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"Blueline Blast"
NJ • 29 Years Old • Male
One of the stronger divisions (and arguably the strongest) in hockey last season, the Atlantic sent four teams to the playoffs, three teams to the second round, and two teams to the conference finals. The scary thing is that the division may have gotten better.


Division winners Pittsburgh lost Marian Hossa, Ryan Malone, Gary Roberts, but signed veteran sniper Miroslav Satan to flank the wing next to Sidney Crosby. On paper, this looks like a good combination - Satan has the skills to get open and use his quick release, and Crosby has the skills to get him the puck. This could be lethal and should provide plenty of highlight reel goals.

Another interesting situation has been the promotion of Jordan Staal to a top 6 forward position. Staal was a pedestrian 42% on his draws last season but was consistently relied upon to take big faceoffs. He'll shoulder that responsibility during even strength to Evgeni Malkin for now (who was an even worse 39%), but the additional ice time with Malkin should put Staal's name on the scoresheet much more often. The signing of Ruslan Fedotenko rounds out a solid third line that will probably consist of Maxime Talbot and Tyler Kennedy.

Where the Penguins might run into trouble, especially early on, is the blueline. Ryan Whitney is expected to be sidelined for at least the first half of the season, and Sergei Gonchar will start the season watching from the press box. Kris Letang and Darryl Sydor will likely have to step up and contribute offensively and on the power play, but a top four that consists of Letang, Sydor, Hal Gill, and Brooks Orpik isn't that bad and will probably be fine to start.

Marc-Andre Fleury is coming off of a breakout late season run and will look to continue his good play. One thing that people should be aware of, though, is that the Pens of late-season 08 did a terrific job confining shots to the outside and making it easy for Fleury to position himself for the shot. It will be interesting to see what happens if the team defense falters a bit and Fleury is put in a position to regularly stand on his head. I think he's up to it.

Better/Worse/The Same (or almost)/Who Knows

The Pens have the tools and will probably put it all together one of these years. If Satan and Crosby click, they could run away with the division.


The Devils will look to bounce back from an embarrasing 5 game loss (and a total of 11 losses in 13 games to the Rangers) in round one of the playoffs. They signed both Bobby Holik and Brian Rolston, and re-inked Bryce Salvador.

The Devils skaters probably overachieved (or underachieved depending on who you talk to) as a unit in the 07-08 regular season, but their goaltender Martin Brodeur proved why he's arguably a top 3 goaltener of all-time. Brodeur won several games by himself, playing in 77 contests and backstopping his team in all the big moments.

On the offensive side of the puck, Zach Parise is budding into one of the game's top young stars. His 32g-33a-65p line would have been much higher had he played in a more offensive system or in a better power play. Brian Gionta had a disappointing season, finishing with only 22 goals and 53 points - down from 49 goals and 89 points just two seasons ago. Patrik Elias also came down to earth a bit. After his sensational close to 05-06 and a solid 69 points in 07, Elias only managed 20 goals and 55 points last year. Obviously, the Devils need some help dispersing their talent and finding ways for their talented forwards to score. That's where Brian Rolston comes in.

Although Rolston's four year deal with a no-trade clause seems a bit much, he's exactly what the team needs right now - a reliable top 6 forward that can play the wing or center, and can contribute to a power play that desperately needs puck movement and a true finisher. Although Rolston may not be one of the league's top snipers, he has a quick release and an uncanny ability to get open. A power play of Rolston, Elias, and Gionta possesses a lot of talent and should be more productive than last year's unit.

Holik's signing was important too, because it gives the Devils another solid face-off man and a guy that can battle it out in the trenches with the best of them. He'll also be used on the power play to create havoc in front, and I wouldn't be surprised to see him appear on the first unit at some time. He'll be relegated to 3rd line duties to start the season, though.

On the blueline, the Devils have a solid contingent led by Paul Martin. Martin may be a true #1 defenseman, but if he isn't, he's damn close. With quick decision-making and defensive skills, he's shown that he has the ability to play as either an offensive or defensive defenseman. Colin White, Johnny Oduya, and Bryce Salvador is probably an average defense corps in any other system, but they play the Devils style well. The combination of these guys with Brodeur should have the Devils close to the top of the league in least-goals allowed.

Better/Worse/The Same (or almost)/Who Knows

Rolston and Holik will be key additions, and may propel the Devils to win the division. If Brodeur stays healthy, it's likely to happen.


I bet you were waiting for this part.

The Rangers will look to improve on two straight 2nd round playoff exits. They're going to do it with a completely different squad, however. With the departures of veterans such as Jaromir Jagr, Brendan Shanahan, Martin Straka, Marek Malik and Sean Avery, this team certainly has a new look. Markus Naslund and Nikolai Zherdev will look to create a new identity on offense rather than filling the void left by last year's departures.

Make no mistake about it, this is a completely different team. Whereas Jagr was about slowing the game down and drawing coverage to open the ice up for other Rangers, the top line of Zherdev-Gomez-Naslund will play a speed game that relies on getting open and chemistry. They seem to have it in the preseason, but time will tell if it works in the regular season.

Beyond the top line is an interesting situation in that the young kids will get a chance to play. Nigel Dawes has improved tremendously since his first appearance in the 07 playoffs, and will probably play a top 6 role. Brandon Dubinsky, the MVP of last year's YoungStars game, will try and improve upon his 40 point effor in an anticipated sophomore campaign. Ryan Callahan and Petr Prucha will also see increased ice time. Both could end up playing with soon-to-be new captain Chris Drury. Beyond the top6/9 forwards, an interesting dynamic may play out as there are plenty of forwards playing well in camp, but we won't know the impact of any of these players until the final roster is announced.

