Red Wings have chance to make a move in deep Atlantic Division

Detroit News

Detroit — The NHL is returning to its traditional divisional alignment this coming season. For the Red Wings and their fans, that means no more Nashville, Chicago, Carolina and Dallas almost every other evening (or so it seemed).

Because of the pandemic, the NHL realigned and attempted another geographic-centric divisional alignment in which teams only played the other teams in their division.

Now the NHL is back to an 82-game regular season. The old divisions return along with the standard playoff format (top three teams in each of the four divisions earn automatic berths, two wild-cards in each conference), and all teams meeting.

The Wings return to the Atlantic Division, where the two Stanley Cup finalists (Tampa, Montreal) originated, and four teams finished in the top 10 of overall points (Florida 79, Toronto 77, Tampa 75 and Boston 73).

This division will be stacked, with five teams capable of reaching the playoffs.

More: How the Red Wings’ defense has evolved from a weak link to a strength

Many teams have question marks, and a couple (along with the Wings) are still in rebuilds. That gives the Wings hope for a few more victories and being more competitive than they’ve been in recent seasons.

Here’s a thumbnail look at the teams in the Atlantic Division, with training camp approximately a month away:

►Tampa Bay — The two-time defending Stanley Cup champions are still going to be awfully good, and be a legitimate threat come playoff time to three-peat.

It’s just that during the regular season, the Lightning may not quite as dominant.

They’ll win enough to be one of the top three seeds in the division. But Tampa lost its entire superb, third-line of forwards, the depth doesn’t look as first-rate as it has been in the past. They’re going to ask some prospects to graduate and become relevant NHL players.

Having played so much hockey within short periods of time could bring on injuries, and more slumps than these past two seasons.

The front-line talent remains jaw-dropping, and there’s a lot of it. But for various reasons, the Lightning will lose a few more games this season.

►Boston — The Bruins were headed for a fine offseason until learning that forward David Krejci was going to remain in the Czech Republic, quickly causing a huge hole on the second line.

With no Krejci, there will be questions about whether there’s enough offense beyond that Hall of Fame-caliber first line.

Handing the goaltending reigns to Linus Ullmark, from Tuukka Rask (hip surgery), is also a new wrinkle.

This is a playoff team, but the Krejci absence is a gut punch.

►Toronto — The Maple Leafs continue to shake things up and attempt to build a roster that is both regular-season dominant, and capable of excelling in the playoffs.

The playoff disaster against Montreal stung, and you get the sense might have hardened the Leafs. If they don’t do anything substantial next playoffs, the roster could be reworked.

The Leafs replaced goaltender Frederik Andersen with Petr Mrazek, which might turn out to be a sideways move. The Leafs’ huge salary commitments continue to hinder their ability to strengthen their depth.

They’ll win a lot of regular-season games, but the Leafs aren’t a lock for the top three. Maybe more of a team that’ll get into the playoffs through the wild card.

►Florida — Keep an eye on the Panthers. Florida might be the division’s best team during the regular season, and might have learned enough from its previous two playoff disappointments to make a big run next spring.

This is a good team. Adding forward Sam Reinhart adds another potent offensive piece, and the defense is deep. Having goaltender Spencer Knight to complement Sergei Bobrovsky solidifies that position group.

On paper, the Panthers can hold their own with both Tampa and Boston. They should be in the Stanley Cup conversation.

►Montreal — The Canadiens had a magical run in last spring’s playoffs and wholeheartedly deserved their spot in the Stanley Cup Finals, where Tampa was simply too much to handle.

But that Canadiens roster has been decimated, and about a month out from training camp, this might not even be a playoff team.

Defenseman Shea Weber may not play again due to injuries, and his presence on and off the ice would be a huge loss. Goaltender Carey Price might not be ready to begin the season due to surgery, and forwards Phillip Danault and Tomas Tatar were free agents who headed elsewhere.

The replacements Montreal snared might not be good enough in comparison.

The one thing the Canadiens may have is the continued development of some real good young players (Cole Caufield, Nick Suzuki, Alexander Romanov). Otherwise, the Canadiens looks like a team that’ll drop.

►Ottawa — The Senators were a young team that played well toward the end of last season. And they will take another step toward relevance this season, with some of those young players continuing to mature and grow, and other prospects being mingled into the lineup.

But in the big picture, Ottawa is still eons away from contending for a playoff spot, and a team the Wings realistically could pass in the standings.

►Buffalo — The Sabres were awful last season, have been for a while now, and sure don’t appear better heading into this season.

The future of star forward Jack Eichel remains hazy, as he’s requested for a trade but the Sabres don’t seem interested in dealing him. Eichel’s neck injury only makes the situation cloudier.

There is so little competitive NHL talent on this roster, that victories will be few and far between this regular season.

For the Wings, and the rest of the NHL, if they don’t earn two points playing Buffalo next season, it’s been an unproductive evening.

ted.kulfan@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tkulfan

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