• By: Dave Gross

Fresh Fish in The NHL’s Atlantic

Last season the gun was jumped by this corner in regard to the ever-evolving Atlantic Division.

Sure, the thing was evolving but not evolving as rapidly as we’d thought and forecasted. The young ones on the block – the Ottawa’s, Buffalo’s, and Detroit’s were on the move, but only incrementally. By November, we’d over-evaluated-estimated the growth factor in all three.

This season?

Not thinking it’s going to be much of a problem.

Ottawa and Buffalo are poised; Detroit should improve (not as exponentially though) as well.

With that, we’re very close to seeing a changing of the guard. Clubs seemingly hovering near or at the top for years, seem set to take a step back. Others will remain hovering for quite a bit longer.

The door will crack open a bit wider for the upstarts in 2023-24, but enough with the bibble-babble . . . let’s get rolling and take a glance at how we see the Atlantic rising and falling.

(Teams are listed in order of predicted finish)


On any given day, on any given wagering website (of which there are zillions, you might have heard), the Leafs rank no worse than third or fourth in Stanley Cup odds.

Take that with a grain of blue dust if you wish but of the eight teams in the Atlantic, Toronto’s clearly the favourite.

We took a good chunk of last week’s space breaking down the Buds and their strengths and weaknesses. The team can clearly snipe and likely will lead the division and perhaps the entire league in scoring. Outscoring opponents hasn’t been this fashionable since the Edmonton Oilers of the 1980s and the Leafs will be bringing it back into style.

Not many can match this squad for pure, unadulterated offence . . . and a fun one to watch as well.


This will be an intriguing development to watch unfold.

The Lightning ran out of juice against Toronto last spring. Having played in practically every Cup finale the past five seasons had something to do with it.


Likely, after the early exit in 2023, but this is not the juggernaut we’re used to seeing. While Nikita Kucherov, Steven Stamkos, Victor Hedman and Andrei Vasilevsky remain for star power, the support staff continues to take a hit. The Bolts calling card – grinding, talented third and fourth lines – isn’t quite as shiny as we’re used to seeing. (Luke Glendening, Josh Archibald and Mikey Eyssimont currently slot in as line No. 4).

The blueline isn’t as deep either.

The vets will get Tampa near the top, but this is a slimmed-down hockey team (and that’s not a shot at Pat Maroon. Ahem).


This is where it gets really interesting, eh?

Before you get all red-faced, finger-pointy and bunchy (‘bunchy?’) let it be known I’m not a devotee of the capital’s team. No homer here. Hell, I was born in Oakville. (“Go Blades Go!”).

Anyway it’s as good a time as any to thrust the promise into deliver territory. Meaning: The Senators make the move into the playoffs and easily.

What’s not to like.

The defence is more than just useful; up front a healthy Josh Norris and more improvement from Brady Tkachuk and potential 100-point man Tim Stutzle is almost a guarantee; and goaltending is in better hands with a pair of quality veterans in Joonas Korpisalo and Anton “anybody-got-a-spare-pair-of-knees” Forsberg than its been for years.

A steady and capable owner doesn’t hurt matters either.


. . . And for even a bit more of that out-on-a-limb vibe, we present to you: The Buffalo Sabres.

Big Jump Part II.

IMHO, the only element standing in the way of Buffalo and Ottawa is psyche. My old friend and former NHLer Tim Higgins – Ok, he’s not that old – will tell you that winning is an attitude and sometimes it takes teams a while to learn that attitude, adopt it and live by it.

That’ll be the test for both the Senators and Sabres come next spring (if we’re correct over here) when the winning becomes increasingly difficult.

As for history being on Ottawa/Buffalo’s side? New Jersey improved by 49 points between 2022 and 2023. So there’s that, eh?


Not since Bo Callahan was exposed by Cleveland GM Sonny Weaver as a first-round bust in Draft Day has ‘highfalutin’ tumbled so precipitously far down the charts. (. . . If that’s Jack Edwards on the phone, tell him we’re busy).

One more movie analogy: Boston’s been gutted more than that poor tiger shark Chief Brody and Matt Hooper went to work on in Jaws.

Orlov, Foligno, Hall, Krejci, Bertuzzi, Clifton, Hathaway are all gone. Might also mention the best two-way centre in the game’s past 25 years has also departed in Patrice Bergeron.

Bringing in Milan Lucic and James van Riemsdyk doesn’t solve much.



That was an impressive run last spring, no doubt. Matthew Tkachuk was super-human and even though his arm was practically torn off, continued to play.

Having gone through a few hangovers in my past, just wondering if there’s one about to happen here.

Don’t like the loss of Radko Gudas as well. He’s no Cale Makar but Gudas was a central figure in the Panthers’ character – aggressive and nasty.


They’re coming on to be sure. A few more links in the chain would help.

Simon Edvinsson and Marco Kasper will eventually push the cause a bit further up the hill.

Alex DeBrincat should be good for 85 goals.

Still awake, Ottawa Fan?


As Ottawa Fan, who’s now upright and fully awake, could tell you – you need to slog through a tonne of crud before getting to the other side (Ok, one more: Andy Dufresne, Shawshank Redemption). Montreal’s stay won’t be as long as Ottawa’s though.

Not with that defence. It’s a very good, very young group and gains more oomph when first-rounder David Reinbacher and NCAA stand-out Lane Hutson graduate to the Bigs in a season or two.



Photo: CourtesyTHN.com