Atlantic Division Future Rankings

Sabres fans are reaching the end of another long season and their eyes are now squarely toward the future with the lineup looking to need some more time to develop.

During this time, we wanted to take a look at the Atlantic Division and which teams are setup to be most competitive over the next few years.

1. Tampa Bay Lightning

Positives – A lineup of endless talent led by generational type players like Victory Hedman, Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov.

Pause for Concern – Salary cap is the only thing that stands in the way of Tampa being a potential dynasty. They very well could drive the rest of the division insane with being the cream of the division year in year out

X Factor – Andrei Vasilevskiy. Goalies of his caliber open championship windows big time and him on Tampa is scary.

2. Toronto Maple Leafs

Positives – A young uber-talented core that is inexpensive led by USA phenom Auston Matthews and coached by future HOF Mike Babcock.

Pause for Concern – The defense isn’t bad but lacks a cornerstone like Hedman or Ekblad which most cup teams have.

X Factor – Timothy Liljegren. Drafted 17th overall in the 2017 NHL Draft he oozes potential and if he develops Toronto will have their game changer on the back end.

3. Florida Panthers

Positives – Aaron Ekblad, Aleksander Barkov, and Jonathan Huberdeau lead a young lineup that finally is figuring it out. This is a more talented offense than given credit for due to the market they play in.

Negatives – Management seems to be more in the way than helping. Letting both Reilly Smith & Jonathan Marchessault go for nothing was beyond confusing. Can they make the right moves?

X Factor – Goaltender. Once Roberto Luongo retires, James Reimer and prospect Sam Montembeault are expected to be the starters, can either of them take the reins long term?

4. Buffalo Sabres

Positives – With a franchise-caliber player in Jack Eichel, Ryan O’Reilly’s strong two way play and some real young talent like Sam Reinhart, Casey Mittlestadt, and Brendan Guhle, the Sabres are closer then it seems with the right additions.

Negatives – The Sabres cap situation is a mess and will take another year to purge the fat and the defense needs more help.

X Factor – Linus Ullmark. His potential is massive and if he shores up the net for Buffalo in 2018-19 the Sabres will be in a lot more games because of him.

5. Boston Bruins

Positives – They have a nice young core with David Pastrnak, Torey Krug, young defensive stud Charlie McAvoy, and Jake DeBrusk to go with aging two way superstar Patrice Bergeron to give Boston a solid future.

Negatives – They are in cap trouble thanks to big contracts to David Backes and David Krejci. If Patrice Bergeron’s play regresses even a little they become a fringe playoff team without space to work with.

X Factor – Boston’s Defensive Prospects. By 2020, the Bruins entire defense could be under 30 and very skilled if they develop as expected which could buoy the aging forward crop.

6. Montreal Canadiens

Positives – They have the best goalie in hockey over the last decade in Carey Price, a stud on defense in Shea Weber, and some youth with Jonathan Drouin and Brendan Gallagher

Negatives – What are they identity-wise after Price? They have done minor tear downs and build ups that has left the team with a relatively older roster that has some young talent but lacks a true #1 center. Also if Price isn’t playing at a Top 5 level they are a bottom 10 NHL team.

X Factor – New GM & Claude Julian. Montreal truthfully needs a new GM to plant a true course short and long term. Julian is a good enough coach that can help elevate his rosters play if his GM gives him something to work with.

7. Detroit Red Wings

Positives – Detroit has some nice forwards in Dylan Larkin, Andreas Athanasiou, Anthony Mantha and Gustav Nyquist to build on. They also are an original 6 franchise which offers appeal to free agents with solid ownership long term.

Negatives – They don’t have a true franchise center, their defense badly needs a #1 pairing guy, the prospect system is middling, and their best goalie got traded at the deadline. Detroit had a truly incredible run that any fanbase would trade for in an instant, but they have hit an expected down point and need to rebuild the prospect pool.

X Factor – NHL Draft. Detroit winning the NHL lottery could give them the franchise caliber player you need to jumpstart a rebuild.

8. Ottawa Senators

Positives – They have real strong prospects like defenseman Thomas Chabot who paired with Erik Karlsson (if he stays) could be as good as any defensive pairing in hockey. The forwards have some skill with guys like Matt Duchene and the prospects coming like Colin White & Logan Brown offer a high upside.

Negatives – Senators owner Eugene Melnyk, who is already universally despised in Ottawa somehow, managed to scare fans that the team is moving AND upset their franchise defenseman to the point he requested a trade out in about a two-month time span. If Erik Karlsson is not kept long-term, what hope do Senators fans really have with a team that spends on a budget and just traded the best defenseman in hockey because they were too cheap to resign him?

X Factor – Karlsson stays or Melnyk sells. Senator fans would prefer Karlsson stays and Melnyk sells, but realistically if Karlsson stays the Senators have a big piece who can elevate his team most seasons to being playoff caliber. If Melnyk ever were to sell and an owner came in who would spend money the Senators would have a far stronger future.

Craig Mazuchowski
SUNY Oswego Alumni. Self-taught guitarist. I've been a Sabres and hockey fan since birth. I've also refereed youth hockey and play in a men’s league. My tombstone will be in the shape of pizza.
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