Over the past few days, we’ve looked at the final few spots on the roster for both the Pacific and Central divisions. This time, we’ll turn our attention to the East starting with the Atlantic. This division will be in turmoil over the next few years, with clubs like the Buffalo Sabres and Toronto Maple Leafs going through slow, deliberate rebuilds, and perennial contending squads like the Detroit Red Wings finally starting to slow down.
Florida Panthers – While the Panthers have pretty much accomplished everything they set out to do this off-season – improving the blueline with Keith Yandle and Jason Demers, getting a capable replacement for Roberto Luongo in James Reimer, and locking up their young core – they failed in one, big $5.5MM way. Dave Bolland failed his physical and therefor couldn’t be bought out. He’ll try to prove he deserves some playing time this season, but may find himself buried in the AHL to make room for Jared McCann, the prize Florida received when they dealt Erik Gudbranson to the Canucks.
Tampa Bay Lightning – If you’d said that Steve Yzerman would get Steven Stamkos and Victor Hedman locked up long-term for less than $17MM per season, many would have laughed you out of the building. But, he did it, and it has let him spend some of the savings to build considerable depth for his hockey club. The team has signed a glut of forwards with NHL experience to league-minimum contracts, and will have a tryout at camp for the bottom few spots. The team already has 13 forwards (including still-unsigned Nikita Kucherov) who should get spots, meaning these new signings will have to dethrone someone to find a spot. Cory Conacher may have the best shot, after the diminutive winger scored 52 points last season in the improving Swiss League.
Detroit Red Wings – It was easy to understand why the Red Wings let Kyle Quincey hit free agency, but otherwise they’ve made some questionable moves this summer. The team signed Steve Ott, despite not having a clear place to play him, and have filled up the center position, seemingly ensuring that Dylan Larkin remains on the wing. Their proverbial fourth line will be anchored by Luke Glendening again after extending him for four years, but who will play with him is still up in the air. Ott, Teemu Pulkkinen, Drew Miller and Andreas Athanasiou all have claims to the wings, not to mention that many expect top prospect Anthony Mantha to force his way onto the club this season.
Boston Bruins – Didn’t Joe Morrow and Colin Miller do enough to lock up their spots on the bottom pairing last season? Apparently not, as the team brought back John-Michael Liles for $2MM despite his advanced age. Morrow and Miller are both waiver eligible, meaning that they’ll probably cycle through the press box instead of playing in the AHL. Depth on defense isn’t a bad thing, but sacrificing development time might be.
Ottawa Senators – For the Sens, a young group is getting decidedly older this season, with the deal to swap Mika Zibanejad for Derick Brassard and the signing of Chris Kelly. There doesn’t seem to be enough room left for all three of Curtis Lazar, Nick Paul and Ryan Dzingel in the bottom six, unless Chris Neil decides to hang ’em up in the next few months (he won’t). Mike Kostka looks like he signed on to sit in a press box, as the team’s defense is set without him.
Montreal Canadiens – Last year when Carey Price went down to injury, it was Mike Condon that took the reins of the club and made 51 starts. While he didn’t perform to the level the club was used to, it was expected that he’d return as Price’s backup, now with a healthy amount of NHL experience. It makes the signing of Al Montoya this summer interesting, as that would seemingly push Condon back down to the AHL. In camp, the two will battle along with Charlie Lindgren, an NCAA import, for the backup (and AHL starter) job.
Buffalo Sabres – The biggest story in Sabres camp this year will be that of Evander Kane, and whether he starts the season with the team. If he does, he’ll complete a deadly top-six, all of which come in under the age of 30. If he doesn’t (be it either through trade or team suspension), it would probably bump either Marcus Foligno or Matt Moulson into the top-six, giving an opportunity to another youngster in limited action. Perhaps that would go to Hudson Fasching, who was signed out of the University of Minnesota to play seven games for the Sabres down the stretch. Obviously, another NCAA product in Jimmy Vesey would fit in nicely if the Sabres should get him signed – he becomes an unrestricted free agent in just five days.
Toronto Maple Leafs – The Leafs may be the most interesting of training camps (sorry hockey-world) this year, just due to the number of bodies they have vying for NHL spots. The team has veterans like Milan Michalek and Joffrey Lupul penciled in right now, but have made it clear that they are willing to go with a number of kids in their lineup next year. With Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander all expected to play a full season in Toronto (not to mention Zach Hyman, Nikita Soshnikov and Connor Brown, all who played well in their short stints last season) there may not be enough room for veteran Colin Greening and newcomer Kerby Rychel on the NHL roster.