Division Team Rankings: A Storm in the Atlantic

Evan BogrisContributor IJuly 14, 2010

PHILADELPHIA - JUNE 09:  Mike Richards #18 of the Philadelphia Flyers handles the puck against the Chicago Blackhawks in Game Six of the 2010 NHL Stanley Cup Final at the Wachovia Center on June 9, 2010 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The Atlantic Division continued its trend of  producing legitimate cup contending threats during the 2009-2010 season. The teams along the Atlantic coast were blessed with premier talents such as: Sidney Crosby, Zach Parise, Henrik Lundqvist, John Tavares, Evgeni Malkin, Marian Gaborik, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and many more. In fact, last season was the first since 2005-2006 that did not include four out of the five Atlantic Division teams in the playoffs (Rangers missed continuing this trend by a single point). That is quite an unbelievable streak when you consider that each conference consists of three leagues each with five teams. Needless to say, competition in the Atlantic Division is fierce, and the 2011-2012 seasons looks to bring a similar battle level as its predecessors.

“Is the Atlantic Division stronger this year than last?”

Absolutely. I base this on the fact that many of the young superstars for each respective team have gotten more experience and are another year closer to their full potential. Players under this premise include: John Tavares, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Claude Giroux, Zach Parise, Travis Zajac, Anssi Salmela, Brandon Dubinsky, Marc Staal, Michael Del-Zotto, John Tavares, Josh Bailey, Kyle Okposo, Blake Comeau, Sidney Crosby (yes he can get better), Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang (among others). These players have all taken further strides growing into the hockey player their respective general management believe they can be. With so many young, talented stars it is easy to determine that the Atlantic Division is getting better.

I believe the balance of power, however, has shifted. Two of the five teams have become legitimate cup contenders, while another is a playoff team, and the other two continue to rebuild. The teams are getting better, but two teams will dominate the division this season.

Each team in the Atlantic Division is different however, and it is important to take an in-depth look at each squad to see areas of strength, weakness, and overall power ranking when compared to each other. I will take a more detailed view at the areas in which each team has gotten better, worse, and how they ultimately stack up to the heavy competition level that their geographical location provides. Further, I will power rank each team (1st through 5th) on where they stand in the present and the future (in 3-5 years with their current system).

Pittsburgh Penguins:
-Overview: The Penguins are popularly categorized as the class of the Atlantic and rightly so. They are the last Atlantic Division team to win the Stanley Cup (2009 playoffs) and boast the strongest depth at center in the entire NHL with Crosby, Malkin, and Staal. They are guarded by a legitimate defensive core which is grounded in Paul Martin, Brooks Orpik, and Kris Letang. The number one overall pick in the 2003 draft, Marc-Andre Fleury, tends the nets for Pittsburgh and represents Pittsburgh’s biggest flaw.

-Strengths: Pittsburgh has its core in place. Their depth at center is unmatched in the league and they have enough depth at wing to utilize their superstar talent down the middle. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are among the top-level talent in the NHL and their best days still lie ahead. The Penguins still have a majority of the players that were so important during their 2009 Stanley Cup Championship run; translation: they are still a cup contender.

They lost a vitally important defenseman in Sergei Gonchar this offseason, but quickly rectified the loss of the top-flight defenseman by filling his skates with the feet of ex-Devil Paul Martin. Martin, who averaged over 20 minutes of playing time per game for the Devils, rounds out the Penguins’ defensive depth with a work-horse specializing in defending his own end of the ice.  He will be the leader of the defense corps that already consists of some great defensemen (namely: Orpik, Letang). Martin replacing Gonchar may result in a less potent power play, but better overall defense/penalty killing. Martin, at 29, is still in his prime while Gonchar is aging/declining. Mihalek sweetened the offseason more for the Penguins in signing with Pittsburgh; he will be a solid shut down defenseman for them.

In all, the Penguins are stronger defensively this year and are just as threatening up front as they were during the 2009 playoffs. They remain the ‘class’ of the Atlantic Division.

-Weaknesses: Every great hero/empire/team has a weakness and the Penguins are no different. While Pittsburgh boasts the best balance of offense and defense, they still lack an elite #1 goaltender. Marc-Andre Fleury has shown inconsistency in his career and has been known for having bad games in important situations. Last years Eastern Conference Semi-Finals against the Canadiens proved this premise true when Fleury turned in an awful effort during game seven. He was yanked from the game and the Penguins were ultimately eliminated from the 2010 playoffs. While I applaud Fleury’s great athletic ability (speed, reaction, stamina); I find many flaws in his technique/mechanics.

