Thursday, July 26, 2018
The NHL off-season is in full swing following the Entry Draft and free agency. There will probably be other roster moves before the start of the 2018-19 season, but it has been relatively quiet and it’s a good time to examine how teams currently stand with training camps drawing closer.
Part One will start with the top five teams in the Atlantic Division based on the standings from the 2017-18 campaign.
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Tampa Bay Lightning
2017-18 Finish: 54-23-5 record, Eastern Conference Final loss to Washington (4-3)
Noteworthy Gains: N/A
Noteworthy Losses: Chris Kunitz
Biggest Strength: Tampa Bay has a deep and talented roster, especially up front. Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov formed a dynamic and dangerous duo in 2017-18, while Brayden Point stepped up on the second line and Yanni Gourde exceeded expectations during his rookie season. The Lightning were in the hunt for John Tavares and the team has been linked to superstar defenseman Erik Karlsson, but there hasn’t been much roster movement during the off-season. Tampa Bay locked up Kucherov to an eight-year, $76 million contract, while agreeing to extensions with former Rangers J.T. Miller and Ryan McDonagh on five- and seven-year deals, respectively.
Biggest Weakness: Tampa Bay is not a team that had many issues in 2017-18, but the penalty kill was a problem for the club all year. The Lightning placed 28th in the league with a 76.1 penalty kill percentage. Tampa Bay surrendered 64 power-play goals against, which was the second-highest total in the NHL. It didn’t get any better in the postseason and will likely be something that is addressed early in training camp. Andrei Vasilevskiy had an .865 power play save percentage. He struggled in the second half of the season, which relates to a less-pressing area of concern. Vasilevskiy was third in Vezina Trophy voting despite posting a .902 save percentage and 3.37 goals-against average in 25 appearances following the All-Star break. The 24-year-old netminder bounced back in the playoffs and should pick up where he left off in 2018-19 as one of the top fantasy options between the pipes. However, if there are consistency issues then it could become something to monitor.
Player to Watch: Miller is worth keeping an eye on, as he could have great sleeper value in 2018-19. He spent time alongside Stamkos and Kucherov shortly after his arrival from the Rangers. Miller had 10 goals and 18 points in 19 regular-season outings with the Lightning. His production slowed in the playoffs and he was dropped down the depth chart, but a return to Tampa Bay’s top-six forward group could lead to a breakout performance.
2017-18 Finish: 50-20-12 record, second round loss to Tampa Bay (4-1)
Biggest Strength: Boston boasts one of the best top lines in the league with Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and Patrice Bergeron leading the charge. They have the ability to take total control of the game in all situations. All three members of the combination scored at least 30 goals last season, while Marchand and Pastrnak both managed to reach the 80-point plateau.
Biggest Weakness: The Bruins rely a great deal on the trio of Bergeron, Marchand and Pastrnak for offense. The next closest player to their offensive totals last season was defenseman Torey Krug, who had 59 points in 76 games. Boston didn’t have another skater reach the 50-point mark in 2017-18. Rookie forwards Danton Heinen (47 points) and Jake DeBrusk (43 points) need to continue to progress this year to provide some much-need secondary scoring. A healthy David Krejci should be able to reach the 50-plus points, but the team has to get more out of a young group that showed flashes of promise last campaign.
Player to Watch: DeBrusk and Heinen are intriguing talents, but Ryan Donato should garner plenty of attention in what could be his first full season at the NHL level. He was used sparingly in the playoffs, while appearing in only three contests, but he looked great when placed in increased roles during the regular season. Donato produced four of his nine points in 12 appearances on the power play. He could be dangerous if given more opportunities in that spot this season.
Toronto Maple Leafs
2017-18 Finish: 49-26-7 record, first round loss to Boston (4-3)
Noteworthy Gains: John Tavares
Biggest Strength: Toronto has a high-octane offense that attacks with speed and skill. The Leafs’ depth down the middle following the signing of big-ticket free agent John Tavares will create line mismatches that not many teams can. The ability to roll out a combination of Tavares and Mitch Marner as well as a pairing of Auston Matthews and William Nylander will create problems for opposing teams. Toronto will have also have Nazem Kadri, who has topped 30 goals in each of his last two seasons, waiting on the third line. Toronto’s offensive capabilities will have potential fantasy owners salivating going into the season despite the losses of van Riemsdyk and Bozak.
