Though football is just getting started, another NHL season is right around the corner and we start our four divisional tours in the Atlantic, where the Tampa Bay and Toronto are expected at the head of the class. Boston is a bit behind, with the rest of the teams languishing much further back.
With this preview, besides looking at the teams, we will also cover each team's Over/Under wager for season points in the standings and their odds to win their division and conference. The latter two odds are present by Intertops.
Mike Babcock was brought to Toronto to turn the franchise around and win. Babcock and the front office changed the culture and many players. This was noticed by others and it is why they were able to hook top free agent John Tavares. It's not like the Maple Leafs could not score, as they were tied for third last year in goals. However, this year they can really apply the pressure with Tavares, plus having Auston Matthews playing a sweet second fiddle. One aspect Babcock has to fix is defensive shot on goal where Fredrik Andersen was peppered. The defense will determine their point total and Cup aspirations.
This a big year for Tampa Bay, after three appearances in the East Finals in the past four seasons. There is no shortage of talent on the Lightning roster, especially on offense, where they were No.1 in scoring. After this season, contracts are up and some are due big paydays and it will be impossible to keep everyone. Offensive depth is not a problem with six 20+ goal scorers and six 50+ point producers. The blue-line revolves around Victor Hedman (Norris Trophy winner), but he still needs more help after they finished 19th in goals allowed, due in part to being 29th in penalty killing. A good bet all around, but the pressure is on the Lightning to do a Washington.
Boston Bruins | +250 to win Atlantic and +500 to win the East Conference
Under GM Don Sweeney, Boston has rebuilt on the run without having to do a complete teardown. The young players have stepped right in, especially on defense. For the Bruins to reach the East Finals, they need to find more scoring depth behind their top line of Brad Marchand - Patrice Bergeron - David Pastrnak. Boston fans are also growing a little impatient with goalie Tuukka Rask who has not always played well in big games or the playoffs.
From division champs to missing the playoffs in one year, that was quite a fall for Florida. Panthers ownership messed with the front office and the team came undone. They restructured again and placed Dale Tallon back as GM and he brought Florida back to within one digit of making the postseason with a 15-point improvement. The Panthers lack in star power, but they have enough players just below Aleksander Barkov's level to compete nightly if they work hard. With aging and spotty netminders like Roberto Luongo, the Florida defensemen cannot lead the NHL in giveaways again. The Panthers are the best of the rest after the Top 3 in this division and seem stuck there.
The fall from grace is astonishing for Montreal, who was 14th in points in the East. Complete mismanagement and arrogance are to blame, with terrible trades and worse player drafting. With top defenseman Shea Weber out until Christmas, the Canadiens traded top scorer and point producer Max Pacioretty to Vegas, which signals, waving the white flag. Montreal is turning the page and goalie Carey Price is coming off the worst year of his exceptional career. Look for a coaching change before 2019, with the losses piling up.
Buffalo Sabres | +3300 to win Atlantic and +4000 to win the East Conference
The Sabres had the fewest points in the NHL last year and it was well deserved. Buffalo was 31st in scoring and 29th in goals allowed. You can only go up from there and coach Phil Housley has talked excitedly about the moves the front office made and expects a more aggressive attack led by center Jack Eichel. Top pick Rasmus Dahlin in time with help shore up a leaky defense. The goalie situation is now in the hands of Carter Hutton and rookie Linus Ullmark. Hutton's an improvement but he's never played more than 40 games in a season. The Sabres will be better just by improving on 23 one-goal losses from a year ago.
The Red Wings missed the playoffs again last year and the last time that happened in back to back years was 35 seasons ago. You can all but guarantee it will be three straight for Detroit. Red Wings fans are looking at Toronto and seeing what former coach Mike Babcock has done and wonder why they choose to let him walk. Scoring is where the problems start after being 28th and Dylan Larkin and Thomas Vanek are not getting better. The defense, in theory, was better, tied for 23rd in goals allowed. But that was partially superficial, as they made several contributions to the Wings having a league-high 27 one-goal setbacks by blowing third-period leads. Detroit is going nowhere.
Ottawa Senators | +6600 to win Atlantic and +6600 to win the East Conference
From the Eastern Finals to the second-worst team in the NHL in less than 12 months. That's what Ottawa accomplished. The Senators had many issues a year ago, but one that tore the team apart was the Mike Hoffman-Erik Karlsson feud, which started with the girlfriend/wife accusations. Not exactly hockey stuff. Hoffman landed in Florida for less than market value and Karlson made his feeling known during down $80 million for eight years, wanting no part of a complete rebuild. With a poor ownership group, this franchise is in complete disarray and going nowhere. Update:Karlsson was traded to San Jose and most experts think it was heist by the Sharks. Look for Ottawa's odds to go up and points total down.