With the 2023-24 NHL season less than a month away, it’s an appropriate time to grade and judge every team’s offseason moves and changes, both on and off the ice. Some teams made giant leaps in terms of talent, while others are left banging their heads on a wall, expecting to cure their headache. How did each Atlantic Division team do this offseason? Without further ado, let’s send out the report cards.
Boston Bruins: D+
This Bruins squad decided to grow wings, and since then has taken a major fall both on and off the ice. After failing to win a single playoff round for the second year in a row, both the captain and heart of the organization, Patrice Bergeron, and star center David Krejci retired. The team’s trade deadline acquisitions in Tyler Bertuzzi and Dmitri Orlov also jumped ship, getting pay raises on other squads due to the Bruins’s challenging cap situation. With a 4.5 million dollar salary cap penalty, This team looks lost, and with major contract extensions given to Charlie McAvoy and David Pastrnak, they have no choice but to try and win now.
But there is some light at the end of the tunnel, at least on paper. The team will ice one of the top defenses in the league, along with a goaltending duo that won the William M. Jennings Trophy in Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman. With some low-risk, high-reward free-agent signings like James van Riemsdyk, Morgan Geekie, and Kevin Shattenkirk, it’s not impossible to think this team can contend for a wild card spot, but the odds are stacked against them. And if this year is as bad as some may believe, they will have over 30 million dollars in cap space to regain structure.
Buffalo Sabres: A
The Buffalo Sabres stayed put with the core they had this offseason for the most part, with their major addition being defenseman Connor Clifton. But, with that said, there wasn’t much that needed to be changed. The 2022-23 NHL season was one full of transition for the Sabres, who managed to defy all expectations and stay in the wild card race until the final days of the season. With a new season approaching, this team is a dark horse to make some serious noise and be a threat in the Atlantic.
The main x-factor for the Sabres will be in rookie goaltender Devon Levi. The Northeastern star goaltender played seven games for the Sabres, plotting a 3.1 goals saved expected and a 2.94 goals against average. If the Sabres want to contend and make their mark on the rest of the league, they need Levi to play lights out. With that said, talented players like Alex Tuch, Tage Thompson, and Rasmus Dahlin will protect and support the rookie sensation on and off the ice.
Detroit Red Wings: C
The duality of the Yzerplan reigns tall in hockey town. There have been a lot of confusing moves pulled by the Red Wings, like signing both defenceman Justin Holl and J.T. Compher to long-term deals despite the team still in a retooling process. That said, Steve Yzerman has pulled off some dark magic to get Daniel Sprong and the offseason prize in Alex Debrincat for reasonable price tags. Sprong is a player who can take over a game; with his 6’0 202 frame and physicality, he will be able to wedge his way to another big season. Debrincat is coming off a season of infamy with the Senators. The disgruntled forward plotted 66 points in 82 games but was a -31 in the process. If the Red Wings want to succeed, the team must utilize Debrincat’s strengths in the offensive zone and passing expertise.
And the Red Wings want to succeed. This cannot be another year of retooling and development. The clock is ticking for the Red Wings head office, as the team has failed to make the postseason for the last seven seasons. The new head coach, Derek Lalonde, will have his work cut out for him, and he’ll need young stars Moritz Seider and Lucas Raymond to continue their growth in the game if this team wants to contend for a playoff spot. Don’t be surprised if Yzerman’s name gets thrown around for general managers on the hot seat.
Florida Panthers: A-
What a difference a year can make. At this time last year, everyone laughed off the Panthers as an organization. They had made a risky gamble, going all in for the unicorn of hockey in Matthew Tkachuck by trading two superstars in Jonathan Huberdeau and MacKenzie Weegar, along with a future first and prospect. It was seen as a comedy of errors, with an overpaid goaltender in Sergei Bobrovsky and a struggling defensive system with injury concerns in Aaron Ekblad and Brandon Montour; this team was doubted all the way into the postseason. But then the Panthers pounced on their prey, going all the way to the Stanley Cup final in one of the greatest Cinderella stories to be presented in sports. Unfortunately, that magic would run out as they would lose to the Vegas Golden Knights in five games.
