Nina G: I am not sure the offseason will greatly affect the balance of power in the Atlantic Division. I think injuries will be the biggest factor as it was a fairly quiet offseason for most of the division. The Flyers took the biggest hit this offseason with their moves, but Pronger’s ability to fully recover from his surgeries will also play a role in their potential success. I think they will take a bit of a step backwards this year. The Rangers made the biggest offseason splash with the signing of Brad Richards. The addition of Richards in place of Drury should see them improve a bit. The Devils found the puckmoving defender they sorely lacked when Adam Larsson fell to them in the draft, but the injury to Zajac is a blow to them. The Penguins are surrounded by question marks due to Crosby’s status. The Islanders simply need to remain healthy.
Bob H: Once again, the Atlantic Division holds the promise of being the best top-to-bottom grouping in the entire NHL. Each of its five clubs have great strengths which can keep them competitive all year and in line for a playoff berth. Some brief impressions of each franchise:
FLYERS – The departures of Jeff Carter and Mike Richards and the addition of Ilya Bryzgalov and a whole mess of other talent through both trades will alter the balance and chemistry just enough that the Flyers will go through an adjustment period — but when it will occur and for how long is uncertain — which will not have them at the front of the pack. But then again, this isn’t a “win now” team…they’ll make the playoffs but I foresee the regular season going through some twists and turns like 2 years ago.
RANGERS – Every year, same story. Some big name player inevitably gets signed in Manhattan to a big deal, but all the other glaring errors not covered due to that big contract end up getting in the way. Brad Richards will be a suitable replacement for Chris Drury, but all in all, it’s the same Blueshirts we’ve seen the last few seasons. Which sucks for my favorite current goaltender, Henrik Lundqvist. He’ll do enough to carry New York some nights, but his front office needs to do more to stock the roster with better quality so that his play augments, instead of makes up for, what’s there.
ISLANDERS – Forget everything about the arena situation. Forget about the fact that they play in a Mausoleum. The Islanders have the best crop of youngsters, in my estimation, since the mid 1970′s. John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Michael Grabner and Blake Comeau will have the spotlight thrust upn them. It’s up to the coaching staff and the rest of the players to make of it what they will because the pressure to perform is finally there — and the Isles can either be a resurgent team like the one from 2001-02, or they can go down the tubes like those clubs in the late 90s – and it has little to do with whether or not Rick DiPietro is healthy.
PENGUINS – The upside in having two bona-fide superstars is that, when one goes down, there’s one left. And when both go down, it helps to have a calm head at the controls. Too bad all the effort Dan Bylsma expended to keep up the charade after Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were lost for the season meant that there was little in the tank for the playoffs. The Penguins this year will be all right if and when Crosby ever comes back, but they won’t be world beaters. With pressure off, it gives guys like Deryk Engelland, Dustin Jeffrey and Mark Letestu to develop.
DEVILS – If Lou Lamoriello thinks that this year’s club has a realistic chance to compete for a playoff spot, things can get very testy once again in north Jersey. The usual suspects remain: Brodeur, Parise, Kovalchuk, Elias…but that’s it. Perhaps that’s why Pete DeBoer was hired as head coach, because development of a green roster is the likely goal and he did just that with Florida. Still, they will be a (t)horn in the sides of any team they play — as usual — and will have times where it seems everything will jell. But if they can’t score, or refuse to in favor of a defensive mindset, forget it. They haven’t figured that out in 16 years (1999-2001 and 2006 excepted).
Pavialax: Some significant pieces moved both in and out of the division, but the biggest gains are going to be in the form of players returning from injuries. However, I can’t imagine there will be much difference in the standings.
I still think the Islanders remain a bottom-dweller. The New Jersey Devils will have Zach Parise back and you have to wonder how much longer before Ilya Kovalchuk gets his groove back. The devils are a young team this year and should improve over the course of the season and I see them as a playoff bubble team. The Penguins regain the services of Evgeni Malkin and probably will have Sidney Crosby back at some point this season which will provide a boost and they should be a solid playoff team. The Flyers finally have a franchise goalie, but made some big changes on the roster. The defense remains intact and it should be interesting to see how things come together up front. At best they will contend for division and conference titles, but until the season starts I don’t even think the Flyers know what they have. The Rangers won the Brad Richards bidding war and have been a bubble playoff team for the past couple of seasons, so the addition of Richards should provide a bit of a spark and may turn them into a solid playoff team.
Nick D: There were some real notable acquisitions by teams in the Atlantic Division that started last year around the trade deadline which will impact the teams in what is likely the toughest, most talented division in which to play in the Eastern Conference if not the entire National Hockey League (The Pacific Division coming in at a close second).
As a Philadelphia Flyers fan, you not only have to be concerned about the Pittsburgh Penguins, but the New York Rangers are a legitimate threat this year as are the New Jersey Devils and the New York Islanders will no longer be an easy two points as they have all upgraded their rosters this past offseason.
Looking at the competition:
The Penguins improved their roster in a big way, literally and figuratively, by adding James Neal and Matt Niskanen at the trade deadline last year. Neal is 24 years of age and at 6’3” 205 lbs, he certainly isn’t small, so as a power forward he is at the typical age to begin to blossom into the player he will be for the rest of his career and playing on lines with any of the Penguins’ top three centers in Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Jordan Staal won’t hurt his development in the slightest.
