5. New York Islanders-The Islanders are still a ways away from being a contender again. They have some good young forwards (John Tavares, Matt Moulson, Michael Grabner, and former Gopher Kyle Okposo), but their lack of solid defense really brings this team down. Also, goaltending has been a concern for the team in the past years, and probably will be going forward with the injury prone Rick DiPietro locked under contract through 2021. Look for the Islanders to put up lots of goals, but give up a lot in return as well.
4. New Jersey Devils-Last season, the Devils ranked last in the NHL in goals scored. Not a surprise for a Jacques Lemaire coached team. Now with new coach Pete DeBoer, the Devils hope to get out of the basement among goal scoring teams. But, with the team returning the same top two lines as last year, its pretty hard to believe the Devils will finish near or in the basement in scoring again. You also have to wonder if this is the final season for netminder Martin Brodeur, who turns 40 next May and is in the final season of his contract. Look for the Devils to flutter around the 10-12 seed in the East this year.
3. Philadelphia Flyers-This summer, the Flyers traded their two best players: Mike Richards and Jeff Carter. For this season, I believe we will see the Flyers take a small step back, but in the long run we will see them take bigger steps forward from these deals. The Flyers will have young F's Brayden Schenn, Jakub Voracek, and Wayne Simmonds on their roster this season, all coming over in the deals involving Richards and Carter. The Flyers also traded for G Ilya Bryzgalov, and inked him to a 9 year deal. The team also inked the ageless Jaromir Jagr to a one year deal, and by how he has looked so far this preseason, The Flyers have a very solid team. But with the young forwards, I believe 2011-12 will not be their year. They are still a playoff team, but a first round exit is more like it this year.
2. New York Rangers-The Rangers made the biggest splash of the offseason by signing C Brad Richards to an 9 year/$60 million deal, in the hopes of finally having an elite center for F Marian Gaborik. This move should help bolster a offense that was only good enough to finish 16th in the NHL last year. The Rangers now have two solid scoring lines to compliment their good defensive core. Factor in G Hendrik Lundqvist, and you have a very solid team for 2011-12. Look for the Rangers to finally make some noise in the playoffs this season.
1. Pittsburgh Penguins-Last year, the Penguins lost both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for their postseason run. They were taken out in the first round by Tampa Bay in 7 games. Now as we move to 2011-12, the Pens have gotten Malkin back and are expecting a Crosby return sometime before Thanksgiving. Once he returns, the Pens will be back as one of the East's elite. Offense, Defense, and Goaltending are all solid. Somehow, their defensive core is still one of the best in the league despite losing many key D-Men since winning the Cup in '09. The Penguins will win the Atlantic Division, and should be making a deep postseason run once again. But how far will they go?
Tomorrow's post takes a look at the Northeast Division.