Battling in the Atlantic
This current offseason has certainly changed the look of many teams. These new looks could be viewed both for the good or bad of the team in many’s eyes. However, this season is full of tighter divisional races as well as conference and league wide competetion. One very tight division that could go in several directions is the Atlantic. I take a look at each team and who came in and went out and where I predict them finishing in the division come April.
IN NO PARTICULAR ORDER***
Penguins- The Penguins began last season with high hopes of the playoffs when they had on board Palffy,Lemeuix, Recchi,Leclair,Malone, Crosby and Gonchar. Many expected them to get a spot in the playoffs and some even thought that they would be a cup contender. However, things obviously went bad when Palffy and mario retired and the rest(except crosby) didnt meet expectations. So, they were again one of the worste teams and got the 2nd draft selection.
This summer they have acquired: Dominic Moore, ROnald Petrovicky, Jarkko Ruutu, Nils Ekman, and Mark Eaton, possibly Evgeni Malkin
This summer they have lost Surovy,Boguineky.
Theyre defense gets a boost from the quick eaton and they get a little more offense in Nils Ekman. However, they may also have first rounder Evgeni Malkin come October depending on how his situation goes. This would give the Penguins a huge boost and have a great 1-2 punch in Crosby-Malkin. This would be one of the best in the nhl assuming he lives up to his hype. However, even with Malkin this team just is not deep enough to raise themselves into playoff contention. They are improved over last year but this young team still needs time. In a few years they will be incredible with the young core of Malkin, Crosby,Staal… However, I think that they will battle it out with the Islanders for 2nd to last place and I think that the Penguins will find their way in front of the Isles.
NJ Devils- Even with major cap problems right now, as it stands, this team is dangerous. They will have a healthy Elias from the start, which is very important because of how his return impacted the team last season. Brodeur is without doubt going to shine again, like always. However, the big question lurking in everyones’ mind is, who are they going to deal in order to get below the cap limit? The answer to this question, in my opinion, could mean a division title or a mediocre season. If they wind up having to get rid of one of gomez,gionta,madden,rafalski I beleive that they will not be the team they were last year. If you get rid of Gionta you lose your highest scoring player as well as your fastest. If you lose Gomez, you lose a player with a tremendous skill set who can find teamates and create chances as well as put the puck in the net. If you lose Madden, you lose one of the better defensive forwards in the game that has been a vital part to the team’s succesful defense. Last, if Rafalski is gone, they lose their best dman who was their PP QB and is very quick. Without him, their defense suffers immensly. I am under the impression that they will have to move an impact player so that they can be under the cap once again. As it stands now, I rank this team as the divisional champions. However, if they lose any of those players mentioned I beleive they will finish 3rd in the Atlantic.
Philadelphia Flyers- Last summer brought very high hopes to philly. All hockey experts sang their praise for Bobby Clarke when he announced the signings of Forsberg, Hatcher and Rathje. We were then picked to win it all by many. However, the first half of the season did not dissapoint as we found ourselves on top of the league. However, injuries appeared right and left and one by one most of our players began a 2nd half a season of hell. Suddenly, our defense looked slow and terrible, our offense looked like a one line squad. And our goaltending was again becoming shaky and a question mark. However, this summer brought, hopefully, new beginnings to a very succesful season as Clarke was determined to address several key issues from last year. They had trouble with keeping up with faster teams like buffalo, so they got Geoff Sanderson, Randy Robitalle,Mark Cullen, Lars Johnson, Nolan Baumgartner,and Marty Murray. Also, we had a lack of scoring depth so he signed those players mentioned above along with trading for Kyle Calder. With the ability to roll 3-4 lines that can all contribute, along with a new mindset of an all out attack offense, I beleive that the Flyers will finish 1st in the division givin that the devils lose one of the players I mentioned. Otherwise, they will finish 2nd. If you wish to view a more in depth look at all aspects of the team for next year, look at my recent article on the flyers…
NY Rangers- Last year this time, hockey “experts” picked this team to finish near the bottom of the conference. However, with the phenominal play of Jaromir Jagr and the emergence of Petr Prucha, along with the stellar and vezina worthy goaltending from Henrik Lunqvist, the Rangers were able to grab a spot in the playoffs and hold on. However, when Jagr went down in the playoffs, everyone knew that they were done. This only showed me how much they depended on him for their offense. However, this summer they have acquired Brendan Shanahan, Matt Cullen and Aaron Ward and Adam Hall. With these signings they have certainly added more ability and depth up front. Shanahan showed no signs of slowing down last season as he put up wonderful numbers for a very talented Detroit club last season. If he mantains his form, he will be a huge boost for this team. However, if his aging begins to weigh down upon him, this signing will begin to look like a bust. Nevertheless, he will provide some great leadership to NY. Also, Matt Cullen and Aaron Ward both came off of a great playoff run and a very succesful season that led to a stanley cup for both. They provide some much needed depth and a winning attitude to a city that expects to win. I expect this Rangers club to finish 2nd in the atlantic, if the devils lose one of those players, or 3rd if they do not.
NY Islanders- Even though this team was not picked to do much last season, they did not disappoint the experts. The team looked like it was falling apart while its important pieces werent staying together. THis team really needed great seasons from Satan, York, Yashin, and its goalies but they did not come through. The defense also showed how weak it was in not playing around Dipietro. So, out went Kvasha, Parrish and in, this summer, came Sean Hill, Brendan Witt, Tom Poti, and Mike Sillinger. These defensive signings will certainly help a poor defenisive squad while Sillinger will provide a fairly young team with leadership and offensive abilities. However, I do not expect a better year, in fact I think they will finish even below the Penguins this season.
Final thought- I think that the divison could be up for grabs for the devils, rangers, and flyers. However, much depends on how the devils handle their current cap difficulties.