The Atlantic has been established as one of the most explosive offensive divisions in the league and 2010-11 should be no exception.
Ilya Kovalchuk has settled in New Jersey and with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Zach Parise, Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Marian Gaborik and John Tavares all fighting it out for the division scoring crown, expect lots of firepower and nervous goalies.
2009/2010 Record: 47-28-7, 101 points, 2nd in Atlantic Division, 4th in the Eastern Conference
Key Additions: D Paul Martin, D Zbynek Michalek, F Mike Comrie, F Arron Asham
Key Departures: D Sergei Gonchar, F Alexei Ponikarovski, F Bill Guerin, F Ruslan Fedotenko, D Jay McKee
On the rise: D Kris Letang
On the hot seat: F Jordan Staal
Big Question: Outside of Malkin and Crosby, do the Penguins have enough scoring depth?
The Penguins lost a lot of their key support in the off-season, which puts even more pressure on their young, talented stars.
Jordan Staal (foot infection) doesn’t know when he’s going to be healthy enough to return, which wreaks havoc on a once-deep centre position for the Penguins.
Malkin can play right-wing or centre, but outside of big Russia and Crosby, Pittsburgh’s third and fourth line centres are Max Talbot and Mark Letestu.
The Penguins are still a strong offensive team and adding Paul Martin and underrated Zbynek Michalek are starting to look very solid on the back end.
Marc-Andre Fleury is still the No. 1 goalie in Pittsburgh and will see a ton of ice time.
This team is set up for another major run at the Stanley Cup but Staal’s injury could prevent the team from getting off to a hot.
Don’t be surprised to see the Penguins on another long playoff run.
Prediction: Second in the Atlantic division, 100-105 points
New York Islanders
2009/2010 Record: 34-37-11, 79 points, Last in Atlantic Division, 13th in Eastern Conference
Key Additions: D Milan Jurcina, D Mark Eaton, F P.A. Parenteau
Key Departures: G Martin Biron, F Jeff Tambellini, F Sean Bergenheim, F Richard Park
On the rise: F John Tavares
On the hot seat: G Rick Dipietro
Big Question: Will injuries cost the Islanders their season?
The Islanders have been drafting well over the last few seasons, highlighted by the selection of Swiss star Nino Neiderreiter with the fifth overall pick in 2010. The Isles also have Team Canada world junior defencemen Calvin de Haan and Travis Hamonic waiting in the wings.
Unfortunately, they don’t help the team’s current situation.
The Islanders could have a solid one-two punch in goal if DiPietro stays healthy and consistent. Dwayne Roloson is comfortable playing a heavier load should DiPietro fall to more injury problems.
Tavares should only continue to improve but injuries to his linemates (Matt Moulson and Kyle Okposo) may limit his production.
Okposo has joined teammate Mark Streit on the long-term disabled list and requires surgery to repair his left shoulder.
Long Island isn’t exactly deep in first-rate offensive talent, so he’ll have to rely on Moulson, Josh Bailey and Rob Schremp to pick up the slack.
The power play will take a hit with Streit on the shelf, so unless every piece of Cinderella’s magic puzzle falls into place, it should be another long season in New York.
Playing in a tough Atlantic isn’t going to help the Islanders as essentially every team in the division will prove to be tough opponents to this offensively stricken lineup.
Prediction: Last in Atlantic division, 75-80 points
New York Rangers
2009/2010 Record: 38-33-11, 87 points, 4th in Atlantic Division, 9th in Eastern Conference
Key Additions: G Martin Biron, F Alex Frolov
Key Departures: F Olli Jokinen, F Jody Shelley
On the rise: D Michael Del Zotto
On the hot seat: F Marian Gaborik
Big Question: If the Rangers struggle like they did last season, how long until coach John Tortorella gets booed out of NYC?
On paper, the New York Rangers have a playoff team but team chemistry may keep that team from seeing the post-season.
