Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2020-21, where Last Word On Hockey gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Make sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2021-22 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today the series continues with the 2021-22 Atlantic Division.
1. Tampa Bay Lightning
Luiza Vidal writes:
The Tampa Bay Lightning are still a Stanley Cup Contender and a really strong one at that. They lost Yanni Gourde to the Expansion Draft, while Barclay Goodrow, Blake Coleman, David Savard, and Luke Schenn left in free agency. Additionally, Tyler Johnson and Mitchell Stephens were both dealt in the off-season. Losing these players may seem like a lot for the back-to-back Stanley Cup Champions, but the team is still formed by some of the best players in the league.
There are a few questions surrounding the Lightning this year. Two of the most important ones are whether Ross Colton will be able to replace Gourde and the newcomers will adapt to the team. Colton is a great player and seems to be ready to take the next step and prove himself worthy of his coach’s trust. He might even be better than Gourde in the next few years. If he continues to produce and do what is being asked of him, Colton will be a great contributor for Tampa for years to come. As for new players like Corey Perry and Brian Elliot, only time will tell on their success. The only way we’ll know for sure is when the season starts.
2. Florida Panthers
Jake Rivard writes:
Losing in the first round of the playoffs hurts. Losing to the eventual Cup champions was the silver lining for the Panthers. This season, they’ve patched up their shortcomings, bringing in players like Sam Reinhart to make a big impact. The return of Aaron Ekblad will give their defence some much-needed stability, as well.
The biggest question for the Panthers remains in their goaltending. Sergei Bobrovsky does not appear to be the answer to the Panthers’ woes. Spencer Knight, an up-and-coming rookie, may very well steal the starter’s spotlight from Bobrovsky. Can he live up to his highly-touted expectations? Will the Panthers ride his success into the playoff sunset? Knight may very well be the catalyst to the success the Panthers crave. Still, putting all your trust in a rookie goaltender can lead to massive disappointment if he doesn’t pan out.
This season, the Panthers will almost certainly dominate the Atlantic division. Their depth across the board suggests big seasons for Jonathan Huberdeau, Aleksander Barkov, and the rest of Florida’s core. If they can vanquish their monstrous neighbour, the Tampa Bay Lightning, the sky’s the limit for the Panthers.
3. Toronto Maple Leafs
Luiza Vidal writes:
The Toronto Maple Leafs are, once again, under a huge spotlight. After another playoff upset last year – resulting in a bunch of new jokes that will last for a lifetime – the pressure is through the roof.
They brought in Petr Mrazek to fill in their hole in the net after Frederik Andersen left for Carolina. This will add more consistency to their goaltender, relieving Jack Campbell‘s duties as their number one goalie. Toronto also signed Michael Bunting, Ondrej Kase, David Kampf, and Nick Ritchie to replace Zach Hyman and Joe Thornton, both of who left in the offseason. However, there are still some question marks on the Leafs’ roster.
The year has already started on the wrong foot. The first bad news is Ilya Mikheyev being out for at least two months. Auston Matthews being out of the first three games is also bad news but that probably won’t carry on for too long into the season.
The question remains in Michael Bunting. Will he break out this year? He has the opportunity. Bunting has talent and could be a good addition to their lineup. But that depends on who his linemates are and if he’s ready to take on a big role on a big team despite his lack of NHL experience. It can be too much pressure or it can be exactly what he needed.
4. Boston Bruins
Jake Rivard writes:
Boston’s stalwart defence will be the focal point of their season. Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, and Matt Grzelcyk headline the stacked defensive corps backed up by the elite Patrice Bergeron line. Still, questions remain regarding a replacement for David Krejci. Can a solution be found internally, or will the team make a big play for another centre?
This year is approaching do-or-die territory for Bergeron. The captain is now 36. Can he keep up his Selke-worthy level of play, or will he need to rely more on his teammates? The biggest question mark on the roster lies in the goaltending. Will Tuukka Rask make one last appearance, or will Linus Ullmark or Jeremy Swayman step up to the plate for the Bruins?
