Atlantic Division Preview

(Photo in rotator by valorfaerie via Flickr)

When Neil Smith took over the GM reigns of the New York Islanders and Ted Nolan was preparing himself to set foot behind the bench, it seemed that the Atlantic Division would be one of the toughest ones in the league with the direction that all five teams were heading. A month later, Smith was out, Garth Snow was in, Pat Lafontaine quit and the Islanders were quickly becoming the laughing stock of the league.

But even now a days, my prediction still stands.

The division is gradually tightening up and still will be one of the toughest ones to compete against, more so in the very near future. Let's say a good two years.

Typically I do not make these type of predictions, but with training camp being covered by everyone under the sun, I figured it would be entertaining to discuss something different.

Philadelphia Flyers

They had a very impressive Cup run after making the playoffs on the last game of the regular season in a shootout against their division rivals, the New York Rangers. They lost Simon Gagne via trade this off-season and added Nikolai Zherdev as an inexpensive experiment on offense. Will that off-set the loss? I don't think so, but they do have some promising young skaters in Giroux and Van Riemsdyk. They also lost tough guy Arron Asham to the Pittsburgh Penguins but replaced him with Jody Shelley. Not a bad choice. However, I pick this team to finish 5th in the Atlantic and 12th in the East. I know this is going to cause a bit of a stir, but typically the Cinderalla team that makes it to the Cup and loses has a terrible year (or a year not equal to the previous one) to follow. Look at Edmonton, Carolina, Calgary and others. The Flyers goaltending simply will not cut it as guys like Leighton and Boucher were over-achieving, in my opinion.

New York Rangers

The additions of Frolov, White, Boogaard, Eminger and Kennedy give this team depth, toughness, veteran leadership and scoring potential. However, it seems a lot like the same pieces are being added to a roster that already contains too many of the same player types, therefore disallowing their young guys to grow. Del Zotto, Staal, Anisimov, Dubinsky and Callahan are going to have to take major strides next season if they are to help the Blueshirts return to the playoff scene. It would be an easier task to expect if their veterans were doing more on the score sheet. Martin Biron will prove valuable at times, but at other times Ranger fans are going to wish he was still on the Island. I also don't think Frolov will take enough of the offensive pressure off of Gaborik's shoulders; he simply will be unable of handling the Big Apple when Gabby is injured and needs to pick up his game. My prediction: Out of the playoffs, somewhere around the 9th or 10th seed with them finishing 4th in the Atlantic Division.

New York Islanders

They didn't add too much this off-season. Like the Rangers, they added toughness in Zenon Konopka, depth in Mark Eaton and Milan Jurcina, and potential in P.A. Parenteau. They also added grit with James Wisniewski to off-set the loss of Andy Sutton and take pressure off of Jack Hillen and Andy MacDonald. The big question will be if Rick DiPietro can handle a full NHL season, which is probably the first thing Flyers fans thought of when I criticized Leighton and Boucher. In addition, guys such as Tavares, Schremp, Okposo, Comeau, Bailey and Moulson will have to increase their offensive production if they are going to make the playoffs. But I firmly believe that this team is on a strong upswing; the general feel coming from everyone within that organization is that they are going to take the next step and snag a playoff berth. I believe that they will improve without performing any miracles (besides Rick staying healthy maybe?) and will finish 8th in the East and 3rd in the Atlantic Division.

By the way, Nino Niederreiter was signed to his NHL entry-level contract. This team is going to give him every opportunity to prove that he is worthy of keeping around in the NHL this year. Don't be surprised if he stays longer than eight games.

New Jersey Devils

Oh Kovalchuk, Kovalchuk, better hope that I am right after the summer you just had. The Russian sniper is here to stay for a very long time and should drastically improve their offense. With Zajac and Parise continuing to produce at new levels, Kovy will only add an element of star power that will allow everyone to feel that they can return to the Stanley Cup. Volchenkov will inevitably send crushing blows to opposing forwards who decide to cross their blue line with their heads down as well. But the Devils continue to live in the past by adding one of their former greats in Jason Arnott. He's still got gas left in the tank but he may end up like Brian Rolston; fun to remember and a reliable veteran but simply not the player he used to be. It's also good to see that they found a reliable back-up in Johan Hedberg, but he is 37 and Marty is 38. I don't care what anyone says, Brodeur is starting to run out of gas. He is respected by everyone and no one wants to be the first to admit that he isn't as good as he used to be. Simply put, he isn't. He is still one of the best in the game but he tends to let up a handful of softies in the playoffs after he plays close to 75 games a year. Instead of having a young goalie to turn too, they have an aging net minder who is probably closer to retirement than Brodeur. Yet this team always finds a way; they will finish 4th in the East and 2nd in the Atlantic Division.

