Sunday, September 23, 2007

Predictions: Atlantic Division

The pre-season predictions continue. Already posted are my West Conference predictions and my Northeast Division predictions. Here are my Atlantic Division predictions:

1. Pittsburgh Penguins This team has a great young core with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, Ryan Whitney and Marc-Andre Fleury as bounty from several years of early draft picks (and poor finishes). This core is ready to emerge together as a very good young bunch. Add in some veterans such as Sergei Gonchar, Mark Recchi and Petr Sykora and this is a team on the rise ready to make a run at the top of the league. The only question is will they arrive there before free agency and a salary cap break them up?

2. New York Rangers This team has a good young goalie in Henrik Lundqvist. That is what they lacked through the end of their free spending, playoff missing days at the end of the last CBA. They have a good group of forwards, who were mostly acquired with their financial clout, including Jaromir Jagr, Martin Straka, Brendan Shanahan and 2007 free agent signings Scott Gomez and Chris Drury. Their defence is a weakness with Paul Mara, Michal Roszival and Marek Malik leading the way. This team was built largely the same way as the failed Ranger teams from before the lockout, but the difference in Lundqvist. He will keep them a winner and a playoff team.

3. New Jersey Devils This team took one of the biggest hits from free agency losing both Scott Gomez and Brian Rafalski. Of course, they still have Martin Brodeur in goal and he will win them games singlehandedly. Their defence, traditionally a New Jersey strength, is in its weakest state in years with Paul Martin and Vitaly Vishnevski likely leading the way. They do have a group of forwards that are quite defensively oriented lead by Jay Pandolfo and John Madden, so the defence will still be solid. Offensively, Patrik Elias, Zach Parise and Brian Gionta should carry the load. This team has had salary cap problems in the last couple years that have lost them some talent, but as long as Brodeur remains a top goalie, they will be a solid team.

4. Philadelphia Flyers 2006/07 was an awful year for the Flyers. Most likely, they will be the most improved team in the NHL in terms of raw point totals and this was likely without any major roster changes. Simon Gagne is a good sniper and several young players look ready to take the next step including Mike Richards, Jeff Carter and RJ Umberger. Free agency added to this Daniel Briere and Scott Hartnell. Their main weakness last year was defence, and despite adding Kimmo Timonen it still will be. Jason Smith, Randy Jones and Alexandre Picard do not make up a formidable bunch. In goal, Martin Biron and Antero Nittymaki should be solid, though unspectacular. It is a long way back from last year's 22 win season, but Philadelphia is on their way.

5. New York Islanders The list of players who are gone from last year is long. Ryan Smyth, Alexei Yashin, Jason Blake, Richard Zednik, Tom Poti, Sean Hill. The stability in this franchise is not there. Head coach, Ted Nolan will have to have another wonderful year to compete again. Rick DiPietro has developed into one of the better goalies in the NHL. This is despite his lack of a defence in front of him. Brendan Witt, Radek Martinek and Marc-Andre Bergeron are some of the key defenders. At forward, Miroslav Satan and Mike Sillinger remain and Mike Comrie and Bill Guerin have been added. This is a team without a direction that overachieved to make the playoffs last year and then lost much of their core. They will be very hard pressed to do that again.

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