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2011 Off-Season Review: Atlantic Division

There is no way of knowing at this present time how the decisions made by all 30 teams in the NHL this off-season will affect the outcome of the 2011-2012 season. I personally believe the time we’ll be able to tell is the trading deadline when we see what teams are sellers and buyers.

We’ve hit a point in the off-season in which we all feel…what’s the word….blah. All the big free agents have been signed, the Jets have revealed their Royal Canadian Air Force logo, and now we sit and wait for Teemu Selanne to decide if he’s going to play hockey this season. Just sitting, twiddling our thumbs and waiting. With such a quiet mode, this is a great time to look at what has happened so far this off-season and look into the upcoming season.

First we will take a look at the most competitive division in hockey, in my opinion, the Atlantic Division.

 NEW JERSEY DEVILS

Last season: 38-39-5, 81 points (fourth place Atlantic, 11th place Eastern)
Additions: Eric Boulton, LW; Cam Janssen, RW; Pete DeBoer, HC
Subtractions: Pierre Luc-Letourneau Leblond, LW; Anssi Salmela, D; Brian Rolston LW; Trent Hunter RW; Colin White D
Up-and-comers: Adam Larsson, D; Adam Henrique, C/W; Alexander Urbom, D; Jacob Josefson, C; Nick Palmieri, RW; Matthew Corrente, D; Mark Fayne, D

One of the many objectives this off-season for the Devils was to find a new head coach. The role has been filled. Stop sending in applications.

Pete DeBoer has been placed in charge of making sure a chunk of Devils prospects are ready to be full-time NHL’ers. DeBoer, coming off a stint as Panthers head coach for three seasons, has never made it into the postseason, but he kept a young Panthers team in contention.

Devils fans got their wish this off-season as the team was able to “steal” defenseman Adam Larsson at fourth overall in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. Many thought, at the beginning of the season, Larsson was going to be going number one overall, but a late season surges by other players allowed Larsson to drop to the Devils. Many say Larsson is NHL ready, but with the way Lou Lamierllo operates the organization, he could see some time at Albany (AHL).

The one thing that many Devils fans hoped would be over quickly—and after the Kovalchuk saga last year who can blame them—is the re-signing of Zach Parise. Parise was re-signed to a one-year deal that will cost the Devils $6-million. Fans had hoped he would sign a long term deal; however, arbitration was quickly approaching and both sides agreed a one-year deal was the best way to go about this, for now. Parise and the Devils can continue to negotiate a new contract, but he cannot sign a new long-term deal until January 1, 2012.

Luckily, the Devils were able to shed some cap space and help the Islanders reach the cap floor as they sent Brian Rolston to the Island, shedding his $5-million cap hit.

Just days after the trade, the Devils waived Hunter, and defenseman Colin White. If the two clear waivers on Tuesday at Noon, Lamoriello said the two will be bought out. If bought out, the salary cup hit for White will be $1-million per year for the next two seasons, while Hunter’s will be $666,667 per season for the next four seasons. With White gone, there will only be two members on the team with Stanley Cup rings: Martin Brodeur and Patrik Elias.

 PHILADELPHIA FLYERS

Last season: 47-23-12, 106 points (first place Atlantic, second place Eastern Conference)
Additions: Ilya Bryzgalov, G; Jaromir Jagr, RW; Jakub Voracek, RW; Wayne Simmonds, RW; Brayden Schenn, C; Maxime Talbot, C; Andreas Lilja, D
Subtractions: Mike Richards, C; Jeff Carter, C; Ville Leino, LW; Nikolay Zherdev, RW; Darroll Powe, C;Kris Versteeg, RW; Daniel Carcillo, LW; Sean O’Donnell, D; Brian Boucher, G
Up-and-comers: Sean Couturier, C; Ben Holmstrom, C; Eric Wellwood, LW; Mike Testwuide, RW; Erik Gustafsson, D

The team that questioned my sanity the most this offseason was the Philadelphia Flyers. Trading one of their top goal scorers in Jeff Carter and their captain in Mike Richards on the SAME day. No one knew what the Flyers had up their sleeves with those moves. I asked ESPN personality John Buccigross on Twitter what the Flyers had up their sleeves and he responded, “They dumped everything out of their sleeves.”

The trades allowed Paul Holmgren to acquire mediocre wingers, in Voracek and Simmonds, and two centers who have the ability to become franchise players. One is Brayden Schenn who was acquired in the Richards trade, the other was first-round draft pick, eighth overall, Sean Couturier. The draft pick was traded to the Flyers as part of the deal that sent Jeff Carter to Columbus.

The Flyers lost their captain and great defensive part of their game in Richards. As said, Schenn can eventually become the face of the franchise, but there is no way of knowing if he will become that type of player this coming season.

Flyers fan, James Iannizzotto isn’t worried about the team’s offense, “The explosive offense that Giroux and JVR showed towards the end of last year will make up for the absence of Richards and Carter. “

At least the Flyers got their goaltending situation under control. Trading for the rights of Ilya Bryzgalov and resigning him before July 1. The one thing I’m confused about is, the Flyers said Sergei Bobrovsky is their goalie of the future; however, the Flyers signed Bryzgalov to a nine year deal. What is going to become of Bobrovsky?

This off-season also saw the return of Jaromir Jagr. The Flyers signed the former all-star to a one-year deal worth over $3-million. While I think Jagr is still a decent player, he hasn’t played a full NHL season in over three years. Who knows what to expect of Jagr? I do know, however, Penguins/Flyers games will be fun to watch.

