As the 2009 season approaches, top free agents are all signed and training camps begin, the Atlantic Division has had plenty of changes amongst the teams within it. Whether it has been by addition or subtraction, every team has seen changes to it. Most of them have improved themselves in areas that needed it. While in other areas, where they have had the same players for years and are now gone, will leave a lot of questions as to how each team will fare in the new season.
Let’s take a look at each team’s additions, as well as their losses and size them up with the rest of the division. First up we can take a look at the team that finished at the bottom of the Atlantic as well as the bottom of the entire NHL, the New York Islanders.
The Islanders had the first pick in the 2009 NHL Entry Draft, selecting 18 year old center John Tavares, from Ontario, Canada. Tavares is 195 pounds, stands at an even six feet, shoots left and has an excellent scorers touch. Tavares brings a sense of excitement to the island that has not been there in a long time. While the debut of the youngster will bring about much anticipation from the Islander faithful, he is still just 18, and will be very limited as far as how much success he can bring. Aside from the number one overall pick, the Islanders are a veritable who’s who on offense. The roster is filled with mostly young players, just trying to make names for themselves, because the Islanders really have no other options. They signed veteran goaltender Dwayne Roloson and signed free-agent goalie Martin Biron, formerly of the Philadelphia Flyers. These moves are clear indications that GM Garth Snow is not at all confident in Rick DiPietro going the distance in a season without injury. An upside to the Isles, is that they have some talented defense in front of whatever goalie they will have in the net.
Now, let’s take a look at the Devils arch rivals, the New York Rangers. The Rangers are going to have, yet again, a very different look to them next year. They lost Markus Naslund to retirement, traded Scott Gomez to Montreal for Chris Higgins, and lost Nik Antropov to free agency. However, they added Marian Gaborik to try to help their offensive woes from last season. Gaborik has had nagging injuries over the past few years, but the Rangers are willing to give him the chance due to his offensive explosiveness, when healthy. If Gaborik can give the Rangers at least three quarters of a season, I feel like it will be a help to their offense. If by some chance, Gaborik can go the entire year, it will help tremendously. Ales Kotalik signed with them as well from Buffalo, who had 20 goals and 23 assists last year. With those two solid additions, the young stars they have like Staal, Dubinsky and Callahan will continue to grow, adding to the overall improvement of the team. I look for the Rangers to be in contention for the Atlantic Division for much of the season, so long as they have Lundqvist in net.
The Philadelphia Flyers, without question had the biggest addition within the Atlantic. They traded for defenseman Chris Pronger on draft day to bolster their blue-line. The combination of him and Kimmo Timonen (both 34) will be the most formidable in the division. There was never any doubt about the Flyers offensive abilities with all the talent they have. Add young star James vanRiemsdyk, (who will likely be on the team roster this year) and if Daniel Briere can remain healthy all season long, the Flyers are easily in contention for the division crown. They will be going in a new direction, once again, at the goaltending spot. They let Marty Biron walk and lured Ray Emery away from Russia to come back and play in the NHL. If they can get the Ray Emery we all saw from the Senators when he led them to the Cup Finals, they will be in great shape. However, Emery is a bit of a head case and it has yet to be seen what the Flyers will get out of him. If history is any indication of what we can expect from the Flyers at the goalie position, we can truly expect it to be their downfall.
Last, but of course not least, is the Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins. The Penguins are the team that has changed the least. They will be losing Miroslav Satan and Petr Sykora to free agency, however, Sykora was hardly used in the playoffs and Satan was always just mediocre at best with them. Those losses will prove to be non-existent when you have the likes of Malkin and Crosby leading the way. Veteran Bill Guerin took a pay cut to stay with Pittsburgh because he was able to see what was still left in his game, when paired with a guy like Sidney Crosby on your side. They were able to re-sign Ruslan Fedotenko, add a backup goalie in Brent Johnson and with another year of experience under youngsters like Alex Goligoski, Kris Letang, Jordan Staal and Tyler Kennedy, the Pens are only going to be better (scary huh?). Plus, they will have a physical force added to the fray with former Devil Mike Rupp going to the dark side.
So there you have it, team additions and some team subtractions. The Atlantic Division, in my opinion, is by far the most competitive division in all of hockey. It is full of physical play, speed, and goaltending, the most overall division in hockey by far. Which begs the question, who is best suited to come out on top in this division right now? Your guess is as good as mine. But if I were to pick any one, why deviate from the champions? No, not the cup champs, the division champs, the Devils. No, I am not being biased (okay, maybe a little), but I have my reasons. Martin Brodeur has a lot to prove this season. He let up two goals in the final minutes of a game seven last year and that is just something I thought I would never see. Marty is the kind of competitor that will feed off of that and take this season on his shoulders. Even though the Devils have lost veterans of earlier teams, I feel the nucleus of the team is strong enough to overcome those losses. We will have to wait and see what this season will bring. However, the young guys that will be coming up to play, as well as the ones that have been on the team already are what will determine the fate of the Devils season. As the start of the season approaches I will have a more in depth preview of the Atlantic Division and predictions on the year.