Florida Panthers' forwards Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau celebrate a goal
(Photo Credit: @FlaPanthers/ Twitter)

The 2021-22 NHL season is set to begin on October 12th, 2021. Below are my standings predictions for the Atlantic Division:

Predicted Atlantic Division Standings 2021-22

1. Florida Panthers 

Pros: For my money, nobody had a better offseason than the Florida Panthers. They made a flurry of moves in hopes for an even stronger Stanley Cup run this season. Florida bolstered their already threatening top-six in acquiring former second-overall pick Sam Reinhart via trade. They also signed recently acquired Sam Bennett to a four-year, $17.6M deal. Additionally, they locked up speedy and skilled winger Anthony Duclair, who seems to have finally found a home with the Panthers. Furthermore, the Panthers added grizzled veteran “Jumbo” Joe Thornton, who will provide bountiful experience and leadership on and off the ice. Lastly, the Panthers will get back a healthy Aaron Ekblad. Ekblad was having a career year before a season-ending injury forced him to miss a large portion of the 2021 campaign.

Cons: Will Sergei Bobrovsky ever be the “Bob” that we saw against the Tampa Bay Lightning in the 2019 Stanley Cup playoffs? Furthermore, is he capable of being a number one NHL guy that the Panthers can depend on night-in and night-out? If not, can a 20 year-old goaltender [Spencer Knight] in his first NHL season take the reins and lead Florida to a divisional title?

Conclusion: It’s clear the Panthers have Cup admirations and rightfully so given last years remarkable finish despite some unfortunate injuries. Nevertheless, Joel Quenneville has another year in Florida under his belt and seemingly has the players that best fit his system. After their offseason moves, Florida undoubtedly has one of the best top-six groups in the NHL. My only concern remains in net, as a first-year rookie and fading NHL-Star battle it out for arguably the most important position in hockey. At the end of the day, I think the experience depth and coaching all win out in Florida as they take the Atlantic Division.

2. Tampa Lightning

Pros: For the most part, Tampa’s core group of players (Kucherov, Stamkos, Hedman, Vasilevskiy, Point, Cirelli, Palat etc.) are returning, which means they will continue to be a juggernaut with great scoring ability and defensive capabilities. They’ll also get former Art Ross recipient Kucherov back for the regular season. Additionally, as they do, the Bolts added great pieces to surround their depth and core scorers. Pierre Edouard-Bellemare is an ideal fourth-line center who competes hard and plays responsibly. Meanwhile, they have replaced some loss in grit with Corey Perry. The former Montreal Canadien decided to join his kryptonite after losing to the Bolts in two straight Stanley Cup Finals.

Cons: I think the loss of Tampa’s entire third line is not discussed enough. After losing to Columbus in a shocking first-round sweep, the Bolts went and spent “a lot” at the time to acquire grit forwards like Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow. Alongside center Yanni Gourde, the line flourished extensively and helped Tampa win back-to-back Cups. However, their absence makes me question if they are still deep enough while possessing enough grit to repeat for a third time. Last year’s deadline addition Denis Savard has also found a new home this year in Montreal. Savard was a great depth defenseman who helped take some pressure off the top guys by eating minutes, blocking shots, and playing a smart defensive game.

Conclusion: Between elite goaltending, coaching and special teams, the Lightning are never going to regress beyond a second or third-place finish without significant injuries coming into play. With that said, I am worried the supporting cast is not quite up to the Tampa standard we experienced the last few years. They lost grit, depth scoring, and reliable defenseman.

3. Toronto Maple Leafs

Pros: They still have dynamic playmakers upfront who can flip a game on its head. They will be heavily relied upon in a division that will see a lot of scoring due to many teams adding to their forward core this offseason. Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner continue to learn and gain more experience, while the veterans will continue to provide leadership and other intangibles.

