Tough Atlantic Division Opposition Mounts for Bruins
The Boston Bruins have ended as the second-best team in the Atlantic Division, as well as in the Eastern Conference, for the second straight season. Will it change next season? Or will the Bruins finally obtain the Atlantic’s No. 1 seed?
As we have all witnessed last year, it doesn’t really matter who ends up on the first spot in the division or conference. All four divisional champions crashed in the first round in the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs. Nevertheless, for the Bruins, the competition mounts within their division ahead of the 2019-20 season.
The Tampa Bay Lightning legacy has taken a big knock with that sweep in the first round at the hands of the Columbus Blue Jackets. Still, it’s a year removed from a 62-win team that beat the Bruins in the second round of the playoffs in 2018 pretty comfortably. In the offseason, they lost some key pieces, as J.T. Miller, Anton Stralman, and Dan Girardi moved on. But overall, they managed to keep the same roster intact, and added a valuable guy like Kevin Shattenkirk on a cheap one-year contract.
The Toronto Maple Leafs made quite a few changes ahead of the new season. Certainly, shedding Nazem Kadri and Jake Gardiner might help when playing the Bruins in the playoffs. Gardiner was a magnet for the costly errors in those Game 7s at TD Garden and Kadri’s careless plays cost the Leafs in those series as well. Adding a mobile defenseman like Tyson Barrie will definitely help the Leafs blue line.
Of all the other teams not making the playoffs last year, don’t expect the Ottawa Senators to improve. They won’t oppose a threat to the Bruins during the next campaign, and won’t be a problem for any teams for the foreseeable future.
But look at the other squads. The Florida Panthers didn’t ship away players like Mike Hoffman or Jonathan Huberdeau. They brought in Sergei Bobrovsky. They locked him down for a hefty price, but that doesn’t matter as of now. They also “stole” Anton Stralman from the Lightning and Noel Acciari from the Bruins. Look for them to be more dangerous. Last season, the Panthers went 2-2 against the Bruins in the regular-season series, while being 3-1 the prior year.
The Buffalo Sabres signed some really solid players as well; just look at Marcus Johansson. They traded for Jimmy Vesey from the Rangers, while acquiring another former Bruins player in Colin Miller. With another newcomer in Henri Jokiharju or John Gilmour, the Sabres added much-needed depth and improved their defensive lines. They also managed to re-sign Jeff Skinner. Expect them to be more dangerous.
The Detroit Red Wings improved massively with the departure of the GM Ken Holland and the arrival of Steve Yzerman. Yzerman built that NHL juggernaut in Tampa Bay. He made a couple of courageous moves like drafting Moritz Seider with the sixth-overall draft pick or signing former Red Wing Valtteri Filppula. He also signed Oliwer Kaski, a good young defenseman from Finland. Maybe the Red Wings don’t sound like big threats, but last season they went 3-1 against the B’s and they will be a steep challenge for the years to come.
Finally, the Montreal Canadiens, led by the goaltender Carey Price, are always in the mix. They seemed to improve with the moves involving players as Max Domi or Tomas Tatar arriving. In the draft, they picked Cole Caufield, who seems like a steal. Ryan Poehling scored a hat trick in his late regular-season debut. It would look much better for the Habs with Sebastian Aho, but it is what it is. For the future ahead, expect another heated round of Bruins-Habs battles.