Gaborik will be the team’s top scorer but he is often injury-prone and has never played a full 82-game schedule.
His 2009-10 season should give Blueshirts fans some hope for the upcoming year. Gaborik matched his season-high with 42 goals and posted career highs in points with 86.
If Gaborik stays healthy and creeps into the 90-point range, the Rangers could be poised to make a run past the second round of the playoffs.
If injuries plague Gaborik again this season, more questions will be asked in the Big Apple.
Frolov is a nice addition but won’t provide enough offence if Gaborik goes down.
The Rangers are as solid as they come when it comes to defence and goaltending.
Henrik Lundqvist and Biron are a formidable one-two punch between the pipes and the Rangers boast a solid young defence core with Marc Staal and Michael del Zotto starting to hit their stride.
If the team struggles early, its problems could cost Tortorella his job.
Prediction: Fourth in the Atlantic division, 80-85 points
New Jersey Devils
2009/2010 Record: 48-27-7, 103 points, 2nd in Eastern Conference, 1st in Atlantic Division
Key Additions: G Johan Hedberg, D Anton Volchenkov, F Jason Arnott
Key departures: D Paul Martin, F Jay Pandolfo
On the rise: F Travis Zajac
On the hot seat: G Martin Brodeur
Big Question: Can Kovalchuk flourish in a defensive system?
The Devils have made improvements in most essential categories and should contend not only for the division title, but the Eastern Conference.
Kovalchuk will provide the team with a ton of goals, in addition to the scoring New Jersey will be get from Zach Parise. The Devils, typically a defensive team, look offensively dangerous this season.
Martin Brodeur, despite his age, is still one of the best goalies in the league and playing behind the game’s best shot-blocker in Anton Volchenkov will only help.
Not to be overlooked is the acquisition of Jason Arnott.
The veteran played some of his best years in New Jersey and will be centering either Kovalchuk or Parise.
The Devils have a well-balanced team and sport a great group of young up-and-comers combined with wily veterans. Their top offensive line ranks second to none in the league and the idea of Kovalchuk, Parise and Elias on the same power play is downright scary.
Expect lots from the Devils this season.
Prediction: First in the Atlantic, 105-110 points
2009/2010 Record: 41-35-6, 91 points, 3rd in Atlantic Division, 7th in Eastern Conference
Key Additions: D Andrej Meszaros, F Nikolay Zherdev, F Jody Shelley
Key departures: G Ray Emery, D Ryan Parent, F Simon Gagne, F Arron Asham
On the rise: F Claude Giroux
On the hot seat: G Michael Leighton
Big Question: Will the Flyers regret not going after a better goalie?
The Flyers had an improbable run to the Stanley Cup final last spring but the same goaltending that got them there may be their downfall.
The duo of Michael Leighton and Brian Boucher doesn’t exactly instill confidence in the Flyers’ faithful, but GM Paul Holmgren said he believes in Leighton as his No. 1.
With Leighton to miss the beginning of the season with a back injury, the weight will fall on Boucher to carry the load again.
Goaltending aside, the Flyers are fine.
Andrej Meszaros provides Philadelphia with another good offensive defenceman, and will easily make the Flyers forget about losing Ryan Parent in the off-season.
Youngsters Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk are only going to improve and showed their star potential during the team’s playoff run.
Nikolay Zherdev had a monster pre-season after spending last year in Russia, and should add a level of finesse to a powerful Flyers’ offence.
The departure of Simon Gagne will be sorely missed but Zherdev should fill that void nicely.
Even the addition of enforcer Jody Shelley was a smart move for the Flyers. Over the past few years, Philadelphia has been moving further away from its Broad Street Bullies days, becoming less of a physical team.
Shelley, along with Chris Pronger and Dan Carcillo should provide enough toughness for the Flyers to be competitive against any opponent in the division.
Prediction: Third in the Atlantic division, 100-105 points