Which team is the biggest threat in the Atlantic Division?

Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Florida Panthers, Tampa Bay Lightning (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) /
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Florida Panthers

The Florida Panthers, the team that I picked to win the Stanley Cup, come in a number one on this list. They very nearly came in at number two for a couple of reasons, but ultimately, the Panthers hang on to the top spot.

First, let’s look at why Florida almost fell to number two. Recent Stanley Cup champions have shown us that head coaching and goaltending are two of the most important pieces on a championship team. Winning head coaches tend to either be the best that the game has to offer or a midseason replacement, while goaltenders are either elite players between the pipes or under the radar players that got hot at the right time.

When the season began, the Panthers were coached by a three-time Stanley Cup winner, and young goalie Spencer Knight was on the list of breakout candidates. As things stand now, Joel Quenneville is no longer employed by the Florida Panthers, and Knight has struggled to the tune of a 3.42 goals against average, an .892 save percentage, and a demotion to the American Hockey League.

What keeps the Panthers, in my view, as the top threat in the Atlantic Division is the fact that they now fall in the replacement coach category, and boast a two-time Vezina Trophy winner in the crease that is showing flashes of his former self this season. I don’t feel as strongly about this version of the Florida Panthers as I did about the version that started the season, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t still be the team that I like the most in the Atlantic.

In addition, the Lightning may be more dangerous on the surface, given the fact that they’ve claimed back-to-back titles, but a streak like that can’t go on forever. Like I said before, it seems unlikely that the Bolts will surge through the playoffs for a third straight season. If there’s a team in the Atlantic Division that is going to upend Tampa Bay, it will be the Florida Panthers.