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The NHL’s Atlantic Division could easily be the toughest race to judge heading into this season. While this group of five boasts the defending champion Pittsburgh Penguins, it also is stuck with the New York Islanders, a team seemingly forever in “rebuilding mode.”
In between, tough, talented teams like the Flyers, Devils, and Rangers, will make this division a very entertaining one to watch. Time to dive in and see what each Atlantic Division team has to offer.
Players Sent Packing (Au Revoir): Rob Scuderi, Petr Sykora, Hal Gill, Chris Minard, Jeff Taffe, Mathieu Garon
Welcome Aboard (Bienvenue): Michael Rupp, Jay McKee, Brent Johnson, Wade Brookbank, Chris Conner, Wyatt Smith
If the Bruins are going to get to the Stanley Cup finals, the road will most definitely go through Pittsburgh in order to get there. The defending Stanley Cup Champion Penguins are armed with young talent up the ying-yang, poised to be Cup contenders for years and years to come. Led by Sid the Kid and Evgeni Malkin, there is no doubt Pittsburgh will be there in the end. If they avoid any major injuries to their stars, this team is set to see playoff hockey in the spring.
Players Sent Packing (Au Revoir): Martin Biron, Antero Niittymaki, Joffrey Lupul, Mike Knuble, Derian Hatcher, Andrew Alberts, Luca Sbisa
Welcome Aboard (Bienvenue): Chris Pronger, Ray Emery, Brian Boucher, Ian Laperrierre
Pennsylvania’s pair of hockey squads will surely be battling for Atlantic Division supremacy all season long, as the Flyers will look to avenge last year’s playoff defeat to their in-state rivals in last spring’s opening round. The question marks still remains in net for the Broad Street Bullies, as gone is the tandem of Biron and Niittymaki, in favor of a new pair of netminders, Ray Emery and Brian Boucher. Adding veteran blueliner Chris Pronger doesn’t hurt the cause either, as the veteran will anchor a talented Philly defense. If Philly’s new tag team of goalies works out, they’ll be Cup worthy foes. If they don’t, and Philly fans are left wondering what Ron Hextall is doing these days, the Flyers’ chances are slim.
Players Sent Packing (Au Revoir): John Madden, Brian Gionta, Michael Rupp, Niclas Havelid, Scott Clemmensen, Bobby Holik
Welcome Aboard (Bienvenue): Cory Murphy, Yann Denis, Rob Davison
At twelve years straight, the Devils boast the longest playoff appearance streak in the Eastern Conference. This year may be the year that streak comes to an end. Beyond a very talented Zach Parise, who is going to score on this team? As always, GM Lou Lamoriello’s “defense first” trapping style will lull opponents to sleep, in the hopes that all-world goalie Martin Brodeur can deliver enough boring 2-1 victories to get New Jersey back to the playoff dance. I think they have enough to do it, as their blueprint for success cannot go unnoticed, but the days of Devil greatness are waning quickly.
Players Sent Packing (Au Revoir): Scott Gomez, Nik Antropov, Colton Orr, Derek Morris, Paul Mara, Fredrik Sjostrom, Doug Jankik, Greg Morre, Nikolai Zherdev, Markus Naslund
Welcome Aboard (Bienvenue): Marian Gaborik, Alex Kotalik, Chris Higgins, Vaclav Prospal, Donald Brashear, Tyler Arnason, Brian Boyle, Corey Locke
Yet another overhaul for the Rangers this offseason, as several names came and went for New York. As several forwards and defensemen come and go, the rock that will keep the Rangers in the playoff hunt for the foreseeable future remains in goal, as netminder Henrik Lundqvist returns, looking to put this team on his back and carry them through another long NHL season. Lundqvist, who at just 27 years of age, is just entering the prime of his career, a career that has begun with four straight seasons of 30 wins or more, a feat never reached by anyone else to start a career. If the Rangers can find a way to score (their 210 goals last season were just nine more than the East’s cellar-dwelling Islanders put in the net), Madison Square Garden will be hosting playoff hockey.
Players Sent Packing (Au Revoir): Yann Denis, Joey MacDonald, Mike Sillinger
Welcome Aboard (Bienvenue): Martin Biron, Dwayne Roloson, Thomas Pock, Matt Moulson
The laughing stock of the league, ladies and gentlemen, your New York Islanders! The “red-headed stepchild” of the New York sporting landscape, the Islanders are a mess from top to bottom. Their future now lies with 18-year-old forward John Tavares, this past draft’s top overall selection. He’ll attempt to bring this once respected franchise back from its knees, leading a decent core of young talent, the likes of Kyle Okposo, Josh Bailey, and Blake Comeau, among others. Believe it or not, this is how low the Pittsburgh Penguins sank before rising from the ashes to the powerhouse status they have reached these days. It will take time, but GM Garth Snow will turn this team around. Just don’t expect it to happen overnight. Or this year. Or the next few years. Call me back in 2018, we’ll look at it again then.