On Thursday, the Philadelphia Flyers gave their roster a major overhaul when they traded away leading goal scorer Jeff Carter and team captain Mike Richards.
Carter was sent to the Columbus Blue Jackets for Jakub Voracek and the eighth overall pick in this year's NHL Entry Draft, while Richards was sent to the Los Angeles Kings for Wayne Simmonds, Oscar Moller, Brayden Schenn and a second-round pick in the 2012 draft.
In addition, the Flyers signed goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov to a nine-year contract, making him the starting goaltender the Flyers desperately needed.
These moves make an impact not just on Philadelphia, but on their rivals in the Atlantic Division as well. Both Richards and Carter were dangerous forwards, and Bryzgalov is a solid netminder even while playing behind less talented Phoenix Coyotes squads.
Although teams are nowhere near close to settling their rosters for the 2011-12 season, I decided to speculate and make very early predictions for how the division will shake out next year. The order of this slideshow will be with the top team first and then the rest of the teams ranked from there.
What do you think will happen next season?
As always, let me know in the comments.
2010-11 record: 49-25-8 (106 points, second in Atlantic)
The Penguins will benefit greatly from the return of team captain Sidney Crosby, who sustained a concussion in January. Prior to his injury, Crosby led the Penguins with 66 points in 41 games as well as a plus-20 rating and 10 power-play goals.
None of his teammates even came close to matching his input.
He was also fifth with a 55.7 percent faceoff win percentage, third with 21:55 of ice time and first with 5:25 of ice time on the power play.
Evgeni Malkin is also expected back after sustaining a torn ACL in February and undergoing season-ending surgery. Malkin had 37 points in 43 games while tallying five power-play goals and three game-winning goals.
He was second behind Crosby with 5:20 of ice time on the power play and eighth with 19:49 of overall ice time.
On defense, Kris Letang had a breakout year with 50 points and a plus-15 rating. He was third with 109 blocked shots and led the Penguins with 24:02 of ice time while ranking fourth with 4:28 played on the power play.
Zbynek Michalek, who played the first year of a five-year contract this year, was first with 149 blocked shots and was also a key part of the penalty kill, ranking first with 3:46 logged while the Pens were shorthanded. He was also fourth with 21:50 of ice time.
Marc-Andre Fleury and Brent Johnson will mind the Pittsburgh goal again this season. Fleury posted his fourth 30-win season with a record of 36-20-5 with three shutouts while putting up a .918 save percentage and 2.32 GAA. Johnson, meanwhile, went a respectable 13-5-3 with a .922 save percentage and 2.17 GAA.
The Penguins say goodbye to Max Talbot, who recently declined a three-year contract and will become a free agent. Talbot was a physical player who also played top-10 minutes on the penalty kill. Pittsburgh will also lose veteran Alexei Kovalev and enforcer Eric Godard.
Pittsburgh will benefit from the return of Matt Cooke, who will be coming off a season-ending suspension, as well as being led by Jack Adams winner Dan Bylsma. Several prospects such as Nick Johnson and Eric Tangradi could compete for spots on the roster.
However, the power play has been an issue for several years now, regardless of who is on the roster. This is something that needs to be changed, especially if the Penguins want to make a deep playoff run.
2010-11 record: 44-33-5 (93 points, third in Atlantic)
Although top forwards Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky are currently restricted free agents, it's hard to imagine that the Rangers would release either. Therefore, they are my picks as the Rangers' key forwards to return next year.
Callahan was an alternate captain this year and was second on the Rangers with 48 points. He also had 10 power-play goals and five game-winning goals. In addition, he was second on the Blueshirts with 224 hits and fifth with 19:54 of ice time per game. He was also third with 3:23 played on the power play and fourth with 2:05 logged on the penalty kill.
Dubinsky, meanwhile, led the Rangers with 54 points and had four power-play goals, two shorthanded goals and two game-winning goals. He has been improving every year, and this year was a career season. He was third with 2:13 of ice time on the penalty kill and fourth with 20:13 of ice time per game.
On defense, Marc Staal also had a career season, tallying 29 points and a plus-eight in addition to four power-play goals, two shorthanded goals and two game-winning goals. He was second with 109 blocked shots and led the team with 25:44 of ice time. He was second with 3:08 of ice time on the penalty kill.
