Updated: Oct 13, 2019
The Atlantic Division is a peculiar one, if not the most polarizing. In 2018-2019, the second-most winningest team of all time came out of the Atlantic (Tampa Bay). The worst team in the league also came out of the Atlantic this past year (Ottawa). Up until the beginning of December, they had the hottest team in the league, which then turned into one of the worst by February (Buffalo). The Atlantic Division led the league in goals-for, averaging 260 per team. That sounds great, until you find out that they also led the league in goals-against, at an average of 257.
The Predators had an extremely successful season against the Atlantic, with an 11-3-2 record to show for it. Let's see what we can expect from this division in 2019-2020.
The Bruins lost the Stanley Cup in arguably the most prolonged fashion an NHL team possibly can; in seven games, in their own barn, and to the Blues: a team riding an indomitable magic streak that made it nearly impossible focus on a different storyline. Boston tied Calgary at 107 points for the league's runner-up. The Bruins didn't even win the Atlantic, but thanks to Columbus (we'll get to that), that didn't matter in the playoffs. Boston had a pretty quiet offseason as well. They lost center Noel Acciari in free agency, but re-signed forward Danton Heinen and defensemen Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo to new contracts. The Bruins power play was a lethal one, ranking third in the league with a 25.9 percent conversion rate.
The Bruins went 1-1 against the Preds, and only allowed three goals in those two games.
Brad Marchand and Sidney Crosby tied each other at 100 regular season points to finish fifth in the entire league. It was a record year for Marchand- not only did he post his highest point total, but he also scored ten power play goals and tacked on 64 assists. Not surprisingly to most, he also sat for 96 total penalty minutes- 14 of which came against the Preds. Marchand had three points and a +2 rating in those two games, but he spent 8.5 percent of those games sitting in the box.
David Pastrnak, another skill-laden forward, had his best season last year as well. He scored 81 points in just 66 games (he had 80 in all 82 games in 2017-2018), and set a career best 38 goals and 17 power play goals. Against Nashville, Pastrnak has played seven career games with six points, but has a never recorded a positive or negative rated season series facing the Preds. Effectively, this means the Preds have been able to limit Pastrnak's offensive productivity and overcome him on defense.
Similarly to Pastrnak, 4x-Selke Award winner Patrice Bergeron only played 65 games last year, but recorded his career-best 79 points. The +/- category is usually dominated by defensemen, mainly because they log the most minutes on the ice per game. There are a few exceptions every year, however, and Bergeron is one of them. He was one of 11 non-defensemen who recorded one of the 25 highest +/- ratings last year at +23. Last year alone, Bergeron notched four points in the two games the Bruins faced the Preds.
Pairing 42-year old Zdeno Chara up with Charlie McAvoy on the first defensive pair strikes me as more of a strategical move. Chara, the oldest Bruin, and McAvoy, the youngest Bruin, will be an interesting dynamic. The second defensive pairing of Torey Krug and Brandon Carlo will be dangerous when they're feeding pucks to forwards Jake DeBrusk and David Krejci. Krejci is 33 and tied his career points record at 73 last season, making him the Bruins' fourth leading scorer. Having a guy of that experience on the ice with youngsters gives the Bruins a huge offensive upside. Fortunately, the Preds fared very well against this line last year. Of Krejci, DeBrusk, Krug, and Carlo, the Preds did not allow a single point to be scored, and stuck them with a -3 on-ice rating to boot.
It was very Sabres of the Sabres to go on just about the hottest streak a team can hope for early in the season, including 10 straight wins, and wind up finishing the season ranked 27th, obtaining another top 10 draft pick.
The Sabres went 0-2 against the Predators in 2018-2019.
They hurried up and signed the pioneer of the November streak, Jeff Skinner, to a hefty eight-year/$72 million contract in June. Skinner was one of their best players both offensively and defensively last year. The caveat is that Buffalo's defense was an absolute embarrassment. Skinner's +/- rating was 0, which was second on the entire team. The only other two players that were better in the category (and played more than 20 games), were defensemen Nathan Beaulieu and Casey Nelson. Their rating? 1. It was actually one of the best years of Skinner's career- he tied his Calder-winning rookie season points at 63. Facing the Preds, Skinner's been scarily successful. In 15 career games against the Preds, he has 17 points and a +8 rating. He will most likely be anchoring the second forward line, accompanying Marcus Johansson and Conor Sheary.
