Jan 19, 2012; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Flyers center Max Talbot (27) checks New York Islanders right wing P.A. Parenteau (15) during the 1st period of game at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-US PRESSWIRE

Eyeing Up The Atlantic

Alan Maglaque-US PRESSWIRE

Going into next season the Atlantic division will most likely be even tougher then it was last season. The rough and rugged East in general is a battle every year and the Atlantic division is the crown jewel of the whole conference. Every team has made some changes to their roster from last season and for the most part these moves have been upgrades. Although the offseason is far from over and the biggest moves may not have happened yet it’s fair to say that the division will be at least as tough as it was last season. In regards to last season the division was so tight that every team besides the lowly Islanders made the playoffs. The Flyers and Devils, the 5 and 6 seeds in the conference, were separated by 1 point and the Pens and Rangers, the 1 and 4 seeds in the conference, were separated by 1 point as well. I expect this division to be just as tight next season, but a few changes to a couple teams rosters can give them a quick leap ahead of the competition. We all know where the Flyers sit right now. Plenty of young guys. Not many offseason moves besides the Schenn acquisition. I still look for them to make one more move before the season begins. It could be a huge deal for a Bobby Ryan type or it could be a free agent signing of somebody like Shane Doan. Either way I say the Flyers go into the next season a little weaker on defense (no Prongs) and just as solid on offense. Bryz will be Bryz. Let’s all just hope that’s Bryz from March and not December.

First and foremost we must remember that Crosby did not play nearly a full season with the Pens this year. He was limited to just 22 games so him coming back and playing a full season is a huge upgrade to an already deadly offense. Of course when Sid does play a full season he tends to be the power behind the offense and Malkin takes a backseat so that dynamic will have to be figured out if they are to be truly successful again as they were in 2009. It is understandable that Malkin take on the role of offensive powerhouse while Crosby is out of the lineup, but the last few years the difference between his numbers when Crosby is in and when Crosby is out of the lineup are absurd. The biggest addition for the Pens so far this offseason was back-up goalie Tomas Vokoun. Although a small move on paper this will take a lot of weight off of Fleury and will allow him to play less games in the regular season which will keep him fresh for the playoffs. A competent back-up is a very important thing in this day and age in the NHL and the Pens not only have a competent back-up, but a proven starter as a back-up. As for the future look for the Pens to go after Semin hard if they do not land Nash in a trade which would only add to their stacked offense.

The Rangers team is still very much intact from last season which is not necessarily a bad thing for them considering they came out on top in the East last season. Re-signing Marty Biron and signing Arron Asham (who will now have played for every team in the Atlantic Division) are the 2 significant moves that the Rangers have made so far this offseason. I believe they are looking to build a powerhouse offense and will get Rick Nash in the Big Apple. It will cost them though. And a lot. Possibly 2 of their young d-men and a young forward like Boyle perhaps. The fact is though if the Rangers do bring Nash in then their mind state will clearly will be score, score, score and let the King on the back end take care of the rest. Compiling an offense that has Gaborik, Nash and Richards in it is no easy feat. They are clearly in a win now mode.

The Devils, who some how some way, made it all the way to the Cup last season are also a team that is relatively intact from last season. They re-upped Marty for 2 years as well as the Moose so their goaltending situation shouldn’t be an issue next season. The biggest issue? Well its Minnesota’s biggest signing which would be one Zach Parise. The Devils lost a lot when he signed in Minny and they haven’t done anything about it. Yet that it is. They still have time to make a move to bring in some more offense, but the market is tight and you’ll have to give a lot to get a lot and the Devils don’t have much to give. If they don’t figure out a way to get some more offense on the roster they are going to have a lot tougher of a time competing in this division then they did last year. Marty can only do so much now. Can he carry a team? When he gets hot sure, but not for a full season and through the playoffs. Jersey will need young guys like Henrique to continue their phenomenal play from the postseason for the Devils to be able to keep up with the other teams.

The Islanders. What can you say about these guys? They have struggled for so many years now you have to believe they can only get better and I for one think they can actually not end up in the basement of the division or the conference this season. The Isles offense, on paper, is pretty good. Okposo, Tavares, Moulson and Grabner are nice offensive weapons. Frans Nielson is a solid penalty killer and great 3rd/4th liner type. They also added Brad Boyes who, if he can return to his form from 2 years ago, can be a solid contributor. On defense they added Matt Carkner and Lubomir Visnovsky which will definitely upgrade their D. Visnovsky can be a top player for this team if he can stay healthy. When it comes down to it it’s DiPietro, given he’s the starter at the beginning of the season, who makes or breaks this club once again. They are still not strong enough of a team to overcome bad goaltending on a regular basis so he must be solid this season and he’s got to stay healthy. Probably just jinxed him on that last one.

-John LaMarra

Twitter – @popesnipes77

E-Mail – [email protected]

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