Making the Grade: Atlantic Division Edition

Making the Grade

When the 2022-2023 season began, fans thought they had the teams figured out. It was all simple: the contenders, the pretenders, the battle for Conner Bedard. Halfway through the season, teams have played above or below expectations. The grading of these teams will be based on their season expectations, with goals and management decisions linked together. With that said, welcome to the midseason team grades, Atlantic Division Edition.

Boston Bruins

Grade: A++

People predicted this team to miss the playoffs. After firing Bruce Cassidy and the rumors of players missing a majority of the season with injuries, it felt like this team was spiraling down to mediocrity. The league was on watch for this team, and the idea that it would be a tough season does stand tall; however, that’s for any team who has to play Boston. It’s impossible to pick off any flaw this team has, mainly since everything that could go right is in full effect.

Goaltender Linus Ullmark is the favorite for the Vezina Trophy, David Pastrnak has proved why he deserves a massive, multi-year contract, scoring 65 points in 46 games. Pavel Zacha is proving to be the second coming of David Krejci, and the special teams have been spectacular. To cap off how good this team has been, it’s with one simple statistic: The Boston Bruins are the second-fastest team to hit 35 wins in 44 games in the history of the NHL. The first team was the 1929-1930 Boston Bruins roster.

Buffalo Sabres

Grade: A-

When the Buffalo Sabres decided to cast aside pieces of their struggling core like Jack Eichel, Sam Reinhart, and Linus Ullmark, fans’ hopes were the same as their stadium: empty. But after patience and trust, this team looks to be back on track with developing future stars. Some pieces of this new core include Tage Thompson, Alex Tuch, Rasmus Dahlin, and Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, giving this team a chance to compete not only now but in the future as well. Expect this team to go big game hunting this offseason, as they have eighteen million dollars in projected cap space.

Detroit Red Wings

Grade: C+

Three words: Trust The Yzerplan. This team is waiting on the young rookies to grow, and some stars have taken that next step. Former fourth overall pick Lucas Raymond now has back-to-back 30-point seasons, and expect him to continue to score and make plays with his agility and hockey IQ. Moritz Seider, although struggling, has still scored 20 points as a defenseman. Some off-ice issues have kept winger Jakub Vrana away from the organization, but expect him to make an impact later down the line. Their powerplay has struggled this season, sitting 23rd in the league with a success rate of 20.3 percent, but when this team is healthy, expect them to never give up. This team has star power, it’s just waiting to emerge.

Florida Panthers

Grade: D-

It’s hard to imagine just one year ago, this team was a lethal wagon. The Florida Panthers continue to reimburse themselves in the ignorant reality that everything is okay. This team is like Charlie Brown, only instead of kicking the football, they’re choking on the air while running. Going all in has a price, and this team is only at the beginning of paying it, with the core struggling. Although Matthew Tkachuk has played as advertised, players like Mackenzie Weegar or Jonathan Huberdeau could help out the depth that this team lacks. Their future is disastrous, being up against the cap and having no first-round pick until 2027. With the way this team plays now, it’s only going to get worse for the organization.

Montreal Canadiens

Grade: B-

The Montreal Canadiens are experiencing growing pains, as the goal this season was to allow the youth to develop and make mistakes. Despite the lack of winning, some moral victories have been prevalent since opening night, Sean Monahan has had a season of resurgence, scoring 17 points in 25 games. Before his season-ending injury, Cole Caufield was playing at an elite level, scoring 36 points in 46 games. A big loss for the organization, but with the offense finding an identity, this can help other players step up and show off their talent.

And speaking of showing off talent, the goaltending in Montreal has played incredibly. Netminder Sam Montembeault has played well above expectations, with a .912 save percentage and 9.0 goals saved above expected in 18 games played. With this young core finding ways to improve every night and a goaltender for now and the future, expect this team to be back in the cup final in a few years.

Ottawa Senators

Grade: C

It’s hard not to want more out of this young, ferocious squad. The Ottawa Senators have had a lack of grit all season. They’re dangerous on fast breaks, but if a game is slowed down, they’re incapable of scheming plays to rush up the ice. They currently sit 29th in the league for the percentage of giveaways in the defensive zone at 61.69 percent, along with sitting 27th in the league for the percentage of goals against from rebounds at 16.78 percent. These are examples of ugly mistakes, not bad mistakes. Ugly mistakes are able to be fixed and controlled over the season, and with superstar Claude Giroux there to help develop this young core, it’s safe to say they will be just fine.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Grade: B+

When you’re team is running on all cylinders and is a modern dynasty, expectations are always going to be high. This season is proving that greatness doesn’t last forever, as many players on the Tampa Bay Lightning are experiencing down years. Victor Hedman has scored 30 points in 41 games, and his defensive metrics have him placed outside the top voting for the Norris Trophy. Andrei Vasilevsky continues to be elite, plotting 13.5 goals saved above expected, along with a .917 save percentage, giving this team an analytical edge over their opponents. Their powerplay success rate of 28.2 has them 2nd in the league, and with the way their depth has played, they are proving they can win in all aspects. Come playoff time, don’t count this team out.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Grade: A+

This team has no concern for the regular season. Their time comes in the playoffs, where coaching and front-office jobs are on thin ice. A playoff round must be won, and this team is putting itself in a fantastic position to ride momentum into the postseason. The players they expected to step up have executed perfidiously, with big names like Mitch Marner and William Nylander proving they are worth big contracts.

The major flaw in this core was the goaltending, and the team seems to have some stability in net. Both Matt Murray and Illya Samsonov have been playing phenomenally. Murray has racked a 4.8 goals saved above expected, along with a save percentage of .911. Samsonov has outdueled the former, with a solid 11 goals saved above expected and a save percentage of .919. If these two can keep performing at this level, then they can soar high in the sky. The question is, are their dream and aspirations justified, or are they nothing but Icarus on Ice?

Division Discussion

Grade: B+

Overall, these teams are worth keeping an eye on. Each team has proven they can win close, tight games and fight for every puck and every last hit. Rebuilding teams like the Sabres, Senators, and Red Wings look to be transitioning into making the playoffs and contending. Teams like the Panthers, Maple Leafs, or the Lightning look like they have only a few more seasons before reality slaps them in the face. But these teams could all be contenders next season, and only time will tell on who will be better.

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Main Image Credit: Embed from Getty Images

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