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:
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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