NHL Free Agency 2011: Grading the Atlantic Division's Signings
The Atlantic Division was arguably the division that was most active in the free agency period, mostly with the moves of the Flyers. They have been the most talked about team and people have debated as to whether they are still the class of this division.
The Rangers improved by signing Brad Richards.
The Islanders continue to improve with their youth.
The Devils decided to stay put.
The Penguins' two biggest acquisitions are a healthy Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin
So let's grade the free agent signings of the Atlantic Division shall we?
Remember the grades are based upon whether the needs of the team were filled not on the quality of the players signed.
New Jersey Devils
Major Free Agent Signings- None
The Devils' 1st half start last year was a fluke. They almost came all the way back to qualify for the postseason after their dreadful start.
Kovalchuk started to find his game in the 2nd half and the defense came along. The Devils are going to be fine as long as Martin Brodeur has another good year for them. The Devils have answers within their own team. These players just have to step up and play like they are supposed to. The Devils should make it to the playoffs after their one year hiatus.
Having said that, the Devils had a weak offense last year. Without Parise and with a struggling Kovalchuk, the Devils power play ranked 28th last season. They did nothing to help themselves out so far in free agency.
The Devils were also the lowest scoring team in the league by a pretty wide margin. They averaged 2.09 goals per game and the 29th best scoring team was Ottawa with 2.32 goals per game. Not good.
The Devils cap situation didn't allow them to sign any big-time free agents but Parise coming back will help (if they sign him)
New York Islanders
Major Free Agent Signings- Marty Reasoner
The New York Islanders are building upon their youth. The signing of Marty Reasoner, although not a big one, is an important one for the team. Reasoner is a solid 3rd or 4th line player who does the dirty work. He should be a good example for the kids on Long Island.
Reasoner is a solid hockey player and fills the need of a 3rd liner while still letting the kids run the show. Taveras, Moulson, Grabner and Okposo are still the players that need to produce and grow for the Islanders to be successful. Reasoner makes them a deeper team.
The Islanders were hit by a lot of injuries in the beginning of last season and it might have cost them a playoff spot. The Islanders offense will be provided by the kids so they needed a good grinder which they got in Reasoner.
The Islanders definitely could have used defensive help, and you can't say they didn't try by trading for negotiating rights with Christian Ehroff, who turned them down. Nonetheless they still didn't upgrade through free agency to lower the 3.15 goals against per game average which was the 4th highest in the NHL. The youth should help though.
The Islanders should be a borderline playoff team this year. While they might not make it, people don't realize that the Islanders had a very strong 2nd half last year, one of the best in the NHL. If they can build upon this and get solid goaltending from whoever is between the pipes (DiPietro, Montoya or someone else) this team could be a surprise playoff team.
New York Rangers
Major Free Agent Signings- Brad Richards, Mike Rupp
The Rangers got the prize of the 2011 free agent class by picking up Brad Richards. They signed him to a front loaded deal so buying him out will not be too difficult at the end (and for all of those "dude the CBA is going to expire and these contracts will become null and void" crowd, the NHL legally can't do that so these contracts will be grandfathered in).
Richards fills 2 major needs for the Rangers in a power play threat and a legitimate number 1 center. Unlike Drury and Gomez, Richards is actually being signed for what he is, which is a number 1 center to play with Gaborik. I expect big things from Richards and Gaborik this season.
The Rangers needed to improve their power play which ranked 18th last season and got an improvement with Brad Richards. They also needed scoring help which ranked 16th last season, which was also solved by Richards.
The Rangers also signed Mike Rupp to a 3 year deal worth $4.5 milllion. Rupp is a nice player but I'm not the biggest fan of his signing because the Rangers played last year without a real tough guy. The team was tough but there was no one player who was meant to be tough. I guess it fills in a need. He is meant to replace the late Derek Boogard (RIP Boogy). I also think Rupp takes the roster spot of a prospect, which I don't really like.
All in all a good offseason for the Rangers.
Major Free Agent Signings- Jaromir Jagr, Maxime Talbot, Ilya Bryzgalov, Andreas Lilja, Jakub Voracek
Putting the trades aside (which I was not a fan of), the Flyers gained some valuable pieces in free agency. While Jagr and Talbot are role players on this team, they both are good fits for the Flyers. Lilja will be a good depth defenseman as a 3rd pair guy. Bryzgalov is an obvious improvement over last season's replacement.
Voracek was, of course, picked up from Columbus in the Jeff Carter trade and signed with Philadelphia as an RFA. He is still growing and should produce nicely in the Flyers line up.
Talbot plays a gritty style that Philadelphia likes to play. He is also a good penalty killer, which should help the Flyers' 15th ranked unit last season. Talbot will also take the Penguins-Flyers rivalry to a new level, and he will be joined by his other partner, Jaromir Jagr.
Jagr mysteriously disappeared which led to Pittsburgh and Detroit withdrawing their offers for him, leading him to Philadelphia. Although he is 3 years removed from the NHL, Jagr is still a force to be reckoned with. He should improve the power play, which ranked 19th last season, although the loss of Carter and Richards will still hurt. He still has great hands and skill.
Bryzgalov is a top 10 goaltender in the NHL. He makes this Flyers team a very good defensive team and can help to make up for the loss of Richards and Carter. The Flyers should score less this year but the defense and solid goaltending of Bryzgalov should still make the Flyers playoff bound.
While I am not the biggest fan of the Flyers off-season moves, their signings will help this year.
Major Free Agent Signings- Steve Sullivan
Steve Sullivan is going to be a good signing for the Penguins. He came cheap and will be playing on the 2nd or 3rd line in a secondary scorer role instead of being expected to be a major contributor with Nashville (which he failed to do last year). Sullivan will be big for this team.
The Penguins need to improve the power play which ranked 25th last year, but the return of Crosby and Malkin should help immensely. One thing that concerns me though is the loss of Talbot and how that will affect the best penalty killing unit in the NHL. They didn't sign anybody to replace him. I'm not sure if they have someone from within the organization to replace him so anybody who knows more about this situation just leave a comment.
Nothing will be as big as the return of Crosby and Malkin. The Penguins had over 100 points without Malkin and Crosby for the 2nd half of the season last year. With them, they are the team to beat in the Atlantic and arguably in the conference. The Penguins are going to be good next year, but their free agent signing has a high risk/reward scenario.
So to conclude, I thought the Atlantic Division had some good signings. Considering everything, I think every team can be better than last year (maybe not the Flyers but who knows what will happen. They could be better though). This division should be competitive this year and it will be interesting to see how it all unfolds.
Thanks for the read and feel free to leave a comment.
As always keep the military in your thoughts and prayers.