Recently, things have been eventful for the teams in the Atlantic Division on and off the ice. Here are a couple of thoughts I have for each team.
I just found out a couple of minutes ago that the New York Rangers have fired Tom Renney. I'm sure most Ranger fans would say the wrong guy got fired, but the way the Rangers have been playing, a change was imminent. Sather has a life contract with the Rangers, and Ranger owner Bob Dolan has a man crush on Sather. It's safe to say that his job is solidified in Madison Square Garden, unless he chooses to retire. I'm not sure if Renney will remain within the Ranger organization, but the fact that he got fired is just atrocious.
As of now, I do not think the Rangers have an official replacement for Renney, but I believe it should be between John Tortorella or even Mark Messier to take the reigns next. My question is, will this shakeup, and the impending return of Sean Avery break the Ranger's current freefall? For the sake of the league and the Rangers, I hope and think so. Knowing Sather, if a coaching change does not work, I'm sure he will begin to play around with his roster next.
Pittsburgh has gone 2-2 since firing head coach Michael Therien. While they have not improved considerably as of yet, I still think the Pens are a competitive team and are very much in the playoff hunt. I still consider Pittsburgh a sleeping giant waiting to be awakened. A nine or ten game winning streak will put them back in the conference's top eight, and into the playoffs should they finish there at the end of the season. Then, anything could happen.
I think Pittsburgh is in need of a roster shakeup as well. Malkin and Crosby are good, but they cannot carry this team on their backs through the playoffs. I think the Pens should be aiming to become buyers at the trade deadline, and should try to land themselves a top six forward and a top four defenseman. They definitely have the assets to obtain both, and I think a big roster shakeup like that might be the perfect remedy for this Pittsburgh team.
It is clear that the Devils have had trouble finding the net as of late. They have been shutout 4-0 in two of their last three games, losing to two teams they should have beaten. As a Devils fan, I am not worried at all. We just came off of our hottest streak of the season, in which we defeated Boston and San Jose back to back, so the fatigue from the adrenaline rushes was probably at its worst then, and should be well past by Thursday.
On a positive note, the Devils remain first in the division, which is still wide open between the Devils, Flyers, Rangers, and even Penguins. NJ is also expecting the much anticipated return of Martin Brodeur, who may end up starting in net Thursday at the Rock against Colorado. Head coach Brent Sutter did say that he is not going to ride Marty and have him start every game when he is cleared to play. Brodeur is not going to get his old workload back, which is good in the fact that he can take his time into getting into 100% form, and he will be well rested for the playoffs. Many Devils critics think the Devils will get back into their boring trapping style of game when Marty returns. While I sincerely hope this does not happen, I doubt that is the team's conscious mentality. They have something good going with their scoring in Sutter's new system, and Marty's return should only be considered a plus...for now.
The Islanders seemed to be the team this year to kick off the trade deadline festivities when they sent Mike Comrie back to Ottawa along with Chris Campoli, in exchange for a 2009 1st round pick, and center Dean McAmmond. Despite being -20, I think trading Campoli was a mistake on the Isle's part. He was a young solid defenseman, who has talent, and could have played a big part in the Isle's long term plans. McAmmond played well in his Islanders debut, in which he enjoyed a dominant 4-0 victory over my NJ Devils. McAmond is a veteran presence on a very young Islanders team. He does not possess much skill at this point in his career, but the Isles can benefit more from his overall experience and leadership contributions in the locker room.
The big question for the Islanders is if they are done trading. Personally, I doubt it. I don't think Streit is going anywhere, but it would not surprise me if Bill Guerin and Doug Weight are amongst the next set of players to be voted off the Island. There is much interest in both players out there, and while the return might not be as plentiful as it would have been for these two three or four years ago, they still have a relatively potent trade value.
The Flyers are out to prove something. They remain a competitive team that is very capable of making back to back appearances in the Eastern Conference Finals this year, and are very capable of making a huge splash or two at the deadline. With Danny Briere likely to return before the playoffs (unless something has happened that I do not know about), the Flyers are poised to make another serious cup run. Of course there are questions about their depth in goal and on the blue line, but their offensive forces, led by Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, and Simon Gagne are capable of dominating games.
I think the Flyers have the best mix of homegrown talent, acquired talent, youth, and veteran skill in their lineup of any team in the league. They are a well put together team that is one or two upgrades on defense or in net from becoming a favorite to emerge out of the Eastern Conference this year. Philadelphia is also a very entertaining team to watch, and they will make any series against any team they play in the post season an exciting one to watch for their fans and the fans of their opponents.