NHL Atlantic Division: 2009/10 Review and Preview

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NHL Atlantic Division: 2009/10 Review and Preview
(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

Atlantic Division

 

The Atlantic produced the Stanley Cup champion and four Eastern Conference playoff teams, yet only managed to have the third-best winning percentage in the league at .561.

 

The New York Islanders are apparently really that bad. Here’s a look at the teams from the Atlantic in the order they finished last year.

 

 

New Jersey Devils

 

New Jersey won the hard-fought division by seven points. They then lost a first-round, seven-game series to the Carolina Hurricanes. The year before, they looked ordinary in losing to the Rangers in the first round.

 

Former Devil coach Jacques Lemaire has been brought back to try to recapture some magic from 1995.

 

Brodeur has looked beatable and old in his last two playoff series. Last year, he had most of the season off due to injury and still, the 37-year-old goalie looked creaky and slow in the playoffs.

 

Scott Clemmenson did an able job filling in for Brodeur, playing almost half the team's minutes with a .917 save percentage and 2.39 GAA.

 

Brodeur played about 37 percent of his team's minutes with a .916 save percentage and 2.42 GAA. His five shutouts in 31 games were very impressive.

 

It was comparable to Steve Mason’s league-leading total. Clemmenson was snatched up by Florida to back up Vokoun.

 

The Devils picked up Yann Danis from the Islanders for the NHL minimum to support Brodeur.  

 

The Devils are famed for playing tight, defensive hockey. Last year, they gave up a middle of the pack 29.5 shots per game (13th out of 30).

 

The goals against was still fourth-best in the league at 2.52. Even a slight decline in the goaltending has to be expected to drop the Devils closer to the middle of the league in goals against.

 

Other organizations over the years have been poaching New Jersey Devil defensemen. They last won a cup in 2002-'03 beating, the Ducks in seven. Scott Stevens, Ken Danyeko, and Tommy Albelin have since retired.

 

Brain Rafalski was picked up by the Red Wings. Scott Niedermeyer moved on to Anaheim.

 

Colin White is the only defenseman left from that Stanley Cup-winning team. The New Glasgow, Nova Scotia player still provides a nasty, physical element on this team.

 

Paul Martin brings an adequate puck-moving element to the defense. He quarterbacks the power play and provides half a point a game.

 

Twenty-eight-year-old Swede Johnny Oduya was a sought-after RFA defender. He’s also a strong skater, providing some offensive minutes from the back end. T

 

hey experimented with Ansii Salmela from the Swedish elite league last year as a possible power play quarterback. He didn’t work out and was moved on to Atlanta.

 

Niclas Havelid moved back to Sweden. Bryce Salvador and Andy Greene are the veterans likely to fill out the defense.

 

This team needs a first rate power play quarterback to boost the offense. Matt Corrente may get a chance on the point. The strong skater is tough as nails and has a hard if erratic shot.

 

Mike Mottau has played 76 and 80 games in his two years with the Devils, he was +24 last year, and is looking good again this preseason.

 

Bobby Holik retired and John Madden moved on to Chicago, spelling an end to the team’s veteran checkers.

 

Zach Parise is the best American scorer in the league and easily a top 10 NHL forward.

 

Old power forward Brian Rolston is going to need to score 30 to try to justify his $5 million salary. Rolston played hurt most of last year and missed a fifth of his team's games.

 

Brian Gionta signed with the Montreal Canadiens.

 

Patrick Elias is out for three to six weeks after undergoing groin muscle surgery.

 

Travis Zajac and 34-year-old Jamie Langenbrunner will be trying to provide the offense until Elias gets back. Shanahan has been brought back for another run.

 

This aging lineup also has Jay Pandolfo in it and injuries will abound.

 

The reasonably sized, moderately talented Danius Zubrus still provides a minimal offensive contribution for his $3.4 million a year. Any other offense they may get could come from Nicklas Bergfors. New Jersey’s goals for will probably decrease this year.

 

The team is awfully old and I’m expecting a lot of injuries. I believe Brodeur has reached an age where he will stop carrying this franchise.

 

I think they’ll slip out of the playoffs and back into mediocrity. I see them falling behind Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, and the Rangers in what might be the toughest division in hockey this year. I look for them to finish ninth in the conference.

 

 

Pittsburgh Penguins

 

Pittsburgh finished fourth in the East last year and went on to win the Stanley Cup. Their playoff run took them through Philadelphia in six, Washington in seven, Carolina in four, and Detroit in seven. There were no gimmees on that list.

 

Marc-Andre Fleury had a regular and postseason worthy of a first overall draft pick. My contention has always been he was too high-strung to win the big prize. Sigh, wrong again.

 

He played the eighth most minutes in the league and had pretty good middle of the pack numbers during the regular season (.912 save pct, 2.67 GAA, 4 SO). He had a great playoff season.