In all likelihood, the Bruins will finish third or fourth in the stacked Atlantic Division. They still have plenty of weapons at their disposal, but how they perform will entirely depend on who replaces Krejci — and whether or not Rask makes a return. There are plenty of storylines to watch during this season for the Bruins. How they perform this year will dictate their direction for the coming seasons.
5. Montreal Canadiens
The Montreal Canadiens are coming off an incredible run to the Stanley Cup Finals. However, they are still looking from the outside to make the playoffs. That may seem unusual to some, but given the offseason they had, it shouldn’t be that surprising. The Canadiens struggled at times last year too and it wasn’t until they hit playoffs that they really turned things around.
Despite their success, they underwent some massive changes this season. Shea Weber is out for the year — and he might be gone for good. Tomas Tatar and Phillip Danault are both out and Jesperi Kotkaniemi is also gone. Finally, Carey Price is also out for an undetermined amount of time which means Jake Allen is going to need to take the starter’s role for a while. They did add names such as Christian Dvorak, David Savard, and Mike Hoffman (who is also currently hurt). But are all those additions enough?
This isn’t a bad team, but if they want to compete in a very top-heavy division they are going to need some serious growth and great play from the likes of Nick Suzuki, Cole Caufield, and Alexander Romanov. Look for the Habs to be right on that playoff bubble again this season.
6. Ottawa Senators
Alex Metzger writes:
The Ottawa Senators had big expectations heading into the offseason. All the talk was about how much better they wanted to get. Adding a top defenceman and centre were the priority. They ended up with neither of those and this team has more questions than answers. The biggest, of course, is when will Brady Tkachuk decides to sign this season. Without him, this team is very thin at nearly every position. With him, they should have a very solid left-wing core of Tkachuk, Tim Stutzle, and Alex Formenton.
The other big question focuses on their defence. Thomas Chabot and Artem Zub are locks. After that, it’s a lot of questions. Erik Brannstrom and Victor Mete seem like good options, but Michael Del Zotto got paid this offseason to be more than a healthy scratch. Can they reduce Nikita Zaitsev’s minutes with these changes?
The biggest determining factor depends on what version of Matt Murray the Senators get. If he can look anything like what he did in Pittsburgh when he won two Stanley Cups, or like he did near the very end of last year, Ottawa should see some growth. However, if it stays as it has been for three seasons now, they may be in trouble regardless.
7. Detroit Red Wings
Jake Rivard writes:
It appears the youth movement is finally here in Detroit. First-round picks Lucas Raymond and Moritz Seider join the roster this season amidst a roster in desperate need of their talent. Last season, Detroit finished among the bottom of the league in standings, offence, and goal differentials. They’ll need as much help as they can get on both ends of the ice. Raymond and Seider appear to be the men for the job.
The rookies are joined with a few newcomers, as well — Nick Leddy, Mitchell Stephens, and Alex Nedeljkovic were acquired via trade, while Pius Suter and Jordan Oesterle joined through free agency. Suter looks to be the team’s de facto second-line centre, while Leddy appears to be a lock for Seider’s linemate. Nedeljkovic is among the most interesting players on the lineup. As a Calder finalist last year, he finished the league with the highest save percentage and the lowest goals-against-average (GAA). Can he repeat his performance, or was this simply a one-off shot in the dark?
With three potential Calder finalists on the roster, excitement is in the air. Having said that, it’s important to temper expectations of success. Detroit is one of the weakest teams in the division, and will likely finish only slightly above Buffalo.
8. Buffalo Sabres
Luiza Vidal writes:
Buffalo was one of the teams that had the most homework, yet completely missed the assignment altogether. They needed new goaltenders; they got Craig Anderson and Aaron Dell, the second of which was so bad they had to waive him and send him down to the AHL. They needed to bring more defence; they brought in Mark Pysyk and Will Butcher, two decent depth players. And let’s not focus on the Eichel situation because that brings frustration to a whole other level. They had to trade him before the start of the season and still failed to accomplish that.
Despite the fact that not much has changed in their lineup, the culture within the Sabres locker room has changed. Their veterans have been open about how close they’ve been to each other and how much the guys want to win. They won’t be a playoff team and if that happens, the sky will definitely fall. But putting the bad moments from last season behind them is a key thing to make this season not be a complete disaster.