Firstly, we have to start with the Atlantic Division before Montreal calls the cops on us so...
The Atlantic Division
To their credit, Bruins fans understand the game and how it works better than most, but the other side of the coin is that their fans have no idea how America or the Internet works. This was actually reflected in their team: last year, this team was great. Not just good, they were great. That 2013-14 Bruins team was practically a lock to lose to the Blackhawks or Kings (or Sharks) in the finals.
But at the end of the day, they would rather punch the Francophone in the face than win the Cup. Their wish was granted.
Next year, the Bruins will continue to rely on great drafting, good trades, and convincing themselves that they've won the Kessel trade. But don't worry, someone will go full-Boston on someone. It won't be Shawn Thornton, but his spirit will live on among the legions of backwards hat wearing guys all trying to smuggle Jameson into the building.
The rebuild is in full swing. Credit to the Sabres for at least admitting they needed to tear down their crummy apartment complex of a team after realizing it was built on crummy foundation. After trying to acquire all the 2015 draft picks possible, they Sabres screw up and sign guys in free agency that aren't terrible. And this is all after we find out that Ted Nolan can motivate a bunch of gritty young guys to punch well above their weight. Keep in mind, this team is in the same division with their direct competition in the Connor McDavid derby.
They lost Christian Erhoff and replaced him someone decent; Josh Georges. They also paid silly money to Matt Moulson. Buffalo has somehow set themselves up to not tank enough. Unreal. If you're a Buffalo fan, you have to be a little mad that this team is going to be below average, not horribad. This is the team Buffalo deserves, but not the one it needs right now.
Detroit Red Wings
Where to begin.... a long time ago, a wise man from ESPN said that both Weber and Ryan Suter were going to end up in Detroit. Detroit fans were posting pictures of Zach Parise on their message board, trumpeting his imminent arrival.
Fast forward to this spring, and Detroit is the team that paid a higher price for David Legwand to squeak into the playoffs than the Habs paid for Thomas Vanek. Frankly, this is a team that's in the middle of a slow rebuild. Plus, Ken Holland losing a lieutenant like Jim Nill might have hurt more than we thought. The farm system is decent, but years of making the playoffs have depleted the team's depth to the point not even the old guys want to go there anymore.
Detroit can't help but becoming a reflection of the city itself. A bunch of old folks are there, and will likely finish their careers there, but don't count on young people to move there unless they get stupid money and open bar tabs in Greektown. But don't worry, Dan Cleary is coming back, guys.
The Panthers had themselves a Panthers' Offseason. Top three pick in the draft? Check. Overpaying middle-six grinders? Check. Sure, it sounds bad having Dave Bolland and Brian Campbell as your team's highest cap hits, but their top line is going to likely be all entry-level guys. That's not a bad idea for three years, then.... then it's a HORRIBLE IDEA.
It's hard to hate the Panthers for what they've done, but we hate and fear what we don't understand. And no one knows what they're trying to accomplish in Sunrise. They've acquired bits and pieces of Chicago (Bolland), Pittsburgh (Jussi Jokinen. Yep, he signed there), and Los Angeles (Willie Mitchell did too). Couple this with their bizarre spending spree from two years ago that included our good friend Nolan Yonkman (he was at the press conference!), the Roberto Luongo trade, and this team is a collection of spare parts from winning teams, aimed at forming an antique hockey version of Voltron. Only in this case, Voltron malfunctions, cuts himself with that stupid sword, and earns another top-5 pick.
Given all the short team deals over the last two years, expect all of your favorite players and UFAs to end up in Florida. Remember that one guy who was real clutch down the stretch? Florida. He now plays in Florida. They all now play in Florida.
At this point, I have to keep typing "Florida", "Panthers", "Sunrise", and "Dale Tallon" to remind myself this is about the Panthers and not the Red Wings.
There's not much the Habs needed to do other than create an aging centrifuge to mature their players faster. This team has cap space, talent, youth, arrogance, and a coach that's hated in some circles. They have it all.
