Benjamin Lepper ’25
Chief Sports Editor
The Atlantic is likely to be run, once again, by a decidedly non-hockey state. The Florida Panthers made one of the biggest trades of the offseason by acquiring Matthew Tkachuk from the Calgary Flames, and even though they lost Mackenzie Weager and Jonathan Huberdeau, they still project to be dangerous. The Tampa Bay Lightning, meanwhile, are still the Tampa Bay Lightning. They lost a few pieces in the offseason, including Ondrej Palat, but also extended a few pieces long-term. As long as they’ve got Kucherov and Vasilevskiy, they will be hanging around near the top of the standings. The division will likely be taken by one of those two teams.
However, there are a few other teams who could make a surprise push. The Boston Bruins re-signed the majority of their old core, including David Krejci, and have the talent to pull a deep Cup run out of nowhere. Toronto kept most of their pieces and are setting themselves up for at least another first-round exit. The Ottawa Senators had a phenomenal offseason by acquiring Alex DeBrincat and Claude Giroux, and may start to realize their potential this year. All of these teams could very well be in the mix for a playoff spot. While the Sabres, Red Wings, and Canadiens have potential, this won’t be their year.
I’ll start this section out with the elephant in the room: the Columbus Blue Jackets won the Johnny Gaudreau sweepstakes. Does this make them a playoff contender this year? No. Instead, I’d expect the New York Rangers to continue last season’s hot streak into this season. With most pieces retained and Igor Shesterkin coming off a Vezina-winning season, this team should be playing hockey deep into May. The Penguins and Capitals should also be making some noise, with the former bringing the entire gang back and the latter fortifying their goaltending by acquiring Darcy Kuemper.
Another team that could make things interesting is the Carolina Hurricanes. They lost some pieces, but gained a notable one in Max Pacioretty. They also acquired whatever remains of Brent Burns, and a couple of nice depth pieces as well. They definitely have the talent to win a bunch of games this season. I’d also look for a bounce-back season by the New York Islanders, who had a terrible season last year. As for the Devils and Flyers, there’s not much to talk about. The Flyers were putrid last year, and the Devils just aren’t quite there.
This is Colorado’s division to lose. The reigning Cup champs are so strong that this section could be three sentences. They did lose Nazem Kadri and Darcy Kuemper, but with talents like Nathan MacKinnon and Cale Makar, they’ll be fine. The rest of the division features teams with high-end talent but lots of question marks. Minnesota didn’t upgrade at any position but were lucky to have Kirill Kaprizov return to the United States after some Russian drama. Nashville has an intriguing roster, but will need to see Filip Forsberg have another remarkable season to do anything in the playoffs. St. Louis and Dallas are the epitome of boom-or-bust, with risky players all over their rosters. Winnipeg and Arizona are going to be mediocre at best. And, after last year’s debacle, I never want to discuss the Blackhawks again.
All eyes should be on the Edmonton Oilers this year. Their biggest flaw in the postseason was goaltending, so they went and got Jack Campbell. I’ve been thinking that they’ve been one piece away for over a year now, and Campbell might be that piece. The Calgary Flames project to be interesting, too: they did lose Matthew Tkachuk and Johnny Hockey, but gained Nazem Kadri, Jonathan Huberdeau, and Mackenzie Weager. Most NHL fans should want these teams to be good as it would make for a nearly year-long Battle of Alberta.
The rest of the division is in a fairly sorry state. Vegas’ bold all-in push has strapped them up against the cap so badly that they’ve had to shed numerous playmakers to save cash. Anaheim has Trevor Zegras and Troy Terry, but not much around them. Seattle somehow snagged Shane Wright fourth overall in the draft, but he likely won’t play in the league for a little longer, leaving the Kraken in the basement. Los Angeles had a surprisingly strong 2021 season and acquired Kevin Fiala, but still have a lot to prove as a fairly young team who only made the playoffs due to their weak division. As for Vancouver and San Jose, don’t expect much from them. One or more of these six teams will have to make the playoffs, and it’ll be interesting to see who does.
Photo by Francois Lacasse/NHL via Getty Images