From the Stanley Cup champions to the #1 pick in the NHL draft last season, teams in the Atlantic Division covered the entire spectrum last season. When you add in the fact that it was the Devils (not the Pens), that won the division last season and the Flyers had home ice advantage all but locked-up until the final game of the season; you see that there’s no shortage of quality teams. Oh, who was it that dashed the Flyers hopes home ice advantage in the first round? That would be the Rangers! Last year, the Atlantic Division produced the 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 7th seeds in the Eastern Conference. Will they be able to produce 4 teams for the playoffs again? That’s where our bloggers come into play.
We have some great bloggers to represent each team in our Roundtable discussion. Carlos Figueiredo from Speaking of the Devils will give you anything and everything that you wanted to know about the New Jersey Devils and their upcoming season. Damian Romano from the Pens Universe and the crew over at Clockwork Flyers were able to coexist in the same place without a bench clearing brawl. Come to think of it, The Mouth from Ranger Crisis and Michael Schuerlein at Islesblogger.com were also able to coexist without too many chants of 1940 or Denis Potvin!
We’ll be giving you a Roundtable for a different division every day this week. For a schedule to find when we’ll be talking about your favorite team, check out our schedule here.
Without further delay, here’s what everyone had to say!
1. Why is your team going to be better than they were last season?
Carlos (Devils): Two words: Rolston and Shanahan. After returning from his injury last season, Brian Rolston never got a fair shot at significant playing time, and was even buried on the 4th line at times. Playing a (hopefully) full, healthy season should mean a return to his 50-60 point production. Having Brendan Shanahan for a full season should help tremendously, especially with the amount of young players the Devils will have on the ice. The team had a different feel to it once he joined at the halfway point last season, and a full season with the team should really help all the players around him, on AND off the ice.
Damian (Penguins): Experience. The past two seasons the Penguins have played in the Stanley Cup finals, and last year they won. This proves development and improvement in the most effective way. And when you have a core with Crosby, Malkin, Fleury and Staal coming in at 22, 23, 24 and 21 surrounded by nearly the same roster, only good things can come out of it.
Clockwork Flyers (Flyers): The answer to this question should be obvious, as the Flyers made headlines often with their assortment of offseason moves. First and foremost is the acquisition of Chris Pronger. Pronger is a top 5 defenseman mixed with an enforcer/hard hitting player. The big rip on the Flyers defense this year was that they weren’t tough at all. After losing Jason Smith to Ottawa and Derian Hatcher to injury, the Flyers defense core lost its two tough guys and the team lost two veterans who lead by example. This past season, the only defenseman playing a consistent physical game was Andrew Alberts. Some could argue Braydon Coburn, but he doesn’t play physical consistently. Pronger is a player who can play the power play, penalty kill, and won’t shy away from making players pay for entering the zone.
Another reason the Flyers could be much better is the goaltending situation. The acquisition of Ray Emery could be a godsend for the Flyers. Emery is a goalie with Stanley Cup experience, plays tough (whish instinctively causes Flyers fans to flashback to Ron Hextall), and has had the numbers to back it up. Barring another mental breakdown, Emery could very well be the goalie the Flyers have been waiting for. Also, let’s not forget Brian Boucher, who is returning for his third stint with the Flyers. Boucher is a solid backup, can step in and start if Emery gets hurt – or melts down – like he did for the Sharks last season.
If you’re starting to see a trend here, it’s the attitude bit. The Flyers also signed winger Ian Laperierre and defenseman Ole-Kristian Tollefsen who are both also known for being tough and physical. The Flyers are going back to their roots, and as far as we at Clockwork are concerned, the Flyers right now are the meanest team in hockey, and the Flyers play best when they play mean.
The Mouth (Rangers): What translates into better really is in the eye of the beholder. The Rangers defensive minded style under former coach Tom Renney has been entirely scrapped in lieu of new coaches John Tortorella’s torpedo style offense where defenseman are given the responsibility to move the puck to the forwards quickly for offensive strikes. In this area the Rangers will certainly be better and dramatically more exciting to watch. Whether this translates into their 2009-2010 record being better, really remains to be seen. I think it will.
Michael (Islanders): This is a tough one to answer. Islanders owner Charles Wang has been on record as saying that if you are going to lose, do it right. After the miserable 08/09 season the Islanders “prize” was the number one overall pick in Montreal and the team selected John Tavares. Improvement cannot be measured by the potential or merits of one player alone though.
