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THN.com Blog: Atlantic Division preview

Jeff Carter's Flyers and Bill Guerin's Penguins will be the teams to beat in the Atlantic Division this season. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)

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Jeff Carter's Flyers and Bill Guerin's Penguins will be the teams to beat in the Atlantic Division this season. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)

Pittsburgh Penguins
THN Prediction: Third in the East

Key Additions: Chris Conner, RW; Brent Johnson, G; Jay McKee, D; Mike Rupp, LW; Wyatt Smith, C
Key Departures: Mathieu Garon, G; Hal Gill, D; Rob Scuderi, D; Petr Sykora, RW

Attrition is expected on any Stanley Cup championship team, but at least the Penguins didn’t get too dinged this summer. The excellent core of forwards Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal, defenseman Sergei Gonchar and goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury remains, as does much of the supporting cast that drove the Pens to the promised land.

McKee will pick up some of the slack left by the departures of blueliners Gill and Scuderi, while Alex Goligoski will bring youthful skill to the defense.

The big question for the Pens will be how a second straight short summer – not to mention an Olympic ‘break’ where its stars will get no rest – affects them come playoff time. Be that as it may, the Pens still promise to be a force in the regular season thanks to a full year under coach Dan Bylsma.

Philadelphia Flyers
THN Prediction: Fourth in the East

Key Additions: Brian Boucher, G; Ray Emery, G; Ian Laperriere, RW; Chris Pronger, D; O-K Tollefsen, D
Key Departures: Andrew Alberts, D; Martin Biron, G; Derian Hatcher, D; Mike Knuble, RW; Joffrey Lupul, RW; Antero Niittymaki, G; Luca Sbisa, D

The additions of Pronger, Laperriere and Tollefsen essentially telegraph the Flyers as a team built to beat the Penguins. With Pronger, Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn and Ryan Parent on the blueline, the Flyers are stacked, while an embarrassment of riches awaits Philly fans up front. Captain Mike Richards is as deadly shorthanded as he is at even strength, Jeff Carter has evolved into an elite sniper and Claude Giroux showed off dangerous skills in the 2009 playoffs. Add Daniel Briere, Simon Gagne (if healthy) and rookie James van Riemsdyk into the mix and goals will not be a problem at the Wachovia Center.

The only question is in net, but Emery vows he is a new man since coming to town and he doesn’t need to steal games for Philly; he merely can’t lose them.

New Jersey Devils
THN Prediction: Fifth in the East

Key Additions: Rob Davison, D; Cory Murphy, D; Yann Danis, G; Ben Walter, C
Key Departures: Scott Clemmensen, G; Brian Gionta, RW; Niclas Havelid, D; Bobby Holik, C; John Madden, C; Mike Rupp, LW

The biggest acquisition in New Jersey this summer was behind the bench. Coach Jacques Lemaire returns to the fold, where he can show off his Devils ’94-95 Stanley Cup ring should anyone question his credentials. Lemaire will undoubtedly bring the team back to ‘Devils hockey,’ which bodes well for Jersey fans and not so much for fantasy poolies.

Brian Rolston needs a shot of confidence and a reunion with his old coach from Minnesota will provide it, while a healthy season from goaltender Martin Brodeur will produce the usual excellence.

The Devils do have offensive balance thanks to Zach Parise and Patrik Elias playing on different lines, but Elias is already battling injuries and the team isn’t that deep. Jamie Langenbrunner and Brendan Shanahan provide grit, goals and leadership.

As per usual, team defense trumps big names on the blueline, though Paul Martin and Johnny Oduya lead the charge.

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New York Rangers
THN Prediction: 13th in the East

Key Additions: Tyler Arnason, C; Brian Boyle, C; Donald Brashear, LW; Marian Gaborik, RW; Matt Gilroy, D; Chris Higgins, LW; Ales Kotalik, LW; Vaclav Prospal, LW; Enver Lisin, RW
Key Departures: Nik Antropov, RW; Scott Gomez, C; Paul Mara, D; Lauri Korpikoski, C; Derek Morris, D; Colton Orr, RW; Fredrik Sjostrom, LW; Nikolai Zherdev, RW; Markus Naslund, RW

Another summer of housecleaning by GM Glen Sather leaves New York fans wondering what their Blueshirts will look like once the puck drops. The arrival of East Bloc wingers Gaborik, Kotalik and Prospal swings the team’s makeup back to the European side of the ledger, much like during the Jagr-led 2005-06 campaign. But the new trio is far from stable when it comes to health and consistency and Gabbo is already feeling twinges in his groin – not a good sign for the marquee winger.

The Rangers will look for continued development from young defensemen Marc Staal and Dan Girardi, who contributed much more than they should have been expected to last year. In net, Henrik Lundqvist will once again provide Vezina-caliber stoppage, though it won’t be enough for the post-season this time.

New York Islanders
THN Prediction: 15th in the East

Key Additions: Martin Biron, G; Jeremy Reich, LW; Dwayne Roloson, G; John Tavares, C
Key Departures: Joey MacDonald, G; Yann Danis, G; Ben Walter, C

The Isles are pinning a lot of hope on No. 1 draft pick Tavares to carry the offense, as GM Garth Snow did nothing to bolster what was already a toothless attack (worst in the East last season with just 198 goals-for). Youth is the name of the game with Tavares, Josh Bailey and Kyle Okposo being leaned on, though Okposo got off to a rough start in getting concussed by Calgary’s Dion Phaneuf during the pre-season.

If there is a silver lining on Long Island, it’s that the power play will be fun to watch with Mark Streit on the point and Tavares hovering around the net. Other than Streit, however, the New York defense corps is too lunch-pail heavy and not very deep.

With Rick DiPietro’s health a soap opera unto itself, GM Snow at least fortified his crease with free agents Roloson and Biron. The two quality netminders will keep the Isles in a lot of games, but goal scoring will ultimately doom the young team.

Ryan Kennedy is a writer and copy editor for The Hockey News magazine, the co-author of the book Hockey's Young Guns and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog will appear regularly throughout the off-season, his column - The Straight Edge - on Fridays, and his prospect feature - The Hot List - on Tuesdays.

For more great profiles, news and views from the world of hockey, Subscribe to The Hockey News magazine.

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