NHL Atlantic Division Update
The NHL Atlantic Division is out to a strong start as the best division in the Eastern Conference. This is the year of realignment in the NHL, with two divisions per conference, rather than three, and the new playoff format makes division strength a significant issue.
Each division is guaranteed its top three teams in the postseason, with only the final two berths able to float. As it stands today, the Atlantic Division would get the maximum of five teams in the playoffs–Boston, Montreal, Tampa Bay, Detroit and Toronto would all qualify.
To further underscore the point of division strength, sixth-place Ottawa would be in fourth in the Metropolitan Division, and only three points out of the playoffs.
The Boston Bruins are setting the pace in the Atlantic with 46 points, and their archrival Montreal is right behind at 43. Montreal was a surprise division winner of Boston in last season’s alignment, and the Canadiens early success suggests they’re back to stay as a contender.
Tampa Bay is sitting on third, but with Steven Stamkos out indefinitely with a serious leg injury, you have to wonder how long that will last. Stamkos is more than just the best player for the Lightning, he’s one of the most electric scorers in the league, rivaled perhaps only by Washington’s Alex Ovechkin.
Detroit still seems to be finding itself right now, although the Red Wings also ended up as the 7-seed in last year’s NHL playoffs–they were in the Western Conference then–so perhaps this 7-spot is simply their new level. We’ll find out. Their own rival Toronto was the subject of a close-up look here at TheSportsNotebook. The Leafs need to tighten up defensively.