Add Tavares to a young core consisting of Kyle Okposo, Josh Bailey, Franz Nielsen, Blake Comeau, Jeff Tambellini and some of the other NHL capable prospects down in Bridgeport and you have the beginnings of something special.
The Islanders have not gone crazy during free agency, GM Garth Snow prepared the fans last year by saying the team would not look much different this season. Having said that, the addition of two capable NHL goaltenders in Dwayne Roloson and Marty Biron will certainly keep the Islanders afloat more than last year being backstopped by Yann Danis and Joey MacDonald.
So by the addition of solid goaltending, a blue chip prospect, and experience for Scott Gordon and his team – the team will show areas of improvement, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they finish in the bottom five again. Scoring and defense remains the Islanders real issues, thus my low projections – I could be wrong though you never know.
2. What part of your own team scares the hell out of you this season?
Carlos (Devils): Probably the same part that scared me last season. The defense. With Paul Martin, Johnny Oduya and Colin White, the top three are SOLID, but not spectacular. Bryce Salvador is not horrible, but I saw him make way too many mistakes last season. Andy Greene and Mike Mattou round out the top six. By not signing a top-6 D-man, the Devils have the same group that couldn’t shut down a certain team with just seconds remaining in a certain post-season game. That’s all I’ll say. Anyone have a tissue?
Damian (Penguins): I would say probably not living up to the recent accolades. Three seasons ago the Penguins didn’t make the playoffs and before that were atrocious. Then all the sudden Crosby leads them to their first trip to the playoffs in many years, only to be thwarted by the Senators. Followed up by two trips to the SCF and then achieving the endeavor of every franchise, winning The Cup. Now they have a team nearly identical to last year and much more to prove in defending it. Will they do so? Or will they do what most teams do and endure a Cup hangover? I chose the former.
Clockwork Flyers (Flyers): All that positive talk about Emery and Boucher in the previous answer is just our way of trying to cover up a huge fear we have: The Philadelphia Flyers’ goalie situation scares the hell out of us. Our insider “Claire” with the full answer:
And really, how could the goalie situation not scare you? Ray Emery is a total wildcard. Yes, Emery played very well last season in Russia (22-8, 2.12 GAA), but the KHL isn’t the NHL. And yes, he also performed well with the Senators – but, of course, his off-ice behavior forced the team to get rid of him.
He swears he’s a changed man, but I’ll believe that when I see it. And what if I don’t?
Without getting too specific, a few individuals I know who are close to the team have said that the addition of Emery to the Flyers’ locker room will be like a cancer. That the 26-year-old netminder with a troubled past will wreck what chemistry John Stevens has worked to create with his young team over the past few seasons.
(Also, I feel compelled to mention I’ve met Ray on a number of occasions off ice, and he scares me in person, too, when he’s just hanging out in jeans and a T-shirt. So… there’s that.)
While a number of fans had hoped the Phantoms’ Scott Munroe would get the call-up to back Emery, I agree with the Flyers’ belief that it was critical to have a back-up goaltender with NHL experience, should Emery, uh, hit a roadblock. But Brian Boucher? Really? He didn’t work out the last time he played for us. Or the time before that. So what makes the team think he’d be a reliable, dare I say decent, starting goalie if we needed him to be?
I understand that recycling is in these days… but does the trend really have to carry over to the pipes?
The Mouth (Rangers): The health of UFA signing Marian Gaborik scares the beejeezus out of me as well as other Blueshirt fans. Marian is surely the sniper the Rangers needed so desperately. Gaborik when healthy is surely the offensive force the Rangers had to have but he is a high risk, high reward acquisition.
Marian’s health is paramount to the Rangers success this upcoming season The scary part as far as Ranger fans are concerned are his litany of groin injuries he has suffered throughout his career playing with the Wild as well his two hip surgeries that might hinder him playing 75 games or more as a Ranger.
Michael (Islanders): This question scares me. Two of the last three seasons the Islanders have lead the league in man games lost to injury. If the trend continues, what does that say about the strength and conditioning program? Aside from that, the questionable health of all star goaltender Rick DiPietro scares me as well. Other than that, what is there to be scared of? Finishing dead last again? I’ll take another number one, thanks!
3. Every year there are players that break onto the scene as all-stars or even superstars. Sometimes they’re rookies that are expected to be great, sometimes they are rookies that shock the world and sometimes they’re younger players that simply come into their own. Who is someone on your team that we should all look to have a breakout season?
