By: Joey Partridge | Follow Me On Twitter @joey_partridge
After a whirlwind of a 2020 NHL offseason that is still ongoing, one thing has been made clear. The NHL’s Atlantic Division is going to be no joke for the 2020-2021 NHL season.
For the past handful of seasons, the Atlantic Division has remained mostly the same. The Boston Bruins, Tampa Bay Lightning, and Toronto Maple Leafs have been the top teams in the division for the last few years, with the Florida Panthers, Montreal Canadiens, and Buffalo Sabres being around .500, and with the Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings being bottom feeders. So why all of a sudden should that change?
Let’s start with the Tampa Bay Lightning. They are coming off a Stanley Cup Championship, retaining most of their stacked roster. They are looking to move on from a couple of key players such as Tyler Johnson to retain players like Mikhail Sergachev and Anthony Cirelli. Tampa Bay isn’t going anywhere, and they will continue to be a pain next year.
The Toronto Maple Leafs are in a similar position as the Lightning. While they haven’t had any playoff success in recent memory, they still have a very talented roster. They have made many bottom-six additions such as Wayne Simmonds, Jimmy Vesey, and Joe Thornton. They lost defensemen Tyson Barrie and Cody Ceci but signed TJ Brodie as a replacement. They will still be a tough team to beat come next season.
Now, what about a team that was solid but struggled to get over the hump? The Montreal Canadiens were the last team in the Eastern Conference to make the NHL’s expanded playoffs. They were very active this offseason. They signed top-six forward Tyler Toffoli to a four-year deal and acquired Josh Anderson from the Columbus Blue Jackets in exchange for Max Domi. The Canadiens addressed their goal-scoring issue, and let’s not forget that they have a world-class goaltender in Carey Price in the net. I expect the Canadiens to compete for a playoff spot. Maybe the classic Bruins Canadiens rivalry will pick back up again.
Another team that is always around that playoff mark but has failed to get in the last couple of years (excluding the qualifying round last season) is the Florida Panthers. They were also busy this offseason rounding their roster. They acquired Patric Hornqvist from the Penguins and signed Alexander Wennberg in free agency. They also bolstered their defense by adding Radko Gudas and Markus Nutivaara. They will be a team to watch in this tough division.
The Buffalo Sabres are going to be an exciting team to watch. They have had skilled rosters these past few years but can’t seem to put it together to make the playoffs. However, they were busy this offseason and added a lot of talent. They won the Taylor Hall sweepstakes and added an elite goal scorer to complement Jack Eichel. They also added Eric Staal from the Minnesota Wild to be their second-line center and Cody Eakin to be their third-line center. The Sabres have more depth now and are ready for a good season.
A team that I expect to take a huge leap next season is the Ottawa Senators. First off, they are a young team with some young studs such as Brady Tkachuk and Thomas Chabot, who will only get better. They added Evgenii Dadonov in free agency, who is a goal scorer. They also added Matt Murray as their starting goaltender via a trade with the Pittsburgh Penguins. While I don’t see them making the playoffs as they still have work to do, they have a ton of great prospects and will be better than they were last year.
Lastly is the Detroit Red Wings. While they are still in their rebuild phase, they added some veterans in the offseason to complement their young studs. They added another top draft pick in Lucas Raymond, and their top picks in the past are looking to make that next step, such as Filip Zadina. They’ve added forwards Bobby Ryan and Vladislav Namestikov to boost their offense. They really solidified their defense by adding Troy Stetcher, Jon Merrill, and Marc Staal. While a playoff spot is still a reach, this is a team on the rise.
So, where do the Boston Bruins fit in? The Bruins are coming off a Presidents’ Trophy season and are still an elite team. I fully expect the Bruins to make the playoffs next season and be one of the top teams, but it won’t come easy in this division. The games against the Sabres, Senators, and Red Wings will become much tougher. Don’t forget, the Bruins are without Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak to start, so this season could very well get bumpy.
Let’s throw another wrench into this. The global pandemic is still having a huge effect on sports. They have been many rumors of the NHL shifting teams to make new divisions for the next season to limit travel to avoid outbreaks of COVID-19. These are all rumors as of now as the NHL has no set plans for next season.
Vegas Golden Knights Owner Reveals Some Plans For The 2021 NHL Season Including New Divisions https://t.co/aGtEiGXfjO— Spittin’ Chiclets (@spittinchiclets) October 16, 2020
The Bruins may be in a division with new teams for an altered 2020-2021 NHL season, but as of today, they have to compete in a stacked Atlantic Division. Get the popcorn ready, Bruins fans; this will get interesting.