With another NHL season rapidly approaching, we're continuing our 2019-2020 preview week. We'll be taking a look around the league, division by division, and providing a snapshot of all 31 teams. In addition to top-to-bottom rankings, we'll give you reasons to believe in every team and, for the pessimists, reasons to doubt them as well.
Here's a breakdown of the rather top-heavy Atlantic division.
1. Tampa Bay Lightning
(Last season: 128 points, 1st in Atlantic)
Reason to believe: They had a historically great regular season last year and there hasn't been much turnover. They're bringing back pretty much every major contributor (of which there are many) and have added some nice pieces as well. Kevin Shattenkirk joins their blue line with a chip on his shoulder after being bought out by the Rangers. Curtis McElhinney comes in as the backup goaltender after a great year in Carolina and perhaps he'll provide some workload relief for reigning Vezina-winner Andrei Vasilevskiy. Pat Maroon adds some depth to the bottom of their roster after winning the Cup with St. Louis.
Tampa is still the best team in the league and should remain a dominant regular season team this year.
Reason to doubt: Despite last year's historic campaign, the Lightning enter this season with arguably more pressure on them than ever. The big question is: how will hey respond to last year's playoff choke job? Regardless of how well they play in Games 1-82, that shadow of being swept out of the first round will follow them around all the way to this postseason. Nobody is going to trust them until they find that killer instinct and rediscover playoff success.
2. Toronto Maple Leafs
(Last season: 100 points, 3rd in Atlantic)
Reason to believe: They maintain one of the most fearsome forward groups in all of hockey with the likes of Auston Matthews, John Tavares and Mitch Marner leading the way. Toronto scored the fourth-most goals last season and it wouldn't be surprising if they topped that this year. They've still got a really, really great top-nine and William Nylander should be a much more significant part of that group. He has a lot to prove after a tumultuous year that included a lengthy holdout and just seven goals through 54 games, but he's heading into this year with a fresh start and should get back to producing 60-plus points.
The Leafs had a rather hectic offseason but they pulled off some slick personnel maneuvers to ensure they'd maintain their status as a serious Eastern Conference threat. They turned Nazem Kadri (he of costly first-round shenanigans) into Tyson Barrie and Alex Kerfoot. They beefed up their LTIR and found a solution to the Mitch Marner extension drama.
They were a 100-point team last year and might be better this season.
Reason to doubt: Barrie is a nice piece to help offset the loss of Jake Gardiner and they made some addition by subtraction by shedding Nikita Zaitsev and Ron Hainsey. However, the Leafs defense still has some significant concerns. Namely, Cody Ceci and the possibility of Ben Harpur. Also, there's a pretty strong chance this regular season once again leads to a first-round matchup against the Boston Bruins.
3. Boston Bruins
(Last season: 107 points, 2nd in Atlantic)
Reason to believe: They're coming off a year in which they were a win away from raising the Cup and they've still got all their major pieces. Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak make up one of the best lines in hockey. David Krejci had a near-career year in which he didn't have a ton of stable support on either side of him. Charlie Coyle was excellent down the stretch after arriving in Boston via trade. Their power play was third-best in the league and their depth pieces showed they know how to fill their roles.
Their defense isn't shabby, either. Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo made huge steps as promising young blue liners last year and Matt Grzelcyk and Connor Clifton showcased their worth as good third-pairing guys. Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak return in net after a strong season in which they combined for the league's seventh-best collective save percentage.
Reason to doubt: They relied too heavily on that top line at points last year. Boston still has a pretty glaring hole on their second line as right wing needs to be addressed. Though they've got a pretty flexible and versatile group of forwards, they're going to need to turn to some young, unproven players to help fill out the lineup (they took the same approach last year before turning to help -- Coyle and Marcus Johansson -- at the trade deadline). Zdeno Chara is 42 years old and started to look his age at points throughout last season.
4. Florida Panthers
(Last season: 86 points, 5th in Atlantic)
Reason to believe: Joel Quenneville has taken over behind the bench and, as one of the most respected coaches in the NHL, he should help get the most out of a talented core in Florida. They finally have solid, reliable goaltending after signing Sergei Bobrovsky in free agency. They finished ninth in scoring last year, had the league's second-best power play and added a 22-goal scorer in Brett Connolly. The Panthers also added some versatile depth with Noel Acciari and a veteran stay-at-home defenseman on the back end in Anton Stralman.
The Bobrovsky and Stralman contracts are a bit questionable in the long term, but they should help this team compete and win over the next couple of years -- especially with Quenneville at the helm.
Reason to doubt: Though the defense might see improvement thanks to Quenneville's direction, the addition of Stralman and the security of Bobrovsky, the defensive group still isn't very impressive. Florida gave up the fourth-most goals in the league last season. Also, let's be real: this is just a franchise that seems to perennially disappoint despite seemingly taking steps in the right direction, so buyer beware.
5. Montreal Canadiens
(Last season: 96 points, 4th in Atlantic)
Reason to believe: The Habs missed the playoffs by just two points last season but should remain competitive. Max Domi looked revitalized and had a career year in his first season in Montreal. Phillip Danault earned legitimate Selke consideration. Carey Price had a bounce-back season.
But maybe most important is that they've got a good crop of exciting young talent. Jesperi Kotkaniemi, although somewhat inconsistent, showed flashes of very strong two-way play in his rookie year and should continue to improve. Victor Mete was their best defenseman in terms of goal share (58 percent) at even strength. Ryan Poehling is a promising prospect who scored a hat trick in his NHL debut and should figure into their plans this year. Nick Suzuki could be ready to make the jump.
Reason to doubt: Montreal lacks star power, especially down the middle. They're going to have to endure the growing pains that come with relying on upcoming young talent. Their power play was atrocious, finishing with a 13.2 conversion rate -- second-worst in the league.
6. Buffalo Sabres
(Last season: 76 points, 6th in Atlantic)
Reason to believe: Jack Eichel and Jeff Skinner showed great chemistry in leading the way up front last year, and Skinner is now locked in long term. They picked up a little forward depth with the acquisitions of Marcus Johansson and Jimmy Vesey and may be able to spread the offense out a bit more. Rasmus Dahlin should continue to develop into a driving force on the back end, and Colin Miller has been added to that defensive group as well.
Reason to doubt: They're now on their third coach in four seasons. Their forward group still has plenty of question marks -- the most pressing being whether Casey Mittelstadt can show improvement and prove he's equipped to handle a top-six role. Their defense still has its holes and Rasmus Ristolainen needs to be much better if he's going to get upwards of 25 minutes a night. Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark were pretty pedestrian in net last season.
7. Detroit Red Wings
(Last season: 74 points, 7th in Atlantic)
Reason to believe: They have some young forwards who took steps forward last season, including Dylan Larkin and Andreas Athanasiou and Tyler Bertuzzi. Filip Zadina could start making more of an impact as an offensive tool on the wing. Steve Yzerman is running the ship after building a perennial contender in Tampa Bay.
Reason to doubt: Their defense is still sketchy after giving up the fifth-most goals in the league last year. Behind Larkin, they're pretty weak down the middle. Overall, they've still got too many old, mediocre players on contracts that will be tough to move. They're heading towards a rebuild and have some pieces in place but they're still probably quite a few years away from being competitive.
8. Ottawa Senators
(Last season: 98 points, 5th in Metro)
Reason to believe: At least they own their first-round pick this year.
Reason to doubt: How much time you got?