Road to the playoffs tougher with a stronger Atlantic Division
With the Atlantic Division teams improving, the New York Rangers best hope for the playoffs is within the Metropolitan DivisionThe off-season is far from over and teams have many more moves to make, but a month into free agency and with the NHL Draft concluded, it’s time to assess the New York Rangers’ Eastern Conference competition.For years, the Metropolitan Division has considered the tougher division in the East. Last season, seven of eight Met Division teams made it to the Stanley Cup Qualifier, compared to five from the Atlantic. In fact, before the COVID-19 pandemic, both wild card teams from the East came out of the Metropolitan Division three out of the last four years.Not anymore. While the Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa Senators are in the throes of a major rebuild, a number of Atlantic teams have made moves to strengthen their rosters compared to the Metropolitan Division where big moves have been scarce.The Atlantic Division was getting predictable. Last season, Tampa, Boston and Toronto were the class of the Division as they have been for years with the Canadiens sneaking into the Qualifying round. Next season, while it appears that the same top three teams will be battling it out for the Division title while Montreal, Buffalo and Florida are poised to make some noise.Here’s a quick update on what the teams in the Atlantic Division have done so far.
Buffalo Sabres: Bold moves
With new management (and the same coach) the Sabres have surprised everyone by pulling off the biggest signing of the off-season and also making as close to a blockbuster trade as has been made so far.
First, the team traded for Eric Staal, from Minnesota in exchange for Marcus Johansson. Staal give the Sabres a one-two punch at center that they have been lacking. The then added Taylor Hall for one year at $8 million, automatically elevating the offense and giving Jack Eichel a stud winger to play with.
They also signed free agent veteran center Cody Eakin, forward Tobias Reider and defenders Matt Irwin and Brandon Davidson. Not earthshaking additions, but they added experience and depth. Their latest signing was former Ranger prospect Steven Fogarty who was the Blueshirts’ first call up from Hartford most of last season.
Although there have been rumors that they have been shopping Rasmus Ristolainen, there has been no deal and they went out and re-signed defenseman Brandon Montour. They also got some important business done recently, re-signing Sam Reinhart and Victor Olofsson and avoiding arbitration.
Are they better? With Staal and Hall they have improved their top six and they have to be hoping for a rebound season from Jeff Skinner. They improved their depth, but some observers question their commitment to Ullmark as their number one goalie. Still, the Sabres are poised to compete for a playoff spot for the first time in ten years.
Verdict: Much improved for at least one year
New faces: Eric Staal, Taylor Hall, Cody Eakin, Matt Irwin,Tobias Rieder, Steven Fogarty, Brandon Davidson,
Re-signed: Brandon Montour, Sam Reinhart, Victor Olofsson
Unsigned RFA’s: Lawrence Pilut (playing in the KHL)
Departed: Marcus Johansson, Dominik Kahun, Johan Larsson , Wayne Simmonds, Jimmy Vesey,
Unsigned UFA’s: Micheal Frolik, John Gilmour, Dalton Smith