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.
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, Kovalchuk...you 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.
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.
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