Kyle McKenna

The Ottawa Senators’ roster is far from the same Stanley Cup Playoff contender it was back in 2017 when the Sens advanced all the way to Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals, only to lose to the likes of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

No, Ottawa wasn’t even an average team last season (28-43-11 –67PTS), but with the departure of Erik Karlsson, Mike Hoffman and Derick Brassard among others, the Senators are set for a last-place finish in a competitive Atlantic Division.

Yes, it appears the Senators may be on to something positive with up and coming skaters such as Matthew Tkachuk, but Ottawa is still a handful of seasons away from being a playoff contender again. The team has minimal offensive power and the defense-core is average at best, plus Ottawa is unstable between the pipes – even if goaltender Craig Anderson finishes out the season with the Sens.

For the first time since 1980-1983, the Detroit Red Wings will miss the Stanley Cup Playoffs for three straight seasons.

Hockeytown is no longer the title-town it once was.

In fact, the Red Wings are poised to miss the playoffs in 2020, too. There are arguably some youthful assets on the rise with skaters such as Dylan Larkin, Anthony Mantha and Andreas Athanasiou, but Detroit is weak in net and sub-par on defense.

Newly acquired goaltender, Jonathan Bernier, is nothing more than a solid backup goaltender and that’s exactly what the Red Wings have in net with Bernier and Jimmy Howard. Two inconsistent goaltenders playing for a rebuilding team that’s in need of a masked man to bail them out of games and steal some victories on a nightly basis.

The Red Wings were a division-worst last season, 8-16-4, against the Atlantic and don’t expect that record to improve in 2018-19. Divisional points are so crucial in order to gain ground in the Eastern Conference standings, and while Detroit may be exciting to watch at times, the Red Wings are far from being competitive again.

Believe it or not, but the Montreal Canadiens will improve from last season’s 29-40-13 record. General manager Marc Bergevin followed through with some key roster changes that included acquiring youngster Max Domi and Tomas Tatar.

Montreal departed ways with skaters desperately in need of a new scenery in Alex Galchenyuk and former captain Max Pacioretty, and a healthy Carey Price between the pipes automatically gives Montreal a fighting chance at close to 40 wins this season.

Montreal proved how serious it was about turning over a new leaf with its commendable offseason and selections at the 2018 NHL Draft. Head coach Claude Julien is too good of a voice behind the bench to let this team continue to spiral downhill, too.

There’s a different feel in Montreal and now it’s just a matter of time if the skaters such as Domi, Jonathan Drouin, and Shea Weber can find a way to come together and take one giant step forward in 2019.

Sixth place it is for the Canadiens.

A fifth-place finish for the Atlantic Division in 2019 may just be good enough to clinch a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the Eastern Conference this spring.

Yes, that means that the Buffalo Sabres can potentially offer playoff hockey to the city of Buffalo for the first time since 2010-11. It’s been a broken record in Buffalo with the Sabres for too long, but head coach Phil Housley and company portrayed signs of promise during the second half of the season in 2018.

Buffalo was smart to part ways with skaters such as Ryan O’Reilly and Evander Kane, and while Buffalo also acquired draft picks in those transactions; the Sabres also upgraded on offense with the likes of Jeff Skinner, Conor Sheary, Patrik Berglund and Vladimir Sobotka.

Casey Mittelstadt and Jack Eichel will form a dynamic duo that the Sabres have been missing on offense in over a decade, and expect the team’s defense to notably take a huge step in the right direction.

Blueliner, Rasmus Dahlin, is the whole package and will prove just how dynamic the first-overall selection (2018) can be for Sabres come puck drop in October. The Swedish native is good for at least 40 this season.

Buffalo also has stability in net with Carter Hutton and top goaltending prospect, Ukko-Pekka Luukkonen, could take over the reigns between the pipes in good ole’ Buffalo sooner than most think.

The Sabres are last season’s (Cinderella story) Colorado Avalanche and expect a breakout season from the fourth-year skater, Eichel – who has yet to record 70 points in a season entering his fourth year.

One other feel-food-stories of the year in 2018 was the Florida Panthers magical run during the second half of last season. While the team’s success (best record after the NHL All-Star break) didn’t do justice and the Panthers missed out on the Stanley Cup Playoffs, expect the Panthers to be in the conversation for playoff hockey come this April.

This hockey enthusiast believes that Florida will finish in fourth, but there’s always a chance that the Cats could stun the hockey world and finish at a higher seed for the Atlantic Division.

Hockey in South Florida hasn’t been this anticipated since the team last won a playoff round back in 1996 after the Panthers advanced all the way to the Stanley Cup Final (lost to Colorado Avalanche).