Biggest Weakness: Toronto’s defense remains an area of concern. The Leafs often struggle to move the puck efficiently out of their own end and rely too much on Frederik Andersen to bail them out of unfavorable situations. Toronto permitted the fourth-most shots against per game (33.9) last season and Andersen was frequently under siege. The Leafs need a much better effort from Nikita Zaitsev and for some members of the AHL Calder Cup champion Toronto Marlies to impress to turn things around if outside help doesn’t come.
Player to Watch: Watching what Tavares does in his first season with his hometown team will be interesting, but Andreas Johnsson could have some great under-the-radar value. He is poised to get a larger role with the Maple Leafs this year after he skated in nine games with the big club at the end of the 2017-18 campaign. He was named the MVP of the AHL postseason and could open the season on the third line with Kadri. Johnsson is also a candidate to see time on one of Toronto’s potent power-play units. There are vacancies that he and Tavares could fill alongside Marner and Kadri, which would be huge for his fantasy value.
2017-18 Finish: 44-30-8 record, 9th in the Eastern Conference
Noteworthy Gains: Mike Hoffman
Noteworthy Losses: N/A
Biggest Strength: It can be argued that Florida’s offense is a bit top heavy, but the ability to roll out centers the likes of Aleksander Barkov and Vincent Trocheck is a tremendous benefit. Adding Mike Hoffman to a winger group that possesses Jonathan Huberdeau and Evgenii Dadonov will give the Panthers plenty of firepower on the top-two lines.
Biggest Weakness: Florida’s defense had their fair share of struggles in their own end, though, while permitting the third-most shots against in the league (34.6). The health of Roberto Luongo has become a concern. He played in 35 games last season and at the age of the 39 there is plenty of risk there for more ailments with long recovery times. James Reimer struggled to maintain the crease at times in Luongo’s absence. If injuries for Luongo and Reimer’s battle with consistency becomes a pattern that continues for a third straight year then Florida could be in trouble again when it comes to competing for a playoff spot.
Player to Watch: Henrik Borgstrom and Owen Tippett will have plenty of eyes on them at training camp, as they look to claim bottom-six roles on the club. They have the scoring talent to be impact players, but the most fascinating player to watch will be Hoffman. The off-ice issues concerning his fiancee and the Karlsson family resulted in his departure from Ottawa, but the Panthers insist he will be welcomed with open arms. Hoffman is loaded with offensive ability and pairing him with Trocheck could be big for Florida.
Detroit Red Wings
2017-18 Finish: 30-39-13 record, 13th in the Eastern Conference
Noteworthy Losses: N/A
Biggest Strength: Detroit had a great draft in 2018 highlighted by selections of Zadina at No. 6 and Joe Veleno at No. 30. The Red Wings were led in scoring by 21-year-old Dylan Larkin’s 63 points and Anthony Mantha, who will turn 24 in September, topped the team with 24 goals. There is still plenty of work to do to restock the organization’s cupboard with talent, but that’s an encouraging group of young forwards that Detroit can build around.
Biggest Weakness: Despite some good building blocks, Detroit is a team that still lacks star power. The offense struggled in 2017-18 with 2.59 goals for per game, which ranked 28th overall in the league, and the Wings placed 25th with 30.4 shots per match. Detroit brought back Vanek and he could help offensively. However, Henrik Zetterberg‘s health could complicate matters if he ends up missing action due to a back problem. The club also surrendered 3.10 goals against per contest, which was better than just seven other teams. Mike Green re-signed with Detroit, which was important for a team that doesn’t get much production from the blueline, and Bernier was added to bring a veteran presence to the crease. Still, another season near the bottom of the standings and a successful draft would go a long way to helping the rebuild.
Player to Watch: Filip Zadina wasn’t expected to fall to the sixth overall pick and the Red Wings were thrilled that he did. He has game-breaking ability and a player with his skill set could immediately help a team starved for offensive contributors. Zadina is also eligible to be assigned to the minors, which gives Detroit some added flexibility when dealing with his development. Still, the best place for him is probably a top-six role with the big club where he can learn on the job and help the team in key situations.