That didn't stop the team from tinkering. Josh Georges will not be PK Subban's sidekick this year. Heck, PK hasn't even been re-signed yet. I'm sure not re-signing your RFA star defenseman and going to arbitration is a great idea though.
There's plenty to hate though. This team doesn't know how good they can be, but their fans do. That's a dangerous combination. Imagine a raging, happy drunk version of the Blues fans that actually DO go to church, OR a better clothed version of the Canucks traveling horde, OR an older bunch of Penguins fans from two years ago.
The Sens are pretty much present-day Lynyrd Skynyrd or KISS. Currently, Skynyrd's lineup features one guy who was on their album Street Survivors. Ottawa has.... Bobby Ryan and Erik Karlsson. Alfie is gone, Spezza is gone, and Hemsky also left. Remember, this is the team that traded for Bobby Ryan, then had so much depth they waived Cory Conacher, the guy they acquired for Ben Bishop.
Just take a minute to laugh at that paragraph.
Okay, the Sens did do some good things this summer. They convinced Milan Michalek to stay in town, and brought in David Legwand to be their "new second line center" (source: D. Legwand). Bobby Ryan is a UFA after this year, which makes the last two years hilarious given that this team was building and pushing for this season to be the one where the Sens challenge Boston/Montreal/Tampa for the division. LOLNOPE.
Tampa Bay Lightning
The only thing I can really hate about Tampa is how fast they've built this. Seriously. They have a guy who is arguably the second or third best forward in the league, an awesome young cast of forwards around him, a defense that can shoot and attempt to defend, and a goalie that was nominated for the Vezina last year. And they did it all without trumpeting "CH'RAHDISSHUN" or "THE 'RIGINUL SIX" or anything old and annoying. They just drafted guys, and overpaid UFA's one at a time... until this year.
Tampa traded away their poor mistreated captain Martin St. Louis for New York's poor mistreated captain, Ryan Callahan, and signed his poor mistreated self to a contract worth slightly less than the one Glen Sather told him he couldn't have. Callahan will now play alongside Steven Stamkos and Jonathan Drouin, and live near the best place to day drink in North America (Clearwater, FL). Jokes' on you, Slats.
Speaking of getting the better of the Rangers, the Bolts went out and paid Anton Stralman big money to be a top-4 defenseman in a lineup featuring plenty of "crafty veterans". That's great and all, but "crafty veteran" implies the dude can't skate. One of those guys is Eric Brewer. He's crafty.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Boy, this is a mess. The coach is still here, the team a little worse, and the fans know it. This is a deadly combination in this market. And now, the players know it too. Josh Gorges didn't want to go to Toronto, likely for a multitude of reasons.
The Leafs' best chance to become a title contender is taking advantage of the cap crunch for teams like Chicago and Philly. Trading players like Nazem Kadri with other players to get players like Patrick Sharp, yadda yadda blah blah stuff they won't do. However, the Leafs did hire the perfect assistant coach: Peter Horachek will be added to the staff. If there's one thing he knows, it's how to harden and sharpen defensemen who are used to playing without the puck. And look, it's Roman Polak!
I'm not sure what 55 points in the KHL is worth in the NHL, but the Leafs seem to think Leo Komarov is worth 2.95 million US Dollars a year for the next four years. That tells you a lot about this team.
In reality, this division contains three legit contenders. That's a lot in today's NHL. The other side of that coin is that you also have two teams who are trying to build up, and two more in denial of their own reality... and Ottawa, whatever they're trying to do. But through the rigors of an NHL season, questions will be answered. And more will be asked, and some of those might be answered. "Which team has the better defensemen; Boston, Montreal or Tampa?" "Which teams' fans will be more angry in June; Toronto or Detroit?" "Which team will mishandle their Swedish prospect worse; Toronto or Detroit?" Plenty of attention needs to be paid to this division.
And plenty of attention will be paid, because Chicago fans are already looking at StubHub for next June.