By Douglas Smith
This is the last of six updates to give you a look at the rest of the NHL this offseason. The Atlantic has been emerging as one of the best divisions and the 2009-2010 season was another example of the high quality of hockey in this division. When you read through this update you can have high expectations from this division in the coming year as well.
At the end of each summary we will highlight just one blog for that respective team, but there are many quality sites out there if you care to search for them. Please share your comments on the rest of the teams across the NHL as we fill the void of the off-season.
Recap: The Devils were solid for most of the year and Martin Brodeur began to take over the record books, despite not starting in goal for the Canadian Olympic team for the second half of the tournament. New Jersey claimed all six regular season games against our defending champion Penguins under head coach Jacques Lemaire. This meant they would grind out victories and not let other teams dictate the pace of play by using the dreaded trap. Despite losses to Toronto, the New York Rangers, and Carolina in the two weeks before the Olympics, New Jersey would secure first place in the division. Even as a top seed and the addition of Ilya Kovalchuck, the Devils would not find success in the playoffs as the Flyers would knock them out in five games. New Jersey was outscored 7-1 in the last two games of the series.
Offseason Thus Far: Lemaire ended up retired from coaching at the end of the season and was replaced with John MacLean. Adam Oates would also sign on as an assistant coach. The first player acquisitions by President/CEO/General Manager Lou Lamoriello would be guys to re-tool the defense as Henrik Tallinder and Anton Volchenkov were added. Both are very solid pick ups with Volchenkov considered by some to be able to shut down even the most talented players. Beloved former Penguins Johan Hedberg signed on to be the back up goalie. Long time Devil Jason Arnott also returned to his old stomping ground after a stint with Nashville.
Of course, the biggest story has been the signing of Ilya Kovalchuk that really didn't happen. Kovalchuk was courted for two weeks and then it got a little crazy. While the NHL and NHLPA work out their differences over the contract for Kovalchuk, the KHL has offered to match the 17 year length of the Devils contract. ESPN's EJ Hradek thinks this saga will end at this time next week.
Analysis: Needless to say the Kovalchuk saga will need to be resolved for the Devils to move their focus completely on next season. Assuming the issue is resolved in the Devils favor, they will need to move some money to get under the cap. The defensive core will buy into the system despite the loss of Paul Martin. They still have a world class goaltender and years of success to build on, but the word “uncertain” seems to be a good one for the future of the Devils.
Blog: Speaking of the Devils
Recap: The story of last year for the Isles was drafting John Tavares, and he would end up leading the team in points. His first NHL goal was memorable for him and the audience of this site. Expectations were not high however and the team performed admirably given those circumstances. Financially the team and Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano have are searching for ways to get a new arena erected in the same county. On the ice, however, a solid core developed as the season went on with Matt Moulson, Kyle Okposo, and Mark Streit finding chemistry with Tavares.
Offseason Thus Far: The offseason has been decent for the Islanders with Mark Eaton and Milan Jurcina agreeing to join the team. New York invested one year each into P.A. Parenteau and Zenon Konopka. Moulson got a big raise by signing on to stay with the Islanders. They also acquired defenseman James Wisniewski, a sometimes volatile player from the Ducks for a 2011 draft pick. There is are still some unanswered questions as members of last years team like Doug Weight, Jon Sim, Sean Bergenheim, and Freddy Meyer are still in unrestricted free agent status. They did unconditionally waive Brendan Witt and effectively bought out his contract. The team has plenty of money under the cap at the moment, but don't seem intent on keeping it that way over the next few years. Also the team will have a new ECHL affiliation in Kalamazoo, Michigan.
Analysis: Another charity golf event, but lets hope it’s more fun than this photo. The greens will be filled with optimistic talk given the team chemistry the Islanders displayed many times last year. This is a team that is maturing together just as some of its bright stars are. It will be interesting to see what happens with Bergenheim as he fits a “glue guy” role very well. More and more eyes will be focused on Long Island for the emerging hockey team that is trying not to let the rest of the division get away from it. Unfortunately, the uncertainty of a new arena as a part of the "Lighthouse" project will be on the minds of many this coming year.
Blog: Eyes on Isles
Recap: The Rangers put a lot of stock in securing Marian Gaborik from Minnesota last year hoping he could avoid the injuries that had formally plagued him. Gaborik did end up playing in all but six games, but had some help at various times from Vinny Prospal, Olli Jokinen, Brandon Dubinsky, Ryan Callahan, and surprising rookie Micheal Del Zotto. Gaborik was able to find his old form scoring 42 goals and making the scrutiny of his signing by the Rangers fade. Goalie Henrik Lundqvist had a .921 goals against average, but seemed to lose his edge at times. The Rangers ended up using five different goalies on the season. While New York would win seven of its last ten, it would lose the last game of the year in a shoot out to the Philadelphia Flyers. Incidentally the team had the exact opposite record in the ten previous games that took place right after the Olympic break.
Offseason Thus Far: The Rangers have been active, but some moves have been somewhat questionable. Erik Christensen and Prospal resigned with the team, while enforcer Derek Boogaard came over from Minnesota. General Manager Glen Sather would also work a trade for veteran Steve Eminger. Brandon Prust, who was traded to the Rangers from Calgary last season, will also be back with the blue-shirts. The latest signing is winger Alexander Frolov, who has had plenty of question marks around him. As last season progressed it was clear that his career with the Kings was over. He was a healthy scratch in his only missed game last year because of his work ethic being questioned.
