Early Atlantic Predictions.
With free agency slowing down and teams starting to finalize rosters, I felt it would be a decent time (albeit early) to take a look at the Atlantic and make a few predictions for some mid-summer discussion.
Best Goaltender – With the addition of Ilya Bryzgalov to the Flyers, the Atlantic division boasts at least four very good goaltenders. Marc-Andre Fleury, Ilya Bryzgalov, Martin Brodeur, and Henrik Lundqvist make up this list. The goaltender that will have the best season next year is going to be Henrik Lundqvist. With another season under the belt of that young defense, King Henrik will be looking at another fantastic season and a Vezina nomination that he deserves. He has been the strong point for this club since he made his debut and that will not change this season.
Come Back Player – It is too obvious to put either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin on the list, so I will go a different route and select Steve Sullivan of the Pittsburgh Penguins. Sullivan was a free agent pick up from the Nashville Predators who has suffered a multitude of injuries over the past few seasons. Playing along side Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin will help Sullivan get back to his old self and if he can stay healthy I expect him to put up at least 20 goals and 40 points. - Other mentions can go to Kyle Okposso of the New York Islanders who suffered a long term injury last season and is poised to have a strong season this year.
Rookie of the Year – When it comes to the Atlantic division, rookies seem to always be in the running league wide for this award. Most recently this was Grabner of NYI and in the past it was Crosby and Malkin. My prediction for this season will be the speedy Nino Niederreiter of the Islanders. His great skating ability and nack for going to the net will have him pair up nicely with Grabner, Okposso, and Taveres. While rookie of the year league wide is a possibility, I expect him to have a 20 goal 40 point season with up and coming Islanders. – Other mentions go to Brayden Schenn of the Flyers and Simon Despres of the Penguins(if he cracks the lineup).
Oustanding Defensemen – With the plenty of blue line talent in this Division it is going to be difficult to pick just one player, so I will have to pick two; Kris Letang of the Penguins and Marc Staal of the Rangers. Letang had a strong season last year, but when Crosby and Malkin went down, so did his point totals. Half way through the season he was a candidate for Norris thanks to his strong offensive play and increased physicality. Marc Staal is looking at another good season and looks stronger than ever. After a very strong season as a shut down defensemen, Marc’s offensive game is looking to break through. After showing glimpses of this last season I expect Marc to put up career numbers while continuing his fantastic defensive play.
Breakout Player of the Year – This is an easy one for me to figure out. After having a fantastic showing in last season’s playoffs one can only imagine the numbers James Van Riemsdyk will post this season. The talented winger has a strong net front presence and plays well in the corners. JVR is looking at a possibility of 25 to 30 goals and 60 plus points making him the Atlantics break out player of the year. Other mentions go to Tyler Kennedy of the Penguins.
Coach of the year – After Dan Bylsma’s great showing and COTY award last season, the Atlantic division Coaches will be targeting the same award. My choice for the Atlantic’s coach of the year goes to John Tortorella. With a lineup now boasting Brad Richards, Torts has plenty of talent to play with. The powerplay should improve, along with their overall standings. I fully expect the Rangers to be in the top 5 in the East this season and that jump will only highlight the coaching ability of Tortorella.
Most Valuable Player – This might be tough to tell. If Brad Richards has a monster season and puts up another 90 point season, he can very well be the most valuable player to his squad within the Atlantic; however I will pick the easy choice in Sidney Crosby. After a monster first half in which Crosby netted 32 goals and 66 points, the league could only wonder what he could of done if he finished the season. If Crosby can return healthy and stay that way, it is no stretch to make the prediction that Crosby will finish with more than 50 goals and close to 120 points and take the MVP of the Atlantic Division. Other mentions go to Brad Richards and Claude Giroux.
Atlantic Division Standings at the end of next season:
Pittsburgh Penguins – 107 points and second in the East
New York Rangers – 98 points and fifth in the East
Philadelphia Flyers – 94 points and seventh in the East
New York Islanders – 83 points and tenth in the East
New Jersey Devils – 78 points and thirteenth in the East
After showing a ton of promise in the last half of the season, Pittsburgh is looking to redeem themselves for falling short despite the losses of Malkin and Crosby. With a healthy forward squad and their strong defense, the Penguins will be looking at an Atlantic Division Title and a long playoff run. Brad Richards joining the Rangers adds another offensive threat in himself and the ability to elevate the game of Gaborik. The Rangers strong D and goaltending will propel them into the top 5 of the East. The Flyers lost two great players in Richards and Carter, while still strong on D and in net, the young forward core might not be able to keep pace with the rest of the division. Schenn and Couturier are possibility’s to crack the opening night lineup, but to expect them to fill in for the losses this early is just too much. The Islanders are an up and coming team with plenty of speed and talent, but inexperience and questions in net will keep them from reaching their goal of a playoff berth. I need to apologize to Devils fans for I did not give them a single mention in any of my categories and placed them last in the division. With another new coach and Marty B being another year older I just don’t see the Devils having a strong season.
As always my bias is strong and if I have left off anyone that you feel should be mentioned or if my division rankings are not what you see happening, please leave comments and criticisms below.