With the way the NHL's Atlantic Division is shaping up to be for the upcoming 2011-12 season, it looks to be one of the deepest divisions in the league and could be a 'playoff division', per se.
Some teams made some additions, others made some re-signings, while another club revamped a good portion of the squad. No matter what each of these teams did, the Atlantic could easily be considered one of the best in all of hockey.
Sometimes, less is really more and for that is the case for the Pittsburgh Penguins.
This summer has been all about getting their two best players, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, healthy. Assuming both of these superstars end up making a full recovery, the Penguins are going to be an extremely dangerous team this season.
With the Penguins having those two back in the lineup along with most of the supporting cast from last season and Marc-Andre Fleury in goal, the Penguins look primed to make a run at the No. 1 spot in not only the Atlantic Division, but the Eastern Conference as well.
The Flyers have had quite the off-season so far, one that has changed the landscape of their hockey team for the foreseeable future.
For starters, the team traded away Mike Richards and Jeff Carter for the likes of Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek, Braden Schenn and some important draft picks. The team also surprisingly signed both Jaromir Jagr and Max Talbot, guys who will hopefully produce and be good team players for a somewhat-rebuilding hockey club.
Most imoportantly, the team signed unrestricted free agent goaltender Ilya Brzgalov to a nine-year deal before he hit the open market. The Flyers are hoping he can be the netminder to get them back to the Promised Land for many years to come.
It may be a changed team, but it will certainly be one of the most dangerous teams in both the division and conference.
New York Rangers
The Rangers got the biggest fish this off-season and also re-signed a few of their core players, making this team what should be much better than last year's version.
On July 2nd, the Rangers went out and signed the biggest unrestricted free agent on the market in Brad Richards to a nine-year deal. Richards is someone that, when healthy, can produce on a consistent basis, play in all situations, and be the all-important true No. 1 center the team has lacked for the last few seasons.
The team also signed UFA Michael Rupp. Rupp could end up being a good third/fourth-line guy and someone who will stick up for his teammates and score here and there.
More importantly, the team re-signed both Ryan Callahan and Brandon Dubinsky to three- and four-year deals, respectively. Callahan is going to be considered to be the next captain for the Blueshirts, while Dubinsky will be counted on to put the puck in the net and continue evolving into one of the game's top power forwards.
With Henrik Lundqvist between the pipes and lots of depth up front, this team should compete for the middle of the pack in the Eastern Conference as well as a top-three placement in the Atlantic Division.
New Jersey Devils
With a new head coach, a healthy star winger and a well-rested goaltender, the New Jersey Devils are primed to return the postseason in 2011-12.
The Devils hired Peter DeBoer to be the team's new head coach. In his three seasons as the head man with the Florida Panthers, DeBoer's teams did not make the playoffs but were highly competitive. With this Devils team, DeBoer should have no trouble getting the franchise back into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The team will also have a healthy Zach Parise. He is someone who can score between 30-40 goals, kill penalties, play on the power play and be the club's most consistent producer. Considering that this is his contract year, expect that and more from Parise, who will be looking for a big raise come 2012-13.
Obviously, Martin Broduer will be the man between the pipes once again. Durability could be an issue, but no matter what way one looks at it, he is an all-star and a future hall of famer. A team certainly cannot go wrong with that in net.
New York Islanders
While things with the new arena are not going so well, things on the ice are looking quite bright for the New York Islanders.
The team has great forwards in John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Matt Moulson, Blake Comeau, Michael Grabner, PA Parenteau and now Brian Rolston. They also have great prospects who can potentially make the club this season in Ryan Strome and Nino Niederreiter.
When it comes to goaltending, they may have too much depth with Rick DiPietro, Al Montoya and Evgeni Nabokov. It will be interesting to see if DiPietro can stay healthy this season and what, if anything, happens with Nabokov.
They may not make the playoffs, but they will certainly be a competitive and fun team to watch on a nightly basis.
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