5. Detroit Red Wings
While the Red Wings currently sit in the fourth position, they’re the fifth biggest threat in this division. What Detroit has done in the early stages of the season is very encouraging for a franchise that has been in a rebuild for several seasons.
With 33 points in 31 games, that rebuild is obviously coming to an end, but the Wings are still a work in progress. Detroit’s .532 point percentage is only 20th in the NHL despite the club holding the second wild card spot in the Eastern Conference. The team’s goal differential is a -16, which also illustrates the fact that the Red Wings are close, but the more established teams in the Atlantic still have the upper hand.
The hockey future is bright in the Motor City with players like Dylan Larkin, Lucas Raymond, and Moritz Seider in the lineup, but as far as the 2022 postseason is concerned, the ceiling for the Red Wings is simply getting in.
4. Toronto Maple Leafs
The Toronto Maple Leafs started slow but have played very well lately, as they are 16-4-1 since November 1. That stretch has propelled Toronto into the second spot in the Atlantic. However, no amount of regular season success makes up for the lack thereof in the playoffs.
I can’t consider the Leafs to be a threat to emerge from this division as an Eastern Conference Final participant when I’ve never seen it win a single playoff series. What’s more devastating than simply not winning is the fashion in which they’ve been defeated, which has been well documented.
There’s no doubt that Toronto is a great regular season team. It won its division last season, both special teams units rank in the top ten this year, and Auston Matthews is a top NHL point and goal producer once again. However, to be considered a dangerous team, the Leafs have to prove that they can win in big moments. That has not been done yet, and until I see it happen, I won’t believe that it’s imminent.
3. Boston Bruins
The Boston Bruins have had an odd feeling all season. It seems as though this team has been a few games behind all year in terms of games played, and in the games that it has played, it has won a few more than it has lost. That’s an underwhelming way of saying that the Bruins have been good but not great.
As a result, the team will need to use its games in hand to make up some ground, which will be manageable against a club like Detroit. With that said, even if Boston wins all of those extra games, it will still be looking up the standings at a trio of teams. That doesn’t mean that the Bruins can’t eventually catch up, but it does feel like this team will have a tough time cracking the top three in the Atlantic in the regular season.
This team is a bit older than its division rivals and it has questions further down the lineup that were on full display in the 2021 Stanley Cup playoffs. Yet, I have the Bruins at three because of the playoff experience on this roster. What Toronto lacks in postseason success, Boston is largely responsible for, and while it seems like a it happened in a different lifetime, it was only 2019 that the Bruins won the Eastern Conference.
In addition, what could make this group a bit of a wild card is goaltender Tuukka Rask and his potential return to the lineup. If Rask can be the type of impact player that he has been in past seasons, it could give the Bruins a lift heading into the second half of the season.