Fleury has positioning problems which leaves his athletic prowess (mainly his ability to react) as his only chance to make big saves. Many of his “big saves” are a result of bad positioning which makes his last second reflex saves seem more dramatic than they needed to be. Entertainment value goes up with this style, but so do the goals against. Fleury’s stats during the course of the season appear upper-echeleon in comparison to many NHL goaltenders, but I argue that his stats would be a lot more revealing if he played for a team like the Atlanta Thrashers or Tampa Bay Lighting (a team lacking defense). Fleury is a good goaltender, but is not at that elite level which would make the Penguins easy Stanley Cup favorites for the next dozen years.

The Penguins also lack strong prospect. Left winger, Eric Tangradi and defenseman, Simon Despres are good blue chip prospects, but the list of quality prospects quickly ends after them. They have many forward prospects, (Jeffrey, Hanowski, Johnson), with a ceiling  about as high as becoming a third line forward. With Crosby, Malkin, Staal, and Kunitz on the roster the need for skilled forwards is not as high in demand, yet it is necessary to have some supply on the back shelf in case of injury or trade/free agency; the Penguins lack this supply. The various defensive prospects (Lovejoy, Velichek, Strait) are good enough to develop into bottom three NHL defenseman, but are probably still a year away (with the exception of Lovejoy). The Penguins lack top-flight prospects and instead are relying on their top players to carry the load for at least the forseeable future.
-2010-2011 Regular Season Division Rank: 1st  in Atlantic Division.
-How Far in 2011 Playoffs?: Eliminated in Eastern Conference Finals.
-Future Watch Division Rank (2013-2014 season): 1st in Atlantic Division.

Philadelphia Flyers:
-Overview: The Flyers surprised the NHL world during the 2010 playoffs with an incredible run that ended in overtime during game 6 of the Stanley Cup Finals. Philadelphia. who snuck by on the last day of the season with a shoot out win against the Rangers, displayed their great offensive depth and ability to play with the best teams when it mattered most. Their Achilles heel remained the same however, as weak goaltending eventually brought them back to Earth. Though they still have key issues to fix, the Flyers remain one of the strongest teams in the Atlantic Division and even the Eastern Conference.

-Strengths: Offense. It is simple to classify the Philadelphia Flyers greatest strength as they have tremendous scoring depth within their top six players. Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, and Claude Giroux represent the offense core that the Flyers management has developed and for Flyer fans these players symbolize a great future for the franchise.

Danny Briere, Scott Hartnell, and Simon Gagne (if he refuses to waive his no trade clause) are all important puzzle pieces that fit nicely with young core mentioned above. Briere, public enemy number one for Flyers before the 2010 playoffs, displayed his offensive prowess when the Flyers needed it most during the playoffs( 12 goals, 30 points to lead the NHL). He was criticized by many Flyer fans for not living up to his contract ($6.5 million against the cap), but I feel that he has earned the respect of the Flyers fan base and his numbers this season will benefit from it; pencil him in for a 75 point season. Scott Hartnell is coming off a difficult season where off ice issues seemed to hamper his game; expect him to put up more “Hartnell-like” numbers this season. With Simon Gagne you get what you expect: if healthy he’ll bury 30 goals and 70-80 points for the season, if not then the Flyers overall offense will take a hit.

The Flyers top six is dangerous from all angles and give the Flyers the most balanced offense in the Atlantic Division. Although the Penguins have the stronger superstar players, the Flyers have more scoring depth on the top two lines and are more battle-ready with gritty players like Richards, Gagne, and Hartnell. The Flyers gritty style up front is exactly the type of game needed to succeed in the playoffs; the offseason acquisition of Jody Shelley will provide more sandpaper-esque play in the Flyers bottom six.

Ville Leino also represents a bright spot for the Flyers as he performed quite admirably for Philadelphia after they acquired him from Detroit. He was a pertinent part of the playoff push and it will be exciting to see how he fairs in his first full season as a Flyer.

The Flyers most glaring deficiency is still in plain view as they fail to answer their goaltending issues. As constructed presently, Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher are the two goaltenders highest on Philadelphia’s depth chart. Leighton was a yeoman in the 2010 playoffs as he helped lift the team to the Stanley Cup Finals. In the finals however, Leighton looked exposed by Chicago. He allowed some soft goals and failed to make big saves when they were most necessary. Further, he let in an extremely soft goal to clinch the Stanley Cup for Chicago during overtime of game six. In that situation you need a strong goaltender with confidence, cunning, and skill; the Flyers lacked that type of goaltender and it cost them. This seemingly black-hole still exists for the Flyers and represents their most obvious weakness.

