1 Toronto: The Leafs finished last season in third place with 105 points. In a battle with the Bruins and Lightning throughout the whole season, they came short of the division title. With the massive addition of John Tavares, it could very well be enough to put them over the edge to a division title, and even possibly the Presidents’ Trophy. A high powered offense just got a lot stronger. The defense is still a question mark, however they performed better than they get credit for last season, and have not lost any key defenders.
2 Tampa Bay: The Lightning have a powerhouse roster that brought them a division title last season. They have retained their key players (and notably re-signing Kucherov to a friendly contract) and will now also have Ryan McDonagh for the entire year. Should have another huge season, but just a notch below Toronto.
3 Boston: The Bruins are a very good team, but I wonder if Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak can carry the team as hard as they did last season. That line was firing on all cylinders and was borderline unstoppable for a majority of the season. It will be hard to replicate that kind of dominance from a line (consider they didn’t get scored on at even strength for 22 straight games to start the season). It will come down to their depth players, and how much they can contribute.
4 Florida: The Panthers seem to be full of potential every year, but fail to meet expectations. They boast a young talented roster but perhaps lack the experience to propel themselves into the playoffs consistently. If it weren’t for sure a top heavy division, I would say they are a shoe-in, but having to compete with the 3 teams mentioned above is a tough task. Look for Barkov to turn it up offensively as he starts to hit his prime.
5 Buffalo: The Sabres are a funny team. They have a lot of talented players to make you think they will do well, but then they just don’t. Individually, Eichel, Ristolainen, Reinhart, Okposo and Scandella are good to great players, but their depth after that is atrocious. Losing O’Reilly really hurts their center depth too. Can Middlestadt successfully take over the role? Can Dahlin step in and make a difference right away? Time will tell.
6 Detroit: The Red Wings have an outside shot of making playoffs. They lack the star power to be truly competitive. Larkin is a great piece but he’s not going to carry a team. They brought back Mike Green, and I believe his return, and more importantly, a healthy return, will be crucial in finding success. The roster just doesn’t jump out at me in any way.
7 Montreal: With rumors of Pacioretty being traded, it doesn’t leave a whole lot to be desired on the Canadiens. Price is capable of keeping the team competitive on his own, but he will have to be Superman to get this team in the playoffs. The center depth is horrible and the defense might be even worse. Not looking good.
8 Ottawa: Dumpster fire. If Erik Karlsson is not a Senator next year, there is no hope for this team. The locker room is in shambles, the ownership won’t spend money, and Bobby Ryan is still there being paid like a star. Sorry Duchene, you’re in for another rough one.