Staal will be joined by Dan Girardi, who posted the best season of his career with 31 points. Girardi was second with 24:34 of ice time and first with 3:12 played on the penalty kill. He had 236 blocked shots to lead New York and was also third with 195 hits.
Henrik Lundqvist will once again start in goal. He went 36-27-5 this year with a .923 save percentage and 2.28 GAA. He also posted an impressive 11 shutouts to rank first in the league.
Lundqvist will be backed up by Martin Biron for the second straight year. He was 8-6 in 17 games with a .923 save percentage and 2.13 GAA. Unfortunately, Biron's season ended in February when he broke his collarbone.
The Rangers lost captain Chris Drury, whose contract was bought out. However, it's hard to see this as a major loss, as Drury only played in 24 games and his points totals have been declining for the last four years. He had just five points this year.
I have a great feeling about the Rangers this year. They have a lot of young stars poised for big campaigns. However, I put them in second because they do not have quite as much offensive power as the Penguins. They averaged just 2.73 goals per game last year, good for 16th in the NHL.
2010-11 record: 47-23-12 (106 points, Atlantic Division champions)
After trading their captain and a skilled forward, it is my opinion that the Flyers will take a couple steps back.
Claude Giroux, who led the Flyers last year with 76 points, will return for another season. He was eighth in the NHL with 51 assists and also posted a plus-20 rating. He had eight power-play goals, three shorthanded goals and five game-winning goals.
He contributed in other ways as well, playing over 20 minutes a game and ranking fifth with a 50 percent faceoff win percentage. Giroux can also throw around the body, as he was fifth with 117 hits.
James van Riemsdyk had a successful sophomore season in the league, posting 40 points and a plus-15 rating to go with three power-play goals and four game-winning goals. The 22-year-old improved from his 35 points in 2009-10 and was also seventh with 107 hits.
On defense, Chris Pronger is a likely candidate to take over the captaincy. He was first on the Flyers with 22:29 of ice time and 3:42 on the power play while ranking fourth with 3:05 of ice time per game on the penalty kill.
However, he was limited to just 50 games after dealing with injuries. That said, he still managed 25 points and a plus-seven rating to go with three power-play goals and one game-winning goal.
Andrej Meszaros was fifth in the NHL with a plus-30 and posted his fourth 30-point season this year with 32 points. He was second on the Flyers with 189 hits and third with 139 blocked shots. He was also fourth with 21:07 of ice time.
Bryzgalov will surely take over starting goaltender duties this year. The 2007 Stanley Cup winner and a past Vezina nominee posted a record of 36-20-10 with a .921 save percentage and 2.48 GAA this year with the Coyotes. He also had seven shutouts.
The Flyers got some solid players in both the Carter and Richards trades. Schenn is a top prospect who had two points in eight games with the Kings this year and 53 points in 27 games with the Saskatoon Blades of the WHL.
Jakub Voracek was fourth on Columbus in scoring with 46 points and will be 22 in August, meaning he has plenty of time to work on his game. Furthermore, Wayne Simmonds comes over to Philadelphia after a 30-point season in Los Angeles and was seventh with 125 hits.
Oscar Moller was also part of the L.A. trade. He spent most of the season with the Manchester Monarchs of the AHL, where he had 50 points and a plus-13 in 59 games. He also had four points in 13 NHL games. Will he be able to crack the Flyers roster?
Aside from losing Richards and Carter, Ville Leino, Matt Carle and Brian Boucher are also expected to move on. Michael Leighton could also be packing his bags, seeing as he spent most of the season in the AHL and got into just one regular season game with the Flyers.
The Flyers landed some great players in the trade, but Schenn has yet to play a full NHL season, so it's hard to say what his numbers will be like over 82 games. Also, Pronger and fellow veteran defenseman Kimmo Timonen are aging. It's possible that the physical style the Flyers play will continue to take a toll on them.
2010-11 record: 30-39-13 (73 points, fifth in Atlantic)
The Islanders return leading scorer John Tavares. He had 67 points this year while also tallying nine power-play goals and four game-winning goals. He was also fifth in faceoff wins with a 52.5 percent success rate and third with 3:30 of ice time on the power play.
