NHL Notebook: As Buffalo Sabres ready for playoff push, Toronto Maple Leafs see Atlantic Division

Photo credit:Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports
Aleena Aksenchuk
7 months ago
There’s only about a month more of waiting until the 2023-24 season kicks off on October 7th, which means the race for the prestigious Stanley Cup will soon be on.
Last season, the Atlantic Division brewed up some tough competition, with the Boston Bruins taking the number one spot with 135 points. Behind them were the Toronto Maple Leafs with 111, then the Tampa Bay Lightning with 98, the Florida Panthers with 92, the Buffalo Sabres with 91, the Ottawa Senators at 86, the Detroit Red Wings at 80, and finally the Montreal Canadiens at 68.
After an offseason full of changes to rosters and front offices, the competition should be heating up even more. Leafs captain John Tavares knows the playoffs won’t be easy to come by.
“The steps that Detroit, Buffalo and Ottawa, the steps they are taking, you see the talent they are developing and the season some of their guys have had (last year) and the way their teams are growing and the challenges they present, they obviously feel they are ready to start contending and be playoff teams,” Tavares expressed to NHL.com’s Dave McCarthy.
“There is no doubt it’s only going to continue to get harder and harder, so we are aware of that challenge and know what’s ahead.”
After the 2022-23 season, the Leafs finished second in their division. The club earned their spot in the second round, defeating the Tampa Bay Lightning, but ultimately fell short to the Florida Panthers four games to one.
This season may look different for Toronto, having lost four forwards, including Ryan O’Reilly, Michael Bunting, and two defencemen. Despite losing some regulars in their lineup, Leafs’ new general manager Brad Treliving — replacing Kyle Dubas on May 31st — has made some helpful additions with Max Domi, Tyler Bertuzzi, Ryan Reeves, and defenceman John Klingberg.
The Leafs are excited to take on the challenging Atlantic Division and are excited for another journey.
But Toronto isn’t the only one with expectations as the 2023-24 season closes in, as the Buffalo Sabres are prioritizing the playoffs as a primary goal this year.
After facing adversity and a heartbreaking end to last season, the Sabres are looking to move forward. Sabres defenceman Owen Powers spoke about his confidence in himself and his team’s capabilities.
“I honestly think we can go for a (Stanley) Cup, so I think that’s the attitude everyone has got and the attitude we have to have,” Power told McCarthy during Hockey Night in Brampton.
“…With how young we are, we have the potential to get better throughout the year. So going in every day, getting a little bit better and focus on the present and not get too far ahead of ourselves.”
Buffalo, as mentioned, notched 91 points this past season, just missing the postseason by a one-point difference for the top wild-card spot behind the Panthers. Although they extended their playoff drought to 12 seasons, they improved by 16 points from the 2021-22 season (75). They have proven their goal-scoring capabilities as one of the top twelve teams in scoring with 293 goals.
Powers played the final eight games of the 2021-22 season after signing his entry-level contract on April 8th, 2022, but joined the team full-time last season, scoring four goals and 35 points in 79 games, leading the league’s rookie defencemen. His performance was recognized as he placed third in voting for the Calder Trophy presented to the rookie of the year. He believes that having an entire season in the NHL under his belt has him more confident than last offseason.
“With some more games under my belt, it’s been nice coming into the summer and knowing what I need to work to get out of the gates running this year,” Powers told McCarthy.”It’s for sure helped a lot having a year of experience.”
Powers is aware that the competition in their division will not be easy. However, his expectations are still high for his team as they move towards kicking off their season on October 12th against the New York Rangers.
Here’s more on what Tavares expressed to NHL.com‘s McCarthy ahead of the beginning of the season:
“We certainly respect what they bring to the table, but we have to be prepared and we expect a lot of ourselves and have high expectations to still be one of the top teams if not the top team in our division,” Tavares said.
“That’s always the goal when you start the year and I think with the caliber of players we have and the depth we have, we still want to be right there but we know the competition is only getting tougher.”
And more on what more on Powers said to NHL.com‘s McCarthy:
To that end, the Sabres focused on adding depth and experience at defenseman during the offseason, signing Connor Clifton to a three-year, $9.99 million contract ($3.33 million average annual value) and Erik Johnson to a one-year, $3.25 million contract July 1.
“It’s going to be fun,” Power said. “Any time you get to play against the best teams in the League and compete for a playoff spot, it’s a lot of fun. I’m excited and I know our whole team is excited for the challenge.”

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