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On to the meat & potatoes as they say. This is what it is really all about for us, the Atlantic Division. Usually I do this alphabetically, but in this case, I will stick the Rangers in last.

New Jersey Devils : Predicted Point Total: 94

If not for Uncle Daddy looking just putrid against us in the playoffs, I would have predicted these guys win the Atlantic. They picked up Rolston and Holik, without any massive losses like they suffered the previous few years. That is pretty amazing. For a team that was putrid offensively those 2 guys will help while fitting like a glove in the Devils defensive system. Not to mention they have the best coach in hockey (in my humble opinion) behind the bench. They will hit you hard, they will come at you hard, they will make you turn the puck over, and unlike last season, they will score a little bit more. So why do I have them dropping off from 99 points last year to 97 this year? I think this is the year Brodeur falls off the face of the planet. Let’s get one thing perfectly straight guys. If Uncle Daddy played like he did during his apex, we would have lost that series, if not out and out swept. They outplayed us every step of the way, only to see Uncle Daddy give up 2 or 3 simply awful goals every single game. This is going to be a bigger problem this year, and I don’t trust their backup (Kevin Weekes) one iota.

However, people like me have been declaring the demise of Uncle Daddy for 5-10 years now, and all he does is win Vezina after Vezina. So it is entirely possible that this is just a gross underestimation done by yours truly. If that is the case, bump up the Devils point total to something closer to 100-102 points. I think they have the ability to be that good.

New York Islanders : Predicted Point Total: 70

The endless circus that is Charles Wang’s New York Islanders took a monstrous step back this season, but it may be to take several huge steps forward in the next 5. The Islanders will be a putrid offensive team. They lost Fedatenko and Satan, not exactly powerhouses, but who accounted for roughly 16.5% of the 2nd worst offense in the league. Who are they replacing these guys with? Dough Weight, and…uhh. I guess Okposo. I mean, let’s be fair, they have some promising youg kids with Okposo, Comeau, Nielsen, Campoli, Gervais, and possibly Bailey. But not a single one of those guys is a game changer. Not. One. Even Okposo, a guy I have a serious man-crush on, is likely to never be anything more than Brandon Dubinsky. While I don’t mean that as a diss to Dubi or to Okposo, we have to face the fact that Dubinsky is not going to be one of the 10 best players in hockey. At his best he is a 2nd line player, likely what Okposo will turn out to be. Bailey is projected to be more of a Brad Richards kind of player. A guy who plays well in all facets, but also highly unlikely that he will be the best or second best player on the team at his peak. They have ZERO defense in the pipeline. Nothing, zero, zip, zilch. They have a few kids playing this year, assuming Gervais and Campoli do play, and the rest are 30+ year olds. They have an elite goalie manning the net, but his health has to be a question now with 2 straight years of him having injuries.

You have the 2nd worst offense in hockey who lost 2 players tied for 3rd on their team in goals for. YIKES. But it gets worse, they also fired their coach, a guy who has gotten them to overachieve like nobodys business the past few years. Their justification was that he didn’t want to play the kids. If that is the case, then they likely did make the right move, but it’s tough to sell that to a fan base when you have one of the 5 best coaches in hockey behind your bench, and you fire him for an inexperienced AHL coach. Double YIKES.

Sadly, this is basically an ideal situation for the Islanders. Depending on what happens out West these guys may very well be in the running for John Tavares or Victor Hedman, both exactly the kind of player the Islander need. 1 an elite defenseman, the other an elite center. In truth, I hope with my heart of hearts I am wrong, that these guys compete for a playoff spot and find themselves with a #12ish pick. Then their franchise will be set back because of not being able to nab one of those 2 ridiculous franchise players available. Sadly, I think I am right on this one, they will suck, big time.

Philadelphia Flyers : Predicted Point Total: 95

According to nhlnumbers.com the Flyers are 4.5 million over the cap right now, and thats with zero spare forwards and 2 spare defenseman. Assuming they carry 1 and 1, all that means is they should still be about 4.5 mil over the cap. These guys need to dump some salary, and fast. How are they going to do this? I haven’t the foggiest, but this is the only reason I have them slightly less than us, and the Pens. If they can pull some hocus pocus and go this season with a full roster and not lose anyone of real consequence, I can see them challenging for the division title (haven’t I said that about everyone so far?!). I’m guessing Rathje is going to be gone, but that still leaves 1 million to cut on top of that. Will they carry zero spare forwards? Or zero spare defenseman? Also this basically percludes them from adding anyone of consequence at the trade deadline because they won’t be able to absorb any big salaries (without trading a big salary back, which would weaken them in another way.)

Still, this team made it to the Eastern Conference Finals for a reason. They are tough as nails, have skill spread out on every line, have a lethal power play and a very good penalty kill. Those are some very good things. Don’t underestimate these guys. They could be a good sleeper pick to make the cup finals.

