hired Pierre McGuire to a front-office spot and the team is owned by the perpetually awful Eugene Melnyk which suggests instability will be the constant for this franchise.

Maybe the young players take more steps forward next season, though?

Tampa Bay Lightning

Last season: 36-17-3 (75 points), third place in Central Division, won Stanley Cup
Key additions: F Corey Perry, F Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, D Zach Bogosian, G Brian Elliott
Key losses: F Blake Coleman, F Yanni Gourde, F Tyler Johnson, F Barclay Goodrow

The cap-ocalypse still hasn’t come for any of the big names atop the Tampa roster but plenty of Lightning’s depth pieces from the 2021 Stanley Cup Final roster are now plying their trade elsewhere. But Nikita Kucherov is still here. So is Brayden Point. So is Steven Stamkos. So is Victor Hedman. So is Andrei Vasilevskiy.

And as long as so many of those names are still here, it’s going to be hard to consider the Lightning as anything other than a Cup contender.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Last season: 35-14-7 (77 points), first place in North Division, lost in first round
Key additions: F Ondrej Kase, F David Kampf, F Nick Ritchie, G Petr Mrazek
Key losses: F Zach Hyman, F Joe Thornton, F Travis Boyd, F Jimmy Vesey

There were some whispers after yet another first-round exit for the Maple Leafs that a big trade could be coming to shake up the organization. That deal never materialized and the “big three” of Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews and William Nylander are still members of the organization. Captain John Tavares is also back along with top defenseman Morgan Rielly. Petr Mrazek was added in net to help offset any deficiencies with that position but roster talent has never seemed to be the problem for this Toronto team, which tore through the regular season. But issues always seem to arise with the Maple Leafs in the postseason, a team that hasn’t won a series since 2013.

The road to the postseason seems much more difficult in ‘21-22, with Boston and Tampa and Florida and Montreal all regular fixtures on the schedule. And if Toronto makes it to the playoffs but exits in the first round yet again ... what will the fallout be this time around?