2013 NHL Preview: The Atlantic Division

Atlantic Division Division

The Atlantic Division is the powerhouse of the NHL but not for their play on the ice as they are much better known for what they do off of the ice. The Atlantic Division is one of the biggest reasons that the NHL made $3.3 Billion last season. This division features some of the biggest franchises in the USA and teams that have some big followings. This division also features one of the toughest competitions in the Eastern Conference of the NHL. Much like the Central division in the West the Atlantic Division was one of the toughest division in the Eastern Conference last year. Four of the five teams in the division made the playoffs last year as all four teams would earn over 100 points. The New York Rangers are the biggest US team in the NHL as they have history and performance driving their fan base. The Rangers are always in the hunt for the playoffs and recent years have seen the same thing as they are always near the top of the division. Their counterparts on the outside of the city are not so lucky as they have regularly been one of the worst teams in the league. They hope that a move close to downtown in 2015 will change things as the islanders are looking to step out of the shadow of their big blue cousins. The division sticks around the area more than any other division as the New Jersey Devils round out one particular area of the division. The Devils are a good team struggling to stay afloat in a very crowded market and they are hoping that the lockout did not have too much of an impact on them. Then the division moves into Pennsylvania where an old school power meets a new school power. The Philadelphia Flyers are the old school power as they hark back to the broadstreet bullies of the past. The Pittsburgh Penguins are the new school power with a young very strong team. Both are still strong and both teams are still fighting for the bragging rights in the state. The Atlantic Division is one of the strongest in the NHL and with a short season not much seems to be changing.

 

New Jersey Devils:

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The Devils are a constant presence in the playoffs and have been for a long time thanks in large part to their goalie. Martin Brodeur has seen everything that a goalie can see in the league and last year he was the main reason to the Devils’ going to the playoffs once again. Behind their goaltender the Devils would finish in 4th place in the division and would go all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals where they lost in six games to the Los Angeles Kings. Now the Devils are one year older and one year closer to the end of their appearances in the playoffs. This year the Devils will need to overcome some larger problems than the ones on the ice though. New Jersey is one of the few teams in the North that is in big financial trouble and have been for a while. That was until Jeff Vanderbeek refinanced the team and took sole ownership of the team. Even with the new owner the Devils are on uneasy ground as the doubt still circles about how long Vanderbeek can support a team that is not attracted the fans they need. Part of that is the fact that the Devils on ice performance has not been the greatest despite making the playoffs 4 of the last five years. Players like Martin Brodeur are aging and the team is not in a position to replace many of these stars. This year the Devils might miss the playoffs with an unbalanced team that might find it hard to win enough games to earn a spot.

 

Strength:
Team Defence
– The defence is anchored by the best goalie to ever play in the NHL in Martin Brodeur the Devils rely on a team dynamic with no standout stars that together still form one of the best defensive squads in the NHL

Weakness:
Offensive Holes
– Zach Parise is gone and for a team that lacked offence with him in the lineup and nobody to replace his production the Devils will be hard pressed to get any more offence from their top lines as they will depend a lot on how well their defence can play 

Biggest Addition:
Nobody
– The Devils didn’t really go out and find anyone in the offseason as the lockout and more so their financial problems prevented them from going out to sign a big name to replace a very big hole in the offence

Biggest Loss:
Zach Parise, C (Free Agent)
– Parise was one of the very few bright spots on offence for the Devils as the top goal scorer on the team and with his loss the Devils have a very big hole to fill as he will take his offensive talents to Minnesota

 

New York Islanders:

