Each year different variables affect a team’s ability to compete at a high level with the other teams in the league and division. Strength of goaltending, experience, grit of the defense, speed, creativity and depth of the offense all play a huge role in a team’s overall success from season to season.
The Atlantic Division teams are all looking to improve this season just like every other team in the league but to do so means adding the right pieces to the puzzle while maintaining what already works. Teams can improve on a previous season or decline due to injuries or just not getting the same level of production from their squad as the year before.
It is tough to predict what a season of intense competition will bring but taking a look at the moves made by each team this off-season along with last year’s results it may be possible to get an idea of what the coming season may have to offer.
The Flyers reached the cup last year and have since run into some goaltending issues. It seems that Michael Leighton will once again end up as the starter again but chances are we will not see Philadelphia playing for the cup again in 2011.
Last season was a Cinderella story for the Flyers reaching the cup finals as a seven seed playoff team. With a older Chris Pronger already working through an injury, this team will not be in the necessary shape to make a run. Look for the Flyers to reach the playoffs a little easier than last year but I would be surprised if they got through round one.
The Penguins had the team that everyone thought would put them in the Stanley Cup Finals last season but they were upset earlier than expected by the surging Montreal Canadiens.
Sidney Crosby and company are too offensively dominant and slightly more experienced to not compete for the cup next season. Moves have been made to tighten up the defense and hopefully decrease the amount of goals against allowed. Of all the teams in the division, Pittsburgh has the best chance to represent in the finals this year and many other years to come.
The Devils are in the middle of Ilya-gate and until that situation is resolved there’s no telling what direction they are heading. In a similar story to the Penguins, the Devils exited the playoffs early last season with a team that was expected to advance further. Martin Brodeur is pushing 40 and could begin to show signs of slowing down this season. If Kovalchuk ends up on another team New Jersey will not have the ability to provide the necessary offensive support to Brodeur that he will need.
Again, the Devils will reach the playoffs but not nearly as high in the standings as last season. Maybe they will be the team that eliminates the Flyers in round one.
The Rangers have a lot of improvement to make on last season’s heartbreaking season falling one shootout goal away from a playoff birth. Henrik Lundqvist and Marian Gaborik are the only two players you can definitely count on to produce solid results next season.
A few offensive and defensive additions have been made to improve the depth of this team including a Joe Kocur-type enforcer in Derek Boogaard who was ranked as the second most feared enforcer in the league last season. With some key additions the Rangers will be in the playoffs and might even manage an early round upset before falling in round two.
The Islanders have to most room for improvement and really cannot fall much further than they ended up last season. Rick DiPietro should be back and hopefully for the whole season. Last year the Isles gave up way too many goals and the return of Rick should lessen that number drastically giving the team a great chance to compete. Offensively some size and speed has been added but they are still without a true goal scorer to run the offense.
The Isles will improve from last season but not enough to warrant a playoff birth. There is too much that needs to change before that will happen and this just is not the year.
Of all the teams in this division, the Rangers will show the most overall change from last season. This team will be more offensively productive this season allowing Henrik to win some games even when giving up three or four goals from time to time. That alone will produce almost ten more wins for the team and will place them right in the playoff mix.