Las Vegas–Today Vegas Knights of The Roundtable continues to the analyze the competition that the Golden Knights we are up against this upcoming season as we roll into part 6 of our 8 part series.
Since we rolled out this series, we already fully analyzed the Pacific Division, Central Division, and half of the Atlantic Division.
On this sunny Sunday day, we complete our 1st Eastern Conference divisional analysis with the remaining teams in that Atlantic Division.
Tampa Bay Lightning
For the Tampa Bay Lightning, they missed participating in this past season’s Stanley Cup Playoffs after falling short in the standing by 1 point with a 42-30-10 record for 94 points.
In the prior campaign, they went all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals where they lost to the Pittsburgh Penguins in a 7 games series.
Shifting back to the 2016-17 season, the Lightning were without the services of their team captain and former 50 goal scorer Steven Stamkos.
Stamkos suffered a really bad knee injury when Tampa faced Detroit back in November of last year, he only played in 17 games with the Lightning in the last campaign.
So in his absence, the player who stepped up in the offensive department was Nikita Kucherov who scored 40 goals and pitched in with 45 assists. Kucherov was the only member of the Lightning last season to reach the 30 to 40 goal range.
With Vegas Golden Knights center Vadim Shipachyov, he knows how Kucherov plays the game so his insight, will be a positive for them in the upcoming season.
Shipachyov recently played with Kucherov in last IIHF World Championship tournament in Paris, France, and Cologne, Germany for Team Russia.
Both Kucherov and Shipachyov were among the top 3 in offense with Team Russia during the tournament.
For Tampa, their GF and GA was 234 and 227 respectively.
Their special teams game on the man advantage had them ranked at 6th overall last season at 22.79% which they converted 62 times (a league high). On the other side of special teams, they finished the season at 13th overall with an 81.40%.
The Lightning’s top assists guy last season did not come from the forward/center position. It came from the backend courtesy of Victor Hedman who had 56. He was also their big minute’s guy with an ATOI of 24:30.
Now with Vegas, defenseman Jason Garrison was part of Hedman’s core of blueliners last season so he knows what the Swedish player brings to the table.
The good news for the Ligthning is heading into the 2017-18 season, Stamkos is expected to be ready for the upcoming training camp.
When Vegas plays Tampa, they will some heavy competition to play against so they will need to be ready for the Lightning or they will eat them alive. The Lightning are a very dangerous team and the rest of the league know this and understands that.
The Panthers were another Florida based hockey team that did not qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season.
They finished the regular season with a 35-36-11 record for 81 points. 11-10-1 record under Gerard Gallant who relieved of duties on November 22nd of last year.
Florida replaced Gallant with Tom Rowe who took over for the rest of the 2016-17 season. But Rowe coaching performance with the Panthers was not enough for him to carry on to the new season.
But Rowe coaching performance with the Panthers was not enough for him to carry on to the new season.
Their GF and GA was 210 and 237 respectively.
In terms of special teams, they finished the 2016-17 campaign near the bottom of the league in 23rd place with a success rate of under 17% at 16.98% and converted 45 times.
In the penalty kill department, they were much much better and finished right behind the Boston Bruins in 2nd place at 85.31%.
The best thing that happened to Florida last season was the 30 goal performance by Jonathan Marchessault and contributed with 21 assists. Both parts of Marchessault’s offensive performance equated to roughly 25% of the Panthers overall offense last year.
He was left exposed for the Vegas Draft and Golden Knights General Manager George McPhee grabbed him. This was considered a steal for the Golden Knights organization.
Marchessault played with Garrison in Tampa during the 2015-16 campaign so there is some familiarity in that respect.
Their big minute’s guy was veteran blueliner Keith Yandle who had an ATOI of 22:02.
The Panthers hired on former San Jose Sharks Assistant Coach Bob Boughner where he served alongside Peter DeBoer as a member of his coaching staff for the last two seasons.
