Teams listed in predicted order of finish.
New York Rangers (2011-12: 51-24-7; lost in Eastern Conference final)
The Rangers surprised many last season by not only winning the Atlantic Division but by finishing first in the Eastern Conference and being the second-best team in the entire league. With the way the roster looks right now, another great season might be in store for the Broadway Blueshirts.
The team will have the best goaltender between the pipes on a nightly basis in Henrik Lundqvist. The offence and power play should be better this season with the acquisition of Rick Nash, and the team’s defence is just about the same, which means that a lot of shots will be blocked by the defencemen, forwards or by the league’s reigning Vezina Trophy winner.
If everything goes the Rangers’ way this season, they could very well find themselves with another great chance to win hockey’s Holy Grail.
Key acquisition: Rick Nash
Key departure: Brandon Dubinsky
Pittsburgh Penguins (2011-12: 51-25-6; lost in the first round of playoffs)
The Penguins have so many different weapons they can throw at you. They have the likes of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Chris Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis and others who can produce on a consistent basis.
The main difference between this year’s team and last year’s club is that they will have a fully healthy Crosby, unless he manages to get hurt again. When healthy, he is the best player in the game. With that said, if he does get hurt, they can just have Malkin carry the team like he did last season.
Key acquisition: Tomas Vokoun
Key departure: Jordan Staal
Philadelphia Flyers (2011-12: 47-26-9; Lost in the second round of the playoffs)
As always, last season for the Flyers revolved around its goaltending, in particular Illya Bryzgalov. He had a roller coaster season, went crazy for a bit, and ended up like every other Flyers’ goaltender over the last 25 years — not leading the team to a Cup.
With the team losing James van Riemsdyk and acquiring Luke Schenn to try to make up for the loss of defenceman Chris Pronger, things may not be much different for the Flyers this season. They will definitely score goals with the likes of NHL 13 cover boy Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell, Matt Read and Danny Briere, but who knows how many pucks will slip past the goaltending tandem of Bryzgalov and Michael Leighton?
Key acquisition: Luke Schenn
Key departure: James van Riemsdyk
New Jersey Devils (2011-12: 48-28-6; lost in Stanley Cup final)
After the way the 2010-11 regular season turned out for the Devils, everyone in the hockey world was surprised when they made it all the way to the Stanley Cup final and came within two wins of beating the Los Angeles Kings for their fourth Cup in franchise history.
Unfortunately for the Devils, they could be in trouble this season. For starters, the team lost its captain, Zach Parise, to the Minnesota Wild (home sweet home for Parise), which means that a chunk of the team’s goals are gone. Secondly, the commitment of superstar Ilya Kovalchuk has come into question with his reluctance to leave the Kontinental Hockey League. Will he be ready to give 100% effort?
Yes, the team still has future Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur between the pipes, but if the team has trouble scoring goals, will Brodeur be able to be perfect in what will be a very intense 48-game regular season?
Key acquisition: Bobby Butler
Key departure: Zach Parise
New York Islanders (2011-12: 34-37-11; did not make playoffs)
There is no doubt that on Long Island that a surplus of young talent will help the New York Islanders make the playoffs one day. Players like John Tavarers, Matt Moulson, and Kyle Okposo are all doing the right things right now to try and help this team make the postseason.
This season, the big question mark is how will Ryan Strome fit in with this team? The fifth-overall pick in the 2011 draft is a highly skilled forward who can produce (22 goals and 40 assists for 60 points in 32 games played with the Niagara Icedogs of the Ontario Hockey League), has plenty of speed and great hands, something that the Islanders need more of.
Will a young offence and the aging Evgeni Nabokov in goal be enough to get the Islanders in the playoffs this season? Probably not.
Key acquisitions: The Barclays Center, Brad Boyes
Key departure: P.A. Parenteau
Hottest rivalry: Penguins vs. Flyers – The Battle of Pennsylvania will take on new meaning this season as every game between the two clubs could end up being the difference between having home ice in the postseason or facing one of the higher seeds come playoff time.
Big question mark: Will Sidney Crosby be able to stay healthy for all 48 games this season?
And the divisional champ will be… New York Rangers
Who will win the Atlantic Division?