The blueline, the Rangers major deficiency in 07-08, has improved. Wade Redden gives the Rangers a solid outlet pass, even if he's lost a step from years past. Marc Staal is developing into a solid #2 and will look to get more involved offensively this year. And what I believe will be key to the Rangers success, especially on the power play, is taking the load of Michal Rozsival's shoulders. Rozsival logged a ton of ice time last year, much of it playing hurt. If he can stay healthy and provide a booming blast from the point, as he exhibited early on last season, the power play will be much more effective.

Lundqvist is as solid as they come and is probably responsible for the Rangers last three playoff berths.

Better/Worse/The Same (or almost)/Who Knows

Nobody knows how this one's going to play out, but I have to think that less reliance on a superstar is going to play right into Tom Renney's skills. Watch out for New York, especially if they get on a run late.


New captain Mike Richards will look to lead the Flyers to another impressive playoff run, and will do it with a better equipped contingent of forwards. Simon Gagne will be available to start the season this time, and should develop chemistry with Daniel Briere. Jeff Carter is a viable #2 center and an emerging young star that will get better as he grows more confident on the defensive side of the puck. The aquisition of Glen Metropolit will bolster the Flyers' depth and center and provide a good #3 to play with somebody like Hartnell or Upshall.

Claude Giroux will probably emerge as a solid NHL'er this year. He's got the skills to make plays and is very effective one-on-one, defensively or offensively. He could crack the top 6 but is more likely to see 3rd line duty. The Flyers are a year away from the talented James vanRiemsdyk, but Giroux will provide a temporary glimpse of what should be a productive career.

On defense, the Braydon Coburn aquisition is looking like one of the best moves in hockey. Coburn significantly improved last season and showed that he could be effective in all situations. Kimmo Timonen was probably their best all-around defenseman last year, and the team severely felt his absence when he was diagnosed with a blood clot between rounds 2 and 3 of the 08 playoffs. Beyond those two, though, could be trouble. Steve Eminger, Randy Jones, Lasse Kukkonen, and Ryan Parent will probably round out the top 6. Parent has the most potential to shine of these players.

Marty Biron showed in the playoffs why he needed to be a starter in this league. Still, there were times in 07-08 that Biron looked lost, and it cost the Flyers games down the stretch. Luckily they were able to rebound with two solid wins to close out the regular season, earn a playoff berth, and get their momentum rolling.

Better/Worse/The Same (or almost)/Who Knows

Does Gagne stay healthy? If so, they're almost certainly going to produce better - however it's going to be up to the defense corps to step up and play like an NHL top 6.


The Isles have had some interesting happenings within their organization over the last few years. Between the 15 year contract given to DiPietro, the hiring/firing of Neil Smith, the appointment of Garth Snow to be GM, the firing of Ted Nolan (apparently because he played the vets too much, though that seems to be all Snow and co. like to sign), and an obvious lack of offensive production, the Islanders have been an NHL sideshow hardly worth the price of admission. At least this year, the youth seems to be more of a factor.

Kyle Okposo is the truth and has a great nose for the net. Hopefully he gets all the ice time he deserves (and all that the team's best player deserves, because he probably is the most talented Islander), because this kid's going to be a force. Blake Comeau also looks promising, and Sean Bergenheim showed the ability to score from all areas of the offensive zone.

Signing Marc Streit was a pretty solid move, but he won't be as effective as he was on the PP in Montreal. Streit isn't great defensively but should give the Isles an offensive backbone on the blueline.

The signing of Doug Weight, to me, just doesn't make any sense...that is, if I buy into this whole claim that Ted Nolan was fired because he played his veterans too much. Weight will see top 6 duty as long as he stays healthy and will probably develop some chemistry with Bill Guerin. Mike Comrie got off to a great start last year, but faded in the middle of the season. The bottom line is that this team needs to score. If they can sacrifice defense to get some offensive opportunity, they should. Let DiPietro stand on his head. That is...

if he can stay healthy. We're already seeing why signing players, especially goalies, to 15 year contracts is ridiculous. DiPietro is arguable the most talented American goaltender playing right now, but problems with his hip, knee, and concussion issues over the past couple of years have sidelined him too often. You would have thought Snow would be looking for a solid backup, but Joey MacDonald will have to cut it for this year.

Look, this year could be bad. Actually I'm going out on a limb here (not really), and saying it WILL be bad. But Isles fans, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Snow and co. had a great draft, stocking up on 2nd and mid round picks to bolster the farm system. Josh Bailey may have been taken too early in the draft, but he looks good in camp right now. So don't despair. Hell, your team could even overachieve this year and have a shot at an 8th seed run. But it isn't likely.

Better/Worse/The Same (or almost)/Who Knows

I don't know how you could be much worse. The Isles got off to a decent start last year, which probably prevented them from finishing in the cellar and grabbing Stamkos...or trading the pick away for more 2nd rounders.
Filed Under:   penguins   devils   rangers   flyers   islanders  
September 29, 2008 12:38 PM ET | Delete
Dont forget about Goligoski, he has jumped to the Pens top power play.
September 29, 2008 6:44 PM ET | Delete
Put down the pipe if you think the Devils and Rangers are better then the Flyers
September 30, 2008 12:11 PM ET | Delete
LOL where did you see that I ranked either team above the Flyers? I haven't ranked anybody, I only did this in the order that teams finished the division last year.Anyway here it is - the Devils WILL be better than the Flyers, and the Rangers won't be. And I'm a Ranger fan. You should hit the pipe every once in awhile too, captain originality.
September 30, 2008 12:56 PM ET | Delete
dude! excellent stuff. good writing style with terrific observations.
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