Jack Eichel, the teams leading scorer for the past three seasons, should be refreshed with the addition of Victor Olofsson and Sam Reinhart at his wings. Eichel had his best offensive year last year, logging 82 points. But with a paper-thin defense, Eichel finished the year with a -11 rating. Reinhart is primarily a center, but shifting him to the right wing is probably Buffalo's best bet. He was the team's second-leading scorer, which, upon first glance, makes you want to distribute the offensive weight a little more. The issue is that if you were to move Reinhart back to center, the Sabres would essentially have a non-existent right wing. You have Sheary and Evan Rodrigues- two relatively young guys who still have potential to boom- but outside of that, all the Sabres have is Kyle Okposo. Okposo is 31 and has been steadily declining for a few years now, not to mention he has a career -110 rating.
Olofsson will be an exciting anecdote for Buffalo. He put together such a strong 2018-2019 stat line for the Rochester Americans (Buffalo's AHL team) that the team called him up for six games last year, in which he recorded two goals and two assists. Olofsson is 24 and is playing in his first full NHL season this year, but his AHL stats speak for themselves: in 66 games, he scored 30 goals and 33 assists with a +12 on-ice rating. This Olofsson-Eichel-Reinhart line could spell trouble for the Preds this season; between the three of them, they've played 17 games and piled up 15 points against Nashville.
Dylan Cozens, the Sabres' #7 pick in this year's draft, was sent down to the WHL on Sep. 26, but I wouldn't be surprised to see him called up before the All-Star break.
Detroit Red Wings
I think a last place finish in the Atlantic is well in the cards for the Red Wings this year. Granted, I think they will be battling it out with Ottawa for last place, however terrible they may be. They're the third oldest team in the league, and it shows. They had the fourth-worst penalty kill percentage, fifth-worst Goals Against, fourth-worst Corsi Against (shots allowed), and fourth-worst Corsi +/- rating. Most of this means their defense sucks, simply put.
In this alternate reality we live in, Detroit went 2-0 and scored seven goals against the Predators last season.
The Red Wings major selections in the last two drafts, defenseman Moritz Seider and forwards Filip Zadina and Joe Veleno, were sent down to the team's AHL affiliate to start the season. The latter two are disappointing cuts for the team; the presence of all that youthful skill is going to be sorely missed in that locker room. Not sure how they thought Patrik Nemeth would do any better than Seider at the blue line, but I digress. They also traded their third leading scorer, Gustav Nyquist, to the Sharks on Feb. 25 for future draft picks, which in hindsight is probably a good move for the purpose of bringing in young talent.
Dylan Larkin has solidified himself as this team's leader. He inherited the captaincy from Henrik Zetterberg- whose retirement was a crushing hit to the Red Wings' offense this past year. Larkin had his best year in the NHL this past season; he had 32 goals, 41 assists, and an 11.1 percent shot conversion rate. He's going to thrive on a line with Tyler Bertuzzi, who had a +11 on-ice rating and posted a 16.0 percent shot conversion rate. Anthony Mantha will fill out that first forward line.
Bringing in former Red Wing/Lightning/Flyer/Islander and now Red-Wing-again Valtteri Filppula in free agency was likely motivated by the need to level out the game of his new linemate, Andreas Athanasiou. Athanasiou is getting better every year (last year he finished with 54 points), but his defense is horrendous. In just four NHL seasons, Athanasiou has a -30 on-ice rating. Filppula, though a journeyman, has maintained very steady numbers in his 14 year career. Last year, Filppula converted a massive 21.8 percent of his shots into goals. Of players who played in 41+ games, he is third only to St. Louis' Ivan Barbashev and Carolina's Greg McKegg in this statistic. Filppula also posted a +19 rating, which should also indicate a positive defensive change for Athanasiou. Though not as much in the past few seasons, Filppula has been highly productive facing the Preds in his career. Keep in mind, he played for the Red Wings back when we were division rivals, so he's faced the Preds 51 times and recorded 27 points in that span.
Outside of Trevor Daley and Mike Green, Detroit's defense is actually their youngest facet. Daley has a No-Trade Clause in his contract, which is unfortunate because he's easily their worst defenseman. He was just eighth in Corsi Against last year, meaning his job on the ice became just to desperately stop pucks from getting to Jimmy Howard/Jonathan Bernier. The Red Wings defensive youth movement will continue if they call up Moritz Seider this year.
