As we all know, we play in one of the best divisions in hockey. The last three eastern conference champions came from the highly competitive Atlantic Division. Most of the teams took significant strides to improve their clubs. I'm going to go team by team to discuss the changes and give realistic expectations.
NEW JERSEY DEVILS- After a very disappointing playoff series against the Flyers, Lou knew there had to be changes. For starters, he let go of Olympian Paul Martin. That left a huge hole in our D, so enter Anton Volchenkov. A menacing blueliner who shows his opponents no mercy. This mean streak was clear lacking when the Flyers' aggresive forecheck made mincemeat of our small, soft defenders. Also added was Henrik Tallinder. Tallinder can move the puck fairly well and is very solid in his own zone. He helped phenom Tyler Myers adjust to the NHL game. Johan Hedberg has come in to back up Marty Brodeur. Many felt that Hedberg was the best back up in the league. For a good portion of the year, he started while young Ondrej Pavelec sat on the bench. Will Marty play less games, who knows? Ilya Kovalchuk (99% certain will be retained) will stay with an already deep offense. With a core of Kovalchuk, Parise, Zajac, Elias, Zubrus, Langenbrunner, Arnott and Clarkson, the Devils figure to have some of the best depth in the NHL.
PITTSBURGH PENGUINS- One has to figure that two straight Stanley Cup finals finally took its toll on the Penguins. It seemed very clear that they ran out of gas against Montreal. With more offseason rest and the additions of Paul Martin and Zybnek Michalek, the Pens look poised to make noise in the playoffs. Martin and Michalek figure to replace the offense of Sergei Gonchar. But does Pittsburgh have the depth to complement centers Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal? Another question mark is goalie Marc Andre Fleury. He was very average last year with a 2.65 goals against average and a .904 SP. The Penguins need him to be big if they're going to make a serious run.
PHILADELPHIA FLYERS- To me, the Flyers are an intriguing team. They were the 7th seed, but it was clear that they were far more talented than that. They made an almost Cinderella-esque run to the finals. The regular season struggles can be attributed to; John Stevens' coaching/ lack of respect players gave him, Captain Mike Richards and Chris Pronger's feuds and underperforming players like Jeff Carter, Daniel Briere and Claude Giroux. New coach Peter Laviolette straightened out many of these problems and "whipped the team into shape", literally. As scary as it may sound, the Flyers look to be better this year. Andrej Meszaros and Sean O'Donnell were added to solidify an already strong defense. With Pronger, TImonen, Carle, Coburn, Meszaros and O'Donnell, the Flyers have one hell of a D. Their offense isn't anything to sneeze at either. Nikolai Zherdev was brought in to replace the 17 goals Gagne added last year. With stars like Richards, Carter and Briere leading the way, there should be no shortage of goals. After playing out of his mind in the regular season, goalie Michael Leighton looked very human in the playoffs. The Flyers brought him back and pray he will play like he did from January to April.
NEW YORK RANGERS- Ah, the Rangers. Losing that shootout to the Flyers must have hurt the MSG faithful (but who cares). The Rangers didn't do much to strengthen their team, except add Norwegian star Mats Zuccarello Aasen and Alexander Frolov. It seems that the Rangers are going to once again ask too much of sniper Marian Gaborik. If young guns Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan play to their potentials, a lot of pressure will come off Gaborik. Marc Staal, Dan Girardi and Michael Del Zotto will lead an iffy defense. Then there is Henrik Lundqvist. Love him or hate him (or his pads) he and Gaborik are the sole reason why the NYR had a shot to make the playoffs. Next year could get ugly for the Rangers. Gaborik, who is historically injury prone, is a question mark to even finish a season (although he did last year). Frolov will be counted on to score 25 goals. However, Frolov has been known to be quite a handful in the locker room. Coach John Torterella will chew him out if needed.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS- The youngest team in the division should improve by a good deal this year. With a young core of John Tavares, Josh Bailey, Kyle Okposo, Blake Comeau, Matt Moulson and Rob Schremp, the Isles look like they are going in the right direction. Mark Streit leads a blue line with Jack Hillen, Mark Eaton, Milan Jurcina, Bruno Gervais and James Wisniewski. 2009 12th pick overall pick Calvin De Haan could push for a spot if the Isles feel he's ready. If healthy, Rick DiPietro is one of the top goaltenders in the league, but the problem is.....he is never healthy. If he does in fact get hurt, backup Dwayne Roloson will once again take the job. He did do a very good job last year, however. While it still sucks to be an Islanders fan, by 2012-2013, this team could be dangerous.
I wanna hear everyones takes and opinions!