It has now been five days since NHL free agency began and teams around the league are starting to take shape. There are several new faces in the Atlantic division and a few notable exits. The Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings were the most active teams. Both look to be much improved. The Montreal Canadiens and Buffalo Sabres don’t appear to be ready for a playoff push, but the rest of the division should be in contention. Here is a look at how each team has fared since free agency opened. (Trades and free agent acquisitions have been included.)
Florida Panthers
Notable additions: Nick Cousins (C/LW), Rudolfs Balcers (LW), Marc Staal (D), Eric Staal (C/LW)
Notable exits: Claude Giroux (C/RW), Ben Chiarot (D), Mason Marchment (LW)
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Losing Claude Giroux was inevitable, they simply didn’t have the cap flexibility to keep him. The exits of both Ben Chiarot and Mason Marchment create holes in their roster but over last few seasons, depth players have consistently shined in the Panthers system. In Cousins they get a solid defensive forward with experience. Balcers isn’t a physical player, but he is responsible in his own zone. He scored a career high 11 goals in 61 games last season on a San Jose Sharks team that struggled to produce offence. Playing on a third line with Anton Lundell should help him produce more. He has the skill to play up the lineup if needed as well. Marc Staal is past his prime but still a serviceable bottom pairing defenseman. He had a resurgence last year with the Red Wings playing in a sheltered role that allowed to be successful. Eric Staal didn’t play in the NHL last season and is on a PTO. While the story of having both brothers on the team is exciting, it’s not guaranteed Eric will crack the roster.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Notable additions: Matt Murray (G), Ilya Samsonov (G), Calle Jarnkrok (C), Nicolas Aube-Kubel
Notable exits: Jack Campbell (G), Ilya Mikheyev (LW), Ondrej Kase (RW)
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Kyle Dubas was in difficult position to try and improve this team. With how their roster has been constructed, he didn’t have the salary cap space to keep or replace Mikheyev. His decision to gamble with the tandem of Murray and Samsonov rather than keeping Jack Campbell has been highly criticized but isn’t as risky as some think. Murray’s contract only has two years remaining and Samonov signed for one year. If it doesn’t work out, they can pursue a goalie next summer. Campbell and Darcy Kuemper both signed long-term deals and aren’t much of an upgrade on Murray if he stays healthy. Jarnkrok and Aube-Kubel will make the Leafs tougher to play against and help keep pucks out of their net. Neither provides much offence but they are reliable depth pieces.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Notable additions: Vladislav Namestnikov (C/LW), Ian Cole (D)
Notable exits: Ondrej Palat (LW), Jan Rutta (D)
Lightning general manager Julien Brisebois had some difficult decisions to make in regarding to who to keep on this team. He decided to give long term contracts to Anthony Cirelli, Mikhail Sergachev and Erik Cernak leaving no space to retain Palat. Losing Palat hurts but Namestnikov will help fill that void. Namestnikov had his best seasons playing in Tampa Bay from 2014-2018 and is a consistent double digit goal scorer. He would fit nicely on a third line with Nick Paul and Ross Colton or play up the lineup if necessary.
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Boston Bruins
Notable additions: Pavel Zacha (C)
Notable exits: Curtis Lazar (C/RW), Erik Haula (LW)
The Bruins main goal right now is re-signing their captain, Patrice Bergeron. They don’t have the cap flexibility to chase other big names but should be able to work something out with him. It has also been reported they are trying to bring back David Krejci who spent last year playing in the Czech league. Zacha was acquired from the New Jersey Devils for Erik Haula. Their offensive production has been similar for the last few seasons. However, Zacha is six years younger than Haula and may still have some potential to blossom into a top six forward.
Buffalo Sabres
Notable additions: Eric Comrie (G), Ilya Lyubushkin (D)
Notable exits: Colin Miller (D), Cody Eakin (C)
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There wasn’t much of a point in the Sabres spending money this off season. Their roster just isn’t ready to compete for a playoff spot yet. Despite not making any big-time additions, having Owen Power for a full season should be enough to keep Sabres fans interested. They also signed all three of their first-round picks from this season. None of them will make the roster but their prospect pool is even scarier than it already was. This team looks to be building well through the draft and could be a serious threat in a few years.
Detroit Red Wings
Notable additions: Andrew Copp (C), David Perron (LW), Ben Chiarot (D), Ville Husso (G),      Dominik Kubalik (LW), Olli Maatta (D)
Notable exits: Marc Staal (D), Thomas Greiss (G)
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For the first time in a long time, Red Wings fans are excited heading into a new season. They haven’t made the playoffs since 2016 but that may change in 2023. Steve Yzerman has decided it was time to compliment his young core of Dylan Larkin, Moritz Seider, Lucas Raymond, Tyler Bertuzzi and Jakub Vrana. Adding Copp and Perron gives the Red Wings two legitimate top six lines and allows players like Pius Suter to move down to the bottom six. Last season they struggled to get scoring outside of their star players. That should change in 2022-23. The Chiarot deal isn’t great, but he is more reliable than most of the defencemen who suited up for the Wings last year. Ville Husso is also a sneaky good add. For just a third-round pick Yzerman significantly strengthened his goalie tandem. Alex Nedeljkovic struggled in the second half of last season, and it was clear the workload was too much for him.
Ottawa Senators
Notable additions: Claude Giroux (C/RW), Alex Debrincat (RW), Cam Talbot (G)
Notable exits: Matt Murray (G), Colin White (C)
What a time to be a Senators fan. No team in the NHL has improved as much as the Sens since the season concluded. To add Giroux and Debrincat to a top six stacked with young talent is a dream. It feels wrong to say this but if the Senators don’t make the playoffs, it will be a massive disappointment. Getting Cam Talbot for Filip Gustavsson was also a complete steal. 2020 first round pick Jake Sanderson should make the team as well. He will be one of the favourites for the Calder trophy.
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Montreal Canadiens
Notable additions: Kirby Dach (C), Mike Matheson (D)
Notable exits: Jeff Petry (D), Alex Romanov (D)
If Carey Price doesn’t return this team will be among the league’s worst yet again. Getting Dach from Chicago is intriguing. At just 21 one years old he could be the long term second line center in Montreal, but he hasn’t proven he is capable of that yet. Matheson is a solid top four defenseman who skates well and has more offensive ability than he gets credit for. The most exciting add they have made is drafting Juraj Slafkovsky first overall and he isn’t guaranteed to make the roster. The Canadiens have made some nice moves so far but this team is nowhere near ready to compete for the playoffs.