I think the Panthers are going to just edge out Montreal for a playoff spot this year. Exciting things are already happening in Florida this year. They picked up two-time Vezina winner Sergei Bobrovsky and Stanley Cup winner Brett Connolly in free agency. Two days after their season ended, the Panthers brought three-time Stanley Cup winning head coach Joel Quenneville on to coach them, hopefully, to similar success.
The Panthers went 1-1 against the Predators last year.
Florida ranked ninth league-wide in Goals For in 2018-2019. The only other team to finish in the top 10 of GF and not make the playoffs was Chicago. Their power play was second only to Tampa Bay for best in the NHL, at a 26.8 percent conversion rate. Here's the downside: they were also fourth-worst in Goals Against, allowing 273 goals. The Panthers were genuinely right on the cusp of a playoff berth last year, and their stats strongly correlated with playoff teams, in some cases even surpassing them.
Aleksander Barkov is their greatest weapon. The 2019 Lady Byng Memorial Trophy winner scored 96 points last year- his first full season in the NHL- putting him at tenth league-wide in scoring. He scored 13 power play goals and posted a 17 percent shot conversion rate. Barkov also accounted for an average of 10 offensive and defensive point shares, meaning his overall play frequently resulted in teammates' points as well as his own. His OPS/DPS ranked 19th in the league. Perhaps Barkov's greatest strength, however, is the chemistry with his linemate. Jonathan Huberdeau averaged 2.5 points per game, putting him in the top 30 in the league among players that skated over 1,000 minutes. Though he finished just four points shy of Barkov, Huberdeau's career-high 92 points still tied Tampa Bay's Brayden Point for 12th in the league. Luckily for the Preds, the pair have been easy to defend in recent years, especially Barkov. Barkov hasn't recorded a point against the Preds since the 2016-2017 season.
Evgenii Dadonov fills out the first forward line with Huberdeau and Barkov, and he's one Panther that's given the Preds some problems. Dadonov returned from the KHL for the 2017-2018 season, and since then he's exploded for 56 goals and 135 points over two seasons. He's played four games against the Preds since his return and has five points in that span.
Mike Hoffman is another sneaky good forward that flies under most of the NHL's radar. Hoffman tied just Boston's David Pastrnak for the fifth-most power play goals last season, also leading the Panthers in total shots on goal at 253. Hoffman was plagued with a -24 on-ice rating, however. Most of that can be chalked up to a horrendous season-long defensive effort by Florida. The team finished with a -86 Corsi +/- rating, and a -27 in Goals +/- (GF minus GA). Aaron Ekblad is essentially their only high-quality defenseman. He posted a +1 rating last season, which, if you can believe it, nearly led the team. Ekblad ranked 28th in the league in Corsi For, at 1402.
Sergei Bobrovsky will be the Panthers' saving grace in net. Roberto Luongo was a fan favorite, but his workload had been really cut down during his last few seasons, leaving a revolving door in Florida's net consisting of Al Montoya, Antti Niemi, James Reimer, and even more backups. "Bob" is a career competitor; he has a career save percentage of .919 and recorded a career-record nine shutouts last year with Columbus.
The Habs are going to be strong this year. Not as strong as the Lightning, no, but strong. Barring an arbitrary implosion by Toronto, Montreal will be competing with Florida (and possibly Pittsburgh) for the top Eastern Conference wild card spot. The Canadiens had a busy offseason; they lost out on the Matt Duchene and Sebastian Aho sweepstakes, but gained defenseman Ben Chiarot and center Nick Cousins in free agency.
The Canadiens went 0-2 against the Predators last year.
Simple Rating System, a team rating that takes into account average goal differential and strength of schedule, gave the Canadiens a 0.16 rating last year. The Canadiens were the only team that recorded a positive SRS and did not make the playoffs, even recording a better one than Dallas. The Habs were highly ranked in several categories last season; they were fifth in Goals For at 187, third in Corsi +/- at +700, and first overall in Corsi For per 60 minutes at 65.75. Their power play, however, was just above the Preds at 30th league-wide with a 13.25 percent conversion rate. The Canadiens' third place Corsi +/- finish can be credited to the six players who finished in the top 20 in individual Corsi +/- ratings: Brendan Gallagher, Tomas Tatar, Jeff Petry, Phillip Danault, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, and Brett Kulak.
