The Atlantic Division had three teams qualify for the playoffs (New Jersey, Pittsburgh, and Philadelphia). The Flyers had the most success, making it to the Stanley Cup Final and overcoming 3-0 (Boston) and 3-1 (Montreal) series deficients along the way. Once again the Atlantic Division will be a powerhouse. I predict two teams will make the playoffs this season.
New Jersey Devils: (103 points last season, 2nd in East)
State of the Union: The Devils once again had a strong season last year even though they were knocked out in the first round by Philadelphia in just five games. Martin Brodeur, now 38, has been solid in net, playing in over seventy games. The Devils are led by their top line consisting of Zajac, Parise, and Kovalchuk. Elias and Arnott are also a gifted fowards. The defense is starred by Anton Volchenkov, Colin White, and Andy Greene.
Off-season Moves: Even though it took them two tries and getting a fine of $3M, a 1st round pick, and a 3rd round pick, the Devils were able to secure Ilya Kovalchuk for 15 years. They were able to sign Arnott, Volchenkov, and Henrik Tallinder. Defenseman Paul Martin decided to part ways when signing with division rival Pittsburgh.
Biggest Question: Will aging Brodeur still be able to put up Vezina Trophy worthy numbers this season, still playing in over 70 games a season?
Prediction: 2nd in the Atlantic Division.
New York Islanders: (79 points last season, 13th in East)
State of the Union: The Islanders, young and talented, had a slow start to last season but showed potential nearing the end. The team led by John Tavares, Josh Bailey, and Matt Moulson are armed with potential and ready to fight. The Islanders have Rick DiPietro in net, hopefully going to play. If DiPietro isn’t able to play, the Islanders will turn to an able Dwayne Roloson. The Islanders have already suffered two major blows, losing Mark Streit and Kyle Okposo to shoulder injuries, both going to miss most of the season.
Off-season Moves: The Islanders drafted Nino Niederreiter with the fifth pick in the draft. He is a very gifted scorer who will make a huge impact for years to come. They also signed Mark Eaton and Milan Jurcina, both strong in defensive zone and can put points up on the board. To get tougher, the Islanders signed Zenon Konopka, who led the league in both fighting majors and penalty minutes last season.
Biggest Question: Will John Tavares have a breakout sophomore campaign like Stamkos did last season? Also, will the Islanders be able to overcome the injuries to Okposo and Streit sustained in the preseason?
Prediction: 5th in the Atlantic Division.
New York Rangers: (87 points last season, 9th in East)
State of the Union: The Rangers were one shootout goal from clinching a playoff spot last season. They boost one of the best goaltenders in the league with Henrik Lundqvist. Their offense is also strong with Marian Gaborik, Vinny Prospal, Drury (out with injury to start season), and Brandon Dubinsky. They also have a young, but talented defensive core with Marc Staal, Michael Del Zotto, and Matt Gilroy.
Off-season Moves: The Rangers made two key signings in the offseason bringing in Alexander Frolov and Ruslan Fedotenko. These two players should make a huge contribution to the team.
Biggest Question: Will the Rangers have enough secondary scoring from Prospal, Drury, Callahan, and Dubinsky to follow up Marian Gaborik?
Prediction: 4th in the Atlantic Division.
Philadelphia Flyers: (88 points last season, 7th in East)
State of the Union: The Flyers were the biggest surprise of last year’s playoffs. They were seeded 7th in the East and beat the Devils easily in the first round. To make the Stanley Cup Final, the Flyers were able to come back in series down 3-0 (Boston) and 3-1 (Montreal) series. The never-say-die Flyers fell just two games short of lifting the Stanley Cup. The offense and defense core is still intact but goaltending is still a question. Both Boucher and Leighton missed time during last season’s playoffs and Leighton will be out a month now with an injury.
Off-season Moves: The Flyers made two big trades with Tampa Bay sending Simon Gagne, a 2nd round pick for Matt Walker, Andrej Meszaros, and a 4th round pick. Along with resigning Brandon Coburn, Michael Leighton, Dan Carcillo, and Danielle Powe, they signed Nikolai Zherdev.
Biggest Question: Can Flyer’s goaltending stay healthy the whole season? (Leighton is now out until next month)
Prediction: 3rd in the Atlantic Division.
Pittsburgh Penguins: (101 points last season, 4th in East)
State of the Union: The only reason the Penguins didn’t make it to the Stanley Cup Final for a chance to repeat was Jaroslav Halak. The Penguins kept just about their whole roster after winning the Cup in 2009. With Malkin now on Sidney Crosby’s wing, look for a much more powerful offense. Marc Andre Fleury had an off year last year but look for him to rebound with Pittsburgh’s great defense that only improved this offseason.
Off-season Moves: After losing Sergei Gonchar, the Penguins went out and signed both John Madden and Zbynek Michalek. They also added Mike Comrie to strengthen their offense.
Biggest Question: Will Malkin, now winging Sidney Crosby, be able to post numbers comparable to a few seasons ago (100+)?
Prediction: 1st in the Atlantic Division.