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Photo Credit: © John E. Sokolowski-USA TODAY Sports

Around the Atlantic division

We are now two games into the Stanley Cup final and with the exception of the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Atlantic division is focussed on next season. The Leafs and Panthers had strong years but at this point all that matters is the 2022-23 season.

Despite only one team in the division still playing hockey, there has been plenty of news around the division in the past seven days. Coaches have been fired and re-hired, free agents have been signed and there has been plenty of trade and UFA speculation. Many of the teams in the division have been linked to the same UFA and trade targets. It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the coming months.

Who will be starting in net next season?

This is a question that most of the division has. In Toronto it has been rumoured that Jack Campbell will not return and obviously they would not be happy entering the season with Petr Mrazek at the top of the depth chart.

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With former first round pick Spencer Knight set to take the reigns in Florida, two-time Vezina trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky is being shopped. At a cap hit of 10M and four years remaining on his deal, he won’t be targeted by the Leafs but other teams around the division may be interested.

The Sabres, Senators, Canadiens and Red Wings could all use upgrades at the position, but none are in a position to win now, and they would all be better off trying out younger options before committing to that mammoth of contract.

It may take draft picks or prospects for the Panthers to move that contract unless they are willing to take on another overpaid player. Even if they do trade Bobrovsky, Knight has not yet proven he is ready to be the number one for a full 82 game slate.

The Red Wings made the only acquisition at the position this week signing Finnish goaltender Jussi Olkinuora to a one-year two-way contract at an AAV of 750k. The 31-year-old has spent the last three years in the KHL. This past season he recorded a .917 SV%, 2.45 GAA with 20 wins.

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Who to take in the draft?

The top four teams in the Atlantic all had legitimate Stanley Cup aspirations in 2021-22 but the bottom four were among the worst in the league. Now that Toronto, Florida and Boston failed to achieve their goal, they are in the same spot as the bottom feeders. It’s time to look ahead to the draft.

The Montreal will host the draft and select first overall. While Shane Wright has been the consensus pick for a few years now, Slovakian Winger Juraj Slafkovsky is getting plenty of buzz around the league.

It seems that Wright, Slafkovsky and USNDTP center Logan Cooley have separated themselves from the pack as the top three picks. While it is widely agreed upon that Wright and Slafkovsky are the clear top two, the Canadiens are desperately in need of a center. This makes room for the possibility of Cooley going number one.

The Senators hold the next Atlantic division draft pick at seven overall, followed by the Red Wings at eight and the Sabres at nine. It will be exciting to watch these three picks develop as they will be important pieces in the division over the next several years.

The Sabres pick again at 16, then the Leafs are next in the division at 25. Montreal holds the Flames selection at 26 and Buffalo has Florida’s pick at 28. The Lightning will either select 31, or 32 depending how the Stanley Cup Final ends.

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Something to monitor at the back end of the first round will be where Ivan Miroshnichenko goes. Widely regarded as a top-five talent in this draft, Miroshnichenko’s draft stock has fallen since being diagnosed with Hodgkins Lymphoma last year. Whoever selects him in the first round could land the biggest steal of the 2022 NHL entry draft.

Neither the Florida Panthers nor the Boston Bruins currently have picks in the first round.

New head coaches?

As a shock to some (including Cassidy), the Boston Bruins fired head Coach Bruce Cassidy earlier this month and he was quickly re-hired by the Vegas Golden Knights. As a shock to none, the Detroit Red Wings also fired their head coach Jeff Blashill after six disappointing seasons. Andrew Brunette has yet to be confirmed as the Florida Panthers head coach for next season.

Sheldon Keefe’s job in Toronto is safe but there are some available coaches with significant experience.

Barry Trotz leads the list of free agent coaches. Other names to watch for are former Leafs’ bench boss Paul Maurice, Pete Deboer, Travis Green, Rick Tocchet and Jeff Blashill.

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Other news around the division

The Montreal Canadiens traded the contract of their captain Shea Weber to the Vegas Golden Knights for former Anaheim Duck winger Evgeni Dadonov. Weber is not expected to play again in the NHL. This trade is merely a cap dump for the Golden Knights. Dadonov is an effective middle-six scorer who should perform well for the Habs.

The Senators re-signed depth forward Dylan Gambrell to a one-year 950k contract. There has also been a push among their fans to get Senators legend Daniel Alfredsson elected to the Hall of Fame.

The Florida Panthers signed Liiga MVP Anton Levtchi to a one-year entry level contract. The 26-year old led the Liiga with 61 points in 55 games last season.

What’s next for the Leafs?

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The NHL entry draft on July 7th is the first notable date of Toronto’s off-season. As mentioned earlier, Leafs fans should hope Ivan Miroshichenko is available at 25. He will be the best player available if he falls.

The next step for the Leafs is figuring out what to do with their free agents. It seems that Jack Campbell has played his last games for Toronto. Ilya Mikheyev is the next biggest UFA on the roster, and he will likely command a contract the Leafs cannot afford.

The most important free agents to retain will be young defenders Rasmus Sandin and Timothy Liljegren.