Tyler Bertuzzi should be healthy next season. Moritz Seider will be one of the NHL’s best young defensemen. Filip Zadina might score. Michael Rasmussen is improving. Joe Veleno should contribute.
It’s not difficult to come up with six or more reasons why the Detroit Red Wings will be a better team in 2021-22.
Since the NHL is going back to its pre-Covid divisions, what can we expect from the Red Wings’ Atlantic Division rivals? Which teams are going to improve and which ones will take a step backward?
Full Step Backwards
The Sabres seem determined to trade Jack Eichel and Rasmus Ristolainen, and there even seems to be a chance they will move Sam Reinhart. Draft picks won’t help them in 2021-22. They also haven’t re-signed Linus Ullmark. Feels like the Sabres are moving behind the Red Wings.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Seth Jones has informed the Blue Jackets he doesn’t plan to re-sign with them when his contract expires next summer. They will trade him this summer, which means their defense will be weaker. They don’t have a true No. 1 center. Coach John Tortorella is gone. Will they play as hard as they have in the past? Tortorella got a lot out of this team. How does defenseman Zach Werenski feel about Jones’ pending departure? His free agent period is not far away.
Toronto Maple Leafs
The optimism of the Brendan Shanahan rebuild has been replaced by a fresh layer of negativity. The fan base has started to have doubts about whether this talented offensive team can truly contend. Goalie Jack Campbell was impressive last season, but it still feels risky to go with Campbell and a goalie to be named later. Is there an available goalie out there that excites you? William Nylander trade rumors. That seems ill-advised. He was the team’s best playoff forward. What do the Maple Leafs do about the reality that Morgan Reilly is an unrestricted free agent next summer? The Leafs seem undecided about what to do next. That’s a recipe for falling back.
Tampa Bay Lightning
It’s time for the Lightning to pay the piper for their salary cap excesses. Already over the cap for next season, the Lightning can’t re-sign Barclay Goodrow, Blake Coleman, Luke Schenn, Curtis McElhinney and David Savard. And they will probably have to trade away two regulars. It will hurt less if one of them is Tyler Johnson. This is an exceptional team, but their depth will take a hit.
Goalie Tuukka Rask will have hip surgery and will miss the start of next season. The Bruins are still a threat to win the division, but they need one more defenseman. Plus, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand are 35 and 33, respectively. The competition window is smaller.
Staying The Same
You are lying if you say you know what the Montreal forward group will look like next season. The defense and goalie Carey Price are locked in, but most of the forwards are free agents. The Habs may not be improved next season, but they won’t be worse. They are a difficult read, but they are always a difficult read.
Like the Red Wings, they are improving, but have not arrived as a playoff threat. They need defenseman Jake Sanderson to sign before they take the next step. He’s going back to North Dakota for his sophomore season.
Will Take Leap Forward
Given the creativity GM Bill Zito has shown, we would presume he will find a way to move Keith Yandle’s contract. He won’t be able to move Sergei Bobrovsky’a $10 million deal, but that’s less of a problem next season because the Panthers need a veteran to pair with Spencer Knight. But Knight has the potential to be one of the league’s better goalies in a short period of time. Plus, next season, the Panthers will have Finnish standout Anton Lundell ready to plug in at center. He’s a highly skilled dynamo. The Panthers continue to be a team on the rise.