The Flyers roster is also filled with many question marks. Recently signed forward, Nikolai Zherdev, is an enigmatic player who seems to shift the nuances of Philadelphia’s playing style into a different direction. Zherdev is a great talent, but lacks physicality in his game and has been stigmatized as lazy. The Flyers normally look to fill their roster with physically intimidating, gritty, power forwards who balance aggression with skill. Zherdev is a ‘soft’ creative forward who uses finesse rather than fight to move the puck. His style seems to counter the Flyers and for that I see Zherdev as a mediocre signing.

The Flyers, although a young squad, lack depth in their farm system. Many of their top chip prospects have made the jump to the NHL and this has left a void in their prospect pool. They have decent prospects to fill the blue line in Erik Gustafsson, Kevin Marshall, and Marc-Andre Bourdon, but lack true potential talent at forward. Goalie prospect, Joacim Eriksson, had an exceptional season last year, but must prove he can make the transition to the North American style of play; he represents another question mark in the Flyers prospect pool.

Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen are both another year older and begin to enter the twilight of their careers. Pronger proved in the playoffs that he is still a force to be reckoned with, but he will only lose more steps and decline as time passes. Timonen will face the same fate as I expect him to have a down year. The Flyers have a solid young defensive core and the addition of Mezaros will certainly help the defensive depth. The addition of Mezaros will help balance the regression of Pronger and Timonen resulting in a defense very equal to last years team. This defense will be unable to considerably lower their total goals against of last year because of the lack of a number one goalie.

Lastly, their limited cap space makes it very difficult to sign needed free agents and/or make important trades during the trade deadline. How much this hurts Philadelphia down the road remains to be seen.

-2010-2011 Regular Season Division Rank: 2nd in Atlantic Division.
-How Far in 2011 Playoffs?: Eliminated in Stanley Cup Finals.
-Future Watch Ranking (2013-2014 season): 4th in Atlantic Division

New York Rangers:
The Rangers had a mediocre 2009-2010 season mostly because of their lack of goal scoring talent. Acquiring Marian Gaborik last off-season proved beneficial as he had a tremendous and healthy season, but the Rangers were unable to make the playoffs even with his contributions. The Rangers remain steady in net as Henrik Lundqvist continues to prove he is a top notch goaltender. The rebuilding process has given many opportunities for young players like Del Zotto, Gilroy, and Anisimov to establish themselves as NHL players. This trend should not change as the Rangers continue their goal of rebuilding. Their salary cap problems are still very much the same going into this 2010-2011 season. Will the Rangers rebuild a once proud franchise for the Madison Square Garden faithful? Time will tell.

-Strengths: The Rangers have been fortunate enough to have Henrik Lundqvist between the pipes for the past several seasons. He is the most important player for New York as he has kept the Rangers in playoff contention since his tenure began in 2005-2006. Lundqvist has entered his prime and looks to continue his elite play as a top three goaltender in the league. The Rangers have also acquired Martin Biron via free agency who is a legitimate back-up goaltender and will give Henrik a break when necessary. Lundqvist has been known to have periods of inconsistency (usually in December), and with Biron there is a solution to the overuse of Lundqvist. Goaltending for the NY Rangers is a great strength.

The Rangers have a plethora of talented prospects who are beginning to earn their place on the big league roster. Expect Evgeny Grachev to battle for a forward spot as he provides size (which the Rangers greatly lack) and skill. Center, Derek Stepan, has signed an entry-level contract with the Rangers and will begin his development with the Hartford Wolf Pack unless he makes a tremendous impression during training camp. The gifted Minnesota native shows great potential in his play-making ability and will be a welcomed addition when he is ready to make the jump to the NHL. The Rangers have also signed prospect Ryan McDonagh, who played at the collegiate level in Wisconsin with teammate Stepan, to an entry-level contract with hopes that he will be able to make an immediate impact on defense and prove himself strong enough to earn a roster spot right out of camp.The speedy Chris Kreider continues to develop nicely at left-wing and appears to be a year or two away from competing for a spot on the Rangers.