Pittsburgh Penguins

They have been dominant over the past few years and will continue to do so likely through the next decade. Adding defenseman Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek strengthened their defense with the departure of Sergei Gonchar, but they certainly did not replace his offense. Goligoski and Letang will be expected to step up - and don't be surprised if they do. They didn't add that much to their offense but with dynamic forwards such as Malkin, Crosby and Staal that makes those around them better in Kunitz, Kennedy and Dupuis, is that much really needed? Still, they found a middle-weight enforcer in Asham that will be able to contribute offensively as well as throw his fists. They're only significant change to their offense is Mike Comrie. Islander fans remember him and his toe-drag all too well, but he signed for just around $500,000 and may be the type of player who will really take off if paired with Crosby or Malkin. After watching Comrie over the past few years, I feel that he is not the type of player that makes those around him better, but plays better when he is thrown into a supporting role with an all-star cast. That's exactly what he has right now. Pittsburgh will finish 1st in the Atlantic and 2nd in the East, just a few points above the Devils.

Go ahead. Shake your head or applaud me. I want to hear where you think I'm right and wrong. After all, these are just predictions.

-Rob McGowan

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Ranger4ever's picture

Hey Rob! Nice balanced piece of writing. I worry that you, like a lot of Isles-watchers, may be trying to paint DiPietro as something other than what his career stats plainly make him out to be: an oft-injured mediocre goalie who shows very occasional flashes of brilliance. You are right though, in saying that the remaining offensive core group will have to step it up if they are going to weather whatever goaltending they do get and snatch that last spot that Montreal, Buffalo and their cross-town rivals from Manhattan will all be chasing come April. I like your comments on the balance of the Division and will be looking forward to the Flers' nose-dive! Keep up the good work.

George Prax's picture

I'm really struggling with whether I want to pick up DiPietro in my fantasy leagues. I have a feeling he could be a gigantic sleeper IF he ends up being healthy. It's a giant if though.

As for these predictions? Ya, they might make a few of our followers angry, lol. Flyers 12th? Ouch... I could definitely see it happening but with most of the same roster from last year and the experience they got in the playoffs, if they finish 12th, then I hate to say my Habs are kinda screwed as well.

Stacy Podelski's picture

Agreed George DiPietro is going to be an interesting one to watch this season. I would enjoy having one full season of him healthy to see what he can do.

Greg Balloch's picture

Not sure if I agree that Marty is "slowing down." He's aging, yes, but take a look at his numbers from last season. 45 more wins, 2.24 GAA (a grand total of 0.03 points worse than his career average) and a save% of .916 (.002 points better than his career average). Add another 9 shutouts and 77 games, I've yet to see any statistical evidence of Marty "slowing down."

You would assume he would start slowing down by age 38, but I just don't see it. I could see him playing well into his forties, and I think Marty sees that too.

Rob McGowan's picture

Greg, as I said I think he is still one of the best in the game but is not near where he used to be. If you watch his performance in the playoffs, you can see a drastic difference. He lets up several weak goals and the team hasn't advanced as far as they should considering where they finish in the regular season. .

This, to me, is a result of him getting burnt out in the regular season. Therefore, slowing down. And having an aging guy like Hedberg to be the possible insurance factor isn't encouraging, in my opinion. I have heard a lot of Devils fans criticize Marty for this and the Devils coaching staff for letting Brodeur play as many games as he does

Pocono Flyers Fan's picture

You're kidding, right?

I see the Rangers, Devils and Isles fighting for 3, 4 & 5 and probably the last playoff spot in the east...

The Rangers will probably finish #5. I'm not convinced their D is adequate, and I'm pretty sure their forwards aren't of the caliber needed to make the playoffs.......that leaves "King Henry" to do it all on his own and that's not going to happen.

The Devils will finish #4 in my opinion. The Kovalchuk fiasco will blow up when they have to dump integral pieces to meet the salary cap and Marty isn't getting any younger and can be beaten by crowding the net.

I think the Isles may finish 3rd, but my questions about them center around the D and goaltending...I think the loss of Sutton will hurt more than realized, and I have less faith in DiPietro than I do in Leighton.....which isn't all that much

The Flyers and the Pens will battle for 1 - 2 and that could go either way.......Pitts. has quality centers, but less so at the wings.....the Flyers don't have the "star quality" like the Pens, but they have 6 top 4 D men and 3 solid scoring lines they really just need Leighton to manage games until Bobrovsky or Backlund are ready to claim the #1 job

Greg Balloch's picture

@Michael They say that every year. I see Marty going at least another 70 this year.