Hey there, sorry to flood you with new posts upon my return from the long weekend, but this is clearly important stuff here. Troy and I will continue our preview to the NHL Season by looking at one of the most challenging, entertaining and competitive divisions in the league, the Atlantic Division.
Next comes the Atlantic Division.
The New Jersey Devils are a perennial powerhouse in the Atlantic but seemed to lose some steam a bit last season before turning it up again and taking the division. New Jersey suffered some big losses in the free agency field this off season and I really see that hurting them. New Jersey's MVP the last couple years has been their GM Lou Lamoriello and he's going to have to find something for this season as well.
The Pittsburgh Penguins surprised me last season in two ways. Firstly, I knew this team would be good but I didn't expect it to happen so quickly, and secondly, when I jumped on the Pittsburgh bandwagon in the playoffs they lost in 5 to Ottawa in the first round. This season Pittsburgh will not have the element of surprise and everyone will be expecting very big things from the young guns. Pittsburgh is definitely going to challenge for the division title.
The New York Rangers made quite a splash in free agency this year but is that really anything new? Well the only thing new about this team is that they actually played well last season and their additions this year seemed to fit the mold they had started from last season and should go a long way to helping them.
It certainly isn't easy for me to say this but the Islanders actually played decent hockey last season. Who knew Garth Snow would make a good GM. Losing Blake via free agency to Toronto will hurt and it would have been great for them if they could have kept Ryan Smyth so they should remain on par with last season and I see them being on the playoff bubble.
Philadelphia made some major changes this off season which is great news if you're a Flyers fan (which I certainly am not. Except for Gagne). Daniel Briere should help this team a lot offensively and Jason Smith will add a lot of heart to this team and that is never a bad thing. I look for Philly to rebound big time from their disaster of a season last year.
This is how I see the Atlantic division going down.
1. Pittsburgh Penguins
2. New Jersey Devils
3. Philadelphia Flyers
4. New York Rangers
5. New York Islanders
If this division were to get a them song it would be “The Times They are a Changin'” by Bob Dylan, or maybe “Change” by Wide Mouth Mason, or well...you get the point, things are quite different in this division from last year. The Rangers, and Flyers were able to load up, the Devils and Islanders lost a lot of talent, and the Penguins get more impressive every day. Last year four of these teams made the playoffs and I would be shocked if they didn't match that number for this coming season.
I think that out of every team in the NHL the Rangers won the off-season as they not only signed two of the biggest name forwards, but they were able to re-sign their timeless wonder, Brendan Shanahan, and somehow draft Cherapanov with their 17th overall pick. Sure they lost Michael Nylander, but their net gain was still through the roof. I could see these guys winning their division in what should be the tightest race in the league.
Another team that did ridiculously well in the off-season was the Philadelphia Flyers. They added a ton of offense with Briere, Lupul, and Hartnell and some defense with Smith and Timmonen, plus they have a ton of prospects and draft picks from their fire-sales last year to play around with for trades. The real question mark for this team though is Martin Biron. Throughout his career he has played like a starter or like a back-up, the Flyers are hoping that he will be the former, but I think that the jury is still out. I still expect a strong return to form for the Flyers, and a mid-ranked playoff berth is definitely in order.
And on the other end of the spectrum we have the New York Islanders, the clear losers of the off-season. Sure Bill Guerin will be a big addition, but he hardly offsets the losses of Jason Blake, Ryan Smyth, Tom Poti and Alexi Yashin now does he? Don't get me wrong, I don't mean to be harsh on these guys, because I think that Ted Nolan is a master motivator and Rick DiPietro has a long bright future ahead of him, but you need to be stacked to play in this division. I don' think that there are too many teams that can get away with playing the Flyer, Rangers, Devils and Penguins 8 times each and be a contender. Sorry Isles, but I hope that you enjoyed your 6 games in the playoffs last year, because you're not getting any more this year!
While the face of the Pittsburgh Penguins didn't change much they still had a busy off-season inking Recchi, Roberts and Crosby to new deals. I expect that Crosby will continue to dominate, Malkin will continue to dazzle, and Staal will continue to defy expectations. While that core group (along with the ever progressing Marc-Andre Fleury) we can expect to see the addition of Chris Letang (my pick for Rookie of the Year) and possibly even Angelo Esposito to add even more youth and talent to this already stacked team. Their only real downside is the amount of games they have to play against their divisional opponents. Still I expect them to match last seasons output, while progressing even farther in the playoffs.
Lastly, we have the stalwarts of the Atlantic Division, the New Jersey Devils. While it is never safe to bet against Brodeur, I still have my apprehensions about this team. They lost their top centre and one of their top defensemen to free agency and don't have much to fill those gaps. While Troy thinks that Lamoriello will pull something out of his ass, I think that he already did that for the year by signing Brent Sutter as a coach, which will be a big boost. Probably not a big enough boost to get them to their previous heights though.
This is probably the toughest division to predict, but I am going to take a chance at it.
1.New York Rangers
4.New Jersey Devils
5.New York Islanders
Be sure to tune in again when we conclude the East with a look at the Southeast Division before shifting our attention Westward.
Until next time,
Achieved Division Previews:
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