The Rangers also have  prospects to add overall depth like Michael Sauer, Dane Byers, and Ethan Werek; all have the potential to take a roster spot out of camp. Chad Johnson, the 6’2″ 180lb goaltending prospect, showed great composure when playing back-up for Lundqvist during a short stint last season. Johnson is still a year or two away from earning the back-up role for himself. The Rangers have many prospects on the cusp of becoming full-time NHLers and that is a serious plus.

Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, Artem Anisimov, and Michael Del Zotto are all a year older and bring more experience to the table this upcoming season. Expect each to expand upon last years numbers and become more well-rounded players. This season marks a key moment in Dubinsky’s development as he needs to prove himself as a legitimate second line center by increasing his point totals. Staal should continue to develop into a number one shut down defensemen as he better understands the nuances of the defensive games. Anisimov and Del Zotto should also play with more confidence throughout the season as they have gotten their feet wet in the big leagues and have become better acclimated to the speed of the NHL. Increased production from the Rangers’ core will benefit the team both now and in the future.

-Weaknesses: The Rangers have failed to solve their goal scoring issues which proved to be a huge burden last season. Marian Gaborik provides elite offensive skills and draws heavy attention from opposing defenders, but is not enough to make the Rangers win on his lonesome. The aquisition of Mats Zucarello-Aasen (can’t wait to see how they fit his name on his jersey) is a good one, but his size (or lack thereof) leaves him vulnerable against the bulky, NHL caliber defensemen he will face. Zucarello-Aasen has enough skills to do damage as a forward, but his lack of physicality will be detrimental to his play. Expect him to play in the mold of Brian Gionta with less skill. Although his addition to the Rangers squad is nice, the second line left winger will not provide the production the Rangers’ offense desperately needs. Expect offense to be a reoccurring problem for the Rangers.

The Rangers greatly lack depth at center. Erik Christensen is a good hockey player, but belongs no higher than the third line. He is a cerebral player with grit and skill, but his tenure on the Rangers first line is more representative of how weak the Rangers are down the middle than how skilled Christensen is. Dubinky has yet to prove himself as a legitimate second line center let alone playing for the number one line. Chris Drury’s skill and speed has regressed to the level of a good third line two-way center. Basically, the Rangers have three third line centers filling out the top three lines (Although Dubinsky can be considered a second line center as well). The Rangers lack of depth at center is troubling as they play in a division where their rivals view the center position as a strength, not a weakness.

The Rangers lack of salary cap flexibility is also a concern as most Ranger fans already know. Chris Drury, Wade Redden, and Michael Rozsival are all over payed for their services and are the reason the Rangers have had trouble improving their offense this offseason. Fortunately for the Rangers, Drury and Rozsival’s contracts are expired after the 2011-2012 season which will free up a little over $12 million dollars of cap space. By this time the Rangers should have many of their prospects developed and the money can be used to sign a big name free agent. In the short-term the over priced salaries of Drury, Rozsival, and Redden are crippling, but in the longterm the Rangers will be in good shape as the contracts expire and cap space becomes available.

The Rangers defense still has holes as Matt Gilroy failed to prove himself as a reliable defenseman last season. His speed and offensive prowess is noteworthy, yet he lacks the positional instincts that a legitimate NHL defensemen needs to be successful. He should improve as he gains more experience, but will still struggle as the sixth defenseman. Del Zotto is also very raw and needs more experience before fans are confident with him in his own zone. Staal and Girardi have their work cut out for them as the number one defensive pairing because the defensive skill level drops considerably after them.

-2010-2011 Regular Season Division Rank: 4th in Atlantic Division.
-How Far In 2011 Playoffs? Will not qualify.
-Future Watch Ranking (2013-2014 season):2nd in Atlantic Division.

New Jersey Devils:
The Devils' Management has blessed the Atlantic Division with competitive teams for the past two decades. Their management is certainly the best in the division as they continue to induce a winning attitude. Although not overwhelmingly talented, the Devils are an extremely balanced team led by Zach Parise. New Jersey, however, has had trouble making it passed the first round of the playoffs for the past three seasons. This trend seems strange as they continue their great overall play during each season; even winning the division crown over Pittsburgh in 2009-2010. Will the Devils be able to face their demons and make a splash in this years playoffs?

:  The Devils main strength lies in the attitude of their franchise which is driven solely on the resource of success. Lou Lamoriello consistently fields a strong team each season while paying close attention to his prospect pool creating a balance between home-grown talent and free agency signings. With this balance in place the Devils have created quite a strong nucleus of players.

