As training camps approach, some restricted free agents have yet to be signed. For Boston, Charlie McAvoy signed on Sunday and Brandon Carlo may as soon as early this week. Brayden Point is the plot thickener here. Will he sign soon, or will there be a wait? Toronto even signed Mitch Marner. So, the top teams are ready to roll.
Who will win the division? Let’s examine this further.
Again, Boston and even perhaps the Toronto Maple Leafs, could contend for the Atlantic Division. Boston presents as the more viable candidate. Their depth and balance on offense and defense is more conducive to challenging Tampa Bay.
Does anyone expect Tampa Bay to win the division by 21 points this season? That answer would be no. The gap is believed to have closed as teams will play Tampa a little differently. Boston is built to challenge and has the goaltending, defense, and offense to do so. They came within one game of winning the Stanley Cup after all.
Boston’s special teams was solid but an overreliance on the top unit revealed some weaknesses that penalty kills were able to expose later in the playoffs. Also, the health of Patrice Bergeron (groin) is in question. Will he be ready for the regular season? That is one which will take awhile to get some clarity on.
If Bergeron is indeed 100%, Boston remains the chief challenger to Tampa Bay in the Atlantic. If not, that opens the door for Toronto. Early futures have Tampa as a near-even favorite (+115) to win the division while Boston and Toronto are both at +300. The early edge again is to Boston provided the health of Bergeron and an expected signing of Brandon Carlo.
The thought process is that three teams in the Atlantic could end up at or over 100 points again. It appears the Atlantic will be a little tougher this season when it comes to facing some of the lesser teams. However, Tampa, Boston, and Toronto are in the top tier. There is little dispute.
Tampa is the team Toronto wants to be and Boston just is better constructed for playoff hockey. Could it play out where Tampa Bay wins the division again while Boston lurks behind? Absolutely. Will Boston and Toronto be closer? That is a yes as well. It should be a little more compelling of a race this season.
By Chris Wassel
Even with the uncertainty as far as Point, Tampa remains the favorite of the division. Their offense averages nearly four goals a game and there is little doubt that will continue in 2019-20. It is rare to see a goal differential of +100 or more and Tampa topped the league with a +103. That may not happen again this year, but the expectation is they could come close.
There will be an expected regression as far as Nikita Kucherov. Kucherov likely will get to the 100-point mark but 120 or 130 is probably off the table. One of the more significant signings for Tampa Bay was Curtis McElhinney. The goalie will back up Andrei Vasilevskiy and will allow the Russian some rest time which will be vital come the playoffs.
It will be how Tampa Bay starts that will be the most telling this year. Do they just turn the page, or will that Columbus sweep have an effect? The likely answer is no. The Lightning ran into a hot team, a hot goalie, and a Blue Jackets team that suddenly found their power play. That is the belief, anyway. Tampa Bay has a stacked amount of depth and an embarrassment of riches on offense that would make most any team jealous.
They are still the team to beat in the regular season – at least.