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NHL season-preview capsules: Atlantic Division

Atlantic Division capsules

Boston Bruins
Head coach: Jim Montgomery (second season)
Last season: 65-12-5, first place in Atlantic Division
This season: Unquestionably, the Bruins will take a step back in the regular season. What remains to be seen is how far. After a record-setting campaign that ended with a jaw-dropping 135 points, the Bruins lost key players Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci to retirement, Tyler Bertuzzi and Dmitry Orlov in free agency and Nick Foligno and Taylor Hall via trade. Reaching the playoffs is likely but no sure thing.
What’s new: It appears the Bruins will count on Pavel Zacha and Charlie Coyle to fill the top two center spots. Zacha is more proven as a winger and Coyle is a top-level third-liner center but has not yet shown he can take on a bigger role. The main newcomers at forward are along the lines of depth players in James van Riemsdyk, Milan Lucic and Morgan Geekie. Rookie center Matthew Poitras, a 2022 second-round draft pick, had a strong preseason and could be tried on the second line, but it may be a stretch for him to take that job just yet.
Players to watch: Boston still has plenty of top-tier talent in forwards David Pastrnak, Brad Marchand and Jake DeBrusk, defensemen Charlie McAvoy and Hampus Lindholm and an outstanding pair of goalies in Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman. Their ability to remain Stanley Cup contenders will be severely put to the test.

Buffalo Sabres
Head coach: Don Granato (fourth season)
Last season: 42-33-7, fifth place in Atlantic Division
This season: Can the Sabres snap their NHL record for most seasons without reaching the Stanley Cup playoffs (12)? With minimal changes for a team that just fell short last season, the Sabres are hoping one more year of experience for their core, plus improved goaltending and defensive play, will make the difference.
What’s new: Goalie Devon Levi joined the club late during the 2022-23 campaign after his sophomore season at Northeastern and posted an impressive 5-2-0 record with a 2.94 goals-against average and a .905 save percentage. Still eligible for the Calder Trophy as the league’s top rookie, Levi, 21, has high expectations to live up to. Possibly sticking around, too, is 2023 first-round draft pick Zach Benson, an 18-year-old winger. Buffalo has a litany of offensively talented players, led by forward Tage Thompson and defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, but it must learn how to keep pucks out of the net.
Players to watch: The Sabres are bound to be a fun team to watch, not only with their somewhat freewheeling style, but also because of a wealth of skaters capable of creating scoring opportunities. The list includes the likes of forwards Alex Tuch, Casey Mittelstadt, Dylan Cozens, Jeff Skinner and the injured Jack Quinn, as well as rising star defenseman Owen Power.

Detroit Red Wings
Head coach: Derek Lalonde (second season)
Last season: 35-37-10, seventh place in Atlantic Division
This season: On paper, this looks to be the best Red Wings squad since Detroit last made the playoffs in 2015-16. Whether the Red Wings are good enough to snap their current drought is questionable. Detroit has a lot of ground to cover in what will be a tight playoff race, especially with the wild-card spots.
What’s new: The lengthy list of newcomers includes forwards Alex DeBrincat, Daniel Sprong and J.T. Compher plus defensemen Jeff Petry, Justin Holl and Shayne Gostisbehere, with goalies Alex Lyon and James Reimer vying for the backup job behind Ville Husso. It is worth following how they all fill in around a core that includes captain Dylan Larkin, slightly fading veterans Andrew Copp and David Perron and three rising stars — third-year forward Lucas Raymond, 2021-22 Rookie of the Year defenseman Moritz Seider and 2023 first-round draft pick Nate Danielson, a 19-year-old center.
Players to watch: Detroit has a lot of good players but has lacked the dynamic attack that would make it easier to be a playoff team. DeBrincat has been brought in to click with Larkin on the top line and potentially give the Wings their first 40-goal scorer since Marian Hossa in 2008-09. Raymond and Seider struggled following strong rookie seasons and should elevate their games with the amount of quality players around them. Husso took the starter’s job with a strong start to last season but faded down the stretch with the heavy workload.

Florida Panthers
Head coach: Paul Maurice (second season)
Last season: 42-32-8, fourth place in Atlantic Division
This season: Coming off their first run to the Stanley Cup Final since 1996, it would be easy to assume the Panthers should be among the league elite. Then again, would it be a surprise if Florida was again in a dogfight for a playoff position? The Panthers made an incredible run last season, but it’s easy to forget that they were the lowest seed in the Eastern Conference postseason and actually finished behind the non-playoff Calgary Flames in the overall standings.
What’s new: With both its top-line defensemen, Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour, expected to be out until mid-December due to shoulder surgery, and another two blue-liners, Marc Staal and Radko Gudas, having departed via free agency, Florida will hope newcomers Dmitry Kulikov, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Niko Mikkola can step up.
Players to watch: With Matthew Tkachuk, Aleksander Barkov, Carter Verhaeghe, Sam Bennett, Sam Reinhart, Eetu Luostarinen and Anton Lundell leading the way, the Panthers have a very dynamic group of forwards. They also play with plenty of speed and use their size well against defenders, wearing them down. Starting goalie Sergei Bobrovsky rebounded incredibly in the 2023 playoffs after a disappointing regular season.