Analysis: The Rangers still have one big decision to make regarding their own free agent, Marc Staal. Not much has surfaced regarding negotiations. He should be in line for a fairly sizable raise, especially since Del Zotta makes about 1.5 times what Staal did for the 2009-2010 season. The Frolov signing could go a long way to determine the success of this team. Will his production come back or continue to decline? Will he have a winning attitude or quickly become disinterested? Overall it is a low risk signing by Sather, but curious that it occurred before Staal was complete. Given the rest of the talents in the division, this team will need a solid defenseman like Staal to help out Lundqvist.
Blog: Blue Seat Blogs
Recap: Once again the question for the Flyers was who was going to protect the net. They brought in Ray Emery as the preseason number one and signed Chris Pronger to help solidify the defense. Unfortunately for Philly, Emery would succumb to injury and the goalie carousel began. Michael Leighton, Brian Boucher, Johan Backlund, and Jeremy Duchesne all saw action on the season. Rookie James Van Riemsdyk would add some spark to veterans Mike Richards and Jeff Carter and become fondly known as JVR. Hard as it is to say, Dan Carcillo was again a great agitator and seemed to only score when it mattered the most.
Beating the Rangers in the shoot out in game 82 would skyrocket a phenomenal playoff run that would only end at the hands of the Stanley Cup Champion Chicago Blackhawks. Coming back from 3-0 down against Boston was magical to say the least. In an unpredictable Eastern Conference playoff scenario, Philly took advantage while finding key goaltending and creative play to make it to the Finals.
Offseason Thus Far: The arena the Flyers play in has changed names again (notice the missing ‘h’ in Pittsburgh down the right hand side). A lot of the names will stay the same for the Flyers with one notable exception, which the Flyers are realizing now. Simon Gagne was shipped to Tampa in a salary cap move, although he was one of the most influential players in the comeback against Boston coming off of an injury in game four and scoring the game winning goal. This was the second trade with Tampa Bay as the Flyers had earlier acquired Andrej Meszaros.
The Flyers acquired the rights for defensemen Dan Hamhuis only to ship those off to Pittsburgh for a third round pick. Coburn, Carcillo, and Leighton re-signed with the team while another bully, Jody Shelley joined on with a three year contract. Nikolai Zherdev decided to give the NHL another spin again agreeing to a one year contract and returning from playing professionally in Russia. Through all these moves the Flyers now have less than $400k under the cap.
Analysis: The same question mark will be there again for the Flyers as they enter this season and it looks like Leighton will be the first to try to answer it in net. Zherdev will be asked to fill in where Gagne left. Daniel Briere found his touch in the playoffs last year but there is still a great amount of pressure on him to perform, especially with the amount of money they pay him. This team is filled with grinders and they will punish you. The question becomes how much they punish themselves while trying to destroy the opposition.
Blog: Flyers Fan Central
Recap: The defending Cup champions had the target on their backs and also had the added fatigue of making consecutive deep runs into the playoffs. Sidney Crosby wanted to score more goals and win more face-offs. He did that in dramatic fashion as he tied for most goals in the league registering fewer empty net goals than his counterpart Steven Stamkos. The team would encounter minor injuries along the way, but enough to keep Malkin out for 15 games. General Manager Ray Shero stuck with the mold by acquiring winger Alexei Ponikarovsky near the trade deadline as the team made a playoff push. They would eventually battle for the top spot in the division, but failing to beat the Devils or the Capitals in the regular season would prove to be too costly.
Offseason Thus Far: Most Pens fans had an idea that this could be an adventurous offseason and it started as the Pens drafted seven American-born players in the NHL entry draft. At the same time the Pens would acquire the rights to Dan Hamhuis only to see his intentions to go West win out. The Pens most sought after UFA this off season decided not to test the open market and sign for another 3 years. As free agency opened, it was clear this team would be different as one of the leaders bolted to Ottawa virtually as the bell tolled to open the signing period. It would not take long for the defensive holes to be filled as Zbynek Michalek and Paul Martin would be added. Despite some fans clamoring for a winger to play on the top lines, Shero has spent time examining those already in the system.
The team is also set to open a new arena, the Consol Energy Center. Along with vast improvements to state of the art electronics and attractions there will be other changes, like the addition of an ice crew, [sadly] moving on from the passing of John Barbero, and preparation for hosting the Winter Classic at Heinz Field.
Analysis: They are still unbelievably strong up the middle with Crosby, Malkin, and Jordan Staal. The top six defenders are all signed for the next few years and there is a good mix of young and proven blue liners. Martin and Michalek should mix well with both Orpik and Letang. Many fans hope this will calm goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. The question will be who is on the wings. Veterans Bill Guerin and Ruslan Fedotenko are still unrestricted leaving some unanswered question on the wings. Shero seems to be content with giving the young guys a shot and still having a little wiggle room under the cap in case a move needs to be made. It is a good team, but they will be tested in the division including an opening stretch against the Flyers, Montreal Canadians, and Devils.