Although I don't doubt a single division is capable of locking down 5 of the 8 playoff slots, I tend to think even if so it wouldn't be the Atlantic. Last year, all but the Flyers made a show in the playoffs. The Devs and Pens each finished well up in the standings, while the Rangers and Islanders just slipped in towards the last week of the season.
The hardest part about this season is, I see the exact same happening again and still find it hard to accept. Now, I do expect the Rangers to finish with more than 94 points. In fact, I expect them to be top contenders for the conference. However, this is a cup year for them. No cup this year means they have to wave good bye to a lot of players with nothing to show for it.
The Pens have a great young team...blah blah blah. We've heard it before and again and will hear it all year. Seriously, I'm a Pens fan and I feel it's a bit overstated. Maybe it's my utter disdain for a preseason spotlight, or perhaps I'm just anticipating the start of the season, but let's just get things started and THEN we can talk.
The Devils will be contenders, there's no doubt. However, I don't see them finishing higher than third. I honestly feel the one and two slots will be owned by the Pens and Rangers, with the Rangers ultimately coming out on top. I expect the Devils to finish 4 or 6 points out in third. It's gonna be close.
As for the Islanders: Surprise me. A lot of people love to trash talk the Islanders. I'd love to see them finish at the least as playoff contenders in the 8 seed again. Even in just the first round last year, they still caught my eye as a team that can certainly grow. A healthy DiPietro is key.
And then there's the Flyers. This is still the one team I think will cost the Atlantic a full representation in the playoffs. It just takes time to build. I've seen it since 2000 with the Pens. I think Biron is a great goalie. Gagne still managed to pop 41 goals in last year, but only tallied 68 points. Why? Well, who was he going to pass it to? This year may be a different story, and I hope for Flyers' fans it is. But I just don't see the Flyers making a huge run till at least next season.
I'd like to hear what you guys have to say.