UPDATED: October 5, 2006.

ATLANTIC REPORT.

with Doug Tyburski.

Atlantic Report

Hello again everyone. I hope you had a fun and safe summer. I am looking forward to updating you guys every week with the news, rumors, and all the happenings in the NHL's Atlantic Division. With that being said, let's get right into it. Here is my season preview and predictions:

Philadelphia Flyers-

Most experts penciled the Flyers in as a team that is likely to stumble this year. The Flyers didn't go out and bring in big name players via free agency as they did last summer. That doesn't necessarily mean that the Flyers are taking a step backwards.

If Peter Forsberg can stay healthy and play up to his usual level, other players like Mike Richards, R.J. Umberger, and Jeff Carter will continue to improve from last year's impressive performance. The goaltending tandem of Robert Esche and Antero Niittymaki might be the best in the division. No club can put out a # 1 & #2 goalie on a night in and night out basis and give their team the same chance to win.

On the blue line, the signing of Nolan Baumgartner was one of the most underrated signings of the summer. The Flyers are very steady on defense and are still a very well rounded team in every aspect.
Prediction: 104 points / First place

New York Islanders-

I am well aware of all the jokes and the constant ridicule the Islanders have taken as an organization this past summer. One thing to remember though, we are talking about the way the team does it's business, and strange business moves have been made, no question, but if you forget about all the off ice antics that took place, the actual on ice moves were not bad at all.

The free agent pick ups of Mike Sillinger, Brandon Witt, Viktor Kozlov, Tom Poti, and Chris Simon, are all major moves that needed to be done.
In Sillinger, the team picked up the leadership and defensive forward they have needed since Michael Peca. Sillinger also proved he can run a power play when given an opportunity. Witt and Simon provide the toughness that was needed. Toughness was sorely missed last year, especially against team's like the Rangers who run towards the net, that won't happen with a player like Witt in front of the crease. The addition of Tom Poti will help the team's struggling power play. The Isles are hoping Poti can give them what they have been missing since Adrian Aucion left to sign with Chicago. Finally, the late summer signing of Viktor Kozlov might just be the cure Alexei Yashin has been looking for since coming to New York. Kozlov has been an underachiever, but there is no questioning his ability. Yashin will be moving to the wing this year, and it appears Sillinger will be centering both him and Kozlov. Each player has their own style, which should make an interesting line combo.

As for the goaltending? Well, let's not go into Rick DiPietro's contract fiasco, that can be debated forever, and I just don't have the space on here to even venture into that. DiPietro will have to prove his contract this year, and there is no questioning his potential, but potential and actual performance are two different things. He will have to take a major first step in backing up his contract this season. Mike Dunham was signed as the # 2, he can expect to see only spot starts, anywhere from 10-12 games, barring an injury to DiPietro.

Prediction: 97 points / Second place

New Jersey Devils-

The Devils always seem to sneak up on you. Whether it's during a season when they seem to be gliding by and then you realize they are 15 points on top in the division, or when they decide to go on a 15 game win streak to end the season as they did last year. The Devils are an intriguing team in a lot of ways. GM Lou Lamoriello always seems to come out on top, even when he appears to be in a no win situation. Great drafting, and a very good knack for getting players to sign contracts for less, have kept the Devils as a power in the Atlantic.
With the salary cap now in place, Lamoriello had to find ways to get under the cap, so the smart GM finds a taker for Vladimir Malakhov, by shipping him to the Sharks for a few draft picks. Then he finds cap space to sign bran Gionta to an extension. Nice moves due to smart business skills.

All that being said, the Devils have to start to decline at some point. I think this will be the year it happens. Sometimes you need a few average seasons to rebuild while staying relatively competitive, especially with a salary cap in place. The Devils should get a boost from Patrick Elias who is once again healthy and will be playing a full season. Scott Gomez can move forward after his resurgent season last year. Martin Brodeur will again be a huge presence in goal, so the Devils will still be a major factor in this division, just not to the extent they were the last few years.

New Jersey was having a very average season last year, until they caught lightning in a bottle and went on a 15 game winning streak to end the season. They went on to sweep the Rangers in the first round of the playoffs. You have to ask yourself, which was the real Devils? The way they played for 75% of the season, or the team that looked invincible for the last 25% of the season and the first round of the playoffs? The answer is somewhere in between. Age is catching up to this club in some areas, and I think we will see a slight step back this year.

Prediction: Third place / 93 points

New York Rangers-

The Rangers were the surprise in the NHL last year. Predicted my most to be one of the worst teams in the league last year (including myself), the Rangers were dominate for most of the season. Then something happened, the Rangers started to plummet. They fell from a 3rd seed to a 6th seed and were immediately shown the door in the first round of the playoffs, thanks to the Devils.

Much like the Devils, who where the real Rangers last year? I think the Rangers took advantage of the new rules. They had a hard working group of players who adjusted to the new NHL faster than most teams. As the season went on, other teams caught up to the style of play, and the Rangers weren't the only one's who played the new game well.
Jaromir Jagr is getting older, and Brendan Shanahan is no 18 year old rookie anymore either. Both players had an outstanding season last year, but I want to see them do it again. Jagr is injury prone, and Shanahan will need to adapt to the tougher Easter Conference. The Western Conference can play run and gun hockey all year, but when you play an 82 game schedule on a night in and night out basis, especially in the East, it is a little harder to deal with the wear and tear on your body.

Henrik Lundqvist won a lot of games for the Rangers last season, and he will be a premier goalie in this league for years to come. For the Rangers, they will need the same play from Lundqvist again to get back to the playoffs again.

Prediction: 90 points / Fourth place

Pittsburgh Penguins

The Penguins have had a tumultuous summer. The team was up for sale, and if no new arena is on it's way, the Pens might very well relocate. Finally, the Evgeni Malkin situation wasn't resolved until he essentially defected from Russia and snuck on a plane headed for the U.S. That was the off ice issues the on ice issues appear to be much brighter.

Sidney Crosby will return from his outstanding rookie season that saw him tally 102 points, including 39 goals. Crosby is a definite star in the making, as Malkin will be. To have two of the youngest future superstars playing on the same team, is very bad news for the rest of the league in a few years. The key is "a few years". As good as the Penguins can be, they aren't there just yet. They are a little weak on defensae. Sergei Gonchar is still a stud defenseman who will probably add to his 58 points from last year, but as far as the blue line after Gonchar, it's still thin. Ryan Whitney and Brooks Orpik will be very good, but there is still a learning curve to adjust to, and they may need one more year of seasoning.

Marc-Andre Fleury is now officially the everyday goalie and he should become an elite player in this league. He played very well towards the end of last season and will only get better. Just like the defense, give Fluery one more year, and everything will start to come together for the 2007-2008 season.

Prediction: Fifth place 84 points


I look forward to keeping you updated on the division all year. If you have any comments, feel free to e-mail me at: dtybur@optonline.net
I will see you all next week. Enjoy all the opening night games!

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