Cons: Zach Hyman’s versatility will be a huge loss for the Maple Leafs. He played up and down the lineup and provided a spark to the top-six forward group. His forechecking and puck battling abilities allowed Matthews and Marner to focus on the elements of their game that made them so dynamic. Losing Hyman could call for some difficult periods for the Leafs first line. Although newly acquired Nick Richie can provide some elements that Hyman did, it won’t be nearly the same.

Conclusion: It feels like the same story every year surrounding the Leafs. They always seemingly fail to address their most dire needs which for me still remains the blueline and goaltending. To make things worse, the Leafs are back in the Atlantic Division where the offensive firepower is tenfold of that of the North Division. Furthermore; the crease, similarly to the blueline, remains a question mark like it has the last few seasons. Although Jack Campbell can provide some good performances, it’s still debatable if he is a number one guy. Meanwhile, Petr Mrazek is still an unproven commodity who struggles with injuries.

4. Boston Bruins

Pros: For starters, the Boston Bruins moved to what is arguably a less competitive division than their 2020-21 home in the Metropolitan. Another bonus for the Bruins this season is getting 2021 acquisition and former league MVP Taylor Hall on the roster for an entire regular season. Since his inception into the lineup, Hall has showed glimpses of his all-star caliber play and brings much needed speed and skill to the Bruins top-six. Veteran Nick Foligno’s addition to the lineup should help the B’s bolster their depth and leadership, while Erik Haula and Tomas Nosek add to questionable center depth, especially within the bottom-six.

Cons: There is no sugar coating that David Krejci’s presence will be deeply missed. He has provided solid play down the middle, depth-scoring, leadership, and reliability throughout his extended time as a Bruin. It remains to be seen as to whether Charlie Coyle will be able to handle the second-line center role in Boston. Although Tuukka Rask is willing to be a “cheap goalie” for the Bruins, he is yet to be signed to any contract with the B’s. With that said, the 34 year-old fin has no intentions of testing the market, making a return to the Bruins likely. If Rask does not return this year, however, the goaltending in Beantown could be an issue. Rookie netminder Jeremy Swayman is still unproven, while Linus Ullmark failed to provide any outstanding performances while with Buffalo.

Conclusion: They certainly aren’t the Bruins of the early 2010’s, but they still find a way to stick around and make quality playoff runs. The top-six remains pretty lethal with the perfection line still in-tact, while the blueline could prove to be valuable if they stay healthy. Charlie McAvoy should continue to get Norris consideration, while David Pastrnak should once again contend for the Rocket Richard trophy. It remains to be seen what the goaltending situation will be like in Boston, which could be the Bruins biggest X-factor going into the season.

5. Montreal Canadiens

Pros:  The Montreal Canadiens made a lot of nice additions up front, bringing in notable goal-scorer Mike Hoffman and underrated center Christian Dvorak. Both players fit extremely well into the Canadiens top-six. Hoffman will instantly upgrade the Habs powerplay, giving a one timing option from the right side across from young phenom Cole Caufield. Dvorak, meanwhile, will help to fill the hole left by Phillip Danault’s departure. Although he’s not a polished on the defensive side, Dvorak brings a bit more offensive upside. Former Stanley Cup champion Denis Savard will help to fill the hole left by Shea Weber’s absence. Savard has savvy veteran experience and will bring a defensive style that aligned with Weber’s.

Cons: The Habs were within the top-15 in goals against per game last season at 2.95. Losing your captain and steady blueliner in Shea Weber as well as your best defensive forward is certain to impact the Canadiens defensive play this year. Pair that with an aging Carey Price who’s save percentage has steadily decreased the last three years and you have a problem on the back end.

Conclusion: With such a Cinderella run to the Cup Finals, they were always destined for a drop-off. Players like Carey Price will come back down to earth. Furthermore, they step into a much more difficult division that will see quite a few teams battle for playoff contention. While the new additions will undoubtedly help the lineup in different ways, their losses will also be felt.