Besides sitting for the league's 19th most penalty minutes (80), Max Domi had a great year. Domi had, by far, the best year of his career last year. He led Montreal with 72 points and a +20 on-ice rating, as well as accounting for the team's highest offensive point shares. Domi has been easy for the Preds- he only has three points in 10 career games against them. Domi is projected by Daily Faceoff to line up with Jonathan Drouin and rookie Nick Suzuki on his wings. Drouin had 53 points last year (tying his career high), which tied with Danault for third on the team, but struggled defensively and posted a -9 rating. Nick Suzuki is going to be fun to watch on a line with Domi and Drouin. Just last year playing for both the Owen Sound Attack and Guelph Storm of the OHL, Suzuki racked up 143 points in just 87 games played. Amateur stats don't always translate very well to the NHL, but with Suzuki able to switch between center and wing at ease, he will easily be in the Calder conversation come June.
Phenom center prospect Ryan Poehling will probably miss a handful of games at the beginning of this season due to a concussion, but once he hits the ice again the Canadiens will have high expectations for him. Poehling, in just one game and three shots on net, scored three goals against Toronto on the last game of the 2018-2019 season. In the meantime, Gallagher, Danault, and Tatar will skate on Montreal's first forward line. The three of them combined for 163 points and a +48 rating last season. Thankfully for the Preds, the Canadiens' offense hasn't been very successful in games facing them. The Gallagher-Tatar-Danault line have a combined 33 games facing the Preds with only 18 points and a -4 rating.
You'd be hard-pressed to find any more misery than already existed in this team's season. In just two years since their fateful Game 7 of the 2017 Eastern Conference Final against Pittsburgh, the Senators have absolutely faceplanted. They've lost Erik Karlsson, Mark Stone, Ryan Dzingel, Mike Hoffman, Matt Duchene (hello) and Kyle Turris (hello) all within that time, and they haven't come close to replacing them. Duchene and Stone remained the team's highest scoring players last year, even after being traded in February. Here are all the statistical categories they finished worst in the league in: points (64), goals against (301), shots against (2,931), Corsi Against, and Corsi +/-.
They were able to draft Brady Tkachuk fourth overall in the 2018 Draft, and he's already arguably their best player. They fell to the 19th pick in this year's draft (exchanged with Colorado in the 2018 Duchene-Turris-Girard/Kamenev trade we're all so familiar with) and were able to snag defenseman Lassi Thomson. Thomson, when he is called up, will make a huge difference on Ottawa's unbelievably poor defense. Unfortunately, he may need another year or two in development.
The Senators went 1-1 against the Predators last year.
We haven't even started on the Senators' actual roster yet. They recently re-signed defenseman Thomas Chabot to a massive eight-year deal (not sure how they pulled it off), which solidifies at least one quality defender beyond rookie Erik Brannstrom until Thomson comes up. Chabot more than doubled his production last year with 55 points- up from 25 the previous season. Without much of a supporting cast, Chabot also went -12 for the year.
Even after getting rid of Cody Ceci (recorded a -338 Corsi rating last year), a few players still stand out as massive liabilities for Ottawa. Based on Corsi stats, Chris Tierney, Mikkel Boedker, and Bobby Ryan are among the NHL's worst players. Last year, the Senators accounted for nine players in the bottom 30 of Corsi +/-. They were able to shed Ceci, Tom Pyatt, Ben Harpur, Magnus Paajarvi, and Ryan Dzingel in the offseason, so perhaps the total inability to defend their zone will be somewhat remedied. Brady Tkachuk, who is coming into his second NHL season, is just about the only good thing coming out of Ottawa these days. Outside of Tierney, Tkachuk is now the Senators' highest scoring player. Last year he put up 45 points and finished just behind Chabot for the team's OPS lead. Against the Preds, Tkachuk had a point in two games and a +2 rating. Ottawa also picked up Artem Anisimov in free agency. Anisimov played for Chicago the past four seasons and never was super productive against the Preds, but he has a nice wealth of experience facing the entire Central Division. At 31, he will likely take on more of a leadership role with the Senators and be able to direct third and fourth-line traffic during games against Nashville.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Talk about a real worst-to-first transition section of this blog. In the history of the NHL, only the 1995-1996 Detroit Red Wings had a better season than the 2018-2019 Tampa Bay Lightning did. The team and the players themselves dominated almost every statistical category available. Not only did they have the most points (128), the Lightning had the most goals-for (319), highest SRS rating (1.21), most power play goals (74), best power play percentage (28.24%), best penalty kill percentage (85.02%), and highest shooting percentage (12.2%). Despite being on the receiving end of an incredibly shocking first round sweep at the hands of Columbus, Tampa Bay is, unquestionably, going to make another run at the Stanley Cup this year.
