The 2016-17 season is gearing up to be an exciting and competitive one in the division as many teams made moves during the offseason to improve their rosters for the upcoming year.
We’ve complied a list of the most improved teams from the Atlantic Division thus far.
#8: Ottawa Senators
The team from Canada’s capital finished fifth in the Atlantic Division in the 2015-16 season, but they may be finishing lower next year.
While the Sens didn’t lose much this offseason, they didn’t add anything of significance. Ottawa’s major free agent signing was former Senator Chris Kelly, a 35-year-old center who missed the majority of last season after undergoing leg surgery in early November. Kelly’s last full season was 2014-15, when he recorded 28 points in 80 games.
Although the Senators still have a relatively strong roster headlined by players such as Bobby Ryan and Erik Karlsson, the team didn’t do enough to improve this offseason, and will most likely finish near the bottom of a rapidly improving division next season.
#7: Boston Bruins
Although the Bruins made a high profile move this offseason, it likely won’t drastically improve their roster.
The Bruins, who missed the playoffs last season, let Loui Eriksson walk into free agency and replaced him with former St. Louis Blues‘ captain David Backes. Although the two are different types of players, they seem to be on different career trajectories.
Eriksson, 30, just tied his career high point total, recording 63 points in 82 games last season. Backes, however, is coming off one of the lowest point totals in his career, finishing the season with 45 points in 79 games with a rating of just +4.
Although the Bruins were able to bring in one of the highest profile players available in free agency, it was at the expense of a player with a similar talent level, meaning that the Bruins really don’t improve their roster with the move.
The reason that the Lightning aren’t higher on this list is because they didn’t sign any significant free agents this offseason. The reason they aren’t lower is because general manager Steve Yzerman was able to prevent his entire team from falling apart.
The team’s captain, Steven Stamkos, was set to become an unrestricted free agent on July 1st, becoming one of the largest free agents available in recent memory. Yzerman was able to sign Stamkos to an eight year extension before free agency started, only to sign star defenseman Victor Hedman to an eight year extension a couple of days later.
The Lightning were also able to hold onto star prospect Jonathan Drouin, a player that had requested a trade from the organization earlier on in the season.
Although the Lightning didn’t do much to improve this offseason, they were able to keep their already solid team together, which is why they are placed where they are on this list.
#5: Florida Panthers
Like their interstate rival Tampa Bay Lightning, the Florida Panthers entered the offseason with an already solid roster, as the team won the Atlantic Division in 2015-16. General manager Tom Rowe did what he cold to improve the roster, though, trading a sixth round pick in the 2016 NHL Draft to the New York Rangers in exchange for the negotiating rights to 29 year old defenseman Keith Yandle. The Panthers were able to sign Yandle to a seven year contract a few days later.
While signing Yandle was one of the only signings the Panthers made this offseason, he makes the team’s defensive core stronger than it already was. The two-way defenseman averages around 50 points per year, and will fit nicely on a pairing with 20 year old Aaron Ekblad, who singed an eight year extension earlier on in the offseason.
The Detroit Red Wings have made the post season for 25 consecutive seasons, and their moves this offseason show that they aren’t looking to stop that streak anytime soon.
Although Detroit lost long time Red Wing Pavel Datsyuk this offseason, they effectively used the freed up cap space, adding former Islander Frans Nielsen as well as Steve Ott and Thomas Vanek.
Nielsen, who is currently 32 years old, has played parts of ten seasons on the Island, recording 349 points in 606 games. Nielsen averages right around 50 points a season, earning his new six year contract with a cap hit of $5,250,000.
The Red Wings also added former Sabres Steve Ott and Thomas Vanek, with one signing being much more controversial than the other. Fans know what they’re going to get out of Ott – a hard working player that brings heart to the lineup. Vanek, however, is a wildcard. When Vanek is playing well, he is one of the most prolific scorers in the game, and could possibly match Datsyuk’s production. However, when Vanek isn’t playing well, he is a liability on the ice, and makes the game harder for his teammates. Still, signing Vanek to a one year contract with a cap hit of $2,6M is a low risk signing for Detroit that could potentially bring high rewards.
Montreal general manager Marc Beregevin made a number of controversial moves this offseason, but if they work out, the Canadiens could be one of the best teams in the Atlantic Division next season.
The Canadiens kicked off the summer with a massive trade, trading defenseman PK Subban to the Nashville Predators in exchange for Shea Weber. Weber, a 6’4” defenseman, is three years older than Subban, but is much more defensively sound. Weber will now become the Habs’ anchor on the backend, something they have lacked for the past number of years.
The Canadiens then traded 27 year old center Lars Eller to the Washington Capitals, but almost instantly replaced him with former Blackhawks’ winger Andrew Shaw, who is three years younger than Eller and is arguably the better player. The Habs can count on Shaw to put up around 30 points a season, and will be a nightmare for opposing teams if put on a line with Brendan Gallagher, a player also known for his scrappy playing style.
Montreal was also able to sign former Predator Alexander Radulov, a winger who has consistently finished near the top of the league in points since his return to the Kontinental Hockey League in 2012. Radulov signed a one year, $5,7M contract with the Canadiens, and if he can produce like the player that many experts once thought that he could become, he will quickly earn that contract.
Although the Canadiens finished sixth in the division in 2015-16, expect them to have a bounce back year. The addition of Shaw and Radulov as well as a healthy Carey Price could spell danger for teams in the Atlantic.
The Toronto Maples Leafs acquired one of the best players available this offseason by selecting Auston Matthews with the first pick in the 2016 NHL Draft. By adding their future first line center as well as winger Matt Martin and defenseman Roman Polak, the Maple Leafs have identified their star and added pieces to protect him.
Although the Leafs are no where near a playoff team, adding Auston Matthews makes their roster significantly better than it was. Martin and Polak are also quality players that will be able to contribute this season. Toronto is in a rebuild, and their moves this offseason has sped up the process.
#1: Buffalo Sabres
The Sabres, who already had a talented roster with players such as Ryan O’Reilly and Jack Eichel, strengthened their roster this summer by adding former New York Islander Kyle Okposo. Okposo, who has 369 career points, brings power to the Sabres lineup, and could potentially turn the Sabres from a skilled young team to a perennial contender.
The Sabres could also sign Jimmy Vesey, the former Hobey Baker Award winner with whom Buffalo has exclusive negotiating rights with until August 15th.
The teams of the Atlantic Division are rapidly improving, but the teams that finished atop the division last year will likely finish near the top next season, as well. Both the Panthers and Lightning will likely finish near the top of the division due to their offseason moves, and the Detroit Red Wings seem to have made enough quality moves this offseason to secure their spot in the top three of the division.
However, teams such as the Montreal Canadiens and Buffalo Sabres could potentially battle for a wildcard spot down the stretch. For Sabres fans, this could be an exciting yet stressful year, but Buffalo could potentially find themselves in a playoff spot come April of next year.