6. Ottawa Senators

Pros:  According to Senators general manager Pierre Dorion, Ottawa’s rebuild is over. The club did take a step out of the NHL’s basement last year, finishing as the ninth-worst team with 51 points. Ottawa’s biggest positive going into the season is the fact that this young Senators team got another year to develop and take the next step at the NHL level. Tim Stutzle has already shown legitimate top-six potential, putting up 29 points in 53 NHL games in his freshman season. Meanwhile, the Senators continue to work with Brady Tkachuk to lock him up long-term.

Cons: They are still a young team with fairly little veteran presence. There young guns are good. but most are still years away from their prime and ability to severely impact the lineup on a daily basis. Furthermore, going into the 2021-22 campaign their still remains question marks in net for the Senators. Matt Murray, at 27, had an extremely poor year last year posting a .893 save percentage in 27 games. Anton Forsberg, on the other hand, is yet to establish himself as a legitimate NHL goalie.

Conclusion: The Sens should be relatively fun to watch this year and I believe they will compete on a nightly basis. As far as playoffs aspirations go, they are still too young and too inexperienced to fulfill playoff hopes coming out of a top heavy division that drops off after the fourth seed. On the other hand, it gives young guns Drake Batherson, Stutzle, Erik Brannstrom, etc. another year to develop and round out their NHL games.

7. Detroit Red Wings

Pros:  Similarly to Taylor Hall in Boston, the Red Wings will finally have a full season with Jakub Vrana. The former Washington Capital was completely electric for them down the stretch. His fast and skillful play fits right into the Wings lineup alongside the speedy Dylan Larkin. The Red Wings also made some savvy moves this offseason, bringing in a young Pius Suter, who thrived in a first line role with the Blackhawks. The best offseason move, however, was signing former Canes netminder Alex Nedeljkovic who had a breakout season at only 25 years of age. Nedeljkovic will continue to develop alongside some of the Red Wing prospects that will begin to crack the roster this year.

Cons: Their defense will likely struggle against much of the high-end fire power of the Atlantic division. Although Moritz Seider could be a staple on the blueline this year, the Wings are still year away from having a Norris caliber/top pairing guy. Detroit’s special teams units are nowhere near dangerous. The powerplay lacks an elite sniper as well as a true power play quarterback from the backend.

Conclusion: While they will compete on a nightly basis by pure work ethic, they are still due for a finish at the bottom of the table. The Wings are more focus on stockpiling draft picks and prospects, which speaks to the weaknesses and age of some of the roster.

8. Buffalo Sabres

Pros: One of the biggest surprises and positives of the Buffalo Sabres over the last year or so was the big developmental step that first-overall selection Rasmus Dahlin took shortly after Don Granato was named interim head coach. Dahlin looked a bit sharper, more confident, and was better positionally as well. Sabres fans will look forward to Dahlin’s growth and potentially big step in 2021-22. Furthermore, young guns like Dylan Cozens, Casey Mittelstadt, Tage Thompson etc. will have the chance to gain significant top-six experience this year with the hole left by Sam Reinhart and potentially Jack Eichel.

Cons: Eichel rumors continue to swirl — much like they have all summer. Eichel has already expressed his disinterest and frustration with his time in Buffalo and has also recently switched to world-renowned agent Pat Brisson to represent him going forward. If Eichel does end up leaving Buffalo, it will undoubtedly be a major blow for the Sabres. This is especially true considering they also just recently lost top-six forward Sam Reinhart in a trade with the Florida Panthers.

Conclusion: Its unusual to see first-overall selections play anywhere outside the team that just drafted them; however, Sabres pick Owen Power has already announced his return to Ann Arbor. While it may be best for his development and the Sabres down the line, it certainly won’t help Buffalo this year. In an already tough division, the Sabres will again find themselves in the NHL’s basement. Hopefully for the Sabres, their young players and prospects have a successful year developing while taking the next steps and staying competitive along the way.

Other NHL Division Predictions:

Metropolitan Division Predictions

Central Division Predictions

Pacific Division Predictions