September is right around the corner, so it's time to take a look at what the Atlantic Division will look like for the 2009-10 season. This is written with the knowledge that rosters are not completely set, and rumors are still abound about a few of these teams...but comments are made based on how the teams stand right now. Even though nobody paid attention to it last time around, I will say it again: nobody's predictions should be taken as fact, including mine. Things change with injuries, trades, etc. I'm expecting the little homers to female dog and moan anyway, but don't say I didn't warn you.
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1. Pittsburgh Penguins
IN: Jay McKee, Brent Johnson, Wade Brookbank, Mike Rupp
OUT: Hal Gill, Rob Scuderi, Mathieu Garon, Chris Minard
The defending champions got a bit thinner on defense, but Alex Goligoski appears ready to step in for good. The young core is still intact, and all of them have another year of experience under their belts. The Pens are in an enviable position of being able to win now, as well as having a large group of youngsters waiting to step in. Whether or not they repeat is up in the air, but they will definitely be a prime contender once again.
2. Philadelphia Flyers
IN: Chris Pronger, Ray Emery, Brian Boucher, Ian Laperriere
OUT: Martin Biron, Antero Niitymaki, Derian Hatcher, Mike Knuble, Joffrey Lupul, Luca Sbisa
Assuming the Flyers' new starting goaltender has learned his lesson--and I believe that he has--Philly will be just fine. They replaced two decent goaltenders with a clear-cut starter and capable backup, and although Chris Pronger does not guarantee a Stanley Cup, he does bring a wealth of experience to the backend. It was an interesting call trading a prime prospect in Sbisa for the services of Pronger, but a high-risk/high-reward move is just what the Cup-starved Flyers could have been missing.
3. New Jersey Devils
IN: Yann Danis, Cory Muprhy, Ilkka Pikkarainen
OUT: Brian Gionta, John Madden, Scott Clemmensen, Mike Rupp, Niclas Havelid
No question it was time for change in New Jersey. The Devils have gotten younger, bringing in Yann Danis to backup Brodeur and leaving the 3 vacated forward roster spots up for grabs for prospects. The Devils could put together anything from a simple learning year for a few new players to defying the odds and putting together another great season. Jacques Lemaire is great with the kids, but how he chooses to coach will have a big impact on the end result.
4. New York Rangers
IN: Marian Gaborik, Chris Higgins, Ales Kotalik, Vinny Prospal, Tyler Arnason, Brian Boyle, Enver Lisin, Donald Brashear
OUT: Scott Gomez, Nik Antropov, Derek Morris, Nikolai Zherdev, Fredrik Sjostrom, Colton Orr, Paul Mara, Doug Janik, Markus Naslund, Lauri Korpikoski
Once again, Glen Sather--the man whom even Rangers fans don't like--has put together a team that is simply not built to win. Gaborik, if he even stays healthy, will highlight a skill line with Prospal and either Drury or Higgins, but other than the still-unsigned Dubinsky, not much else is happening up front. The departure of Derek Morris has left a large hole on defense that will be filled by prospects. Once again, this team will only go as far as Lundqvist takes them.
5. New York Islanders
IN: Dwayne Roloson, Martin Biron, Matt Moulson
OUT: Ben Walter, Joey MacDonald, Thomas Pock, Yann Danis
Well, at least they have some goaltending now. With DiPietro's status still uncertain, it appears the Islanders will rely on a tandem of Roloson/Biron to support the youth movement. Players like Okposo and Tavares may one day carry this team to bigger and better things, but for at least another year, the highlight on the Isles' calendar will be draft day.
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