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The New York Islanders are the only team that would not make the playoffs last year and it would just be a continuation of past years. The Islanders are used to failing unfortunately but they looked to enter the headlines for something this year. The Islanders would announce that they would be moving although not too far. They will be moving to the Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn, New York after the 2013-14 season making this one of their last seasons in the Memorial Coliseum. They will look to begin a good last ride at the old stadium in a shortened season where they may have their best chance to make a run. The Islanders will only need a few wins in the 2013 season if they want to make the playoffs and they can do this if the team can gel from the start. The Islanders are a team with plenty of potential that has fallen through the cracks. After years of sitting at the bottom of the league the Islanders had the opportunity to build through the draft. They have attempted to do this but they have seen hit or miss results in their drafting. The hits are players like John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, and Nino Niederreiter. The miss have been those players that have not provided the secondary scoring that they need like Michael Grabner and Josh Bailey. These misses will need to step up this year if the Islanders want to be in the playoffs. They have a chance at the playoffs but in a tough division nothing is easy as they will need to get a bit of luck if they want to see the playoffs this year.

 

Strength:
Good Top Talent
– The Islanders’ top line is a good one led by John Tavares and supported by Kyle Okposo as these two players would be a top line pair in almost any other team in the league as two young talented forwards lead the way

Weakness:
Not Much Else
– Behind that top line there is not much else despite the many attempted at finding secondary scoring as they will continue to try to find someone who can take the pressure off of Tavares and Okposo 

Biggest Addition:
Brad Boyes, C (Free Agent)
– In an attempt o find scoring from outside of the top line the Islanders signed Brad Boyes who had 23 points last year and had 15 assists as he will be looked to for support in the bottom lines behind the top stars on the team

Biggest Loss:
PA Parenteau, RW (Free Agent)
– Parenteau was one of the few players who could actually match Tavares and Okposo in his production and the loss of him leaves more of a hole behind the top line that the Islanders will need to fill f they want to win

 

New York Rangers:

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The New York Rangers are one of the Original Six teams and they have been one of the main teams leading the resurgence of these classic teams. For year the new teams would take focus but in the last few years Original Six teams are doing much more than they had before. The rangers are a perfect example as they would sit as the best team in the Eastern Conference last year. Taking on the gritty and no-nonsense attitude of their head coach John Tortorella the Rangers would fly through the season to earn 109 points and take the Conference title.  They would not translate that success into the playoffs though losing to the New Jersey Devils in six games to end their season. Now the Rangers are back and looking to continue their domination of the Atlantic Division. John Tortorella is one of the most abrasive coaches in the NHL but that works perfectly to create a great team. He has created a team that plays defence first but does not forget about their offensive output. This is the team that won the Eastern Conference last year but the playoffs seemed to see the offence stall not allowing them to get the goals they needed. This year they would make one of the biggest splashes in the offseason trading for Rick Nash only a year after signing Brad Richards. It is a clear attempt to upgrade the offence and add another aspect to the Rangers. The addition of Nash makes the best team in the East even better as the will likely win the division again and make a run at the Stanley Cup.

 

Strength:
Goaltending
– Henrik Lundqvist is clearly the best goalie in the league right now and after a Vezina Trophy caliber season he will look to be the Rangers’ best player again this year which means there is nothing to worry about in their own end

Weakness:
Expectations
– After winning the East last year the Rangers are essentially expected to win again this year and even go to the Stanley Cup but how will this team react to the added pressure of the expectations from last year 

Biggest Addition:
Rick Nash, RW (Trade via Columbus)
– The biggest name on the market went to the Rangers for the second year in a row as Nash will provide that goal scorers touch that is far and above anything that they have or had on the team

Biggest Loss:
Brandon Prust, LW (Free Agent)
– He is the type of player that Tortorella loves as a tough grinder and to play the game that the head coach wants they need this type of player but his loss will be felt as he was someone who could keep the grit on the team

 

Philadelphia Flyers:

