Assessing the State of the Atlantic Division in 2021-22
What is the Atlantic Division going to look like this season?
With the calendar turning to September, we are officially just one month away from the 2021-22 NHL season. The Ottawa Senators have their sights set on a playoff spot, but it will be an uphill battle in a division that features five other 2021 playoff teams including the back-to-back Stanley Cup champions.
I thought it would be fun to take a look at the state of the Atlantic Division to see if Ottawa actually has a fighting chance. I’ll list each team’s additions and subtractions in order to get a good look at what the Senators will be up against this coming season in order of how I would rank them today:
Tampa Bay Lightning: 110-point pace in 2021
Additions: Corey Perry, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, Brian Elliott, Zach Bogosian
They didn’t have much room to add, but they decided to grab some veterans who will help with their depth. Bogosian already won a Cup with them in 2020 too. These four won’t be game-breakers, but every team needs depth.
Subtractions: Tyler Johnson, Barclay Goodrow, Blake Coleman, David Savard, Yanni Gourde, Curtis McElhinney, Luke Schenn
Speaking of depth, Tampa Bay lost a lot of it. Gourde, Johnson, Goodrow, and Coleman were all very solid top-9 forwards who will be missed. Savard was a good pickup at the deadline as well, although they can probably survive these losses with young players such as Mathieu Joseph, Ross Colton, Alex Barré-Boulet, and Cal Foote.
Let’s be honest, this team could easily have a three-peat...their talent is still off the charts. Having said that, their depth is definitely weaker this season, so I wouldn’t expect quite such dominance. Amazingly, they’re still the team to beat.
Toronto Maple Leafs: 113-point pace
Additions: Nick Ritchie, Petr Mrazek, David Kampf, Ondrej Kaše, Michael Bunting, Kurtis Gabriel
The Leafs didn’t add any impact talent, but they did a decent job at adding potential useful pieces. Mrazek is about a league average goalie, and Kaše, Ritchie, Kampf, and Bunting have been good top-9 contributors at various points (while also being cheap). The Leafs top-heavy approach from before hasn’t worked, so perhaps this will get them over the hump.
Subtractions: Zach Hyman, Frederik Andersen, Joe Thornton, David Rittich, Nick Foligno, Stefan Noesen, Alex Galchenyuk, Ben Hutton, Zach Bogosian, Riley Nash
Although my previous paragraph is true, they also lost some talent as well. Hyman is the biggest loss as he broke out as a true top-6 winger last season. Thornton and Foligno left open forward spots, but their other additions can probably replace that production. Hyman is the only subtraction that’ll probably hurt, but I think we’ll see a very similar Leafs team.
They’re the butt of many jokes, as they should be right now. At the end of the day, they still have a ton of talent though and will still be in contention for winning the division. I wouldn’t say they’re better than before but they didn’t really get that much worse either.
Florida Panthers: 116-point pace
Additions: Sam Reinhart, Joe Thornton
Reinhart is a huge addition as the Panthers try to stay in the “contenders” section of the league. He gives them another weapon behind Sasha Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau, and a hungry (and somehow decently productive) Thornton can’t hurt as well.
Subtractions: Chris Driedger, Keith Yandle, Nikita Gusev, Alex Wennberg, Lucas Wallmark
I’m not sure what to make of Driedger and his career .929 SV% in just 38 games, but it’s undeniable that they need one of Sergei Bobrovsky or Spencer Knight to step up to replace him. Yandle and Wennberg provided some value to Florida this past season, but neither are particularly instrumental to their success.
It’s hard to get a good read on this team. I expect some regression due to the loss of Driedger and worse luck for someone like Carter Verhaeghe, but they have some very good pieces here. They’ve always had talented players but have never been able to put it all together. Maybe they’ve finally figured it out, and if they have, that’s terrible news for Ottawa considering they could be directly competing against them.
Boston Bruins: 107-point pace
Additions: Nick Foligno, Tomas Nosek, Erik Haula, Derek Forbort, Linus Ullmark
With the exception of Forbort, these were all quite shrewd moves in order to replace some outbound players. They aren’t going to put the Bruins over the top, but Foligno, Nosek, and Haula can all play in the top-9, and Ullmark is about an average goalie.
Subtractions: Tuukka Rask, David Krejci, Jeremy Lauzon, Jaroslav Halak, Ondrej Kase, Nick Ritchie, Sean Kuraly, Jarred Tinordi, Kevan Miller, Steven Kampfer
There’s been a lot of turnover in Boston, with some very notable names leaving like Rask and Krejci. Lauzon, Halak, and Richie have also been quite good for them too, so it will be difficult to replace them in the short-term.
