The Maple Leafs’ division is very good. Said division is also horribly, horribly bad. It’s very confusing.
Ripe with Stanley Cup contenders at the top, but stuffed with egregiously terrible squads at the bottom, there may be no whackier division in all of sports right now than the NHL’s Atlantic.
Shit’s been getting extra weird this summer, too. The past few days alone have seen three massive stories break out of the division — with the Canadiens trading Max Pacioretty, Steve Yzerman stepping down from his executive role with the Lightning, and Eugene Melnyk putting out the grittiest hype video of all time as he continues to drag the Senators franchise into the bowels of hell.
This man will trade you at 1am immediatly after a midnight CrossFit WOD and there's absolutely nothing your fragile ass can do about it pic.twitter.com/sOwB0wax2c
— Kyle Cantlon (@KyleCants) September 10, 2018
A very large and quite-possibly (definitely) juiced up Marc Bergevin flipped the Habs captain to Vegas in the wee hours of the morning Monday, yielding a quality prospect in Nick Suzuki along with a second-round pick and a tub of Whey Protein … and Tomas Tatar. The return MB was able to yield was pretty good considering the position of weakness the team was in, but the fact the Habs found themselves in that position — scrambling to trade their captain days before the opening of camp with absolutely no leverage — is pretty telling of the gongshow that has become Bergevin’s tenure in Montreal.
This brings us to another dumpster-dwelling organization which has also completely bumbled the dealing of its captain, our beloved Ottawa Senators. The amateur circus going down in the Nation’s Capital has been well documented: The Karlsson saga, Hoffman and his girlfriend adding another dimension to the Karlsson saga, an assistant GM resigning after sexual harassment allegations, plummeting season ticket sales, Melnyk threatening to move the team, followed months later by him claiming in this weird ass video that “some people” are suggesting the team could move.
(Melnyk seems to forget that HE was the “some people.” Classic Gene.)
The Ottawa Senators are proud to share the vision for the future of our team and this organization. We are about to launch an exciting plan to rebuild our team and we are inviting you to be a part of our rise to new heights. #OttawaRising pic.twitter.com/hok2jYCUVi
— Ottawa Senators (@Senators) September 11, 2018
At least when they inevitably finish the 2018-19 season in the NHL’s basement they can look forward to a good shot at the No. 1 overall pick … * squints * … uhh, never mind.
Joining the Sens and Habs in the race for last overall (a Carey Price MVP season aside) will be the Detroit Red Wings, who look poised to be quite terrible, if my deep analysis serves me right. The team’s sixth overall pick, exciting sniper Filip Zadina, went down with what looks to be a fairly serious arm/shoulder injury Tuesday during a rookie game, which could end up making the Wings even less watchable.
But hey, maybe Steve Yzerman is heading to the Motor City to save the day?
The race to the absolute depths of the league’s standings is going to be fascinating, for sure, but let’s not let our love of utter incompetence and unmitigated disasters overshadow the three-team race shaping up at the top of the division.
It starts once again with the reigning division-champion Lightning, who will enter the campaign with arguably the best looking top-to-bottom roster makeup in the Eastern Conference, and maybe the league. The man mostly responsible for building that squad, however, abruptly stepped down on Tuesday, as Stevie Y cited family and time commitment issues as the reason for his decision.
A chance to lead a Red Wings rebuild could potentially be in the cards, too.
Steve Yzerman has been in a nonstop grind, from couple decades a player to an exec with Detroit and then eight years as #tblightning GM. Wouldn't be surprised if this was more a quality of life move. Three daughters in college, wife back in Michigan. Often travels back and forth.
— Joe Smith (@JoeSmithTB) September 11, 2018
The Lightning will be challenged, of course, by the Bruins and Maple Leafs, who each have a legitimate shot of their own to challenge for the Eastern Conference crown. Toronto, of course, had the best offseason of any NHL club, swooping in and grabbing John Tavares. But through all the positivity and good vibes this offseason brought to this sweaty, racoon-infested city, a couple of clouds continue to linger over Leafs land — including a somewhat questionable defence corpse and a still-unsigned William Nylander looking like he won’t be in uniform for the start of camp on Thursday.
The Bruins have arguably the best No. 1 line in hockey, an ageless Hall of Famer on the back-end surrounded by a very skilled, young blue line, and a wild-card goaltender who has the potential to contend for a Vezina when performing at his peak. The B’s will definitely be right there, and though it won’t be this year or the following one, the Sabres are going to be there in a few years, too.
Weird typing this because Buffalo has been so beautifully bad the past, well, forever, but the drafting of Rasmus Dahlin, the building of a Top 10 farm system, and a ready-to-explode Jack Eichel give the Sabres plenty of hope.
Oh, and the Panthers exist, too.
It’s shaping up to be a wild one in the best/worst division in hockey.