Carlos (Devils): While I feel he had a mini-breakout season last year, I think Travis Zajac still has room to improve, and this might be the year that other teams notice a little more. He had 62 points last season (20g-42a), and he is still only 24 years old. He is entering his 4th full season with the team, and I feel this may be the year he truly breaks out and becomes a top center. Playing on a line with Zach Parise and Jamie Langenbrunner can only help his numbers.
Damian (Penguins): I’m going to go with Jordan Staal. After Staal’s rookie year I expected him to have that breakouts season for the past two years. While he has proved himself as a solid 3rd line starter, he hasn’t broken into stardom the way at least I anticipated. After signing through 2013 and with a Stanley Cup under his belt, I expect Staal to have a breakout season and put up career high numbers. A close second would be Kris Letang.
Clockwork Flyers (Flyers): That player undoubtedly is Claude Giroux. Giroux played 42 games for the Flyers in the regular season, and though he started off a bit slow, picked it up at the end of the season and finished the year with 9 goals and 18 assists. He also tagged on 2 goals and 3 assists in 6 playoff games this.
The best part about Giroux is who his line mates were during last season. Until mid-March he was paired with Daniel Carcillo and Arron Asham, two reputed enforcers with occasional flashes of offensive upside. Despite these less-than-ideal line mates, Giroux still put up points. Giroux’s production really jumped when he was paired with Danny Briere at the end of March. The two of them seemed to have an instant chemistry.
Giroux proved he can produce no matter who is line mates are. Expect him to have a big year. If he gets put on a line with Briere, both of them could have a big year.
The Mouth (Rangers): As far as breakout seasons go, if Brandon Dubinsky ever gets signed, he would be the player I would look to. Dubinsky struggled big time offensively last year in goal production but had a tremendous amount of scoring chances. He may just get the opportunity turn his 40 point career average into a 65-70 point 2009-2010 campaign.
This would be mainly due to his being the center ice man for Marian Gaborik. Dubinsky is a natural leader on the ice and Glen Sather should stop jerking the kid around and ink him, so Brandon can be allowed have the breakout season he’s ready to have in a Ranger uniform and not in some other teams jersey if he is traded away.
Michael (Islanders): Well right off the bat John Tavares is the guy who SHOULDN’T be a surprise, due to expectations. But I would love for him to come in and tear up the league in his rookie campaign.
2008 first round pick Josh Bailey showed marked improvement towards the end of last season, look for him to be stronger and smarter on the puck this season. He has vision and a knack for finding the open man, someone Tavares should excel playing with.
Kyle Okposo is another player who should come out of the gate hard, he finished the year strong and then played for Team USA in the Worlds and is playing for Team USA at the Olympics in 2010. World competition and another year in the NHL will be a big help.
Another name to watch out for, Jesse Joensuu. He is a big power forward who LOVES to work the corners, he also has a decent shot and did well in spot duty last year on the Island.
4. We all know that watching a team for 82 games, you start to appreciate things that casual fans won’t necessarily know. Who’s the guy on your team that doesn’t get nearly the respect that he deserves?
Carlos (Devils): Sadly, it’s probably Zach Parise. However, a 45 goal, 94 point season might have made others in the league notice a bit, so I won’t take the easy way out here and go with that answer. The other player that every Devils fan loves, but really doesn’t get talked about much (if at all) is David Clarkson. He was 10th in the league in PIM last season with 164. On top of that, he threw in 17 goals and 15 assists. Oh yeah, the guy who throws his body around got some time on the power-play unit too, hitting the back of the net four times with the man advantage. There is a different feel to the team when he hits the ice (and opposing players). There aren’t many players left in the league who have that kind of intensity, are not afraid to drop the gloves with anyone, and can still put up 30+ points and come close to 20 goals.
Damian (Penguins): Last year I would have said Max Talbot, now he’s a household name in the hockey world due to his performance in the 2009 SCF. This year I may just end up pointing the finger at Craig Adams. We picked him up after Chicago released him and his presence has not gone unnoticed. He’s not the most talented guy on the ice but he may just be one of the smartest (he did graduate from Harvard you know). That aside, I think to have a guy who just knows what to do and where to be on your fourth line is an invaluable resource.
Clockwork Flyers (Flyers): Darroll Powe is most definitely a player on the Flyers who doesn’t get the respect he deserves.
With all the big-name talent on the Flyers – Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Chris Pronger – it’s easy to overlook the guys who don’t contribute on the score sheet regularly but are still important to the success of the team. Powe is one of those players.
Playing on the third and fourth lines, Powe is your prototypical “hustle” player. He seems to skate as hard as he can for his entire shift each and every shift of the game.
