The Atlantic Division proved to be one of the toughest divisions in hockey last year, with four of five teams making the playoffs and one winning the Stanley Cup. This year things don't look any easier for the New York Rangers, with division rivals adding key assets to their teams. Here are my predictions for the Atlantic Division.
1. Philadelphia Flyers
After a disappointing first round exit last season, the Flyers made some big changes to their roster. Both goalies, Martin Biron and Antero Niittymaki were let go and replaced with Ray Emery and Brian Boucher. While I don't think it was much of a change for goalies, they went on to add defenseman Chris Pronger to head their defensive corps. Pronger is gritty, shut down defenseman and will help keep the offensive threats in the division off the score sheet. The Flyers were also 5th overall in the whole league in scoring (above the Penguins) last season and keep most of their offense for the upcoming season. The Flyers are a huge favorite for a Stanley Cup run this season.
2. New York Rangers
This year looks to be a promising one for our boys in blue. Not only did the Rangers manage to get rid of one of their bad contracts (See: Scott Gomez), they managed to pick up a superstar in Marian Gaborik. Many people are concerned about his health, but I am sure this year will be a great year for him (See: Martin Havlat). The Ranger also landed Ales Kotalik, Chris Higgins, and Vaclav Prospal, which will all help the Rangers scoring woes of the past. As always, Lundqvist will be a solid net minder, and the only real question mark is the inexperience of the defense.
3. Pittsburgh Penguins
While the Penguins won the Stanley Cup last year, they lost a couple of key players in the off season this year. Losing Hall Gill, Rob Scuderi, and Petr Skyora, will not help the Penguins with a repeat. Although the Penguins went on to win the cup last year, one can not forget the trouble the Penguins had mid season; almost missing the playoffs. A Stanley Cup hangover is in effect for these Penguins.
4. New Jersey Devils
The Devils ended their season in a heart breaker last year in Game 7 against the Carolina Hurricanes., and picked up their off season on the same note. The Devils did not do much and let forwards John Madden, Brian Gionta, and Mike Rupp go, as well as goaltender Scott Clemmenson. There also was a coaching change and one has to wonder if Jacques Lemaire is going to actually help the Devils. I believe he is only going to hinder Zach Parise's and Travis Zajac's production.
5. New York Islanders
Many people are writing the Islanders off this season as bottom dwellers of the league, but the Islanders have potential. John Tavares is what this organization needed to head into the right direction. The Islanders added two quality goaltenders in Marty Biron and Dwayne Roloston, which can only help. Although the defense is still suspect, the youth on this team will help the Islanders compete night in and out.
What are your Atlantic Division rankings? What teams from the Atlantic Division do you think will make the playoffs? Post your response in a comment below.