 

Pittsburgh lost last year's backup, Mathieu Garon, to Columbus. Brent Johnson was signed from Washington for a couple years to be the backup goalie.

 

Their Stanley Cup-winning defense was raided by teams looking for Stanley Cup winners.

 

Rob Scuderi was picked up by the LA Kings. Leviathan-like Hal Gill was poached by the Montreal Canadiens. Phillippe Boucher retired.

 

Brooks Orpik is locked up for years and is a quality, physical, shutdown defenseman. He draws the occasional bone head penalty, but that comes with the territory.

 

Sergei Gonchar added a gutsy one-legged Stanley Cup performance to his resume. He’s already the definitive offensive defenseman.

 

If Gonchar gets hurt this year, it became apparent that Kris Letang can fill ably as a quarterback on the power play. He’s got a big shot and his confidence moving the puck last year seemed to triple with all his ice time.

 

Alex Goligoski has some offensive skills and had a tryout last year. He didn’t quite pan out, but he’s another year older and about to get another chance.

 

Mark Eaton is a nice, steady, professional defenseman with no offensive capability. He’s starting to creep a little up the depth chart, which is trouble for Pittsburgh defensively.

 

They signed Jay McKee to round out their depth chart and replace some of the physicality they lost when Gill left. McKee is probably a bit of an upgrade from Gill, but he’s reminiscent of Kyle Maclaren and Rhett Warriner.

 

Those two are physical defensemen who’ve worn down to the point that when they play hard, they get hurt. Jay McKee is just about there and when he goes down, the unproven Goligoski is suddenly their fifth defensemen.

 

Crosby and Malkin are two of the best forwards in the game.

 

Jordan Staal, Matt Cooke and Maxime Talbot were a great checking line with offensive skill.

 

After them, it’s aged sniper Bill Guerin and power forward Chris Kunitz.

 

Pascal Dupuis, last year's free agent signing is still around to play on a checking or fourth line.

 

Fedotenko, Craig Adams and, Tyler Kennedy round out the offense. Eric Goddard is perhaps the worst goon in hockey.

 

I’m predicting Pittsburgh will come into the new season imbued with confidence. They've started slow the last couple years, but I’m thinking they take off from the beginning

and win the Atlantic Division and Eastern Conference from the start this year.

 

I don’t believe they can repeat, but hey, hardly anyone does.

 

 

Philadelphia Flyers         

 

Philadelphia had a good year, finishing fifth in the East and third in the Atlantic. They lost home ice advantage to Pittsburgh in the last week of the season and then lost in the playoffs in six games in a toucg series with the Penguins.

 

The goaltending was seen as a major problem and Martin Biron and Anterro Niitimaki were sent on their way. Replacing them were the volatile Ray Emery, returning chastened from the KHL, and Brian Boucher, the almost starter who has never quite made it.

 

Philly can do well in the regular season without a real goalie, but before the playoffs start, they’ll have had to make a move for one. Historically, Pittsburgh hasn’t managed to have a first quality starting goalie since Pelle Lindbergh. 

 

The defense has seemed too thin and susceptible to injury, so Philadelphia paid a steep price sending Joffrey Lupul, Luke Sbisa, and two first-round picks to Anaheim for Chris Pronger.

 

Pronger is still the archetypical shutdown defenseman and he gives you half a point a game to boot. He will play 23-27 minutes a game and he’ll make everyone else in the depth chart look better. At 35, his skills are waning and Philadelphia will want to win a Cup in a hurry if this deal is to make any sense.

 

Kimmo Timmonen has been the No. 1 defenseman in Philly since he came over from Nashville. He gives you 25 minutes a night, flawless play, and half a point a game as well.

 

Braydon Coburn has been a steady defensive presence.

 

Matt Carle was picked up last year and for his $3.5 million a year. He provides sketchy offensive play and is scary in his own zone.

 

Randy Jones, coming back from injury, has been waived. Philadelphia may be trying to get a handle on cap problems at the beginning of the season rather then have them bite them at the end. Jones has been a key defenseman for Philly for years now.

 

Ole-Kristian Tollefson has been brought in to provide a cost effective, physical element.

 

The Flyers don’t want Pronger injuring his hands in fights. Ryan Parent or Danny Syvret may be asked to be the sixth defenseman on this team.

 

The Flyers have offensive depth that most teams only dream of.

 

Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Simon Gagne, Daniel Briere, and Scott Hartnell provide veteran scoring.

 

Mike Knuble and Joffrey Lupul have taken their 52 goals and left. Philadelphia is hoping that a healthy Daniel Briere and youngsters Claude Giroux and James VanRiemsdyk more than make up for it.

 

Laperierre and Carcillo have also been added to insure no talented player has to fight all season long.

 

I expect Philadelphia to finish second in the Atlantic and fourth in the East. They’ll do better once they sign a real goalie.

 

 

New York Rangers    

 

New York finished fourth in the Atlantic and seventh in the East last season. Despite their horrible offense, they almost eked out a first-round victory over the ballyhooed Washington Capitals. Washington won the last two games to take the seven-game series.

