By: Nathan Anderson | Follow me on Twitter @nathandrsn
It has been about a week since free agency began on July 13, and while the Bruins were relatively slow in terms of signing big names, the rest of the Atlantic Division certainly was not. In addition to already strong teams like the Lightning, Panthers, and Maple Leafs, the Bruins will have to compete with nearly every team in the division for a playoff spot. That is even before accounting for the fact that teams in the Metropolitan Division could take up both wild card spots.
This may seem like an overreaction, given that the Bruins won 50 games and finished with 107 points last season. That should not be the expectation this year, however, as the strength of the league appears ready to be much more spread out this year than it was last season. The team that really comes to mind when I think about challengers in the Atlantic is the Detroit Red Wings.
The Red Wings were one of the loudest teams on “Free Agent Frenzy” day. I think Steve Yzerman absolutely killed it with his signings as well. Did he sign any absolute world beaters? Maybe not. He signed a handful of really solid players, though, and I think the Wings got so much better.
David Perron and Andrew Copp will be joining the Wings up front. Two 50-point guys for under $10 million total. One of them (Perron) is a former Cup champion, and the other (Copp) is probably right in his prime. Those signings could have a significant impact on the team. They also added Dominik Kubalík, who had a monster year two seasons ago and could easily explode for 30 goals again.
On the back end, the Wings added Ben Chiarot, Oli Maatta, and Mark Pysyk, who will help strengthen a D core that already has a ton of young talent. Olli Juolevi and Filip Hronek are two guys who had huge potential coming out of their draft years and could be awesome for Detroit. Let’s not forget they also have the reigning Calder Trophy winner back there as well in Moritz Seider. That could be the top six right there, and I think it is a great top six.
The Wings built a solid foundation to complement their exciting young talent, and they even went out and traded for a goaltender coming off of a top-ten Vezina finish. Ville Husso had a fantastic season for the Blues, even challenging Jordan Binnington for the starting spot. I think of the teams in the Atlantic; the Wings are going to be the biggest threat to the Bruins’ playoff chances next season.
Alright, I know that was a lot of non-Bruins talk, but I promise it comes from a place of Bruins-focused thinking. The Bruins got into the playoffs as the second wildcard last season. The next closest team in the Atlantic was the Buffalo Sabres, who finished 30+ points behind the B’s. So, the question becomes: “did the Red Wings do enough to make up that gap?”.
I think the answer to that question is no. You may wonder why I am so worried if I think the Wings have not made up the gap. Well, I do not believe the Bruins are going to put up 107 points again this year. Typically 107 points would get a team second or third place in the entire Eastern Conference, let alone one division. The Bruins only put up 117 points in their Presidents’ Trophy-winning 2013-2014 season. I do not think we can expect the Bruins to repeat this season, and I believe that is where the Wings could catch up.
The Bruins still do not have a first or second-line center. They have not signed Pavel Zacha, and they will be without Brad Marchand and Charlie McAvoy for a solid chunk of the season. The NHL is a really tough league. If the Bruins drop a lot of points early in the year, it may be too much to make up later.
The Bruins are also infamous for having troubles against “lesser” teams. Even during the Red Wings’ worst days, the Bruins struggled against them while performing well against the top teams in the division. Now that the Wings are putting together what I, and many others, think is a pretty solid squad, the Bruins could be in real trouble. It also could mean that the Bruins step it up and play really good hockey against another team in the division, leading to a wildly high point total. I guess we will have to see.
*All free agent info in this article comes from TSN’s free agent tracker*