Atlantic Division Guide 2016-17: How the Bruins Stack Up

Last season, the Boston Bruins finished the year in fourth place in the Atlantic Division and missed the playoffs for a second straight season. Even though divisional rival, the Ottawa Senators, finished below the Bruins in the standings, the Senators knocked the Bruins out of the playoffs on the final day of the season when they obliterated the B’s 6-1.

One could wonder if the outcome might have been different if starting goaltender, Tuukka Rask, battled through his ‘illness’ in the last game instead of dropping the heavy load of playoff life-or-death on backup Jonas Gustavsson. Maybe the Bruins could have made the playoffs if Rask stepped up to the challenge, but that is a different debate for another day.

All in all, the Bruins had a fairly easy time matching up against the rest of the Atlantic Division, compiling a record of 18-10-2 against the division during the 2015-16 season. The Bruins had the hardest time matching up against two teams that finished below them in the standings, the Montreal Canadiens, who they had a 2-3-0 record against, and the aforementioned Senators, who the B’s had a 1-2-1 against.

The 2016-17 season is coming up fast and every team in the division has attempted to better their team during the offseason for the upcoming campaign. Last season the divisional standings ended up looking like this:

  1. Florida Panthers 47-26-9 103 points
  2. Tampa Bay Lightning 46-31-5 97 points
  3. Detroit Red Wings 41-30-11 93 points
  4. Boston Bruins 42-31-9 93 points
  5. Ottawa Senators 38-35-9 85 points
  6. Montreal Canadiens 38-38-6 82 points
  7. Buffalo Sabres 35-36-11 81 points
  8. Toronto Maple Leafs 29-42-11 69 points

Each team will look to knock off the Florida Panthers from that top spot. Here is your 2016-17 Atlantic Division guide, and how the Bruins will fare against the rest of the teams.

The Bottom Four

8. Toronto Maple Leafs 29-42-11 69 points
Bruins 2015-16 record against the Maple Leafs: 4-0-1

It is not entirely surprising that the Maple Leafs finished the season at the bottom of the division and the bottom of the league. They came into the season into the season with a thin roster and were under new management and a new head coach, Mike Babcock. Babcock spent most of the preceding summer to decide which team to join as his time with the Detroit Red Wings was up.

In the end, he chose to take on the daunting task of coaching in Toronto and bringing the Leafs out of the league’s basement and back to prominence. Unfortunately for Babcock, his team continued to be bottom feeders, but maybe that’s what they wanted all along.

Mark Hunter
Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

The Maple Leafs ended up with the first pick in the draft, and drafted top prospect in the draft, Auston Matthews. Matthews will be able to mesh with the Leaf’s new, young core instantly, with players like Leo Komarov, Nazem Kadri, and William Nylander.

However, the biggest move Toronto made this summer was acquiring the rights to former-Anaheim Ducks starting goalie, Frederik Andersen. Andersen posted a record of 22-9-7 last season. The Ducks did not want to re-sign him because they are now trying out long-time prospect, John Gibson, at the helm.

The Leafs then signed Andersen to a five-year, $25 million contract essentially making him the team’s new starting goaltender. This move will make the Leafs harder to play against on a nightly basis.

The Maple Leafs will probably be a bit better than they were last season with the added forwards and a star goaltender. The Bruins easily handled the Leafs last season, but the B’s depleted defense this upcoming season will pose a problem for the black and gold, with the Leafs additions on offense and the fact that each game they played last season was only won by a goal or two.

The Leafs are still developing, though, so the Bruins will still have their number throughout the season.

7. Buffalo Sabres 35-36-11 81 points
Bruins 2015-16 record against the Sabres: 3-1-0

Last season, for the first time in three years, the Buffalo Sabres didn’t finish at the bottom of the NHL standings. They actually finished four points out of fifth place in the division.

It was young Jack Eichel’s rookie season last year but he played like a veteran. He finished the season with 24 goals and 56 points, only trailing team points leader Ryan O’Reilly, who scored 60 points on the season. Other point leaders were Sam Reinhart and breakout defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen with 42 and 41 points respectively.

Eichel should land into the first line center role in the next year or two, but while he is still developing into that top line player that he can be, Buffalo will fill that spot with center O’Reilly, who is signed through the 2022-23 season with a $7.5 million cap hit.

