Tuesday, July 8, 2008

The Atlantic Division's Future

Last season, the Atlantic division sent the most teams to the playoffs out of any division in the entire NHL. Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New Jersey, and the Rangers represented their division in the East. Of course what happened is history. But looking to next year, this division may get even closer than it was this past year.
Obviously I already did an Eastern Conference preview which kind of eliminates me from discussing how I think the teams will finish. Here is the final standings based on my East predictions:

1. Pittsburgh
2. NYR
3. Philadelphia
4. New Jersey
5. NYI

But that is not what I am looking for. I want to look at the future of this division. What will the balance of power be in the Atlantic Division? Here is a team by team breakdown:
Pittsburgh: The Penguins look like a pretty set team. With Crosby, Malkin, and Fleury in the fold, things are rolling along for Pittsburgh. They got to the Finals this year to fall short but they have come along way from an empty building and a reservation on a flight to Kansas City. Long term contracts to the trio I mentioned, along with Jordan Staal and Kris Letang, this team has the potential to be a very good team for a long time. However they have to be careful. Sidney Crosby took a "discount" with his cap hit of $8.7 million a year taking him through the 2012-2013 season. Malkin received the same contract while Fleury received a 7 year contract worth $5 million a year. That is $22.4 million between 3 guys starting in the 09-10 season (Malkin has one more year on his entry level contract). These guys are good players but nonetheless, that is a large chunk of change. If they plan on signing Jordan Staal, they will certainly be giving him serious money as well. On the prospect front, the Penguins really screwed themselves into the ground this past year by giving away their first 3 picks in trades at one time or another, making their first pick in the 4th round. While this draft was deep, it wasn't that deep. They will seriously have to replenish their prospect pool in the following drafts to make up for what they didn't get this year. The Penguins are still moving up but they have to be careful.
The New Jersey Devils future is a very big question mark. Everything hinges on Martin Brodeur for this team. Right now, they have 1 goaltending prospect in their entire system. They passed on some very decent future goalies in this year's draft which was a huge mistake. When Martin Brodeur retires, the team is going to be in a very tight spot. The Devils center their whole game around Marty and they have done that for more than a decade. But they have to start looking forward at possible replacements for Brodeur. With most of their offense coming from a few players like Parise, Elias, and Gionta, defense is their forte' along with goaltending. And without a deep prospect pool, the Devils are really falling down a hole that they do not want to go down. They will have to really look at the future of this team and change the way things are going because they will definitely bottom out of this division .
In Philadelphia, the Flyers surprised everyone with their 1 year turn around after an awful 06-07 season. But they are built for the future. Mike Richards is the centerpiece of the Flyers for the next decade or so along with Jeff Carter and Brayden Coburn. But the Flyers do not only have talent up with their club. Prospects like Claude Giroux and James vanRiemsdyk show an even brighter future on the way. This team is known for its physicality and toughness but they will also be known for their scoring in years to come. Depth prospects like Steve Downie and Ryan Parent along with youngsters Joffrey Lupul and Scottie Upshall will bring this team very far. Not to mention Martin Biron, Daniel Briere, Scott Hartnell, and Simon Gagne all have many years ahead of them. The Flyers weakness however is goaltending after Marty Biron and I am sure Paul Holmgren will not wait long to address that.
The New York Islanders. Well. Right now the future is a bit bleak after Garth Snow traded down at the draft to draft Josh Bailey, missing out on players like Luke Schenn and Nikita Filatov. But they had a very good draft overall. Bailey was still a good pick along with later picks David Toews, Jyri Niemi, Kirill Petrov and Aaron Ness. But those guys are all very far away from NHL ice and the Islanders are going to have trouble hanging in contention of anything but the first pick in the draft, which may be something that isn't so bad in terms of the future. But considering what happened at this past year's draft, the Islanders are very unpredictable. For now, Islander fans will have to stay patient which I am sure is something they do no want to hear.
The last, but definitely not the least in any way, are the New York Rangers. What is in store for them? Well, right off the bat, letting Jagr and Straka leave is the last of the old guard and will allow the Rangers to become much more unpredictable and adapt to the new NHL. Young players like Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, Marc Staal, Nigel Dawes, and Dan Girardi are a good young core along with Henrik Lundqvist, who is only 26 years old. Scott Gomez and Chris Drury along with Henrik are the pieces that this team will be built around for years to come. But there is something even better on the horizon for the Rangers. On defense, Bobby Sanguinetti and Michael Del Zotto are two names that Ranger fans will be waiting to take up duties along the blue line along with Marc Staal to form a very formative defensive core. However, the big excitement is in the forwards. It seems all my comments about Communism are coming back with a vengeance. Fortunately in a very good way. Artem Anisimov, Alexei Cherepanov and Evgeny Grachev along with newly acquired Nikolai Zherdev are bringing the Rangers prospect pool into conversations and will also put the Rangers in an unbelievably great position for the future. The offensive power of all of these players will be relied on to carry this team offensively and certainly shows why they will be a formidable team in the future. Glen Sather has made some bad moves with the Rangers but prospect wise, he has been very good in stocking this team with good ones. Obviously, contracts and the cap will play a huge role with the Rangers since they tend to spend big money. How that plays out will be the deciding factor in how this team does. 
So who is going to be the best? I think it will be between the Flyers and the Rangers. The prospects and young players for both of these teams matchup very well on both sides of the puck. But the Rangers will win this bout because of one word. King. Obviously this may seem bias since this is a Rangers leaning blog. But it isn't. Taking in all of the information and looking at each team against each other, the Rangers prospect pool and young players already on the team are higher quality than any others. Yes Penguin fans, even yours. You may have a few great players but that is all you have. The Rangers have a few greats coming with many good ones as a supporting cast. 
What do you think? Am I wrong? Leave a comment or sign the guest book and let me know what you think! 

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