Zach Parise, Travis Zajac, David Clarkson, and Andy Greene all represent the young core of the New Jersey Devils. These players have proven themselves capable of harnessing the winning attitude of the Devils and will continue to improve this season. Lamoriello has infused this young core with many important free agency pieces such as: Henrik Tallinder, Jason Arnott, and Anton Volchenkov. Mix these new mercenaries with Jamie Langenbrunner, Patrick Elias, Colin White, Bryce Salvador, and Martin Brodeur and you begin to see a balanced line-up unparalleled in the division.

New Jersey has virtually no glaring holes in their line up. Their top six forwards are experienced and reliable point producers. Their defense took a hit when Paul Martin signed with Pittsburgh, but the Devils countered this loss in signing both Volchenkov and Tallinder. The theme for New Jersey is balance as every aspect of their game is well-rounded. They are not overwhelming in either their offense, defense, and/or goaltending, but are consistent enough throughout the line up to compete with any team.

The Devils have strong prospects who are ready to make the transition to the NHL. Most notable are left winger, Mattias Tedenby, and center, Jacob Josefson. Both players provide New Jersey with more offensive depth and should have a beneficial impact in their first NHL season. The Devils prospect pool is deep with potential third line forwards and bottom pairing defensemen which helps reinforce their tremendous balance.

John Maclean’s promotion to head coach is great for the Devils as he will instill a more offensive style of play. This change in style will benefit players like Parise, Langenbrunner, and Zajac as speed becomes more important on the forecheck. The Devils should score more goals this season as a result of Maclean’s promotion. Expect a few more slip-ups on defense than normal, but ultimately the Devils will benefit from more offensive tactics with their young talent.

Physicality is another plus for New Jersey as many of their players are 6’1″ and above. This size benefit will make the Devils a grittier team and tougher to play against. This gritty style will be most helpful in the playoffs where the Devils have failed the past few seasons to make any serious impact. Grit wins games in the playoffs and the Devils need to prove their ability to move forward in the post season.

-Weaknesses: The Devils lack a truly elite talent both at forward and defense. It seems that Kovalchuk is looking to take his talent to Los Angeles and that the Devils will lose out on the immensely talented winger. The lack of an offensive star will force the Devils to score by committee. This concept is possible with the Devils great balance, but the addition of an elite forward would take much stress off the second line players. Expect the Devils to be a streaky team this year as there win/loss record will reflect how hot the team is offensively. This point becomes moot if Kovalchuk does sign with the Devils, but I seriously doubt that happens.

Many of New Jersey’s key players are aging and regressing. Patrick Elias is past his prime at the age of 34 as is Jamie Langenbrunner. Brian Rolson, Jason Arnott, and Martin Brodeur are huge question marks as they are each at the age of 35 and above. It will be interesting to observe how age affects the Devils, particularly during the last two months of the season. The Devils will be slower than last season, but will benefit from not having their players participate in the Winter Olympic Games as they did last year. Age will be a factor that will hurt the Devils in the long run.

Martin Brodeur appears to be in serious decline and this trend should not change this season. The Devils made a good acquisition in signing Johan Hedberg and his talents will be need to provide Brodeur with necessary rest. Goaltending will be New Jersey’s main issue this season as Brodeur’s age leaves many question marks as to how successful he will be. Brodeur heavily relies on his athleticism to make saves. Age will always slow a player down and Brodeur’s athleticism will diminish sharply. Expect more goals against the Devils this season because of Maclean’s aggressive offensive style and Brodeur’s speed regression.

Playoff disappointments have plagued New Jersey in the past couple seasons. Many fans question whether or not the team has the fortitude to make it to the next step. Expect this to play a role if the Devils do indeed make the playoffs this year. Many of the players will feel the pressure of their inability to make it passed the first round the last three years and these intangibles may hurt the Devils once again during the month of April. If the Devils are able to overcome this pressure, they have the ability to surprise many teams throughout the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

-2010-2011 Regular Season Division Rank: 3rd in Atlantic Division
-How Far in 2011 Playoffs?: Eliminated in quarter finals.
-Future Watch Ranking (2013-2014 season): 5th in Atlantic Division

New York Islanders:
-Overview: The Islanders haven’t had much to be proud of over the past decade, but last season proved that the worst is over. Long Island has been in rebuild mode for what feels like forever, but we are finally beginning to see the fruits of their patience. Players like Tavares and Okposo represent the turning tide of the Long Island current and should make the team as exciting as ever. They are still a few years away from being a legitimate contender, but with many youths instilled in the line up and much salary cap flexibility, the Islanders seemed poised to make a statement in the next few seasons. The theme must continue to be patience for those rocking the orange and blue. Will the Islanders be patient enough to bring respectability back to their once crippled franchise? Will they battle for a playoff spot this season?

