Here’s the second of the division-by-division summer preview looks, this time swinging north to the Atlantic Division. This season’s standings are followed by the team-by-team looks…
1. Philadelphia Flyers, 106 points (2nd in Eastern Conference)
2. Pittsburgh Penguins, 106 points (4th in Eastern Conference)
3. New York Rangers, 93 points (8th in Eastern Conference)
4. New Jersey Devils, 81 points (11th in Eastern Conference)
5. New York Islanders, 73 points (14th in Eastern Conference)
NEW JERSEY DEVILS
Hanging around?: If they so choose, the Devils could remain almost entirely intact next season. Is that good or bad? That depends on which Devils team you believe was the “real” team this season: the one that slalomed to the bottom of the conference standings at the beginning of the season or the one that nearly charged to the playoffs. Of course, Ilya Kovalchuk remains under contract until sometime in the early 22nd century, and the Devils have the ability to bring back all of their top-nine forwards and top-four defensemen. Martinn Brodeur has one year left on his contract. Should the Devils ride him out, or start grooming a replacement?
Saying goodbye?: Steady but unspectacular defenseman Andy Greene and backup goalie Johan Hedberg are the Devils’ only unrestricted free agents of note. The Devils’ main focus of the summer will be to keep Zach Parise in the fold. Parise is a restricted free agent and the Devils aren’t actually overflowing with salary-cap space. Can they keep the roster mostly intact while ensuring that Parise will remain a Devil through his prime years?
Draft card: With Kovalchuk, Parise and Travis Zajac in the fold, things look good for the Devils up front. That’s good, because their reserve list is defense-heavy. Alexander Urbom just completed his first season in the AHL, while Jonathon Merrill and Brandon Burlon were successful teammates at the University of Michigan.
(Restricted free agents: Matt Corrente, D; Mark Fraser, D; Jeff Frazee, G; Zach Parise, C; Nathan Perkovich, RW; Anssi Salmela, D; Matthew Taormina, D; Alexander Vasyunov, LW; Steven Zalewski, C; Vladimir Zharkov, RW.)
(Unrestricted free agents: Rob Davison, D; Tyler Eckford, D; Andy Greene, D; Johan Hedberg, G; Jay Leach, D; Olivier Magnan, D; Adam Mair, C; Mike McKenna, G; Brad Mills, F; Tim Sestito, F; Chad Wiseman, LW.)
NEW YORK ISLANDERS
Hanging around?: What is it about the island? Michael Grabner, P.A. Parenteau and Matt Moulson were all cast off by their previous teams and became 20-goal scorers with the Islanders, with Grabner and Moulson topping 30 goals. If they can keep it up, and if John Tavares continues to progress, the core is there. On defense, the Islanders are stable but gave up a lot of goals this season. Problem is, the core of defensemen is older and doesn’t have much upside. Sooner, rather than later, there will need to be an infusion of young talent. in goal, Rick DiPietro is under contract until 2021. Will he ever stay healthy?
Saying goodbye?: The Islanders need to get new contracts for restricted free agent centers Blake Comeau and Josh Bailey, but other than that, their only decisions are about three energy-line forwards plus defenseman Radek Martinek, who are all unrestricted free agents. Plus, there’s the matter of what to do with goalie Evgeni Nabokov, who apparently wants nothing to do with the Islanders? Can they swing a trade to improve themselves in another area?
Draft card: There is some hope here for the Islanders. As mentioned earlier, they’re soon going to need an infusion of young defensemen, and they have a chance at that with prospects such as Calvin de Haan and Travis Hamonic. Up front, Nino Niederreiter was a 40-goal scorer in the WHL this season.
(Restricted free agents: Josh Bailey, C; Blake Comeau, C/RW; Robin Figren, LW; Bruno Gervais, D; Jack Hillen, D; Rob Hisey, C; Jesse Joensuu, F; Dustin Kohn, D; Tomas Marcinko, RW; Ty Wishart, D.)
(Unrestricted free agents: Jeremy Colliton, C; Trevor Gillies, LW; Michael Haley, C; Andy Hilbert, C; Zenon Konopka, C; Nathan Lawson, G; Joel Martin, G; Radek Martinek, D; Dylan Reese, D; Jeremy Yablonski, RW.)
NEW YORK RANGERS
Hanging around?: The Rangers often get headlines for handing out outrageous contracts to forwards, but this team’s strength is on the back end, and with goalie Henrik Lundqvist under contract for three more seasons, that doesn’t seem likely to change. Young defensemen Marc Staal and Michael Del Zotto also form a nice big-minute pair. Up front, the Rangers will hope for a bounce-back season from Chris Drury and hope (against hope) that Marian Gaborik can stay healthy.