On the team end, they lost Smith, and Umberger, 2 pretty big aspects of their team in the playoffs and down the stretch, and also lost the guy they picked up at the deadline, Prospal, and haven’t really filled in those holes. Instead they just re-upped their own guys and find themselves over the cap. In reailty they should be taking a small step back, but I expect them to play about the same as last year regardless, hence the exact same point total.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Predicted Point Total: 97

Any team that loses Ryan Malone, Jarkko Ruutu, Marian Hossa, Colby Armstrong, and Erik Chritensen from the trade deadline till today, and replace them with Matt Cooke, Miro Satan, and Ruslan Fedotenko, you know you have taken a monstrous step backwards. But, let’s be fair, this team still has Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Those are 2 of the 5 best players in hockey today, playing on the same team. That is a huge advantage for this team. Add in the fact that last year they learned how to play defense and actually got something out of their goalie, and you have a recipe for a division champ. I don’t see them running away with it, in fact I think it will be just the opposite. I think they will win it on the last day of the season. But they will still win it. I don’t, however, think they have near enough offense to make the cup finals again. This is a playoff team, but not a cup contender. Unlike some of the other teams who may have drastic sways from one way to the other, I think you are able to pretty easily read what this team is all about. They will be very good, but not so good that they frighten everyone like they did last year.

New York Rangers : Predicted Point Total: 96

I’ve been kind of back and forth on this team, for a very good reason. They have the opportunity to be a real beast, or they could just as easily be a lottery team. This team is totally based on everyone rising to the occasion as one. You need Redden, Naslund, and Zherdev to all improve, you need Prucha to bounce back, you need Dawes, Callahan, and Dubinsky to all take steps forward, you need Henrik Lundqvist to play consistent elite hockey from game 1 till the last game of this season, whenever it is, and you need Tom Renney to get this team to play great from out the gate. If some of those things don’t happen, you are going to see a good team, but likely competing for the last spot or 2 in the playoffs. If most of those things don’t happen, this team doesnt make the playoffs. If all of them don’t happen, this team might be a lottery contender.

In the end, this is how I look at it. Henrik Lundqvist + The best defense (on paper) in the East = Very good team. Even if the offense doesn’t click all the time, this team should be able to win games just the opposite of the way the Tampa Bay Lightning will be winning games. 1-0, 2-1, etc. Add in Nikolai Zherdev, Nigel Dawes, and possibly Brendan Shanahan, and you have a team that will likely go undefeated in the shootout. I tend to believe most of the good things will happen, but I’m almost always too much of a sunshiner in that aspect. I expect the best from this team, then gripe and moan when they are lose 2 or 3 in a row.

Offensively this team has a chance to be exactly like the Buffalo Sabres were 2 seasons ago. Speed up and down the lineup, skill up and down the lineup, very little size up and down the lineup. This is likely to be a team of many, rather than a team of a few. Meaning Shanny and Jagr won’t be this team’s offense. They will live and die as a collective, rather than as individuals, which is always how you want the team to be if at all possible.

With that said, this club is certainly not without its flaws. There still is no shooter from the point, barring a sudden lobotomy by Michal Rozsival. They are exceedingly soft outside of Dubinsky, Callahan, Voros, and Orr. They lost their heart and soul, Sean Avery, and we have no idea how this wildcard will effect the team. They have little to no depth behind their starting 6 defenseman, with Sanguinetti not ready, Sauer injured, and Baranka in Russia. We better hope Kondratiev or Pock have superb seasons, because you know the defense always has at least 1 or 2 injuries lasting for 5-10 games. There is nobody to crash the net and get those dirty rebounds. While Chris Drury gets many of his goals out in front, they are usually tip in goals, or opportunistic goals, he almost never bull rushes himself to the front and slams home a rebound. Dubinsky may be that guy, but he really didn’t play that kind of a game last year. He was a little more on the perimeter then drive to the net, rather than camping out in front and taking abuse and getting garbage goals.

Those are substantial question marks, not to mention the guy behind the bench, a guy I have been exceedingly critical of. Let’s be fair to Renney though, these past few years he really hasn’t had a "Tom Renney" team. Meaning he didn’t have the kind of players up and down his lineup to play his style of hockey. He does this year. He better deliver.

Final verdict? They contend for the division, but fall just short. I think the defense and goaltending this year is going to be mindblowingly good, and the offense will be better than last year, but not substantially better. I also expect the power play to take a step forward, and the penalty kill to take a step backward (defensive forwards are way more important in penalty killing than in 5 on 5 play, we lost 2, possibly 3 of our 6 penalty killing forwards). Should be a fun season! Don’t forget I have 2 more parts to this writeup! Part 4 sometime over the weekend, probably Sunday.

Final Predicted Standings:
1) Pittsburgh Penguins** 97
2) New York Rangers* 96
3) Philadelphia Flyers* 95
4) New Jersey Devils* 94
5) New York Islanders 70
** denotes division champion
* denotes playoff team

Final Predicted Standings:
1) Montreal Canadiens** 110
2) Pittsbugh Penguins** 97
3) Washington Capitals** 96
4) New York Rangers* 96
5) Philadelphia Flyers * 95
6) Ottawa Senators* 95
7) New Jersey Devils* 94
8 ) Tampa Bay Lightning* 94
9) Boston Bruins 93
10) Buffalo Sabres 91
11) Carolina Hurricanes 90
12) Florida Panthers 80
13) Toronto Maple Leafs 73
14) Atlanta Thrashers 71
15) New York Islanders 70
** denotes division champion
* denotes playoff team






One final thing. You may notice the overall point totals for the team seem much lower than last year, especially among the playoff teams. I have it this way because of the change in schedule. Teams this year will be playing more games against the Western Conference, a Conference far superior to our own. I anticipate some humiliating scores in some of the games against the Red Wings. It won’t be pretty. Overall, that is why I have the East at a much lower point level than last year, and similarly I would expect the West to be higher in point totals as well.

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