Toronto Maple Leafs: Atlantic Division Preview and Predictions

Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs fans on a point blank scoring attempt against Tuukka Rask #40 of the Boston Bruins in Game Six of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Arena on April 21, 2019 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)
Auston Matthews #34 of the Toronto Maple Leafs fans on a point blank scoring attempt against Tuukka Rask #40 of the Boston Bruins in Game Six of the Eastern Conference First Round during the 2019 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scotiabank Arena on April 21, 2019 in Toronto, Ontario, Canada (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images) /
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Toronto Maple Leafs
DETROIT, MICHIGAN – MARCH 28: Dylan Larkin #71 of the Detroit Red Wings skates against the Columbus Blue Jackets at Little Caesars Arena on March 28, 2021 in Detroit, Michigan. (Photo by Gregory Shamus/Getty Images) /

The Detroit Redwings

The Detroit Red Wings tied the Columbus Blue Jackets for the least amount of points in the Central Division last season.  Detroit also finished 27th out of 31 teams in the NHL standings last season.

Last season was actually an improvement for the Detroit Red Wings who finished dead last in 2019-20.  Detroit has become accustomed to placing near the bottom of the Atlantic Division and haven’t made the playoffs since 2016.

There has been a lot of hope surrounding the team though since the legendary, Steve Yzerman, has returned as GM of the organization in April 2019.  As a player, Steve Yzerman played his entire NHL career with Detroit.

As a GM, Steve Yzerman built the Tampa Bay Lightning into the powerhouse they are today.  He joined Tampa as GM in May 2010 and was nominated for GM of the Year in 2011 after taking the team to the Eastern Conference Finals despite having missed the playoffs the previous season.

Steve Yzerman would win GM of the Year in 2015 after his Tampa Bay Lightning set franchise records in wins and points and made it to the Stanley Cup Finals.  Yzerman would leave Tampa Bay as winning team to return home to Detroit as Tampa Bay would win the Atlantic Division regular season title in 2017-18 and 2018-19 and two consecutive Stanley Cups after he departed.

Here’s what the “Yzer-plan” has achieved in Detroit this offseason:

Key Offseason Acquisitions:

Pius Suter C (Free Agent from Chicago)

Nick Leddy D (Trade with New York Islanders)

Alex Nedeljkovic G (Trade with Carolina)

Biggest Offseason Losses:

Valtteri Filppula C (Signed in Switzerland)

Luke Glendening C (Signed with Dallas)

Bobby Ryan RW (UFA)

Jonathan Bernier G (Trade with Carolina)

Roster Breakdown:

Steve Yzerman may be a bandit, because a couple of these trades seem like highway robbery!  He took advantage of the New York Islanders cap situations to grab a skilled defensman in Nick Leddy for a rarely used Richard Pánik and a second round pick.  He did have to retain half of Pánik’s salary for the next two seasons, but it’s only $1.375 million, and Detroit is a rebuilding team with lots of cap space.

Yzerman also swapped goalie signing rights with the Carolina Hurricane acquiring the rights to RFA, Alex Nedeljkovic, for the rights to UFA, Jonathan Bernier, and a third round pick.  Nedeljkovic broke out with a .932 SV% and 1.90 GAA in 23 games with the Hurricane last season, but Carolina had trouble signing him to what they thought he was worth.  Detroit seemed to see more value in Nedeljkovic and signed him to a $3 million AAV deal while Jonathan Bernier ended up signing in New Jersey. (all stats nhl.com).

There is a risk in taking Nedeljkovic though since last season was his first great season and it was only a 23 game sample size.  He’s coming from a strong defense core in Carolina to a less defined defense core in Detroit and that could change his stats drastically.  If Nedeljkovic sees a great decline, Thomas Greiss could see more games.  Greiss played well last season, but at 35 years old, I’m sure the Red Wings would rather have Nedeljkovic become their goalie of the future.

The players that left Detroit this offseason were more “let go” than “lost.”  Detroit seems to be turning a corner where they are more likely to rely on their younger developed players than aging veterans.

25 year-old, Pius Suter, had a decent rookie season with the Chicago Blackhawks last year putting up 14 goals and 27 points.  He was filling in for Jonathon Toews as first line centre sandwiched between Patrick Kane and Alex DeBrincat most of the season though.  I don’t think he’ll be able to replicate those numbers, but I was surprised that Chicago chose not to tender him a qualifying offer.

The Detroit Red Wings also have some good young players that will probably get even better with more experience this season like Filip Hronek, Filip Zadina and Michael Rasmussen.

Will the Detroit Red Wings be better this season?  I think “yes,” but they still have a way to go to become a playoff team, especially in the Atlantic Division.