Last season the Islanders went 7-15-2 within the Atlantic. Although other teams were just as bad within their division, no team racked up as many losses. With the Eastern Conference Champion for the last three years coming from the Atlantic, including a Stanley Cup win for the Penguins, the Atlantic could be considered one of the tougher divisions in the league. The Penguins and Devils are perennial Stanley Cup contenders. The Flyers and Rangers have their weaknesses, but as long as Chris Pronger and Henrik Lundqvist play at their top level they can threaten for the Cup.
Although the Islanders had a wonderful draft, the free agency period was disappointing. While we won't know what happened behind the scenes, the Islanders watched as just about all the top defenseman on the market went to Atlantic rivals. Although the Islanders did sign and acquire Mark Eaton, Milan Jurcina and James Wisniewski, it wasn't the hoped for player who could allow Mark Streit to take the occasional break.
If the Islanders are going to get to the playoffs, they are going to have to win against the Atlantic. Only the Colorado Avalanche of 16 playoff teams finished with a sub-.500 record against their own division. The seal against the Flyers finally seems to be broken after 13 straight losses. If the reason the Islanders struggled against Philly in the past was due to the size difference, there is no longer that excuse. Against the Penguins and Devils last season the Islanders showed flashes of what they could do.
The Devils won the division last year, and then got manhandled by the Flyers in five games. Lou proceeded to "Get The Band back together" by bringing in former players like Jason Arnott and showing interest in Peter Sykora who were part of the Stanley Cup winning 2000 Devils team. They also added Anton Volchenkov and Henrik Tallinder, two high quality defenseman to solidify an already strong blueline. The addition of Johan Hedberg should allow Martin Brodeur to get more rest during the regular season. Of course there's also the continued presence of Ilya Kovalchuk. The Devils appear to be going all out to get the Cup in the next few seasons.
The Flyers barely made the playoffs last year, proceeded to upend the Devils and take one of the more surprising runs to the Cup in recent history. Although there were attempts to bring in both Evengei Nabokov and Marty Turco, the Flyers look like they are prepared to go with last years biggest surprise, Micheal Leighton. If you believe the Flyers got to the finals based on a strong defensive corps, they have only improved their D with the additions of Sean O'Donnell and Andrej Meszaros. The loss of oft-injured Simon Gagne will have repercussions in the locker room, but the Flyers seem to be banking on that they can replace his production.
The Penguins might have been suffering from a hangover last season. Getting to the Finals in back to back years can take a beating to a team. Add in the Olympic "break" which saw most of their top stars making big contributions to their teams and the second round loss to the Habs isn't that surprising. Bringing in Zbynek Michalek and Paul Martin while letting Mark Eaton and Sergei Gonchar walk helps bring down the age of the defense while not losing much. The Penguins though live and die according to two players, Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. If the defense can help Marc Andre-Fleury it should be a lengthy season for them.
The Rangers, well, Glenn Sather still runs the team. That's a reason to celebrate for us. If not for Henrik Lundqvist and a miraculously healthy season from Marian Gaborik the Rangers probably would have finished last in the division. Even so, they were within two points or an Olli Jokinen missed shootout from making the playoffs and they've added Alex Frolov. So the addition of Derek Boogaard should put them over the top.
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What do you think? Are the Islanders better prepared to tackle Atlantic foes?