This is the second of two stories looking at the NHL's Atlantic Division in the wake of the draft and free agency period. Read the first here.
The Florida Panthers finished fourth in the Atlantic Division last season with 96 points. The Detroit Red Wings were fifth — with just 73. The Sabres' last-place finish left them with 62 points, which was 34 behind a Florida team that didn't make the playoffs.
Between Florida and Buffalo were Montreal and Ottawa, two teams suddenly going nowhere and rife with internal turmoil.
There is plenty of optimism in Florida about a playoff run this year and a cautious feeling in Buffalo that good times aren't that far off. As for Montreal and Ottawa? They seem to be chaos personified, with both teams already written off for this season weeks before a single puck is dropped.
Here's a look at what's up in the the back half of the division as we head down a path to the dog days of summer.
Detroit Red Wings
Slapshots: Andreas Athanasiou (two year, $6 million) and Anthony Mantha (two years, $6.6 million) both got bridge deals. Dylan Larkin's entry-level deal is up and he's looking for something long term. Winger Filip Zadina got passed up in the draft by both Montreal and Ottawa and immediately said he would look to score goals in bushels against them for the Wings as revenge. You have to love the bravado. Jonathan Bernier got three years and $9 million, and you wonder if Jimmy Howard (one year, $5.2 million) might get dealt to someone else's goal to create some cap space.
Giveaways: The Wings are waiting to find out if Henrik Zetterberg (back) can play this year or if he has to retire with three years left on a deal with a $6.08 million cap hit that the team will have to deal with. Two years and $10.75 million to bring back Mike Green on defense?
Loose pucks: Former Sabres coach Dan Bylsma has joined Jeff Blashill as an assistant coach after serving under him for Team USA at the World Championships in Denmark. Bylsma is a Michigan native who often said he wished he could have played for the Wings at some point during his career.
Slapshots: Rasmus Dahlin and Casey Mittelstadt are GM Jason Botterill's two first-round picks thus far, and they both could be Calder Trophy finalists next season. Botterill has done an extreme makeover of his club when you consider the additions of Carter Hutton, Conor Sheary, Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka, Tage Thompson and Matt Hunwick. The Sabres have to be better in most areas. Don't they?
Giveaways: The return for Ryan O'Reilly is iffy in the short-term, albeit good for the cap in the long run. Jack Eichel now has to start playing like a $10 million player, and 25 goals won't cut it. How much does last year's 20-goal second half earn Sam Reinhart in his new deal? Will Zach Bogosian ever stay healthy or ever play close to his $5.142 million cap hit?
Loose pucks: Nobody is expecting playoffs. Nobody is expecting remotely close to 62 points again either. For one thing, coach Phil Housley has to get a better start out of his team. The Sabres were 0-4-1 in the first five games under Housley last year and were toast even by Halloween.
Slapshots: This section would imply something good is going on. Good luck finding anything. What a disastrous offseason this has been.
Giveaways: Goalie Carey Price is starting his eight-year, $84 million contract signed last July — while coming off a 3.11 goals-against average and .900 save percentage. The Habs took Finnish center Jesperi Kotkaniemi with the No. 3 pick, picking by positional need and not by talent. They seem likely to trade captain Max Pacioretty rather than sign him to an extension (the Marian Hossa trade puts the Blackhawks in a prime spot to land him). Shea Weber is suddenly out until December due to unscheduled knee surgery.
Loose pucks: It's amazing GM Marc Bergivin keeps his job. Go Habs Go — right back to a high spot in the lottery.
Slapshots: They're a disaster, too. Maybe they can negotiate a new deal for RFA Mark Stone and get somebody to take Bobby Ryan's four remaining years at $7.25 million to also acquire Erik Karlsson.
Giveaways: Once Karlsson leaves, not much star power left from the 2017 East finalists. The Mike Hoffman affair, which led to the star winger's trade to Florida after alleged cyberbullying by his fiancee, was about as seedy as we've seen in recent NHL history. The rink is out in Kanata, a long way from downtown. You wonder if their new arena project in the city ever gets under way as long as reviled owner Eugene Melnyk is in charge.
Loose pucks: The Sabres don't have to worry about finishing last overall any more. Not with Ottawa in the league. The Sens are almost everybody's choice to finish No. 31 — and that might be the case even if they somehow manage to re-sign Karlsson and keep him.