Atlantic Division projections; will the Leafs finally take the division title?

Mike Armenti
July 29, 2023  (1:06 PM)

There are a lot of ways that the NHL's Atlantic Division can change this year, most notably with the presumable fall of the Boston Bruins out of the top spot in the division. There are also a number of teams who could surprise this season and make the playoffs, either as one of the top-3 teams in the division or as a wild card team.

Predicting what will happen within a division before the season even begins is a tough task, because there are a ton of variables at play. We don't yet know how teams' new additions will fit into the various rosters, there are also injuries that can occur that we cannot predict and, as always, goalies are always a huge question mark. With all that in mind, I'm about to take a crack at where teams will finish in the Atlantic Division standings, from the 8th place team all the way to who I believe will be the division winner.
8. Montreal Canadiens
The Canadiens are currently undergoing a top-to-bottom rebuild and have not made any significant roster additions that will change their fate from last season's bottom spot within the division. We don't yet know whether 2023 5th overall pick David Reinbacher will play in the NHL and while Juraj Slafkovsky believes 2023-24 will be a much better season for him in Montreal, there's still a long way to go for this roster to challenge the likes of Toronto, Tampa and Florida.
7. The Detroit Red Wings
The Wings were one of the busier teams this summer, acquiring Alex DeBrincat and locking him up to a new 4-year deal, and signing JT Compher, Justin Holl and Christian Fischer as free agents. These were not the only moves Detroit made this summer, but they were the highest profile moves, and while DeBrincat is a hell of an add, there are still too many question marks with this roster to warrant putting them any higher on the list - though they are finally on the upswing in my mind.
6. Buffalo Sabres
Another rebuilding team, but in the end, with all of the nice pieces they have, I believe goaltending will be the primary issue in Buffalo. The tandem of Devon Levi and Eric Comrie is going to be exposed a lot this season and unless the Sabres pull off a deal to bring in a more experienced netminder, they're likely to be a bottom 3 team in the Atlantic. I will admit, though, that they have a solid roster shaping up there. I can see the potential.
5. Boston Bruins
This one comes as a bit of a surprise, I'm sure. Last summer, it looked like the Bruins would struggle during the season, especially due to the injuries they were coming into the season with, but as is often the case, the Bruins proved everyone wrong and were not only able to tread water until everyone was healthy, but they also put together the best season in NHL history, racking up 135 points last year. However, after having lost Patrice Bergeron, Taylor Hall, Tyler Bertuzzi, Dmitry Orlov and David Krejci, among others, this group is going to look a lot more human in 2023-24. They still have strong goaltending and a solid coach, but I just don't like their chances of being a consistently dangerous team without Bergeron around and with Pavel Zacha and Charlie Coyle as their top 2 centers.
4. Ottawa Senators
As a Leafs fan, I hate having to put Ottawa in the playoff picture, but with the Bruins sliding so far in my eyes, someone has to step up and grab a playoff spot. The Sens have a pretty well-balanced roster and have been able to score at a decent clip. Some are concerned that replacing Alex DeBrincat with Vladimir Tarasenko is a bit of a downgrade, but I'm not sure that I agree. DeBrincat didn't want to be in Ottawa, so he didn't have much motivation to care last year. Tarasenko, on the other hand, is on a 1-year deal and came to Ottawa on his own terms. He'll be plenty motivated to get back to being a 30-40 goal scorer in hopes of maximizing his earnings next summer with the cap going up. For one year, I like this move more than most. The Sens have also upgraded their goaltending, bringing in an underrated goalie in Joonas Korpisalo, who should form a decent tandem with Anton Forsberg.
3. Tampa Bay Lightning
I really do believe this is the year we begin to see Tampa begin to fall off. An aging core, key pieces from past playoff runs slowly leaving the roster one by one and a weak prospect pool all equate to the Bolts slowly transitioning from a legit contender to a team who will need to begin pondering a rebuild. Having said that, they're not quite there yet. They still have some legit difference-makers in Victor Hedman, Andrei Vasilevsky, Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos and Brayden Point, who all have some quality hockey left in them. Very few of them are still in their prime, but all of them can still go. I like the Lightning for the 3rd spot in the division.
2. Florida Panthers
After a fairy-tale Stanley Cup Final run, I do believe the Panthers will be riding a high for much of this season. I do, however, feel like the goaltending will come back down to earth a bit and they likely won't steal as many games. Still, though, the Panthers are a solid team. Yes, they lost some helpful pieces this summer in Anthony Duclair and Radko Gudas, but I like the addition of Evan Rodrigues and the swing they took on Oliver Ekman-Larsson is low risk, high potential reward. Mike Reilly also has the potential to be a sneaky-good add for their 3rd pair. All of the usual suspects in Matthew Tkachuk, Aleksander Barkov, Sam Bennett, Carter Verhaeghe, Sam Reinhart, Anton Lundell, Brandon Montour and Aaron Ekblad are back, so they're still going to be a strong team and will challenge for the division title.
1. Toronto Maple Leafs
Look - yes, I'm obviously biased, but this isn't a biased pick. The Leafs would likely have taken the Atlantic Division title last year if the Bruins didn't go HAM on the entire league. The moves they made this summer were not lateral moves. They were not downgrades. In my mind, Bertuzzi is an improvement over Bunting, Klingberg is an improvement over Holl, Domi is an improvement over Kerfoot and while Ryan Reaves isn't going to be a difference-maker on the ice in terms of offense, he will be just that when the coach takes a number and taps him on the shoulder. He'll also help immensely on the bench and in the locker room. The team will be rolling out an improved tandem this year in Ilya Samsonov and Joseph Woll, both of whom drastically outperformed Matt Murray last season and while I'm sure not many are wild about Keefe returning behind the bench, he is one of the best regular season coaches in Leafs history - if not the best, by the numbers.
Auston Matthews will return to Rocket Richard Trophy-winning form this season, potting another 60, God willing. Mitch Marner will hit 100 points for the first time in his career. William Nylander is going to be a 40-goal scorer again, Tavares will be old reliable, finishing around a point-per-game again. Rookie sensation Matthew Knies will be a difference-maker in the middle six, Nick Robertson will finally prove he belongs in the NHL, and the Leafs' D corps will be a lot more dangerous offensively with the addition of Klingberg, who can walk the line and open up shooting lanes. I'm looking forward to seeing what this team can do as a top team and who knows? Maybe we'll get a Leafs/Sens round one matchup.
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Atlantic Division projections; will the Leafs finally take the division title?

Will the Leafs win the Atlantic Division title in 2023-24?

Yes36461.7 %
No22638.3 %
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