 

The Rangers' strength is goaltending. Henrik Lundquist played 84 percent of his team's minutes. He had near top 10 numbers in save percentage and goals against per game numbers. Steve Valiquete has been retained as the cost effective backup goalie.

 

The defense is now being led by sophomore shutdown defenseman Marc Staal.

 

Veterans Wade Redden and Michael Roszival provide competent if unspectacular defensive minutes. Roszival provides a bit more offense and Redden a bit more defense. While they’re both grossly overpaid, they’re good skaters and can move the puck.

 

Dan Girardi is another youngster with good offensive skills who’s playing a bigger role on New York’s defense.

 

The rest of the defense will be youngsters Michael Del Zotto, Michael Sauer, or Matthew Gilroy. Some of these youngsters won’t work out, but they can pick the best and run with them. I’m expecting a better defense this year in New York.

 

The biggest problems New York had last year were no cap room combined with a miserable offense.

 

They managed to unload Scott Gomez’s $7 million contract for Chris Higgins and Ryan McDonouagh.

 

They convinced Markus Naslund to retire before he turned 36, saving them another $4 million cap hit.

 

Glen Sather then rushed out and signed premier talent Marion Gaborik away from Minnesota. Gaborik could score 50 in this league. The downside is that he’s always injured and they signed him for five years. I expect him to play most of this year and revitalize the Ranger attack.

 

They’ve also picked up Kotalik. He’s got some skills and a big shot and can play the point on the power play

 

Vaclav Prospal has been scooped cheaply from Tampa Bay. He may provide some offense.

 

Chris Higgins is a season away from 52 points. He’s quick and skilled and can make a contribution.

 

Chris Drury is overpaid as a second line center, but he’s talented and good on the faceoff.

 

Brandon Dubinsky was signed and may play with Gaborik. If he does, take him in your hockey pool.

 

Callahan and Anisimov provide the Rangers with more young potential.

 

Donald Brashear was brought in to be the goon. Unfortunately, he can’t skate anymore.

 

Avery is starting the season on a bad knee. This appears to be the only place on earth that he can make a contribution. He needs to keep this job.

 

I like the Rangers' lineup. They’ve improved and even created a little (very little) cap room. I see them finishing third in the Atlantic and fifth in the East. This team could do something in the playoffs with a healthy Lundquist and Gaborik.

 

 

New York Islanders              

 

The Islanders were the worst team in hockey last year. Charles Wang has expressed how sorry he is he ever bought an NHL franchise. He needs to take a marketing course. They’re now playing in what could be the toughest division in hockey. That won’t help them excel.

 

The Islanders were building their organization around the man Michael Farber of Sports Illustrated has dubbed the Idi Amin of hockey.

 

Yes, Rick DiPietro is goaltender for life. Injuries had him playing only five games last year. He’s apparently still not ready to start the season.

 

The Islanders, with so many organizational holes, spent their free agency money on two proven NHL starters: the 40-year-old Dwayne Roloson and Philly’s Martin Biron. Hey, they let their goalies from last year, Yann Danis and Joey Macdonald, leave. They also drafted two goalies this year.

 

The Islanders are still paying Alexei Yashin $3.25 million this year and $4.75 million next year.

 

If they suddenly decide to buy out DiPietro, they’d be paying almost $7 million a year for players they no longer have next year. I’m still trying to figure out why they got rid of Luongo. 

 

The defense isn’t the cheapest in the league. Mark Streit provides good offensive minutes and has improved in his own zone. After him it’s Witt, Sutton, Martinek, Gervais, Jack Hillen III, and Frederick Meyer IV.

 

The offense is comprised of all youngsters. Doug Weight, Trent Hunter, and Jon Sim are the veteran element.

 

Their best young talent, Kyle Okposo, is suffering from a concussion he got in an exhibition game. Youngsters John Tavares, Blake Comeau, Josh Bailey, and Jeff Tambellini will all get a chance to prove themselves.

 

Picking up Robbie Schremp from Edmonton is a heck of a move. They might have picked up a player for nothing and he’ll finally get a chance to try to prove himself.

 

I’d expect to see improvement from this talented bunch, but a real veteran, offensive talent for them to play with and learn from would have been useful.

 

Picking the New York Islanders to once again be the worst team in the league is the safest bet in hockey. Another year of drafting will hopefully move them out of the basement.     

 

 

2008-09 Final Standings                                     2009-10 Prediction

1/New Jersey Devils (3)              106                 1/Pittsburgh Penguins(1)           118

2/Pittsburgh Penguins (4)             99                  2/Philadelphia Flyers (4)           101

3/Philadelphia Flyers (5)              99                  3/New York Rangers (5)            99

4/New York Rangers (7)              95                  4/New Jersey Devils  (9)            89

5/New York Islanders (15)          61                   5/New York Islanders (15)        62

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