Defenseman Aaron Eckblad is set to prove that he’s a Norris Trophy candidate as one of the league’s best defenseman for years to come, and the offense is deep with the likes of Aleksander Barkov, Vincent Trocheck, Nick Bjugstad, and Jonathan Huberdeau.

It’s apparent that head coach Bob Boughner has this team drinking whatever Kool-aid he’s been pouring after last season’s uncanny success, and the Panthers potential is only on the rise with how dynamic they are in all areas on the ice.

The only question mark is between the pipes with an aging Roberto Luongo and an unproven No. 1 starter in James Riemer. One setback last season was Luongo and Riemer both going down with injuries.

It should be interesting to see if the Cats try to make a move to add depth in net as the season progresses.

The reality is that the Panthers missed the playoffs by one point last season and that they’re a legitimate Stanley Cup Playoff contender for at least the next handful of seasons.

Yes, the Boston Bruins are deep in all areas on the ice and have a commendable mix of veteran skaters and youthful assets.

Forwards such as Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci will continue to lead the way for the B’s up front, while youngsters Danton Heinen and Jake Debrusk will blossom into offensive threats on a more consistent basis in 2019.

Whether fans want to admit or not, Marchand among other Bruins mentioned above are borderline Hart Memorial Trophy candidates next season, but Boston’s success won’t just come from the team’s forwards.

The Bruins’ blue line is deep with the likes of Torey Krug, Charlie McAvoy, and Kevan Miller. Let’s not forget about Zdeno Chara who still has at least one more solid year left in the tank, and the newly added John Moore, either.

Boston’s goaltending situation may appear to be the question mark, but the reality is that the Bruins are deep between the pipes. Signing goaltender Jaroslav Halak was a necessary and key signing for Boston, and a lesser role in net for Halak will benefit he and the Bruins, greatly.

Tuukka Rask still has what it takes to be in the conversation for the Vezina Trophy as one of the league’s top goaltenders, and it’s his time to finally lead the Bruins back to the Stanley Cup Final.

Boston’s offense fizzled out towards the end of last season and into the playoffs, but expect that to show for a good learning experience moving forward for head coach Bruce Cassidy.

If the Tampa Bay Lightning don’t reach the Stanley Cup Final, like last season, then it’s a disappointment. The Bolts are stacked in all areas on the ice and similar to Boston have a good mix of veteran skaters combined with youthful assets.

Tampa’s hot start last season convinced most analysts that it was the team to beat, but the team’s overall defensive play struggled, and Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov were held off the scoresheet come Game 6 and 7 of the Eastern Conference Final.

Goaltender and 2018 Vezina Trophy nominee, Andrei Vasilevskiy, proved that he was arguably the team’s most valuable player last season. The 24-year-old has quickly transformed into a top-tier NHL goaltender and the Russian native will lead the Bolts back to the top of the Atlantic Division.

It’s another successful season for “Rangers South” in the Atlantic Division, but don’t be surprised if the Lightning fails to win the division, which could also be a blessing in disguise for the Stanley Cup favorites come playoff time.

It’s Toronto’s time.

After a string of dark years, the Toronto Maple Leafs are poised to have one of the franchise’s best regular seasons, ever. From the front office to the bench the Leafs have talent and the right type of culture to make a run at Lord Stanley.

Regardless if the Maple Leafs signed forward John Tavares or not, Toronto was still set to be a favorite to win the Atlantic Division. Youngsters Auston Matthews, William Nylander, and Mitch Marner are all a year wiser, and goaltender Frederik Andersen could be in the conversation for the Vezina Trophy in June.

Head coach Mike Babcock’s squad finished with the league’s second-best power play last season (25 percent), and the team’s man advantage only improved with Tavares now in the lineup.

The team’s defense has been an Achilles’ heel in recent memory, but that’s anticipated to improve and don’t be surprised if the Leafs trade for depth on the blue line at the 2019 NHL Trade Deadline. Toronto is in the driver’s seat to execute trades in order to “win now” due to the team’s superstar youngsters on the rise.

No, the Maple Leafs won’t win the Stanley Cup in 2019, but Toronto will have another banner to raise to Scotiabank Arena’s rafters in October of 2019.

  1. Toronto Maple Leafs (109 points)
  2. Tampa Bay Lightning (105 points)
  3. Boston Bruins (103 points)
  4. Florida Panthers (99 points)
  5. Buffalo Sabres (95 points)
  6. Montreal Canadiens (87 points)
  7. Detroit Red Wings (79 points)
  8. Ottawa Senators (63 points)

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