O’Reilly should be centering a line with Evander Kane and new free agent signing, Kyle Okposo, who signed a seven-year, $42 million contract with the Sabres this summer. Okposo is a solid winger coming over from the New York Islanders after eight seasons with the club. He had one of his best seasons with the Islanders last year, totaling 64 points — more points than any Sabres player scored last season.

If O’Reilly and Kane can stay out of trouble this season, that first line should be a powerhouse, and with Eichel and Reinhart manning the second line, Buffalo could be in for a major offensive explosion next season.

Once again because of the Bruin’s problems on defense, they are sure to struggle against the Sabres’ forwards. Buffalo still does not have a real threat in the net so that will play into the Bruins’ favor next season. However, the Sabres will surely move up a spot or two in the division standings by the end of the season.

6. Montreal Canadiens 38-38-6 82 points
Bruins 2015-16 record against the Canadiens: 2-3-0

If there was anything to define last season for the Montreal Canadiens, it was the injury bug. More specifically goaltender Carey Price’s season-ending MCL injury. Price, who is widely regarded as the league’s top goalie, went down early in the season on November 25 against the New York Rangers.

However, even before Price went down, forward Brendan Gallagher injured his fingers against the New York Islanders on November 22 while attempting to block a shot. He required surgery and was expected to be out of action for at least six weeks. He returned in time for the Winter Classic against the Bruins, where he scored two points and the Habs beat the Bruins 5-1.

There were more injuries throughout the season for the Canadiens, and on March 10 top defenseman P.K. Subban sustained a neck injury that ended his season and virtually killed any playoff hopes Montreal had left.

The Canadiens recorded their worst season under Marc Bergevin and Michel Therrien last season and they finished the year with their worst record since 2012 and missed the playoffs for the first time in four years. It was a disheartening season for the team and everyone surrounding them as they entered last season with such high hopes. The Price injury was certainly the biggest blow to the Canadiens and it was probably the worst injury-loss to any team last season.

The best news for Montreal is that Price says he is 100% healthy and will play for Canada in the upcoming World Cup, which means he will be ready for the upcoming NHL season barring any injuries. This news is better than any free agent signing that the Canadiens made and could have made this offseason. 

Carey Price
(Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports)

Other than the Price news, the biggest and most surprising move that the Habs made this summer was the most significant player-for-player trade in recent history, sending their top defenseman, Subban, to the Nashville Predators for their team captain and top d-man, Shea Weber. Word was that upper management was getting a little sick of Subban’s antics and attitude, and even though Weber is a little older than Subban, Weber is an exemplary veteran and will give the Canadiens a better defensive presence in their own end.

The other moves the team made this summer were acquiring Andrew Shaw’s rights from the Chicago Blackhawks and then signing him to a six-year, $23.4 million contract. They also decided to take a gamble on much-maligned forward, Alexander Radulov, signing him to a one-year, $5.75 million contract.

The Bruins have not exactly added anything to their offense this season and with Price coming back and newly acquired Weber on defense, the B’s will have a hard time matching up with the Canadiens in every aspect of the game. Montreal will move up in the division standings this season for sure.

5. Ottawa Senators 38-35-9 85 points
Bruins 2015-16 record against the Senators: 1-2-1

Last year, the Ottawa Senators did not make the playoffs for the second time in three years, all while bumping the Bruins out of a playoff spot. In addition to missing the playoffs, the Senators allowed the third-highest goal total in the league, letting in 247 goals, and by season’s end, they had the 29th ranked penalty-killing unit.

These numbers are jarring considering they have two-time Norris Trophy winner and consistent Norris candidate, Erik Karlsson, on their back-end. It seems that Karlsson has moved farther away from the back-end as his career has progressed. This past season he scored 82 points in 82 games, numbers that an elite forward should be putting up. It makes you question whether or not Karlsson should even be in the Norris conversation as the best defenseman when there are better and more traditional options such as 2016 Norris winner Drew Doughty of the Los Angeles Kings, Brent Burns of the San Jose Sharks, Ryan Suter of the Minnesota Wild, and so on. This is not to say that Karlsson shouldn’t be in other award conversations, he just doesn’t seem to be the right  fit for the Norris.