The Rangers added the biggest unrestricted free agent name on the market in Brad Richards and watching him play with Marian Gaborik will be nothing short of extremely special. When you add a guy like Richards to the gritty offense that the Rangers already have, it will be an extremely tough game, and obviously with their d corps and King Henrik Lundqvist, well that’s just a recipe for success that few teams can really match on paper.
The Devils showed us what they were made of in the second half of the 2010-2011 season and were far and away the best team in the league, though not good enough to overcome their early struggles and make the playoffs. With a healthy Zach Parise and Martin Brodeur playing alongside and behind Ilya Kovalchuk, this Devils team will be a real hard team to beat all six times the Flyers have to face them.
The Islanders made one of the biggest moves in the league by claiming Evgeni Nabokov off Re-entry waivers from the Detroit Red Wings. Though the 36 year-old did not report last year, he apparently will this year and will make the Atlantic Division handily the division with the best goaltenders in the league, as well a huge upgrade over any of the Islanders goalies for the past ten years. But the Islanders will be a tough two points because they have one of the strongest casts of young offensive players in the league, which can make them a dangerous team to play against if they’re clicking.
As for the Flyers, they made the biggest moves of the offseason in any division by dumping two of their best players in exchange for a bigger, grittier, and younger look up front and something they have not had at any point in time in their franchise history: one of the best goaltenders in the league locked up for the rest of his serviceable starting career in Ilya Bryzgalov. Getting rid of Jeff Carter was a logical thing to do when you factor in that the team wanted to solve their overabundance of quality centers issue, especially when they were to receive Jakub Voracek, a former seventh overall pick, and an eighth overall pick with which they selected a similar style center in Sean Couturier.
Trading Mike Richards was probably the toughest decision that had to be made for any GM but seeing as that it allowed Paul Holmgren to go out and do certain things (such as get Jaromir Jagr, sign Ilya Bryzgalov for nine years at a fairly reasonable cap hit, sign James van Riemsdyk to a six-year extension worth $4.25 million, and bring big, feisty winger Wayne Simmonds and one of, if not the, the top prospects not playing in the NHL in Brayden Schenn). When you factor all of that in and weigh it against re-signing Ville Leino and holding onto Mike Richards, it looks like Paul Holmgren may have made the right decision, though the jury may still be out for sometime on that particular case.
With all that said, I think the teams will finish as follows:
1. New York Rangers
2. Philadelphia Flyers
3. Pittsburgh Penguins
4. New Jersey Devils
5. New York Islanders
Eden N: This is where I’m claiming newbie status. I can’t imagine that the Flyers will be at the bottom, but I’m not sure we can be as confident as we were last season (well, the first half of the season). I’m hopeful that we’ll kick some Atlantic behind…but yeah. I imagine the Penguins, even without Crosby, can still be painful and I expect the Rangers to be difficult. The Devils and the Islanders? Not too terribly concerned. (Probably will regret saying that).
Marcello D: In theory, the moves made this offseason can have an effect on the balance of power in the Atlantic Division but, in reality, it probably won’t have that big of an impact.
DEVILS: Ilya Kovalchuk does not a team make and the Atlanta Thrashers are proof of that. Zach Parise, who is playing for a big contract — likely outside of New Jersey — should have a terrific season after being sidelined for a majority of the ’10 campaign but, beyond these two players, there’s little reason to believe that this team can contend for a playoff spot, even if 2011 first-round pick, Adam Larsson, competes for the Calder.
ISLANDERS: Don’t underestimate what the return of recently anointed captain, Mark Streit, means to this club. Call me crazy but, when I look at this roster, I see a pretty good, young team, especially if Evgeni Nabokov plays. The Islanders were plagued with injuries last season. As long as they can stay healthy, I think they’ll finally move out of the Atlantic’s basement. This team might even be a dark horse for a playoff spot.
RANGERS: The Rangers took a step forward by acquiring Brad Richards and naming Ryan Callahan captain but was it enough to compete in the Atlantic Division? The arrival of Richards should also help boost Marian Gaborik’s offensive output, assuming Gaborik can stay healthy.
FLYERS: Out with the old, in with the new. At this point, it’s hard to accurately guess how these changes will play out. My guess is that the team will start off slow and take time to jell. Players like Claude Giroux, James van Riemdyk, and Daniel Briere will be exposed to tougher opposition as a result of the departures of Jeff Carter and Mike Richards. Brayden Schenn should be a Calder candidate but that won’t be enough to make up for the goals lost by the team. If the defense stays healthy and Bryzgalov lives up to his contract, the team should be fine but they likely won’t be strong enough this season to win the Atlantic. On the positive side, the team has a brighter future ahead and the team will be more balanced than they were in ’11.
PENGUINS: Evgeni Malkin is primed for an elite season and I expect James Neal to elevate his game to the next level, especially if he plays on a line with Sidney Crosby or Malkin. Pittsburgh has a solid defensive core, headed by Kris Letang, who had a terrific 2010 campaign. Although Crosby’s health is a question mark, it looks like he’ll play a good part of the season and the Penguins should be one of the top two teams in the Atlantic regardless of his status.