Florida Panthers: Atlantic’s top 3 Spots Will be a Battle This Year

SUNRISE, FL - MARCH 23: Evgeni Dadonov #63 of the Florida Panthers skates with the puck against Zdeno Chara #33 of the Boston Bruins at the BB&T Center on March 23, 2019 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images)
SUNRISE, FL - MARCH 23: Evgeni Dadonov #63 of the Florida Panthers skates with the puck against Zdeno Chara #33 of the Boston Bruins at the BB&T Center on March 23, 2019 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Eliot J. Schechter/NHLI via Getty Images) /

Although the Florida Panthers look ready to contend for a playoff spot, their division will not be giving up their top three spots easily.

The Atlantic is a peculiar division, housing two of the top three teams in the league last year including the President Trophy winning Tampa Bay Lightning and the Boston Bruins, representing the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup finals. The Toronto Maple Leafs finished in the top ten as well from the Atlantic.

At the same time, the Atlantic division represented three of the bottom five teams in the league being the Buffalo Sabres, Detroit Red Wings, and Ottawa Senators. (The other two being New Jersey Devils and Los Angeles Kings.)

The Sabres had a great start last year and were first in the NHL through the first 25 games. However, once December came and went, they just couldn’t keep the energy and momentum moving and ultimately collapsed.

The Montreal Canadiens had a wonderful season last year, exceeding all expectations and was robbed of a playoff spot, finishing the season 3 points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets for the final wildcard spot with 96 points. A scenario all too familiar to the Florida Panthers, as they missed the playoffs by one point two years ago as they finished with 96 as well.

The division is loaded with superstars. Seven of the top fifteen leading point producers last year came from the Atlantic division, with no other division contributing more than three.

In terms of goaltenders, four of the top six goaltenders in wins last season will now be playing on Atlantic division teams with the Panthers acquisition of Sergei Bobrovsky.

When reviewing the division this offseason, most teams in the division have attempted to address needs throughout their roster, but there is no question that the most improved team (on paper) is the Florida Panthers.

The Florida Panthers come into the new season adding a Hall of Fame coach and Vezina caliber goaltender, not to mention stealing one of the better defensive defensemen in the league in Anton Stralman from the Tampa Bay Lightning.

As for the bottom three teams, Buffalo, Detroit and Ottawa, all three teams have added a few pieces. However, there is little expectation from those three to break through and advance to the top of the division.

They may not fall to the bottom five again, with the exception of Ottawa, but from a roster perspective, the top five (Tampa, Florida, Toronto, Montreal, and Boston) are built too strong in comparison to Buffalo, Detroit and Ottawa.

Moving forward and speculating where these five teams will fall by seasons end is pointless as every team still has free agency moves left to make, chemistry still needs to form, injuries will occur, and chaos inevitably ensues during every season, which is what makes the NHL spectacular.

Having said that, it is a comfortable assumption that Tampa and Boston will continue to be dominant. Both teams have really remained intact with their cores, have a strong league leading goaltenders, stable and knowledgeable management and coaching staffs, and veterans still able to lead their teams to victory.

Whether they place 1st, 2nd, or 3rd in the division spots will remain to be seen, but to speculate that they will not make one of those spots is a fools bet at this moment in time.

The interesting topic to discuss is who will join them in the top three? Assessing the strengths and weaknesses for that position in the division between Florida, Montreal, and Toronto is incredibly difficult.

All three teams have Stanley Cup winning coaches. All three teams have Vezina caliber goaltenders, although Florida’s and Montreal’s have actually won the Vezina recently.

The difference comes in strength at offense and defense, which for now can only be speculated. Toronto is still waiting to see how the Mitch Marner situation plays out. If they lose him, and depending on who they get in a deal that sees him traded, there is no question the offensive ability of the team will be diminished.

Defense was undoubtedly Toronto’s achilles heal last year. Although attempts to improve the position were made this offseason, many pundits wonder how improved they will be behind Cody Ceci and Tyson Barrie. Both players, while talented, are inexperienced and offensive minded.

Montreal on the other hand was a decent to good team all around, placing 13th in the league in goals for and goals against. Many seem to think they overachieved, but they have a strong set on defense and a great goalie. Their offense is a little young but highly skilled and will definitely put up a fight.

As for the Panthers, their inconsistency over the years has people more bearish than bullish, but there is no doubt they have improved tremendously on paper, as mentioned above. The key is going to be if they can continue their high powered offense and power play shown last year and strengthen their defense, a point they spent more than fifteen million dollars on per year with the additions of Bobrovsky and Stralman.

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The key for a division spot will be good starts and limited injuries. Which ever team can get hot early should be the team locking in that spot. With the Metropolitan division looking stronger and stronger, the Atlantic might only send three teams to the playoffs again like last year.