Montreal Canadiens
Head coach: Martin St. Louis (third season)
Last season: 31-45-6, eighth place in Atlantic Division
This season: When the dust settles on the 2023-24 campaign, it will be a surprise if the Canadiens don’t end up with a top-five draft pick for the third consecutive season. Montreal, which finished last in the league in 2021-22 and somehow placed above four other teams last season, is in the throes of its cut-to-the-bone rebuild. Sure, the storied franchise has some good young players and plenty of prospects, but its roster makeup appears destined to put the Canadiens in the cellar.
What’s new: Well … not a lot. There certainly weren’t enough moves made to make it seem like the Canadiens are poised to take a step forward. With all of the injuries last season, Montreal went very deep into the system, which wasn’t the worst-case scenario in terms of development. Surprisingly, the Canadiens made very few additions. Through trades, they added Alex Newhook (from Colorado), Tanner Pearson (from Vancouver) and defenseman Gustav Lindstrom (from Detroit). They dealt away veterans Mike Hoffman, Rem Pitlick and Joel Edmundson.
Players to watch: It likely won’t be a pretty picture this season in Montreal, but the Canadiens are building a nice young core of forwards starting with Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield, Kirby Dach, 2022 first overall draft pick Juraj Slafkovsky, who struggled in his rookie season, and defenseman Kaiden Guhle. Veteran center Sean Monahan is healthy after a shortened season due to injury, and he could be another trade chip for a team that has a plethora of prospects in the junior ranks, minor leagues and Europe.

Ottawa Senators
Head coach: D.J. Smith (fifth season)
Last season: 39-35-8, sixth place in Atlantic Division
This season: Like the Sabres and Red Wings, the Senators are legitimately hoping to unseat one of the division powers in a playoff position. Whether Boston, Toronto, Florida or Tampa Bay can be overtaken is debatable. It is a very strong division, but the gap is closing.
What’s new: Off the ice, the Senators have a new owner, Michael Andlauer. On the ice, the biggest name to arrive is sniper Vladimir Tarasenko, who will be counted on to replace the offense lost by trading away DeBrincat. Maybe even more important will be the goaltending provided by Joonas Korpisalo, acquired via free agency.
Players to watch: With Tim Stutzle, Brady Tkachuk, Claude Giroux and hopefully a healthy Josh Norris (shoulder), Ottawa has a quality crop of forwards, and it possesses lots of potential on defense with Thomas Chabot leading the way ahead of up-and-comers in Jakob Chychrun and Jake Sanderson. One story to watch is whether young center Shane Pinto re-signs. A restricted free agent, he remains without a deal.

Tampa Bay Lightning
Head coach: Jon Cooper (12th season)
Last season: 46-30-6, third place in Atlantic Division
This season: After a first-round playoff exit, which snapped a run of three consecutive trips to the Stanley Cup Final, the Lightning continue to pay the price for their success. The annual wave of veteran departures in the summer included forwards Alex Killorn, Corey Perry, Pat Maroon and defenseman Ian Cole. Plus, star goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy is expected to miss the first two months of the season due to back surgery. A playoff spot is not guaranteed.
What’s new: Adding to the intrigue around Tampa Bay, captain Steven Stamkos is due to become an unrestricted free agent after this season and opened training camp by saying he was miffed the team had not started serious negotiations regarding a new deal. To fill the gaps left by those who departed, the Lightning have brought in a bevy of undistinguished but effective-in-their-role players such as Conor Sheary, Luke Glendening, Tyler Motte and Calvin de Haan.
Players to watch: Barring a trade, the Lightning are expected to turn to Jonas Johansson to stem the tide without Vasilevskiy. Johansson, 28, has a grand total of 35 NHL games under his belt for Buffalo, Colorado and Florida over the past four seasons. He owns a career 3.32 GAA and .887 save percentage. Backup Matt Tomkins is a 29-year-old Chicago draft pick from 2012 who has yet to play an NHL game. Tampa Bay better hope its veteran core led by Stamkos, Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Victor Hedman and Mikhail Sergachev can hold strong.

Toronto Maple Leafs
Head coach: Sheldon Keefe (fifth season)
Last season: 50-21-11, second place in Atlantic Division
This season: The Maple Leafs are the front-runners to win the division. Toronto has a deep and talented group of forwards and solid goaltending, with the biggest questions surrounding the defensive corps. No matter what the Maple Leafs achieve in the regular season, how they fare in the Stanley Cup playoffs will be the standard by which the season is measured.
What’s new: Brad Treliving left Calgary and took over the general manager duties when Kyle Dubas was fired and ended up in Pittsburgh. Treliving addressed a glaring need by adding grit in forwards Max Domi, Ryan Reaves and Bertuzzi and hoped to shore up the defense by signing John Klingberg. There were holes to fill with forwards Ryan O’Reilly, Michael Bunting, Alexander Kerfoot and Noel Acciari and defensemen Luke Schenn, Erik Gustafsson and Holl all departing in the summer.
Players to watch: Toronto has a lights-out set of forwards — Auston Matthews, Mitchell Marner, William Nylander and John Tavares — who can provide a much-needed goal at any time. The Leafs have added rookie Mathew Knies to that group in addition to 2023 first-round draft choice Easton Cowen, a winger. Plus, goaltender Ilya Samsonov is coming off the best season of his career. Expect the chase to be for an addition on defense, although it will take some salary-cap gymnastics to make a meaningful move.

–Field Level Media

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