The Bruins have done a phenomenal job keeping this window open, but Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand can only go for so long. With Chara, Rask, and Krejci now gone, we’re already seeing the dismantling of that core, and I’m not sure we’ll see them win another Cup. They’ll still be very competitive this season, but they look more toothless than in the past.
Montreal Canadiens: 86-point pace
Additions: David Savard, Mike Hoffman, Cédric Paquette, Mathieu Perrault, Chris Wideman
The Canadiens love their Francophones as they added three of them...even Hoffman played in the QMJHL. Savard will help their top-4 defense, Hoffman adds a scoring touch they need, and the latter three give them more flexibility.
Subtractions: Shea Weber (injury), Philip Danault, Tomas Tatar, Corey Perry, Cale Fleury, Erik Gustafsson, Charles Hudon, Jon Merrill, Eric Staal, Michael Frolik
These are some serious losses for Montreal. Weber is their best defenseman and his career is in jeopardy, Danault was extremely underrated as a top-6 player, Tatar was also underrated despite scoring more points than any Habs player over the past three seasons, and Perry and Staal were reliable veterans for them. Furthermore, they may lose Jesperi Kotkianiemi to Carolina via their offer sheet. It’s been a tough off-season for them.
Even before the off-season began, Montreal was a perfect candidate to fall back. They weren’t nearly as good as a Cup finalist, plus their subtractions are quite significant. They have very talented players of course, but I don’t see them as a playoff team.
Ottawa Senators: 75-point pace
Additions: Nick Holden, Michael Del Zotto
It’s been a very quiet off-season for Ottawa, with just the two defensemen coming in. Both will probably get top-4 minutes for at least portions of the season, although neither are going to be stars. In the best-case scenario, they’re probably on the third pairing, but I don’t think that will happen based on the other personnel.
Subtractions: Evgenii Dadonov, Joey Daccord, Derek Stepan, Ryan Dzingel, Artem Anisimov
Daccord was taken by the Seattle Kraken, but who knows how many games he would’ve played in Ottawa anyway. Dadonov had a miserable year in Ottawa although I wouldn’t be surprised at all to see him bounceback in Vegas. His departure has still left a hole at right wing. Stepan, Dzingel, and Anisimov were extremely replaceable.
They probably have to get 20 more points than they were on pace for, which is a lot. But they’re heading in the right direction as they integrate more young players into the lineup. They’re getting close.
Detroit Red Wings: 70-point pace
Additions: Alex Nedeljkovic, Mitchell Stephens, Nick Leddy, Pius Suter, Jordan Oesterle
Nedeljkovic was stolen from Carolina for a 3rd round pick, and Suter was signed after somehow not receiving a qualifying offer from Chicago. These additions don’t move the needle much for 2021-22, but they make them more competitive.
Subtractions: Jonathan Bernier, Richard Pánik, Dennis Cholowski, Valtteri Filppula, Luke Glendening, Darren Helm, Christian Djoos, Evgeny Svechnikov, Bobby Ryan, Dylan McIlrath, Calvin Pickard, Alex Biega
Most of these players are just there, so it isn’t really going to hurt them. Bernier had a solid .914 SV% last year, but Nedljkovic could easily match that. Other than that, there isn’t much to be sad about for departures.
Detroit is still a long way away, but they’re slowly getting back to relevancy with Steve Yzerman’s smart moves.
Buffalo Sabres: 54-point pace
Additions: Aaron Dell, Vinnie Hinostroza, Ryan MacInnis, John Hayden, Will Butcher, Robert Hägg, Craig Anderson
There’s not much to talk about here, although Hinostroza has one of the best names in the game. Butcher is an interesting name who was much better in his rookie season in 2017-18, so perhaps he finds his game again in a new setting.
Subtractions: Jake McCabe, Linus Ullmark, Rasmus Ristolainen, Will Borgen, Carter Hutton, Riley Sheahan, Tobias Rieder, Matt Irwin, potentially Jack Eichel
McCabe was injured for most of this past season but he was one of their best defensemen. Ullmark was their starter, Ristolainen played a ton of minutes, plus Eichel seems likely to be traded at some point as well. There won’t be many recognizable names left, as this Sabres team looks even worse than before.
Yikes. This franchise just needs to blow it all up and start again because something is cursed. I really wouldn’t worry about the Sabres and their competitive window for a while.
I’d say there is a very good chance Ottawa finishes at least 6th, but it will still be a challenging season getting into the top-4 or 5. Can they do it? Absolutely. But it will take a lot of fantastic efforts and they will need some luck along the way as well in order to pass teams like Montreal, Boston, and/or Florida. Even if they don’t make it in this year, it’s not a failure of the rebuild.