It is not so often that you see a Flyers fan writing for a Rangers blog. But for the first time in the known universe the impossible has become possible. Firstly I would like to thank my good friend Gootz who is giving me this opportunity to brain wash, I mean, give you my Atlantic division predictions.
Now just because I am a Flyers fan does not make me a biased, crying, and ever complaining fan. Nor am I a supporter of dirty play, and unsportsmanlike conduct.
I would like to begin by with another first, by congratulating the Pittsburgh Penguins on an extraordinary year and for winning Lord Stanley's Cup over the much favored Detroit Red Wings.
Second I would like to comment on what a wonderful year this division put together. The Atlantic Division has become the powerhouse of the Eastern Conference and can contend with the loaded roasters of the Western Conference. All in all this means just one thing for you Atlantic Div. fans: another season of intense, nail biting, heart pounding, glass shattering, bone crushing, high scoring, rivalry filled hockey. Just typing that line made my heart race and my hands sweat. Now on to the predictions which I promise will be neutral as can be:
1. Pittsburgh Penguins
As long as they hold the cup in their corner and not the corner of Section 420 then they must be favored. But the Pens should be aware that they don't make the same mistake they did last season and that is have a midseason collapse. They plummeted in the standings and were out of the top 8 for quite a number of weeks. They were lucky they were able to get their game together in time so they could make the cut. But another stretch like that this year could mean the difference between repeat and hitting the showers early. There are two reasons: The Atlantic division has made itself stronger than last year through free agent acquisitions, expert drafting and blockbuster trades. Secondly it isn't good for a team to think they can slack off and still make the playoffs because it is a horrible mentality for a game that demands full attention and full desire.
The Penguins still have a team with players that have made more than a name for themselves such as Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Marc Andre Fleury. But the team also has a Staal and a weapon like Jordan Staal, who is lethal on both sides of the puck, has no where to go but up. The team down the stretch showed its well roundedness and can put together another great season if they manage to stay healthy and Fleury stays consistent.
2. Philadelphia Flyers
I swear to you all I am not listing the Flyers second because they are my team. The Flyers had a year where they played wonderfully throughout but closed out the season horribly falling from 4th to 5th and having to play the Pens in Pittsburgh which some can argue ended the season for the Flyers. But the Flyers has a strong set of 4 lines and an improved defense which will be quite formidable. Stars like Captain Mike Richards, arguably one of the best two way players around and Jeff Carter, one of the best shooters in the league lead the way for Philadelphia. Not to mention a quick handling Simon Gagne and a finally healthy Daniel Briere give the Flyers plenty of firepower.
The defense will no longer be anchored around Kimmo Timonen and Brayden Coburn. The addition of Pronger and the emergence of Matt Carle and Ryan Parent give the Flyers a very complete team.
The Flyers pose something that many teams have lacked coming out of the lockout and that is an abundance of offense. This offseason the Flyers gave up some of that offense to make up for a porous defense by trading RW Joffery Lupul, first round pick Luca Sbisa (Italian Pride from Sardegna, Italy) a 2009 and 2010 first round pick for Anaheim's Chris Pronger and a minor leaguer. Pronger instantly brings power to a blue line that has been picked on by talented fowards along with a winning attitude having won a cup with the Ducks.
The Flyers also made a major adjustment to their goal tending by not signing either of last year's net minders and signing former troubled NHLer Ray Emery and former Flyer Brian Boucher. Emery's last season in the NHL was with the Ottawa Senators but he failed to follow a Stanley Cup visit with anything nearly as good so he was bought out and fled to Russia. Brian Boucher had an average year with the San Jose Sharks so there is no telling which of the two will be a clear starter by the Winter Classic (Flyers @ Bruins in Fenway Park January 1st 2010). But their is no doubt the Flyers season will depend on consistency with their goaltending.
3. New York Rangers
Scott Gomez, Marcus Naslund, Chris Drury, Nikolai Zerdev, and Petr Prucha sounds like a lineup of forwards assembled by a manger who wants to win. Too bad the coach wanted to play defense for 55 minutes and send 2 forwards into the offensive zone at a time. The Rangers excelled in defense, except for Wade Redden whose head many ranger fans are calling for. The Blue Shirts spent most of the year tumbling and trying to find an identity. There identity was not found until head coach Tom Renney was fired and John Tortorella was put in the driver's seat. And boy did Torts wake that team up. The team had a strong push into the playoffs but failed to make any noise after letting the series against the Capitals slip away.
This offseason was another filled with Glen Sather's desperation attempts to keep his job. No more Scott Gomez or Zherdev and a retired Marcus Naslund helps give the Rangers a new face. The addition of Christopher Higgins, a New York native can be a boost to the fan base and a shake up to the roster. Oh and did I mention the Rangers signed Marian Gaborik to hopefully be the player to knock the Rangers out of their offensive woes? The emergence of Brandon Dubinsky will also be a great help to a team that could fail just as easily as it can succeed.
4. New Jersey Devils
Is this team ever going to have another bad season? Even with an injured Martin Broduer this team finds ways to win and the swamps of New Jersey continue to spit out consistent well rounded teams. The Devils played a majority of their season with out Vezina Trophy winner Brodeur and still had an amazing year, they won the division for crying out loud! The Devils though have suffered a couple crushing loses this offseason with star forward Brian Gionta and always ready for a fight John Madden departing. Both were key players to the Devils success this year and it will be interesting to see how the Devils fare without them. But they still have the likes of Patrick Elias and Zack Parise.
The team has a great GM in Lou Lamorella, whom can be found every morning at the Starbucks in Edgewater, NJ. Thats insider information you will not get anywhere else other than here at the Corner of Section of 420 and Glendale. Lou is very devoted and knows what he is doing, and has no problem with coming down from his box to have to coach the team into the playoffs. Unfortunately the team is going to take a turn for the worst this year. Although they will not fall farther than 4th and won't have to worry about the Islanders they will not make the Top 8 at seasons end.
5. New York Islanders
Maybe a new arena will help out the Islanders because the Coliseum is getting pretty dingy and the team is starting to take a turn for the better. Well where else could they go they have been in dead end for the last few years all locked up with net minder Rick Dipietro for the next half century? But the team has a series of young goalies and newly acquired Martin Biron could spell the end of Ricky's injury filled days in Long Island.
Then there was the #1 Draft in the 2009 NHL entry Draft where the Islanders selected John Tavares, a highly skilled forward ready to see some intense NHL action to better improve his already high skills. The future is looking good for the Isles with young skaters such as Kyle Okposo and Sean Bergenhiem who can be great foundations for a team that needs some good youth. Don't expect the Islanders to be fighting for a playoff position but they certainly will not finish last in the Conference.
So there you have it fellow puck heads. The only problem was you could read these predictions and the ones from Gootz and say they are the same. They are which is weird because he is a Ranger and I a Flyer. So enjoy the rest of this gruesome offseason because soon you will be watching Atlantic Division stars like Crosby, Richards, Parise, Gaborik and Tavares making the highlight reel every night. Good Luck and God Bless.