Youth is the ultimate strength of the Islanders. Their lineup is filled primarily with young players trying to establish themselves in the NHL. This is beneficial for the Islanders as it leaves the team hungry for success and continues their rebuild process. Players like John Tavares, Josh Bailey, Kyle Okposo, Blake Comeau, Andrew MacDonald, and Dustin Kohn all represent the bright future that Long Island has. These players are the foundation upon which the Islanders build there dreams of tomorrow upon. These players are not quite ready yet to bring success to Nassau Coliseum, but they are very close and this year will be vital for that development.

The young Islander core brings tenacity to each game and the offense has the ability to battle with speed and grit. Tavares has proven he is the real deal and is the most elite player on the squad. He will continue to develop into a superstar and the Islanders offense will prosper for it. Josh Bailey also seems ready to break-out and have a career year. His play-making ability is beginning to shine and expect his linemates to score more goals this season. Okposo will continue to develop as a power forward and is probably about one more season away from really hitting his stride (as power forwards usually take a little more time to develop than other forwards). The Islanders’ offense will improve.

The management for Long Island has done a service for the team by refusing to sign any big name players. This may seem like a silly statement on the surface, but the Islanders have a good future ahead of them if they stay the rebuilding course. Leaving opportunities available for young players will prove beneficial in the future as they receive very important playing time and experience. Garth Snow has done a brilliant job realizing this and abstaining from the free agent market for the most part. This has also kept cap space open for the Islanders to utilize in the future.

Salary cap room is not an issue for the Islanders as they over $28 million available on the payroll. This makes it easy for the Islanders management to keep their core for numerous years and fill the roster out with impact free agents when the team is a legitimate cup contender. Salary cap issues are an epidemic in the NHL and the Islanders seem to have the proper vaccine. This is a strength now and later.

-Weaknesses: The Islanders have much youth which will make it difficult for them to compete this season against better opposition. Most of the Islander players are at least 2-3 years from hitting their peak and need this time to develop. In the short-term this a weakness for the Islanders as they are not playoff contenders this year, but the patience will be worth it in the long run.

Rick Dipietro remains a huge question mark for the Islanders. He continues to have injury issues and has not returned to his stellar form of three seasons ago. Roloson proved to be a strong stop-gap last year, but his age (40 years old) will make it difficult for him to keep up with last years pace. Expect goaltending to be a major issue for the Islanders this season unless Rick Dipietro can stay healthy and consistent between the pipes.

The defense for the Islanders is very inexperienced and will need the leadership of Streit and newly acquired defensemen Milan Jurcina to help guide them in their own zone. Once again, the Islanders are in the developmental stage still, this season will be utilized to help build the confidence and experience of the defensive core. Expect Streit to continue his tremedous play for the Islanders. Also expect MacDonald to be given more responsibility in his own zone as he grows into a solid defenseman.

The prospect pool for the Islanders has been greatly diluted now that the majority players are at the NHL level. Though the Islanders remain young, it is necessary to have a talent pool in your prospect system. The Islanders have virtually zero forward prospects who can make any impact, and are limited in defensive prospects as well. It is important for the Islanders to pay much focus to their scouting system in effort to find talented amateur players.

Ultimately, the Islanders greatest weakness now will be their strength in the future; youth. The Islanders continue to build their future and will have to deal with the consequences this year in having another mediocre season. Their weakness, however, is a reflection of lack of experience rather than a lack of skill. In a few years these weaknesses will be reinforced to strengths (except maybe goaltending).

-2010-2011 Regular Season Division Rank: 5th in Atlantic Division.
- How far in 2011 playoffs?: Will not qualify.
-Future Watch Rank (2013-2014 season): 3rd in Atlantic Division.

Bottom Line: The Atlantic Division will be highly competitive yet again this season, but more disparity will exist than last year. The main reason for this premise is that both the Rangers and Islanders continue their rebuilding process and will be vulnerable to higher skilled teams. The Flyers, Penguins, and Devils are ready to contend for the cup now while the Rangers and Islanders are waiting to contend when their young players are fully developed. _X_


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