Saturday, September 26, 2009

2009-10 NHL Atlantic Division Preview

Here's my take on the Atlantic Division in the NHL this year. More division previews to follow.

  1. Pittsburgh Penguins

The defending Stanley Cup champions are poised to repeat. The Penguins have brought back their core from last year’s championship run and will be difficult to dethrone in the East. The Penguins were in danger of missing the playoffs last year until firing coach Michel Therrien and replacing him with Dan Blysma midway through the season. The Penguins took off under Blysma and defeated the Detroit Red Wings in the finals to bring the Cup back to Pittsburgh. A repeat will be difficult, but the Penguins shouldn’t have too much trouble winning the division.

  1. New York Rangers

The Rangers’ success in 2010 will depend largely on two players, goaltender Henrik Lundqvist and newly acquired right winger Marian Gaborik. Lundqvist has kept the Rangers competitive with his stellar play in net the past few seasons, and he will need to keep it up for the Blueshirts to have a shot at being a legitimate contender. Gaborik, who signed a $37.5 million deal with the Rangers on July 1 after eight seasons with the Minnesota Wild, has the potential to be the consistent goal-scorer the Rangers desperately need. He will need to stay healthy, which has been a problem for him in the past. If the Gaborik signing pays off, expect the Rangers to be very competitive. If not, it’s going to be a long season in Manhattan.

  1. Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers made some moves this off-season, most notably acquiring defenseman Chris Pronger from the Anaheim Ducks. Pronger will bring some much-needed experience to the Flyers, having been in the league since 1993 and having won the Stanley Cup in 2007 with the Ducks. Goaltending will be the Flyers’ biggest question mark entering the season. The Flyers saw former goalies Martin Biron and Antero Nittymaki sign with the Islanders and Lightning respectively, and picked up former Ottawa Senator Ray Emery. Emery spent the 2008-09 season playing in Russia after his tenure with the Senators went downhill following the team’s run to the 2007 Stanley Cup finals. Emery will have to control his temper and be stellar in the net for the Flyers to have a shot at going deep into the playoffs.

  1. New Jersey Devils

The defending division champion Devils didn’t do much to improve themselves this summer. Former head coach Brent Sutter resigned for “family reasons,” then went on to agree to coach the Calgary Flames. Jacques Lemaire, who coached the Devils to their 1995 Stanley Cup championship, has returned to coach them again after spending eight seasons coaching the Minnesota Wild. Right winger Brian Gionta left the Devils for the Montreal Canadiens after seven years in New Jersey. Additionally, backup goaltender Scott Clemmensen, who filled in admirably when Martin Brodeur was out with an injury, signed with the Florida Panthers. The Devils will need Brodeur to have a strong season to have any chance at competing. Get ready for another season filled with 2-1 games, Devils fans.

  1. New York Islanders

It’s going to be another long season on Long Island. Isles owner Charles Wang and GM Garth Snow still seem to have no clue whatsoever about building a hockey team. The status of goaltender Rick DiPietro is uncertain, and the Islanders signed backup goalies Martin Biron from the Flyers and Dwayne Roloson from the Edmonton Oilers. Rookie and 2009’s first overall draft choice John Tavares will be interesting to watch, but he will probably be the only hockey player worth watching at the ancient Nassau Coliseum this year. Considering the lack of talent and uncertain future of the franchise with Wang threatening to move the team if he doesn’t get a new stadium deal, expect a lot of empty seats at the Coliseum this season. The fans that do show up won’t be seeing a lot of victories, that’s for sure.

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