Michael Grabner will also be back for his sophomore season on the Island. The Calder Trophy finalist led the Islanders with 34 goals and was third with 52 points.
On defense, Andrew MacDonald will solidify his spot as a top defenseman if he hasn't already (in fact, I selected him as the Isles' breakout player for next season). He led Islanders defensemen with 27 points and led the team with a plus-nine rating. In addition, he was first with 160 blocked shots and 23:24 of ice time. He also played 2:23 on the penalty kill and 3:03 on the power play.
Travis Hamonic also looks to be a promising defenseman. He had 26 points and a plus-four rating in addition to one power-play goal. He was third with 21:34 of ice time and fourth with 118 blocked shots and 118 hits.
Goaltending is the team's biggest question mark right now. Al Montoya will definitely be available, as he signed a one-year deal recently. In 20 games, he went 9-5-5 with a .921 save percentage and a 2.39 GAA.
Evgeni Nabokov could also join the team after initially refusing to report. His contract was tolled by the team, which means that the Islanders own his rights until he completes his one-year deal or he is traded.
Should he report to Long Island, he would be extremely helpful. In his last NHL season with the San Jose Sharks, he went 44-16-10 with three shutouts and posted a .922 save percentage and a 2.44 GAA.
If Nabokov doesn't report, Isles fans will have to endure another year of betting on whether Rick DiPietro can stay healthy.
The Isles will lose physical forward Zenon Konopka and defenseman Radek Martinek. They also said farewell to Doug Weight, who announced his retirement. However, Weight will join the team as an assistant coach.
This young team on the upswing will benefit from having a respected player and leader behind their bench in Weight. Their forwards are coming around nicely, and they have some effective defensemen.
However, their defense is far from perfect, as they were 27th in the NHL in 2010-11 with 3.15 goals allowed per game.
Plus, if their goaltending is not up to the task, things could be a little bumpy.
2010-11 record: 38-39-5 (81 points, fourth in Atlantic)
In 2010-11, the Devils missed the playoffs for the first time in 15 years after finishing fourth in the division despite a remarkable run late in the year.
Alternate captain Ilya Kovalchuk returns after posting 60 points last season, good for second on the Devils. He also had nine power-play goals and nine game-winning goals.
Despite this, his totals went down for the second straight season. However, he played top minutes for the Devils, with 20:33 of ice time per game and an average of 4:10 on the power play.
Patrik Elias led the team with 62 points and had seven power-play goals, one shorthanded goal and five game-winning goals. He was fourth with 2:45 of ice time on the power play and seventh with 2:07 on the penalty kill.
The Devils' defense returns Henrik Tallinder, whose 16 points included a shorthanded goal and two game-winning goals. He was eighth with 67 hits and fourth with 74 blocked shots while ranking second with 22:32 of ice time per game and 2:21 played while the Devils were shorthanded.
Anton Volchenkov had eight points and a plus-three in 57 games. Although his points totals weren't among the best on New Jersey, he was second with 25 hits and 106 blocked shots.
Volchenkov's problem is that he has not played close to a full season since 2006-07, when he played 78 games with the Ottawa Senators.
Martin Brodeur has one more year on his contract, and it could be the last time he minds the nets at Prudential Center (please note: that is speculation on my part; I have nothing official). Last year, Brodeur battled injuries and finished with a record of 23-26-6 in 56 games to go with a .903 save percentage and 2.45 GAA.
The Devils bid farewell to leading defensive scorer Andy Greene, and Brodeur's backup in Johan Hedberg is also set to become an unrestricted free agent.
Although the Devils have a strong defense (they allowed 2.52 goals a game last year, good for ninth in the league), their offense is not producing. Elias is 35 years old, and Kovalchuk needs to get back on track to give the Devils a chance. New Jersey will return Zach Parise (the team filed for arbitration with him to make sure he will be back), but he cannot carry the offense by himself.
Also, Broduer is finally starting to run out of gas, and New Jersey doesn't have a clear idea of who could replace him or step up in 2011-12 should he struggle with injuries again.