 PITTSBURGH PENGUINS

Last season: 49-25-8, 106 points (second place Atlantic, fourth place Eastern)
Additions: Steve Sullivan, LW; Steve MacIntyre, LW; Alexandre Picard, D
Subtractions: Maxime Talbot, C; Michael Rupp, C/W; Chris Conner, RW; Alex Kovalev, RW; Eric Godard, RW; Mike Comrie, C
Up-and-comers: Eric Tangradi, LW; Simon Despres, C

The Penguins were originally one of the front-runners in the Jagr negotiations, but it obviously didn’t work out. The Penguins didn’t travel too far out of the igloo to acquire free agents after the situation.

The two players that Penguins fans are eagerly waiting to see put on a Penguins sweater in training camp are Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. You may have heard of them.

Crosby missed the final half of the season last year with a concussion. Malkin is expected to be fully recovered from knee surgery that cut his season short in February. While they are two of the top players in the league, you never know what to expect out of a player after they return from injury.

The signings of Sullivan, MacIntyre and Picard shouldn’t be viewed as, “that’s all the Penguins did this off-season?” These signings were to add depth to an already skilled team. Remember, this team had A LOT of injuries to close out the season and they still finished second in the division (tied with the Flyers for first, but lost the tiebreaker). Expect the Penguins to be a threat, again.

 NEW YORK RANGERS

Last season: 44-33-5, 93 points (third place Atlantic, eighth place Eastern)
Additions: Brad Richards, C; Michael Rupp, C/W
Subtractions: Chris Drury, C; Vinny Prospal, C; Alex Frolov, LW; Matt Gilroy, D; Bryan McCabe, D
Up-and-comers: Pavel Valentenko, D; Dylan McIlrath, D; Tim Erixon, D; Christian Thomas, RW, Dale Weise, RW

Goodbye, Chris Drury. Hello new number one center, Mike Rupp.

Just kidding.

Brad Richards signed a nine year, $60-million deal to become the team center the team has desperately been searching for to pair up with Marian Gaborik. Fans hope the two immediately “click” and become one of the fiercest dynamic-duo’s in Gotham City.

Sahil Patel, a longtime Rangers fan, said, “I’m cautiously optimistic that they will connect because Richards is an elite playmaker and knows how to get the puck to where the sniper wants it and Gaborik works best when he is free of the puck is able to skate around and find his spots.”

The Rangers were able to avoid arbitration with two of their core players, Brendan Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan. The two are pivotal parts of the Rangers future. Dubinsky has gotten better in each season that he has played, and losing Callahan at the end of the season really hurt the Rangers chances.

The Rangers offense seems to be stable, but what about their defense.

Steve Eminger will lead a defense filled with youngsters Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, and Ryan McDonagh, Mike Sauer and Michael Del Zotto.

One Rangers supporter, Tony Grater, is hopeful for the defense this season, “Girardi and Staal are as solid as it gets, but if Sauer and McDonagh regress, we could be in trouble. But I have faith that they will be fine and develop further.”

 NEW YORK ISLANDERS

Last season: 30-39-13, 73 points (fifth place Atlantic; 14th place Eastern)
Additions: Marty Reasoner, C; Brian Rolston RW
Subtractions: Bruno Gervais, D; Rob Schremp, C; Radek Martinek, D; Doug Weight, C; Zenon Konopka, C; Jesse Joensuu, LW
Up-and-comers: Nino Niederreiter, RW; Calvin de Haan, D; Ryan Strome, C

The Islanders will continue to their rebuilding phase this season. Shocker.

Don’t get me wrong, I believe the Islanders can be a playoff team, but a team that needs to try to persuade a player—whose contract they’re still trying to pay off—to come back to play for them just so that they can reach the cap floor, cannot be taken seriously.

At least the islanders were able to acquire Brian Rolston from the Devils. He’ll be a top-6 forward for the Islanders. Totally worth the $5-milion cap hit. Right? Good luck.

No worries. The Bridgeport Sound Tigers, of the American Hockey League, will have a stacked, young team this season. The AHL is where you will find most of the Islanders prospects. If they’re not there, you can always look in major junior hockey.

Ryan Strome, the teams first round, fifth overall, draft pick, reached YouTube stardom with a shootout goal during the team’s development camp. Sadly, many feel Strome might be a year away from being NHL ready.

The only thing guiding hope for Isles fans are the hopeful, healthy returns of Mark Streit and Kyle Okposo. This, behind the offense of Tavares, Grabner and Moulson, are the only good things the Islanders have going for them at the moment.

The Islanders did trade for Christian Ehrhoff and tried to sign him before he became an unrestricted free agent on July 1.

James Harding, a local Islanders enthusiast, said, “I was very, although pleasantly, surprised when they traded for Erhoff, and was glad that they made the effort that they did to add a top quality, top pair defenseman who just captained the powerplay of the Western Conference champs.”

Isles GM, Garth Snow, gave a self-imposed one day deadline to say Ehrhoff. Unable to strike a deal, Ehrhoff was traded to Buffalo where he was eventually signed.

The Islanders didn’t make any big moves this season, nor will they make any big moves any time soon.

Islanders fan, Jimmy Ventura said, “Until we get a new building, free agents do not want to come.”

Interesting enough, Long Island does have a vote coming up on August 1st to see if the Islanders will get a new arena.

Personally, I believe while the Islanders have impressive offense, their weak, young defense (which will eventually help them) will come back to haunt them. Ironic, no?

Follow Kevin Lankey on Twitter: @kevinlankey


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