The Lightning actually dropped both games they played against the Predators, only scoring three goals in those two games.
You can't talk about this Lightning team without talking about Nikita Kucherov. Kucherov won the Hart Trophy for league MVP last year- and for good reason. He recorded the same amount of individual points- 128- as his team did for the entire season, which is coincidentally the most single-season points ever scored by a Russian-born player. Kucherov was responsible for the league's most point shares at 14.6. Kucherov's linemates, Brayden Point and Steven Stamkos, recorded the 12th and 9th most points in the league, respectively. Stamkos ranked fourth overall in goals, with 45. Point actually tied Kucherov and four other players at 41 goals for sixth overall and lead the league with 20 power play goals. This line collectively scored the Lightning's most goals- accounting for about 37 percent of the entire team's production. Point had two assists against the Preds last year, Stamkos had no points and a -4 rating, and Kucherov had a goal but a -3 rating. It's going to take another massive effort to stop this trio (and team), but the Preds proved last year they know how to study for them.
Among the league's top 20 players with the best +/- on-ice ratings, Tampa Bay is responsible for six of them. Defenseman Ryan McDonagh, coming back from an injury-riddled 2017-2018 season, recorded his best year yet. He was second only to Mark Giordano for the best +/- in the league at +38 and led the team in defensive point shares, with Victor Hedman coming in right behind him. Against the Preds, however, McDonagh had just a -2 rating. Hedman, Anthony Cirelli, and Erik Cernak were neck-and-neck in +/- ratings. Cirelli tied with Calgary's Mark Jankowski for the second-most shorthanded goals scored last season, at five.
The Lightning are going to, once again, be no joke this year. They have the best top two forward and defensive lines I've ever seen, and they will probably rip the NHL apart. However, they need to have nailed down the exact reason for their first round collapse before they even start thinking about another President's Trophy. Hopefully the Preds come as prepared this year as they were last year.
Toronto Maple Leafs
If the Leafs manage to blow the careers of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander, Kasperi Kapanen, and John Tavares by never making it past the first round of the playoffs, it will genuinely be an amazing feat. Toronto has $0 in cap space and is currently taking a $95 million cap hit with the aforementioned five players absorbing nearly half of it. The Leafs tied the Preds and the Penguins at 100 points last season and recorded the fourth-most goals-for at 286.
The Leafs were shut out by the Predators in both games they played last year, allowing seven goals in the process.
Auston Matthews recorded his best year points-wise last year, notching 73. Matthews had a down year defensively, finishing the season with a -9 rating- including a -3 rating and zero points facing the Preds. Matthews' linemate, William Nylander, missed out on about a third of the season due to a contract deadlock. When he came back, he wasn't terribly impressive; Nylander had only 27 points in 54 games with a -4 rating. It looks like signing with the Leafs was just what John Tavares needed. He had his best statistical year last year, with career highs in both goals (47), points (88), and on-ice ratings (+19). However, Tavares also had zero points and a -2 rating against the Preds. Mitch Marner, in my opinion, earned that massive $10.9 million contract he signed this summer. Marner led Toronto in points with 94 for the season, was third on the team in +/- at +22, and tied with Matthews for the second-highest offensive point shares on the team at 7.3.
I'm not sure what the Toronto front office is trying to prove by bringing Cody Ceci onto their defense. Ceci's stats are an actual dumpster fire; he had the league's third highest Corsi Against average (1,572), fifth-most goals against (77), and the worst Corsi +/- rating (-338). The addition of Tyson Barrie should bolster the Leafs' defense, and Morgan Rielly is severely underrated. Barrie and Rielly both had career years last year. Rielly clocked the second-highest Corsi For in the league at 1,710 and the highest individual goals for at 97. Rielly also tied with Brad Marchand for the eighth-highest point shares at 11.7.
This will be a pivotal year for the Maple Leafs. They've lost in the first round of the playoffs for three years in a row, and desperately need to continue their offensive flair for longer than 82 games. Against the Preds, though, they can keep having off nights.