By JD Lagrange – This may seem premature, and it likely is, but after a day where the Montreal Canadiens did nothing but to shore up their AHL team in Laval, it is warranted. As teams around them have, for the most part, improved, those who haven’t were already miles ahead of the Habs in the standings so by doing nothing to improve, you find yourself regressing.
So let’s have a look at what the teams in the Atlantic Division have done so far. We’ll go by last year’s standings.
1- Florida Panthers
The Panthers have added Nick Cousins, Marc Staal, Colin White, and invited Eric Staal on a PTO. They have lost Mason Marchment and playoffs’ rentals Claude Giroux and Ben Chiarot. The have also replaced head coach Andrew Brunette, who had led them to the President’s Trophy. Anthony Duclair had surgery to repair an Achilles tendon injury and is expected to return at around the mid-season point.
⬇️ Overall, I feel like the Panthers have taken a step back. But when you win the league and take a step back you’re still a formidable team. It is important to note that the Canadiens own the Panthers’ first round pick next summer, and that pick is not lottery protected. So if disaster strikes in South Florida and the Cats don’t make the playoffs, it could be a very good pick. That pick was obtained in the Ben Chiarot trade.
2- Toronto Maple Leafs
The Leafs traded for Matt Murray, signed Adam Gaudette and Ilya Samsonov. Jason Spezza is retiring and Ilya Lyubushkin is gone to Buffalo. I don’t know how their fans are still supporting Kyle Dubas. He signed Petr Mrazek a year ago for three years with a cap hit of $3.8 million. He then traded him and had to give up the Leafs’ first round pick to do so at this year’s draft. Then, he gave other assets to acquire a huge question mark in goal in Matt Murray. Even if Ottawa kept about $1.5 million, Toronto still has a $4.7 million cap hit for Murray. Then he signs UFA Ilya Samsonov $1.8 million. Both come with huge question marks.
⬇️ Because they have lost up front and haven’t fixed their goaltending issues, the Leafs have taken an ever slightly step backwards. But they’re still a good team with tons of offense. They will be contending for the Division’s title, particularly if one of Murray or Samsonov has a good season.
3- Tampa Bay Lightning
On the first day of free agency, the Lightning spent $160 million in about 10 minutes by re-signing Erik Cernak, Anthony Cirelli and Mikhail Sergachev. They also signed defensemen Ian Cole and Haydn Fleury, as well as forward Vladislav Namestnikov. But they made a big sacrifice, having to trade away Ryan McDonagh and having lost Ondrej Palat.
⬇️ With no room to add anything substantial, the Lightning also took a step back from last season. Like the Panthers and the Leafs, they are still good enough to fight for top spot in the Division. They are over the cap limit as we speak so cap gymnastic is still required.
4- Boston Bruins
The Bruins have been very quiet. Aside from a few minor signings, the have completed one substantial trade when they acquired Pavel Zacha from the New Jersey Devils, sending veteran center Erik Haula the other way. The Bruins also added some size and grit by signing AJ Greer. They are working on a contract with Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci.
🔁 Basically, as it stands, the Bruins have made lateral moves. In a stronger division as anticipated in the Atlantic, the Bruins will be fighting for a playoffs’ spot. But it might be more for a wild card spot than a top-3 in the Division.
5- Buffalo Sabres
The Sabres had a “meh” off-season so far. They drafted well and signed Ilya Lyubushkin, Kale Clague and former Winnipeg Jets goaltender Eric Comrie, while Colin Miller has left.
🔁 I hesitated between a slight regression or being stagnant. I was generous by picking the second option. The Sabres young guns should start taking a bigger role and the Sabres better hope that their veterans have a good season. They will most likely be on the outside looking in when the chips fall.
6- Detroit Red Wings
Perhaps the second most improved team in the Division, Steve Yzerman sure knows how to turn a franchise around. Out are older, ineffective veterans like Danny DeKeyser, Marc Staal, Sam Gagner. The Wings then signed David Perron, Dominik Kubalik, Olli Maatta, Andrew Copp, Ben Chiarot and goaltenter Ville Husso.
⬆️ That these additions to the young, maturing core already there and you have a team competing with the Bruins for a playoffs’ spot. They will be entertaining to watch too!
7- Ottawa Senators
Signed Claude Giroux. Traded G Filip Gustavsson for Cam Talbot, traded picks to get Alex DeBrincat
⬆️ The single most improved team not only in the Atlantic Division, the Senators are perhaps the team that took the biggest leap forward so far this off-season. They’ve added two high quality top-6 forwards and have improved their goaltending. They might have reached the level of the Maple Leafs and Lighting in points.
8- Montreal Canadiens
The Habs traded away Alexander Romanov and Shea Weber’s contract, and received Kirby Dach and Evgeni Dadonov. Perhaps the biggest news is the signing of Juraj Slafkovsky and Filip Mesar. Rem Pitlick is a UFA and has yet to sign anywhere at the time of writing this, and they still have Jeff Petry and are tight against the salary cap. Lots of uncertainty about the health of both Carey Price and Paul Byron. Kent Hughes is very methodical in his approach. He stole the first day at the Draft by going against the fan base by picking Slafkovsky and that, at the Bell Centre, then completed two big trades to get Dach.
🔁 The last few days are a lost of opportunity to shed some cap for the Canadiens. There is still time and as long as John Klingberg isn’t signed, it might be difficult to move Petry. Is Hughes still trying to acquire Pierre-Luc Dubois? Without that, the Canadiens have NOT improved… from a last place team. When everyone around you improves, you regressed.