Have you had a chance to catch your breath? July was a doozy of a month in the NHL.
First came the Seattle expansion draft, next was the annual entry draft, then an epic opening day of free agency that generated more than 150 new contracts cumulatively worth more than $500 million. Oh, and throughout the month there was a steady stream of impact trades.
The offseason isn't done. There's lots to come from the league's 32 general managers ahead of opening night on Oct. 12. But right now, it's as good a time as any to reassess the landscape. So, with a strong emphasis on the 2021-22 season, here's a look at the state of each division following the madness:
Even after a crazy run of player movement, the Atlantic still features well-defined tiers. Let's start at the division's bottom and work our way to the top.
Buffalo's perpetual rebuild continues. They traded Sam Reinhart and Rasmus Ristolainen and watched Jake McCabe and Linus Ullmark sign elsewhere, and the incoming crop of players is nothing special. The offseason won't be complete until the Jack Eichel situation comes to a resolution, though the Sabres will struggle to compete on a nightly basis regardless of the return.
As for Detroit, the goalie tandem of Alex Nedeljkovic and Thomas Greiss should bail them out of a handful of games. However, GM Steve Yzerman clearly isn't actively trying to win. Pius Suter serves as the lone notable skater acquired in July, and don't forget that Tyler Bertuzzi might still be shipped out.
Ottawa's slightly above the Buffalo-Detroit tier. With so much promise up front, from Brady Tkachuk and Josh Norris to Tim Stutzle, they should take a step forward. Yet contending for a playoff spot remains a dream.
Then there are the Canadiens, who experienced plenty of turnover while losing Phillip Danault, Tomas Tatar, and a few depth guys. Mike Hoffman, David Savard, Cedric Paquette, Mathieu Perreault, and Chris Wideman are all new to the team. Captain Shea Weber may be dealing with a career-ending injury, which is significant. The Habs are built for the playoffs, but they'll be fighting tooth and nail just to make the postseason.
The Panthers are a sleeping giant. Adding Reinhart is massive, as is locking up Carter Verhaeghe. Aaron Ekblad is healthy again, and Spencer Knight will provide stability in the crease. For the first time in a long time, Florida shouldn't be taken lightly, as the club looks primed to go head to head with the Maple Leafs for the third playoff position. Toronto, meanwhile, has made some good upside bets after letting Zach Hyman walk, bringing in Petr Mrazek, and acquiring Nick Ritchie, Ondrej Kase, David Kampf, and Michael Bunting.
That leaves a top tier of Boston and Tampa Bay, the back-to-back champs.
The cap-strapped Lightning are down Tyler Johnson, Yanni Gourde, Blake Coleman, Barclay Goodrow, and Savard. Yet they scooped up inexpensive veterans Zach Bogosian, Corey Perry, and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare. Is the current roster worse on paper than last year's juggernaut? Absolutely. Should they be downgraded to Cup pretenders from contenders? Nope, not with that star-studded core. Going on a deep run is still doable, it'll just be more difficult to pull off with key support players gone.
The Bruins aren't easy to get a handle on right now because David Krejci just left for Europe and Tuukka Rask, who's set to miss a chunk of this coming season, is unsigned. At the end of the day, Boston's elite No. 1 forward line is intact, Taylor Hall's back for his first full season in Boston, the recently signed Ullmark is a smart bet between the pipes, the ever-improving Charlie McAvoy is leading a defense corps that'll continue to include Mike Reilly, and the rest of the lineup is filled with enough depth to push Tampa.