NHL Atlantic Division Is the Toughest After Devils Sign Boulton and Janssen

Jason Sapunka@moreSapunkaCorrespondent IIJuly 17, 2011

NHL Atlantic Division Is the Toughest After Devils Sign Boulton and Janssen

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    Last season's Atlantic Division combined for 285 total fighting majors, the most of any division in the NHL.

    During the 2011-2012 season, the New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins will lead the way once again.

    Here is a look at what each team has done this offseason and what it means for the future.

New Jersey Devils

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    New Jersey's fighting tandem in 2010-2011 consisted of nothing more than middleweight David Clarkson, who dropped the gloves 14 times.

    In two days, the Devils picked up two heavyweights in Eric Boulton and Cam Janssen.

    Janssen has a two-way deal and will likely be spending time with the AHL's Albany Devils. No team dresses two heavyweight enforcers at once.

    So, with Eric Boulton dressed the Devils have a standard heavyweight-middleweight combination that will be sufficient in defending a team that could be one of the best in the NHL after winning 28 of their last 41 games in 2010-2011.

New York Islanders

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    The New York Islanders were the league's toughest team this past season. After being disrespected time and time again, the Islanders decided the last straw would be a game that featured a pair of Maxime Talbot hits and Brent Johnson's knockdown of Rick DiPietro (more on that here).

    Though Zenon Konopka signed with the Ottawa Senators, the team still has Trevor Gillies, Matt Martin and Michael Haley.

    Gillies is one of the most dedicated enforcers in the NHL, and will break any rule in order to defend a teammate.

    Martin is a willing light-heavyweight who has taken on bigger fighters such as George Parros and Kevin Westgarth.

    Haley fought eight times during his 27-game call-up this past season, and was dominating in nearly all of those fights.

    The Islanders should be able to dress the three-man group again during this upcoming season.

New York Rangers

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    The New York Rangers added Mike Rupp as the team's new heavyweight. Though Rupp is not an excellent fighter, his 6'5", 230-pound frame will do the job for the Rangers.

    Rupp usually loses when taking on the league's better heavyweights such as Jody Shelley or Matt Carkner, but has shown the ability to win against them in a fight with Shawn Thornton.

    The club still has light-heavyweight Brandon Prust and middleweight pest Sean Avery, who will start more problems than he's willing to finish.

    Prust has fought bigger fighters such as Boulton, Darcy Hordichuk, Deryk Engelland, and Trevor Gillies. Between him and Rupp the Rangers are definitely capable to taking on all comers next season.

Philadelphia Flyers

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    Among the various roster moves the Flyers made this offseason were changes effecting the team's toughness.

    Sean O'Donnell and Dan Carcillo went to Chicago via free agency, while the Flyers picked up Wayne Simmonds in the Mike Richards trade.

    O'Donnell was a responsible teammate, willing and sufficient heavyweight.

    Carcillo has calmed down since leading the NHL in penalty minutes during his years with the Phoenix Coyotes, but still fought 13 times this past season.

    Carcillo's fight performance was lackluster during the 2010-2011 season but "Carbomb" undoubtedly possesses one of the hardest punches of any middleweight in the league.

    Fortunately for the Flyers, the departure of these two players opens spots for similar replacements.

    O'Donnell was the 6th defenseman on the Flyers' depth chart last season. This season, the Flyers can select from Andreas Lilja, Oscars Bartulis, Erik Gustafsson, or possibly Matt Walker.

    If Walker is the selection, he would be Philadelphia's second heavyweight behind Jody Shelley.

    On the offensive side, Carcillo's departure and the trade of Darroll Powe creates a void in Philadelphia's fourth line checking system. Fortunately, a wrecking ball from the AHL has been on a vicious tear with aims to make the NHL team.

    Zac Rinaldo tied for the AHL lead in fighting majors this past season. When the Flyers needed additional toughness in the playoffs, Rinaldo is who they called on.

    Another new addition who should contribute to the action is Maxime Talbot. As previously noted, some of Talbot's actions helped contribute to the intense rivalry between the Islanders and Penguins last season. His personality on the ice is sure to cause more trouble this year.

    In a wrap-up of this offseason, the Flyers will potentially have Jody Shelley, Walker, Rinaldo and Simmonds, which is an improvement over last year's set of Shelley, O'Donnell and Carcillo.

    It may not take long for something to get started this year; the Flyers play Sean Avery and the New York Rangers during the preseason.

    With this fight fresh in Philadelphia's mind, a young player (like Rinaldo) attempting to prove his worth might go after Avery as means of retribution.

Pittsburgh Penguins

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    The Penguins appeared to be the NHL's toughest team last season until being shown up by the New York Islanders.

    The lineup featured one of the NHL's top fighters (and a rookie at that) in Deryk Engelland, who declared his arrival with clear victories over Colton Orr and Jody Shelley.

    Also included was big Mike Rupp and one of the game's best middleweights in Arron Asham.

    Eric Godard played just under 20 games last season, but when he dressed he was the best fighter in the lineup.

    Though the Penguins lost Rupp to the Rangers and Godard to the Dallas Stars, the Penguins signed a player who is arguably the league's best fighter, Steve MacIntyre.

    MacIntyre will likely not play any more than Godard did, but when he's in the lineup the Penguins will have a super-heavyweight as increased protection for the skilled players such as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

    The lineup Pittsburgh will dress on most nights will consist of just Engelland and Asham.