Behind Karlsson, the other Senators leading scorers were forwards Mark Stone with 61 points and Mike Hoffman with 59 points. Hoffman is a valuable piece of the Sens’ puzzle and was awarded a four-year, $20.75 million extension this offseason.

The Senators only made a couple moves this summer, including signing former Bruin, Chris Kelly, to a one-year, $900,000 contract, and they traded Mika Zibanejad to the New York Rangers for Derrick Brassard.

The Bruins had a terrible time dealing with the Senators last season and not much has changed on either team other than Ottawa gaining a new general manager, Pierre Dorion, and signing Guy Boucher to be their new head coach. Unless more changes are made during the season, the B’s could be in for another tough season against the Senators.

The Top Three

3. Detroit Red Wings 41-30-11 93 points
Bruins 2015-16 record against the Red Wings: 3-1-0

The first team that finished above the Boston Bruins in the standings last season was the Detroit Red Wings. Both teams had an equal amount of points at 93, but the Red Wings made it out of the division and into the playoffs because they had one less loss than Bruins on the season.

Even though Detroit made it into the postseason, their trip only lasted five games with a first-round loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning. The early exit has given the team a lot of time to reflect on what they need to do to better the club and their future. Also, it gave them time to figure out how to handle elite forward, Pavel Datsyuk’s, departure from the league with one-year left on his contract with the Red Wings.

Datsyuk’s past few seasons have been riddled with injuries and his offensive production has been on the decline. It was wrong to leave Detroit with a year and $7.5 million left on his contract, but personally, he decided it was time to go home.

Petr Mrazek
(Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports)

A rumor that has been going through the Red Wings organization since the trade deadline is if the Wings will trade starting goalie, Jimmy Howard, to a new team in favor of the younger, cheaper, and seemingly better goaltender, Petr Mrazek. On July 27, Detroit signed Mrazek to a new affordable two-year, $4 million deal, furthering the Howard rumors.

The Red Wings have been busy signing players to contract extensions and signing free agents this summer including Darren Helm to a five-year, $19.25 million extension, Luke Glendening to a four-year, $7.2 million extension, and Danny DeKeyser to a six-year, $30 million extension.

The free agents Detroit have signed include Frans Nielsen for six-years, $31.5 million, Thomas Vanek for a year at $2.6 million, and Steve Ott for a year at $800,000. Nielsen was a coveted free agent coming into July 1 and the Red Wings wasted no time signing him to a deal. Nielsen scored more points than anyone on the Red Wings last season with 52 points, the closest player on Detroit to that total was captain, Henrik Zetterberg, who scored a team-high 50 points.

The Bruins had an easy time facing the Red Wings last season going 3-1-0 against Detroit. The Wings have a plethora of young forwards who broke out last season, and who are only going to be better next season in Dylan Larkin, Gustav Nyquist, and Tomas Tatar, who all had point totals in the mid-40’s. These young guys, plus Nielsen, have the potential to run train on the rest of the division, especially against the defensively deficient Bruins.

2. Tampa Bay Lightning 46-31-5 97 points
Bruins 2015-16 record against the Lightning: 2-2-0

The theme of last season for the Tampa Bay Lightning was if superstar captain, Steven Stamkos, would accept a contract extension from the team, or if he would try the free agent market this summer after July 1. Nobody knew what was going to happen. A majority of pundits were sure he would try the market and end up with the Toronto Maple Leafs. They, among many, thought the Lightning would struggle to sign Stamkos to a long-term contract because when next summer comes around they have many young and important player’s contracts that are up, such as Jonathan Drouin, Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, and Andrej Sustr.

After missing the Lightning’s whole playoff run due to blood clot complications and the following surgery, Tampa signed Stamkos on June 29 to an eight-year, $68 million extension.

Steven Stamkos
Steven Stamkos

On July 1 the Lightning also handed out an eight-year, $63 million contract extension to their best defenseman, Victor Hedman, and an affordable three-year, $10.5 million extension to their future starting goaltender, Andrei Vasilevsky.

The Vasilevsky extension poses a problem to the Lightning’s elite starting goaltender, Ben Bishop, who has had trade rumors surrounding him since this past season’s trade deadline. Bishop is not playing poorly by any means and is still a top five goalie in the NHL — Vasilevsky is just the younger, cheaper option and he shined in the playoffs. The club feels it is almost his time to become their starter.