Last season was his rookie year in the NHL. He played three games in late October and returned in early December, this time for good. He finished the year with 60 games played registering 6 goals and 5 assists in that span. He would also add three points in six playoff games.
The coaching staff has hinted at Powe having a larger role on the team next year, so look for him to most likely register significant time on the penalty kill.
The Mouth (Rangers): The guy who I feel doesn’t get the respect he deserves on the Rangers is defenseman Michal Rozsival. Ironically, he probably gets more respect league wise then he does from his own fans that are unhappy with his power play efforts and his lofty contract. There is no doubt Michal had an off year last year but he was saddled the whole season with having Wade Redden as defensive partner and to put it plainly Redden was horrid under former coach Tom Renney.
Rozsival in the two years previous years had solid seasons even though the always lackluster Marek Malek was his partner during those campaigns. Michal is very good defensively and an excellent shot blocker. His only crime is that is he gets paid very well and is too unselfish on the Power play and he needs to shoot more.
Rozsival is no doubt the Rangers best two-way defenseman, a commodity that Ranger fans should not take so lightly. If it were not for his hefty contract any team in the league would love to have Michal Rozsival on its roster.
Michael (Islanders): As a credentialed blogger and a full season ticket holder I get to see pretty much every home game. I catch normally 70% of the road games as well, so I have watched a TON of hockey the last few seasons.
Three players fit into this category for me; Richard Park, Andy Hilbert and of course Mark Streit.
Park isn’t the biggest, fastest or most talented player on the team, but he has a heart of solid gold. He stands up for teammates, plays at full throttle 100% of the game and has a knack for killing penalties. The same holds true for Hilbert, although pretty sure he is still a UFA at this point.
Mark Streit may not fit into this category given he was a Norris nominee and was represented at the all star game, but he has really proven to the league he can be the guy who logs 20-25 minutes on your blue line and can QB a power play. He was a complete steal last off season and we love that he is an Islander.
5. Prediction time: If you were throwing down some serious money, how do you think the final standings of the Atlantic Division will shake out? More importantly, which teams do you think are going to make the playoffs from the Atlantic?
Carlos (Devils): I’m going to be unoriginal here and go with the same order as last year, with the same teams making it into the playoffs. There have been lots of new faces added to teams in the division, but I think in the end things will end up the way they almost always do, with the Devils on top of the division standing:
1. Devils (playoffs)
2. Pittsburgh (playoffs)
3. Philadelphia (playoffs)
4. The Rags (playoffs….barely)
1. Y- Pittsburgh Penguins – 108 pts
2. X- Philadelphia Flyers -101 pts
3. X- New Jersey Devils -98 pts
4. New York Rangers – 91 pts
5. New York Islanders – 73 pts
Clockwork Flyers (Flyers): We see the division breaking down in the following order and, for the fourth year in a row, the Atlantic will send four teams to the playoffs.
Penguins – They’ve lost very few players from last year’s team. I think they only lost one defensive pairing from last year – Rob Scuderi and Hal Gill. Through free agency – Jay McKee – and prospect development – Alex Goligoski – they’ll have someone to fill those defensive spots. Basically, you’re the champs until someone beats you.
Flyers – They have awesome offensive depth. The additions of Pronger and Tollefsen make the defense more physical. Outside of the net this is an amazing team. The key for the season — and boy does this sound familiar — will be how well the goalies play.
Devils – As a Flyers fan, you get a warm and fuzzy feeling when you think about the day that Marty Brodeur retires. Well the Devils spent the first half of last season destroying that feeling. As long as they have Marty between the pipes and Lou Lamoriello putting the team together, they’ll be playoff contenders.
Rangers – The dark horse of the division. Many analysts predict the team to perform only slightly better than the Islanders — but we’re not so sure. With additions like Marian Gaborik, Chris Higgins and Enver Lisin, the team is much improved over last season, when, I must add, the Flyers still had trouble beating them on home ice.
Islanders – Drafting John Tavares is huge for this organization and its fan base, but my magic 8-ball says, “Check back in 3 years.”
The Mouth (Rangers): Penguins, Devils, Rangers, will make Playoffs.
Michael (Islanders): If I were a bettin’ man I would be hard pressed not to pick Pittsburgh to finish first, but here are my thoughts on the division:
4. New Jersey
The last several years have the top four of the Atlantic Division making the playoffs, so unless Brodeur gets injured or tanks, I doubt it will be any different, save for maybe spots 2-4 flip flopping a bit.