Atlantic Division Preview
New Jersey Devils
-No longer have that anchor on defense.
-Can the Devils defensive system work without a stud defenseman?
-Can Elias and Gionta regain the chemistry of the past couple years without Gomez?
-Can Parise improve on last years break out season.
The Devils success over the past decade has largely been due to having stellar goaltending and a nearly as stellar defense. But over the past 3 or 4 years they have lost Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer and Brian Rafalski off their defence and the question is, can they be just as successful without that stud defenseman? Making matters worse is defenseman Colin White has suffered a significant eye injury and when he will return is still uncertain. That is going to put a lot of pressure on an unspectacular crew of Paul Martin, Karel Rachunek, Vitaly Vishnevski, Richard Matvichuk, Johnny Oduya and Andy Greene. To make maters worse the Devils lost on of their top offensive players in Scott Gomez this summer. The Devils anchored by Martin Brodeur still should make the playoffs this year but it is far from certain and a key injury or two could see them fall out of the top eight in the eastern conference.
New York Islanders
-Rick DiPietro is an emerging star goalie
-No top end talent anywhere in front of DiPietro
-Lost a lot of key players to free agency.
-Can the hodge podge of second tier free agents come together quickly as a cohesive unit?
-Can Rick DiPietro take his game up another notch.
The Islanders have lost Alexei Yashin, Ryan Smyth, Jason Blake, Viktor Kozlov, Tom Poti and Sean Hill from the team that finished last year. That is a lot of holes to fill for a team that just barely made the playoffs. They did make some decent acquisitions in Fedotenko, Guerin, Comrie, Vasicek and Sutton but it is hard to say there is a quality first line player among them. Can Bill Guerin score 36 goals with Mike Comrie as his center like he did last year when he played mostly with Doug Weight, a true playmaking center? I donâ€™t think so. The only saving grace for this team is goalie Rick DiPietro. DiPietro is a good enough goalie that he may be able to keep the Islanders within shooting distance of the playoffs though in the end they will probably end up closer to the basement than a playoff spot.
New York Rangers
-Deep and talented group of forwards.
-Lundqvist is an elite level goalie.
-A serviceable but unspectacular group of defense.
-How will the new lineup come together?
-Will Jagr form the same chemistry with Gomez that he had with Nylander?
-Will Sean Avery wear out his welcome and become a disturbance in the dressing room?
With all the big roster moves the Rangers made in the off season they sure would like to see them as prime Stanley Cup contenders this season. That should be the case, but many people thought that should be the case last year too, but instead they floundered at times, finished only 6th in the eastern conference and were ousted from the playoffs in the second round. If they have learned their lesson and can learn to play a bit more consistent and reliable hockey they should be a contender this year. Chris Druryâ€™s experience and leadership should definitely help them out in this area. In the end the Rangers will compete with Pittsburgh, Ottawa and Buffalo for top spot in the eastern conference and likely for the chance to represent the east in the Stanley Cup finals.
-Added a lot of talent in the off season.
-Briere and Gagne should form a potent duo
-Depth of forwards
-I am not yet sold on Biron as a starting goalie.
-Can Biron be a quality starting goalie?
-How quickly can this completely revamped lineup come together as a team.
There is no doubt that the Flyers will be one of the most improved teams in the NHL. You canâ€™t add Briere, Hartnell, Lupul, Timonen, and Jason Smith without improving your team. The Flyers now have a lot of depth at the forward position and are capable of putting out 3 lines which can score and Timonen should do wonders in the transition game and helping the power play. Whether they can make the playoffs or not will depend in large part on Biron playing like a quality starting goalie for 55+ games and young defensemen like Braydon Coburn, Lasse Kukkonen, Alex Picard, and Randy Jones becoming reliable defensemen. A playoff spot is not a sure thing with this newly formed team but they should be good enough to be in the hunt which is a dramatic improvement over last season.
-Incredible young talent
-Maybe the best offence in the league
-Defensive ability and play â€“ lack a true shut down defenseman
-Can Marc-Andre Fleury become a consistent reliable #1 goalie?
-Can Jordan Staal and Evgeni Malkin repeat stellar rookie seasons?
-How much is left in the tanks of veterans Mark Recchi, Gary Roberts and Darryl Sydor?
The Penguins are arguable the most talented team in the NHL as Crosby and Malkin are two superstar talents and Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney probably form the best pair of offensive defenseman in the NHL. The Penguins are going to score goals and score a lot of them. The big question is, can they reduce their goals against. Former first overall pick Marc-Andre Fleury showed some improvements in goal last year but the Penguins were still only an average team in terms of goals against. If they can improve on that a bit (and that is partly why they brought in Darryl Sydor) then the Penguins have to be considered a top contender for the Stanley Cup.