We’re turning the corner of the dog days of Summer. Can you believe it’s been two months since the Tampa Bay Lightning captured their second consecutive Stanley Cup? The National Hockey League should be back to its normal schedule come October. With #FreeAgencySZN just about wrapped up and camps starting soon enough, it’s way-too-early prediction time for the Atlantic Division.
Way-Too-Early Prediction: For the Bruins to go far, they’ll need to improve their goaltending.
The Bruins were one of the busiest teams in free agency this Summer. They re-signed forward Taylor Hall at a discount and added some grit in forwards Nick Foligno and Erik Haula. The Bruins also lost a lot, including David Krejci, Nick Ritchie, Jeremy Lauzon, and Jaroslav Halak. As of this writing, Tuukka Rask still hasn’t been offered a contract, which leaves the goaltending duties to Jeremy Swayman and Linus Ullmark. Swayman was impressive in 10 games in 2021, but Ullmark doesn’t exactly inspire confidence. Still, more surprising things have happened, and the B’s always find a way to win
Way-Too-Early Prediction: Jack Eichel will be traded before the season begins.
The second overall pick in the 2015 is clearly unhappy in The Nickel City (it’s an actual nickname – look it up). His saga isn’t quite the one that was the Aaron Rodgers/Green Bay Packers this past NFL offseason. But Eichel has been in the NHL for six seasons. The Sabres haven’t come close to a playoff berth in that time. Eichel has a tenuous-at-best relationship with Terry and Kim Pegula. It’s time to move on. I’ve said for months that the Sabres will get a king’s ransom for Eichel and there’s no way in Hell he reports to camp. Eichel is going to be gone before the season begins.
Detroit Red Wings
Way-Too-Early Prediction: The Red Wings are a sneaky good pick for a potential playoff spot.
Steve Yzerman helped build the Tampa Bay Lightning into a winner. He’s trying to do the same thing for the franchise where he played for 23 seasons. This offseason, Yzerman has added some more pieces to his already young team. Pius Suter walked away from Chicago and signed as a free agent. Nick Leddy was brought over from Long Island as part of a salary dump and gives the Red Wings an experienced defenseman. Alex Nedeljkovic was traded from Carolina and gives Detroit a goaltender hungry to prove that last season was not a fluke. The Red Wings also have $25M remaining in cap space to add more pieces. If they add the right pieces, the Red Wings will contend for a berth.
Way-Too-Early Prediction: Aleksander Barkov will sign a long-term extension before season’s end.
The Panthers are one of those curious teams that is very much a dark horse Stanley Cup contender. On paper, it looks like they lost too much in free agency. But they signed Sam Reinhart to a four-year extension and took a one-year flyer on Joe Thornton. One of the key cogs in the Panthers’ engine is Barkov. He’ll be an unrestricted free agent after the 2021-22 season. While I presume the Panthers have no intent on trading him – stranger things have happened, mind you – they should reward his loyalty with a long-term extension.
Way-Too-Early Prediction: The Canadiens won’t follow last season’s miracle run and miss the playoffs.
Nobody expected the playoff run that the Canadiens made last season. (And if you said you did, you’re a liar.) Carey Price played on his head and Shea Weber played with multiple injured body parts. But with both expected to miss time during the season – or in Weber’s case, the ENTIRE season – it will affect the team. In addition to that, the Habs suffered losses during free agency, including Phillip Danault, Corey Perry, Tomas Tatar, and (perhaps the biggest loss of all) Jesperi Kotkaniemi. The Habs rewarded Dominic Ducharme by retaining him, but he’s going to have to work all sorts of magic for Montreal to go back to the playoffs.
Way-Too-Early Prediction: Brady Tkachuk will hold out of training camp, but sign before the season.
The Senators have seen better days since they lost in the Eastern Conference Final in 2017. The future was starting to look bright after this past season, but it appears they’ve hit a speed bump with one of their young stars. Tkachuk is currently a restricted free agent and has not signed a new contract with Ottawa. The Senators have close to $26M in salary cap space and they can sign Tkachuk to a long-term deal. It’s just a matter of how much he wants and for how long. Like most players in this position, I don’t expect him to be at camp, but he’ll sign before the season begins.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Way-Too-Early Prediction: The Lightning lost way too much in free agency but will contend again.
The Lightning have been the class of the NHL for the last two seasons. They’ve won back-to-back Stanley Cups on the back of timely trade deadline acquisitions and free agency pickups. Did the Lightning lose too much in this past free agency period, though? Yanni Gourde was taken in the expansion draft. Blake Coleman signed a four-year deal with Calgary. Barclay Goodrow was traded to and then signed an extension with the New York Rangers. Tyler Johnson was traded to Chicago for the rights to Brent Seabrook. David Savard signed with Montreal. Yes, they lost a lot, but they’ll still do enough to try for a three-peat.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Way-Too-Early Prediction: The Maple Leafs will fall back to Earth this season, but still make the playoffs.
When we last left the Maple Leafs, they had just blown a 3-1 series lead to Montreal. They had led the Scotia North division from start to finish during the regular season. All that success didn’t translate to yet another first round exit in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. General manager Kyle Dubas went back to work adding and retooling the Leafs lineup. Though they lost Zach Hyman, Jared McCann, and Joe Thornton, they did sign Nick Ritchie and Michael Bunting. They also traded for Petr Mrazek, a capable backup to give Jack Campbell a break. After divisional realignment, the Leafs won’t have the season they had in 2021, but they’ll make the playoffs. (Now let’s just see they get out of the first round.)