The Lightning will be looking into trading Bishop during the season, as his contract is up at the end of the season. Bishop will make $5.950 million this season and will certainly earn more with his next contract. Tampa will want some return for Bishop rather than just letting him go to free agency. Maybe the Bruins can be a potential trade partner with Tampa Bay for the goalie if Tuukka Rask’s play keeps declining as it has over the past couple seasons.

The Bruins went 2-2-0 against the Lightning last season, but Tampa is poised to have an even better year next season, with an explosive offense and a brick wall ‘D’. Boston will not be able to matchup against the Lightning during five-on-five play but Tampa had one of the worst power plays in the league last season, ranking 26th in the NHL. This is good news for the B’s, who had the 11th ranked penalty kill last year.

Either way, Tampa Bay might be the only true Cup contender in the Atlantic Division this season.

1. Florida Panthers 47-26-9 103 points
Bruins 2015-16 record against the Panthers: 3-1-0

The Florida Panthers won the Atlantic Division last season, which surprised many, but to anyone who has followed Florida closely for the past two-three years, knew that this was coming. Maybe not as quick as it did, but they knew that eventually, the Panthers would be near the top of the Atlantic. Their playoff run did not last long when they fell in six games in the opening round against the New York Islanders. It was disheartening but Florida has so much to look forward to.

The Panthers have so much young talent on forward like Aleksander Barkov, Vincent Trocheck, Reilly Smith, Nick Bjugstad, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Derek MacKenzie. On defense, they have superstar and franchise player, Aaron Ekblad, newly acquired Keith Yandle and in net, there’s Roberto Luongo, who has been reinvigorated since coming over from Vancouver.

North America World Cup Roster
(Robert Mayer-USA TODAY Sports)

They also have the hottest veteran in the league, Jaromir Jagr. Jagr has been reborn with the Cats, sitting happily on the top line with Barkov and Huberdeau. He was the team’s top scorer last season with 66 points. He is seen as a teacher for this young team and he learns from them as well, the kids keep Jagr young. His contract was up at the end of the season, but the Panthers made sure to lock him up for another season at $4 million.

The Panthers have had a busy offseason. They promoted Dale Tallon from general manager to president of hockey operations and hired Tom Rowe as their new GM, they got rid of two of their best young defensemen, Erik Gundbranson and Dmitry Kulikov, through trades, and the Panthers even changed up their jerseys.

Their best signing this summer came through a trade when they acquired Yandle’s rights from the New York Rangers, then four days later signed with the Panthers for seven years for $44.45 million. He and Ekblad will be one of the top D pairings in the league for the next few seasons.

Other moves they made this summer were signing Ekblad to an eight-year, $60 million contract, defenseman Jason Demers to a five-year, $22.5 million contract, and extended Vincent Trocheck for six-years, $28.5 million, and Reilly Smith for five-years, $25 million. They also signed a legitimate second string goalie, James Reimer, for five-years, $17 million.

Florida has gone through so much change this summer that you can only guess how the Bruins will fare against them. Even though the Panthers won the Atlantic, Boston won the season series against them 3-1-0. The only guarantee is that the young guns will come out blazing next year and that will be a big problem for the Bruins and the rest of the league.

Where the Bruins fit

In a budding Atlantic Division, the B’s have not exactly made any progress this offseason while every other team has done something to get better for the 2016-17 season. As they have not made any progress team-wise, they will not make any progress in next season’s final standings. Here is what the division will look like at season’s end:

  1. Tampa Bay Lightning   
  2. Florida Panthers
  3. Montreal Canadiens
  4. Boston Bruins
  5. Detroit Red Wings
  6. Buffalo Sabres
  7. Ottawa Senators
  8. Toronto Maple Leafs

The Canadiens will make the most progress, moving up three spots in the standings, mostly because Carey Price will be back, who is the leader of that team, and he instills energy and confidence in everyone around him. The Habs are a vastly different team with Price in the crease.

Tampa Bay will win the division and will take home the Stanley Cup. They were so close last season and if they can have a full, healthy roster, with the maturation of all their young talent, they will be the most dangerous team in the NHL.

Boston will stay in fourth place which does not guarantee them a playoff spot and will have to rough it out for a wildcard spot. If the Bruins miss the playoffs again there should be major changes throughout the franchise and the team on the ice.