Saying goodbye?: Are there any unrestricted free agents worth keeping? Alexander Frolov is already on his way to Russia. The Rangers had high hopes for Bryan McCabe, but he didn’t produce much, while Ruslan Fedotenko and Vinny Prospal were low-risk pickups that didn’t result in much reward. The Rangers need to lock up the middle of the ice, as Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov and Brian Boyle are all restricted free agents, as is winger Ryan Callahan.
Draft card: Could it be? Are the Rangers, long known for throwing money around, be building the right way? Along with the previously mentioned back end, the Rangers have a handful of potentially strong forwards coming through the system, led by wingers Chris Kreider and Christian Thomas.
(Restricted free agents: Artem Anisimov, C; Stu Bickel, D; Brian Boyle, C; Ryan Callahan, RW; Devin DiDiomete, LW; Tysen Dowzak, D; Brandon Dubinsky, C; Brodie Dupont, LW; Matt Gilroy, D; Chad Johnson, G; Matt McCue, F; John Mitchell, C; Mike Sauer, D; Justin Soryal, LW; Pavel Valentenko, D; Dale Weise, RW.)
(Unrestricted free agents: Steve Eminger, D; Ruslan Fedotenko, LW; Alexander Frolov, LW; Chad Kolarik, D; Bryan McCabe, D; Vaclav Prospal, LW; Todd White, C; Jeremy Williams, RW.)
Hanging around?: That sound you hear is the Flyers bumping their heads against the salary-cap ceiling, which is nothing particularly new. The Flyers have five defensemen under contract next season who will each make at least $3 million — Chris Pronger leads, at $4.92 million — plus Jeff Carter ($5.2 million), Mike Richards ($5.75 million), Daniel Briere ($6.5 million) and Scott Hartnell ($4.2 million) up front. It’s going to be a very, very tight fit in 2011-12.
Saying goodbye?: The Flyers would get modest cap relief by cutting loose enigmatic winger Nikolai Zherdev, who made $2 million last season. Even so, it’s hard to see how they will be able to keep unrestricted free agent winger Ville Leino, who scored 19 goals this season at only $800,000. Leino isn’t a top-tier free agent but will get plenty of looks. Brian Boucher is the only free agent among Philadelphia’s three-headed monster in goal, another situation they need to resolve quickly.
Draft card: In the long term, the goalie issue could be solved by 21-year-old Joacim Eriksson, who played in Sweden this season. The Flyers’ list of prospects doesn’t seem particularly deep, but they do have defensemen such as Oskars Bartulis and Kevin Marshall to step in, eventually, for a couple of their veteran guys.
(Restricted free agents: Rob Bordson, LW; Dan Carcillo, LW; Jon Kalinski, LW; Garrett Klotz, LW; Stefan Legein, RW; Andreas Nodl, RW; Darroll Powe, C; Tom Sestito, C; Brian Stewart, G; Danny Syvret, D.)
(Unrestricted free agents: Brian Boucher, G; Nick Boynton, D; Matt Clackson, LW; Ville Leino, RW; Sean O’Donnell, D; Michael Ryan, LW; Nikolai Zherdev, RW.)
Hanging around?: This is another team that could run into some salary-cap issues, and has some questions up front, but the back end is set. Marc-Andre Fleury and Brent Johnson are set to return in goal, as are defensemen Kris Letang, Brooks Orpik, Zbynek Michalek, Paul Martin and Matt Niskanen. That’s not a bad core. And, oh yeah, the Penguins also have a couple guys named Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but they will hold their breath all summer in terms of Crosby’s health.
Saying goodbye?: With forwards such as Crosby, Malkin, Jordan Staal, Chris Kunitz and James Neal, the Penguins have a clear core, but otherwise there’s some work to do. Potentially, the Penguins might have to replace five of their top 12 forwards, although none of them are particularly critical. The list is arguably topped by 17-goal-scorer Pascal Dupuis, and also includes the hard-to-figure Alexei Kovalev, who made $5 million this season and scored 16 goals.
Draft card: It could be said that the Penguins’ top prospect is defenseman Simon Despres, but given that the team is fairly set on the back end, it’s probably more important that a couple of their forward prospects step forward. That list includes Dustin Jeffrey and Eric Tangradi, who have already had a taste of the NHL, plus Beau Bennett.
(Restricted free agents: Joey Haddad, LW; Dustin Jeffrey, C; Tyler Kennedy, C; Brad Thiessen, G.)
(Unrestricted free agents: Craig Adams, RW; Arron Asham, RW; Mike Comrie, C; Chris Conner, RW; Ryan Craig, C; John Curry, G; Pascal Dupuis, LW; Eric Godard, F; Andrew Hutchinson, D; Nick Johnson, RW; Alexei Kovalev, RW; Corey Potter, D; Michael Rupp, LW; Brett Sterling, LW; Max Talbot, C; Steve Wagner, D; Tim Wallace, F.)