17 September 2007
You would be hard pressed to find a more active free agent division in hockey this offseason than the Atlantic. The Rangers and Flyers made big splashes in free agency while the Islander's and Devils were noted more for who they lost to free agency this winter. Last year the Atlantic had four teams make the playoffs with NJ leading the way and the Rangers, Islanders and Penguins all playing in the post-season as well. Don't be surprised if 4/5 teams make the playoffs again from this division.
You would expect a division with 3 teams based in NY (ok 1's NJ) to have a lot of star power, and this division is no exception. This division starts with über-star Sid Crosby and also has Drury, Jagr, Brodeur, Hillary Duffs boyfriend, Mike Comrie, Malkin, Briere, Gomez and more. This division looks to be one of the most exciting in Hockey.
New Jersey Devils: The Devils keep plodding along, making the playoffs and being a cup contender every season. Crazy Lou keeps firing his staff every time they get the hiccups but the Devils keep winning despite different coaches and players coming and going. They are the least sexy team in the division, not only because of their location (the other side of the NY-NJ border) but also because of their slow plodding boring style of play. They were the team that revolutionized the trap and have still carried it over to the new NHL.
The one constant in NJ has been Martin Brodeur, and he was spectacular again last season winning the Vezina. The problem for this upcoming season, is that the trap may not work nearly as well. Gone are defensemen Luckovich and Rafalski and the Devils didn't find much to replace them. Their best forward, Gomez, is also gone. They brought in underrated Dainius Zubris to compliment youngster Zach Parise, but do they have the firepower to compete in this upgraded division is the question.
New York Islanders: Last year the Islanders made huge headlines by trading for Captain Canada, then making the playoffs on shootout stuff by their backup goalie. They also banked on their ability to sign Smyth to a long term deal, thereby anchoring their team, with DiPietro, for the next 5 seasons or so. That didn't work out so well for them and they looked to be caught completely off guard for Smyth not signing, especially since they offered him more money than the Avs. They then proceeded to lose Jason Blake, Tom Poti, Viktor Kozlov, Richard Zednick and Sean Hill. They did manage to upgrade by losing Alexei Yashin though.
After losing their team they managed to sift through the free agent table scraps and bring in veterans Bill Guerin, Hillary Duffs Boyfriend Mike Comrie, Ruslan Fedetenko, Andy Sutton, and Josef Vasicek.
This turnaround seems to be the cause of larger problems within the orginization. They had a player busted for steroids, Chris Simon played Tee-ball on Ranger Hollaweg's head, and a free-agent was brought in and immediately named captain. Not only was free agency brutal to them talent wise, but that much change can take it's toll, especially in the beginning of the season. For a team that barely scrapped into the playoffs last season, they seemed to downgrade, however a full healthy season of the maturing Rick DiPietro could help stabilize this obviously unstable club.
NY Rangers: No team made a bigger splash this offseason this summer than the Blueshirts. It was generally conceded that there were 4 "Big" free agents, and the Rangers got 1/2 of them. Drury and Gomez should bring both leadership and goalscoring to the Rangers this season.
This team was a young improving team last season, and tried to upgrade into cup contenders this offseason. In the wide-open eastern conference they may have closed the gap, and could be a power in the East. In my opinion, more important than the Drury-Gomez signing was the re-signing of restricted free agent goalie Henrik Lundqvist, the best young goalie in the league.
All that money the Rangers threw around did come at a price however, as Michael Nylander, the #1 center who seemed to mesh very well with Jagr, couldn't be resigned due to all the money they threw at Gomez and Drury. If the Rangers are struggling they are so tight against the cap that they probably won't be able to do anything about it. It's a bit of a gamble but apparently Rangers management decided the time to win was now, before Jagr's play starts to fade. (I don't think I can justify a Cuthbert photo since her and Avery broke it off.. damn him that was his one good use to the hockey community too, was gratuitous Cuthbert photos)
Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers signed one of the remaining big four with the signing of Daniel Briere. They also were also able to "pry" Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell from Nashville. Martin Biron has a chance to shine as a #1 goalie again as his first full season as a Flyer, and they also brought in Jason Smith and talented, yet enigmatic young winger Joffrey Lupul from Edmonton.
This is the hardest team to read in the league. Their goaltending is upgraded, which should be good for a couple wins. Timonen, and Hartnell should help as well. Briere is, in my opinion, the riskiest of the big four free agents, and could be seen a as bust in years to come. He should still help a team that was bad in just about every area of the game last season, and bringin in Timonen and Smith, both former captains, should provide steady leadership. This team is the wilde card not only in the Atlantic, but the entire Eastern Conference.
Pittsburgh Pinkguins: As with everything on the Penguins, it all starts and ends with Sidney Crosby. Their offseason was mainly spent signing grissled vets who can supply scoring and leadership to this young team (Darryl Sydor and Peter Sykora), while trimming away some players that didn't seem to work out (Ouellette, Thibault). Those new players should provide some steady leadership to the very talented, but young, Pittsburgh lineup.
The biggest concerns about their Penguins are their goaltending. Fleury looked overwhelmed in his first trip to the playoffs, and saying he's erratic would be an understatement. He's talented, but can he be reliable? That's the biggest question mark with the Pens this coming season.
Atlantic Predicted Finish:
NY Rangers* - Offseason pays off
Pittsburgh Pinkguins*- Goaltending keeps them second
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