With a fresh cup run under the belt, the Panthers will be chasing for more than a second-place finish. Health concerns continue, but with the recent news that Tkachuck will be ready to go for puck drop, it seems the Panthers will be intact for another year of hope and shine. If they can get their star power of Sam Reinhart, Aleksander Barkov, and Montour back, this team can and will be a danger to the NHL.
Montreal Canadiens: B-
Like the Buffalo Sabres, the Montreal Canadiens stayed relatively quiet this offseason. Unlike the Sabres, this team is nowhere near ready to compete for a playoff spot, let alone a Stanley Cup. This team has struggled with keeping players healthy, losing over 600-man games by the end of the season. To simplify this, on average, 7.3 players were missing each game due to injury. With the return of many of these players imminent, the Habs will already see a massive improvement on the ice and in the locker room.
The Canadiens know this rebuild is going to take time. Head coach Martin St. Louis maintains a young core with players like Cole Caufield, Nick Suzuki, Juraj Slafkovsky, and a new addition, sixth overall pick David Reinbacher; he will have plenty of opportunity to develop this young core into a feared competitor in the Atlantic division. For now, just keep these guys healthy and let the talent blossom.
Ottawa Senators: C+
After the Alex Debrincat trade was a slam dunk last offseason, it turned into the Senators falling face-first on the hardwood floor. Debrincat made it adventitiously clear he had no intention of playing with Ottawa, who lost any leverage they could’ve had in a trade. They managed to get winger Dominik Kubalik and defensive prospect Donovan Sebrango, but it doesn’t seem to ease the blow of losing the star playmaking forward in Debrincat. The Senator’s major weakness came in goaltending. This season, the Senators went out and addressed that issue, signing goaltender Joonas Korpisalo to a 5-year, 4-million-dollar contract. They will hope Korpisalo can be that missing piece for another deep playoff run for the Sens.
They have one secret weapon on their forefront to make this improbable thought a reality: Brady Tkachuck. After watching his brother carry the Panthers to a Stanley Cup final appearance, Tkachuck will look to do the same. With recently acquired Vladimir Tarasenko, a former Stanley Cup champion, this team has the experience and grit to make every night a battle for teams to win. With a strong defensive core led by Thomas Chabot and the continuous growth of Tim Stutzle, this team is on pace to be a top contender in the NHL.
Tampa Bay Lightning: B
If there were a word to describe Tampa Bay’s offseason for the past five years, that word would be recycling. This team has taken low-end talent and turned them into Stanley Cup champions. To grade this team based on losing talent would be an underestimation of what they will do with the replacements. This team made it to three straight Stanley Cups, and the talent of Victor Hedman, Brayden Point, Brandon Hagel, and future hall-of-fame goaltender Andre Vasilesvky is enough to grade them this high.
What the Lightning should be focusing on is next offseason. Their captain, Steven Stamkos, will be a free agent, and he may be looking for a pay raise. The Lightning have been granted the ability to maneuver their way through the cap, but they could be missing a big piece of their core this time next year. But that’s next year’s problem. It’s hard to analyze a team that has been almost perfect for the past four years, and that’s due to the team rallying around head coach Jon Cooper and general manager Julien BriseBois. The Lightning will continue to strike fury into their opponents every night, no question about it.
Toronto Maple Leafs: C
To every Maple Leafs fan, this is going to sting. After finally getting the monkey off their back and winning a playoff series, Toronto fell apart to the overachieving Florida Panthers. A power struggle ensued between General Manager Kyle Dubas and President Kyle Shanahan. The Maple Leafs chose the Shanaplan over hockey’s analytical darling, and there have been major changes on and off the ice.
On the ice, they signed former Bruins forward Tyler Bertuzzi to a one-year deal, hoping he can elevate an already stellar offense in the playoffs. Auston Matthews got paid handsomely, signing a four-year, 53 million-dollar contract, making him the highest-paid player in the league. The team also managed to keep Illya Samsonov and sign defenseman John Klingberg, who can quarterback the second-team power play. Off ice, the team hired Brad Teliving as their general manager, who infamously made the Matthew Tkachuk trade. His tenure in Calgary was the definition of okay, winning two division titles, two playoff series, and a qualifying round in nine seasons with the Flames. The regular season does not matter for the Leafs. What does, is playoff success. If they don’t go deep this year, then major changes will ensue.
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