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The Philadelphia Flyers were a team on the rise in the 2011-12 season as many had them going far to the playoffs. They were set to be one of the best teams with some top-tier talent and a new goalie to anchor the team. Then the old Flyer curse hit as the goalie, Ilya Bryzgalov, did not work out to be the person they needed in net. Bryzgalov would spend most of his time talking about space and tigers on HBO’s 24/7 rather than focusing on the task at hand. They still managed to win enough games to finish third in the division but would lose to the New Jersey Devils in the second round of the playoffs. The Flyers this year are looking to continue to grow behind their young talent and achieve their ultimate goal. The Flyers will look to Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds, and Brayden Schenn to lead this team into the playoffs this year. Even with all of this talent up front the problem will still remain the net as the goaltending is the biggest questions mark. Depending on how good Bryzgalov will be the Flyers could be a Stanley Cup contender. The Flyers are a very talented team but they have one big question that is the most important aspect to becoming a champion. If Bryzgalov is better without someone breathing down his neck the Flyers could be on their way to a Stanley Cup but if he returns to last year’s form the will not get the chance as they will be eliminated early in the playoffs.

 

Strength:
The Young Stars
– Claude Giroux was on his way to an MVP before his injury last year and Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn are turning out to be two very good young players who lead the charge for the Flyers to be good for a long time 

Weakness:
Goaltending
– Ilya Bryzgalov is a complete mystery to everyone as he can be one of the best goalies in the league and then his confidence seems to be shot with one bad performance and if the latter shows up the Flyers cannot get to the Stanley Cup 

Biggest Addition:
Luke Schenn, D (Trade via Toronto Maple Leafs)
– Joining his brother, Brayden, Luke Schenn has left the craziness of Toronto to join the Flyers and will be a solid blue liner that can provide plenty of help the Bryzgalov and provide a solid presence on the blue line

Biggest Loss:
Sergei Brobrovsky, G (Trade to Columbus Blue Jackets)
– Bryzgalov was so up and down last year that a good backup goalie was needed but that backup is now gone as Bobrovsky was traded to the Blue Jackets as Bryzgalov has left without a safety net for 2013

 

Pittsburgh Penguins:

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The Penguins are one of the more recent revelations in the NHL as they quickly went from irrelevant to one of the best teams in the NHL. The biggest part of this turnaround was the addition of the best player in the NHL. Sidney Crosby would be drafted first overall in 2005 and immediately would change the team. They would go on to win a Stanley Cup in 2009 and would remain one of the best teams in the league ever since. Last year the Penguins would go without their best player as Crosby would stay off of the ice due to head injuries suffered at the middle of the 2010-11 season. They still managed to make the playoffs behind the play of Evgeni Malkin but would lose in 7 games to the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round of the playoffs. It was clear that they were missing their leader when it came to the playoffs and Crosby will remain the big story in the 2013 season. Crosby is set to return to full duty this year but questions of his durability and ability surround him as he steps on the ice. The Penguins are a good team with top-level talent but with Sidney Crosby at the helm they are an even better team. If Crosby can return to being the best player in the league he will only add to Malkin’s newfound leadership to create a very good team. They will be in the playoffs regardless of Crosby but Crosby will determine whether or not they make a run at the Stanley Cup.

 

Strength:
Goaltending Pair
– Yes their offence is powerful but a Stanley Cup run will always come down to the goalie and Marc-Andre Fleury is one of the best but this year he will have a safety net in Tomas Vokoun giving him less burden if he struggles

Weakness:
Crosby’s Challenge
– Crosby is the difference form a playoff team to a Stanley Cup team and as he returns to full action the question of whether he can return to being the player he was before the concussion continues to nag at him

Biggest Addition:
Tomas Vokoun, G (Free Agent)
– He won’t play a lot of minutes but his impact will be felt as he will play the backup role to Fleury who in turn will get more rest for the playoffs and will not be the only line of defence on a bad night in net

Biggest Loss:
Jordan Staal, C (Traded to Carolina Hurricanes)
– One of the strengths of the Penguins has been their ability to roll on with four very strong lines that can all provide some top goal scoring talent but now without Staal in the mix the list of playmakers is reduced by one

 

Prediction:
1. New York Rangers
2. Pittsburgh Penguins
3. Philadelphia Flyers
4. New Jersey Devils
5. New York Islanders

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