With Boughner running the bench in Florida going forward, he becomes the 5th head coach to take the reigns for the Panthers since the 2011 season.
In some capacity, the benefit with Vegas is that they have Gallant behind the bench and he knows the tendencies of the Panthers players having coached them from 2013 to 2016.
Detroit Red Wings
After 25 straight seasons with Stanley Cup Playoffs appearances (4 Cups in that span, 1997, 1998, 2002, and 2008) which was amazing for the hockey world to watch over the years.
However, they did not qualify last season and finished the campaign in 25th place with a record of 33-36-13 with 79 points.
This original six franchise is going thru a major rebuild in recent seasons as the majority of the players who were involved in those post season runs have either retired or moved on to other clubs in the NHL or for the KHL like Pavel Datsyuk.
Datsyuk played with Golden Knights center Shipachyov for SKA St. Petersburg where they won the KHL’s equivalent to the Stanley Cup (Gagarin Cup).
Their two best players on offense last season was Tomas Tatar who scored 25 goals and Henrik Zetterberg who tallied 51 assists.
Former Washington Capitals blueliner Mike Green logged big minutes for the Red Wings last season with an ATOI of 23:33.
McPhee selected Green in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft at 29th overall so he has 1st hand knowledge with the veteran defenseman. Back in the 2008-09 campaign, Green scored 31 goals which was very impressive, so when he is at his best he can deliver the offense.
Detroit’s performance on special teams last season was not great at all in particular, on the power play where they were ranked 27th overall with a success rate of 15.08% and scored 38 times.
They were in the middle of the pack of killing penalties in the league last year at 16th overall at just under 81% at 80.58%.
Moving into the new season, the Golden Knights could possibly play fairly well against the Red Wings with the team that they have selected in the Vegas Draft as they continue to work thru their long rebuild back to being an elite team again down the road which is probably not happening for another few seasons.
The Sabres finished dead last in the Atlantic last season with a 33-37-12 record at 78 points under the direction of former bench boss Dan Bylsma.
Bylsma lasted only two seasons with Buffalo and recorded a 68-73-23 record during that short span which was not winning seasons by any means.
He wasn’t the only big firing that took place for the organization as General Manager Tim Murray was also shown the door.
The only good thing that happened with Buffalo last season was the 3-20 goal scorers in Evander Kane, Jack Eichel, and Ryan O’Reilly. Kane led the Sabres with 28, Eichel finished in a close second at 24, and O’Reilly made the cut at 20.
On the backend 22-year-old, Rasmus Ristolainen logged extremely heavy minutes for a player with not a lot of NHL experience at an ATOI of 26:28.
The struggling Sabres on special teams had a bright spot on special teams as they finished the 2016-17 campaign in 1st place on the power play with a success rate of 24.46% and scored 57 times.
On the other side special teams, it was a completely different story where they killed off 77.64% of their penalties.
After the season completed, both Bylsma and Murray were replaced with new people in their respective positions with Phil Housley behind the bench and up in the GM box with former Pittsburgh Penguins Assistant General Manager Jason Botterill.
With Housley back in Buffalo he had many years of success in wearing the Sabres uniform in his playing career. He was also selected by the organization in the 1982 NHL Entry Draft at 6th overall.
For Housley and Botterill they were on opposite sides of last season Stanley Cup Finals. Housley was a member of Peter Laviolette‘s coaching staff with the Nashville Predators and Botterill who served as Jim Rutherford‘s understudy with the Penguins as their AGM.
This is very good news for the Sabres going forward as having two people with recent success and knows how the game is being played these days and the direction the league is going.
Botterill brings with him to Buffalo 2 Stanley Cup Championships in an executive capacity (2016 and 2017).
Buffalo was not at their best last season so the Golden Knights will be playing against a much different Sabres team this upcoming season so they have to be ready for that.
The next piece with our 8 part series takes us to the NHL’s Metro Division where we start things off with the back-2-back Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins.