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Division Primer: The Atlantic

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In a typically top-heavy division, can Buffalo finally pull themselves out of last place?

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Toronto Star via Getty Images

The Atlantic is a tough place to be. With perennial contenders Boston, Toronto, and Tampa Bay all fighting for space at the top, it can be easy to forget about Florida and Detroit. While Detroit is searching for a new identity in a new arena and Florida is seeking to get back in the playoff game, Montreal is hoping that last season won’t be repeated this year.

Buffalo’s leadership made some big splashes in free agency and they have tons of young players to pull the team out of the trash can. Will they take the next step? Ottawa fans are hoping for a major turnaround from last year’s tire fire. Tampa Bay, like Nashville, left a majority of their core intact to pursue the Cup once again this season.

There are several questions with the Atlantic’s big powerhouse teams. How will Tavares help the Leafs? Will William Nylander get a contract handled with Toronto before the start of the season? How will Brady Tkachuk perform with the Senators? Does Andrei Vasilevskiy have another incredible season in him? How many players will Brad Marchand lick this season? The Atlantic is a gauntlet. Who will come out on top?

Best Off-Season Acquisition

It goes without saying that Buffalo drafted a franchise defenseman in Rasmus Dahlin. The young d-man can skate, has slick hands, and will probably start the season on the first defensive pairing in Buffalo.

In terms of free agency, Toronto struck gold when John Tavares chose to sign a 7 year, $77 million contract with them in July. He passed up the opportunity to stay with the Islanders, the team who drafted and developed him, in order to return to his hometown team. Needless to say, Leafs fans were ecstatic and Islanders fans will be salty all season (or longer). Leafs fans are expecting Tavares to bring them the Cup next summer.

Tavares had 37 goals and 47 assists last year with the Islanders. He’s a consistent 20+ goal scorer and has leadership experience after serving as a the captain of the Islanders for the past several years. He is forecasted to be a top-2 center for the Leafs. Their options for the first two lines are scary. The only question remaining is whether Auston Matthews or Tavares will wear the “C”.

Worst Off-Season Acquisition

The Boston Bruins signed goaltender Jaroslav Halak to a two-year deal after losing Anton Khudobin in free agency to the Dallas Stars. In Halak, the Bruins get a goaltender who is actually a year older than Khudobin.

For a backup, Halak will be making some solid money at $2.75 million annually. He was 20-26-6 last season with a .908 save percentage. He played 54 games with the Islanders last season. Halak is 33.

After putting Malcolm Subban on waivers last season and seeing some average performance from Zane McIntyre, Halak has been called to be the backup for the B’s for the next two years.

Boston is clearly hoping Halak allows Rask to rest during the season. Rask played 54 games last season, down 9 games from 65 in 2016-2017. Allowing Rask to stay rested is key for the Bruins in their playoff hopes.

Other Notable Additions

  • In a three way trade between San Jose, Ottawa, and Florida, forward Mike Hoffman went to the Panthers and the Senators picked up Mikkael Boedker from the Sharks. Boedker scored 15 goals last season with the Sharks and could play on Ottawa’s first line.

  • Our favorite “hey thanks for having me” goaltender Carter Hutton was acquired by Buffalo to take on the starting job. He played 40 games for Nashville during the season when Pekka Rinne was injured, but he only played 32 games last season. How will Hutton fare with a starter’s workload?
  • Buffalo also acquired Jeff Skinner from the Hurricanes to play on Jack Eichel’s left wing. Carolina received three draft picks and prospect forward Cliff Pu in return for Skinner. (note: larceny!!)
  • Max Domi was traded from the Arizona Coyotes for Alex Galchenyuk to the Canadiens. Domi is looking for a fresh start and Galchenyuk will probably be able to play center, something Montreal apparently did not want out of the young forward.
  • Buffalo picked up Tage Thompson, Vladimir Sobotka, and Patrik Berglund for Ryan O’Reilly.
  • Perennial rental Thomas Vanek was signed by the Red Wings in free agency. He is 34 years old and put up 56 points (24 goals, 32 assists) with the Canucks and Blue Jackets last season. Detroit also acquired Jonathan Bernier to share the net with Jimmy Howard. Bernier had a .913 save percentage in 37 games with Colorado last season.

Player to Watch

Aside from Rasmus Dahlin, you mean?

My player to watch this season Dylan Larkin of the Detroit Red Wings. The 22-year-old forward signed a solid five-year, $30.5 million deal with Detroit a few weeks ago. With Henrik Zetterberg’s back injuries, expect Larkin to step up and provide scoring and leadership for a Detroit team in rebuild. Larkin is speedy, has great hands, and can find open space to score or assist his linemates. That “C” might come sooner than later for Larkin.

Coach or GM on the Hot Seat

Senators head coach Guy Boucher is the most likely candidate for the hot seat after last season’s debacle. His fate likely hangs on whether the Senators can play themselves out of last place. It doesn’t seem like Boucher and GM Pierre Dorion have the best relationship based off comments from Dorion.

GM Dorion has been dealing with angry fans for quite some time now. He’s not nearly as confusing as Montreal GM Marc Bergevin, but his decisions leave a lot of questions. If Brady Tkachuk isn’t the answer and Karlsson signs elsewhere, what do Senators fans have to look forward to? Pretty much nothing.

Ottawa is a small disaster because the team seems to be sinking into some sort of hockey quagmire. If the team’s management can’t find a way to make Erik Karlsson stay or get some incredible return for the captain, I foresee tons of fans demanding answers. These fans have put up with a lot of nonsense over the last year. With another season in the dumpster like last season, stars like Matt Duchene, Mark Stone, and Bobby Ryan have plenty of reason to look elsewhere for a contract.

Goaltender Craig Anderson has suggested he wants to lead the team into a better place as long as the off-season drama between Karlsson’s wife and Mike Hoffman’s fiancé has been “cleaned up.”

There’s definitely some smoke under Boucher as he plans for training camp and this upcoming season.