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Big additions, big misses mark Atlantic Division in wake of free agency

Tampa Bay and Montreal swung big and missed. Florida reeled in one big fish and lost another. Toronto did an extreme makeover. The Buffalo Sabres were one of several teams to play it cool.

The Atlantic Division was top-heavy last season, with Tampa Bay, Boston and Toronto all hitting 100 points, Montreal at 96 and no one else over 90.  The top of the division still looks strong while the Habs and Panthers try to crack the playoffs and the Sabres in a bottom trio with Detroit and Ottawa hoping young talent will continue to spark improvement.

Here's a look at the division in the wake of Monday's free agent frenzy, with an added eye on what's left on their agendas before training camp:

Tampa Bay

Gains: With load management for goaltenders a growing talking point through the playoffs, the Lightning signed Carolina's Curtis McElhinney to a two-year, $1.7 million contract. It lightens the load on Andrei Vasilevskiy, who had a 3.82 goals-against average and .856 save percentage in the four-game collapse against Columbus in the first round. Defensemen Luke Schenn (one year) and Luke Witkowski (two years) were signed to deals with $700,000 cap hits.

Losses: Veteran defensemen Anton Stralman (Florida) and Dan Girardi (unsigned) were not retained, but the biggest defeat might have come when Joe Pavelski chose Dallas over Tampa Bay and prevented the Lightning from adding another veteran voice to the dressing room and even more scoring touch to the lineup.

Summer outlook: The cap issues are acute and the Bolts will hold their breath that no one will tender an offer sheet to restricted free agent Brayden Point while they're trying to figure out how to get him signed to a long-term deal.


Gains: Two straight 100-point seasons plus a trip to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final last month doesn't cry out for much change. The East champions mostly stood pat, adding depth veterans Brett Ritchie (Dallas) and Par Lindholm (Winnipeg) while also re-signing defenseman Connor Clifton to a three-year deal.

Losses: Fourth-liner Noel Acciari, a pest during the Cup final, left for Florida and center Marcus Johansson – who would look good in the Sabres' lineup – won't be re-signed. This is one stable lineup.

Summer outlook: Defensemen Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo are RFAs who need to be signed and GM Don Sweeney said Monday he doesn't expect any issues there. Expect veteran David Backes, a scratch by the end of St. Louis series, to be traded and perhaps another veteran winger to be acquired.


Gains: The defense was completely remade with the acquisitions of Colorado stud Tyson Barrie and the Ottawa tandem of Cody Ceci and Ben Harpur. Alex Kerfoot (Colorado) and Jason Spezza (Dallas) join the forward core. Some super additions.

Losses: Center Nazem Kadri went to Colorado in the Barrie-Kerfoot deal and takes with him much of the club's grit up front – but consecutive playoff suspensions against Boston simply could not be overlooked anymore. Defensemen Nikita Zaitsev and Ron Hainsey and forwards Connor Brown and Tyler Ennis all ended up in Ottawa.

Summer outlook: GM Kyle Dubas did quite a remake on the fly of a team with three straight first-round exits but now comes his toughest task: Signing Mitch Marner, Kerfoot and Ceci as RFAs. He'll need to put Nathan Horton on long-term injured reserve and perhaps shed other salary – all the while hoping Marner doesn't get an offer sheet.


Gains: Minimal. Backup goaltender Keith Kincaid was signed from New Jersey and is probably an upgrade over Antti Niemi behind Carey Price.

Losses: The big one came Tuesday, when Carolina matched the $42.25 million offer sheet the Habs entered for Hurricanes center Sebastian Aho. The Habs were betting Carolina owner Tom Dundon would balk at a bonus-filled offer that included $21 million over the first year, but it didn't happen. Andrew Shaw was traded back to Chicago and Jordie Benn signed as a free agent with Vancouver, so that's two key veterans lost. Former Sabre Nic Deslauriers was dealt to Anaheim.

Summer outlook: Hard to figure what GM Marc Bergevin does next after the Aho bid failed. The Habs have nearly $12 million of cap space in the wake of the Carolina match. Maybe they just figure to keep watching young standouts like Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Ryan Poehling and Victor Mete grow while Price makes most of the saves, then look to add at the trade deadline.


Gains: Seven years and $70 million is a lot for a goalie and Sergei Bobrovsky will have to live up to the deal – and get this team to a postseason series victory for the first time since 1996. A four-year deal to Brett Connolly (Washington) and three years to Noel Acciari (Boston) are solid additions to the depth up front. Three years and $16.5 million to Anton Stralman (Tampa Bay) adds experience to the blueline but seems like an overpay.

Losses: The Panthers didn't get the package deal they hoped of Artemi Panarin with Bobrovsky but still did well overall. And now they have Joel Quenneville as coach. Hard to complain.

Summer outlook: The heavy work is done for GM Dale Tallon. Maybe another depth forward could be in the offing. From 86 points last year, they rate as the division's biggest X-Factor club. How many points will Quenneville (and Bobrovsky) be worth?


Gains: The return of forward Valtteri Filppula was the biggest July 1 news. Patrik Nemeth (Colorado) joined the defense. Yawn.

Losses: Lots of status quo.

Summer outlook: Veteran defenseman Niklas Kronwall is mulling retirement and would need to be replaced if he does call it a career. Nen GM Steve Yzerman may look for another forward but this season will be about getting 2018 first-rounder Filip Zadina ready for the NHL full-time.


Gains: Winger Jimmy Vesey and defenseman Colin Miller were underrated trade acquisitions, done just for draft picks to teams looking to clear cap space. Four depth signings should make Rochester a contender in the AHL and provide some competition for training camp.

Losses: Nothing yet, even though there are several pieces to the roster most fans would like to see elsewhere.

Summer outlook: Trade Rasmus Ristolainen if you can get top-six forward help. Keep him if you can't find it. Re-sign Jason Pominville for the fourth line. Hope No. 1 pick Dylan Cozens' thumb surgery doesn't create too much downtime to stunt his development.


Gains: New coach D.J. Smith will have several of his former players from Toronto with him in a new home. Nikita Zaitsev and Ron Hainsey will be on defense while Connor Brown and former Sabre Tyler Ennis joined the forward group.

Losses: Defensemen Cody Ceci and Ben Harpur went to Toronto.

Summer Outlook: It's all about getting 22-year-old defenseman Thomas Chabot signed as he heads into the final year of his entry-level deal.

At this stage in their history, Sabres will struggle to make big splashes

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