1. Pittsburgh Penguins:
Strengths- The Pens pack a formidable offensive punch led by soon-to-legendary Sidney Crosby.... They also have an excellent Evengi Malkin centering the second line. Malkin posted 85 points last season....They added veteran Peter Sykora in the offseason and may pair him with Crosby, making for a potentially combustible scoring situation.
Weaknesses- Marc Andre Fleury, despite his 40 wins last season, has not proven yet that he is capable of being the premiere goaltender that Pittsburgh has missed since Tom Barrasso left....The young Defensive Corps, while showing excellent potential, still has a ways to go in terms of developing....The team relies so much on Crosby that an injury to the young star would be devastating to it's bottom line.
Prediction: 1st in Atlantic Division
2. New York Rangers:
Strengths- The Rangers obtained Chris Drury and Scott Gomez in the off season, two of the most sought after Free Agents in the market. How these two fit it on Broadway remains to be seen, but there is no denying their skill level....Jaromir Jagr remains one of the game's all time greats at age 35. He tallied 96 points last season....Henrik Lundqvist's play in goal stabilized the team last season and has made the transition to a post-Mike Richter era smoother.
Weaknesses- Their defense remains a huge question mark. Though certainly not a poor group by any stretch, there are many concerns that they do not play an overly physical game...Marc Staal is an important piece of the future for the Rangers, but may be pressed into heavier action than he's ready for at this stage in his career should injuries mount on the blue line...There's not much proven depth behind Lundquist in goal.
Prediction: 2nd in Atlantic Division
3. New Jersey Devils:
Strengths- Martin Brodeur is one of the best to ever strap on the pads and remains an elite goaltender. Kevin Weekes will do fine in a fill in role for the Devils whenever Brodeur needs one of his infrequent nights off....Zach Parise continued his meteoric development last year and should be a tremendous offensive force this season...The defensive corps, though young, is an underrated unit that should blossom.
Weaknesses- The Devils were decimated during the free agency period, losing Brian Rafalski, Scott Gomez and Brad Lukowich. How they replace their output is a definite concern...Few teams rely as heavily on their goaltenders as New Jersey does Brodeur. An injury to him would be cataclysmic to their chances this season....Brent Sutter is a first time NHL coach. He has had quite a bit of success at the junior level, but it is uncertain how that will translate to the major leagues.
Prediction: 3rd in Atlantic Division
4. New York Islanders:
Strengths- Ted Nolan and Garth Snow have been busy ridding themselves of the vestiges of the failed Milbury era and have acquired a number of hard-nosed grinders who will consistently work hard....Bill Guerin brings a positive veteran leadership to the club, a key ingredient they have lacked.....The defense is tougher than it has been in recent years and should also produce more power play points with Marc Andre Bergeron playing a full season.
Weaknesses- The club could be offensively challenged yet again, having lost considerable firepower in the offseason in the forms of Jason Blake, Viktor Kozlov and Tom Poti...While the defense added muscle, the corps got slower and may be exposed by faster skating teams....Goaltender Rick Dipietro needs to take a huge jump in his development from an above average goalie to an elite one. Otherwise, the Isles will find themselves on the losing end of quite a few 3-2 games.
Prediction: 4th in Atlantic Division
Strengths: The Flyers acquired Daniel Briere in the offseason, who will bring a much needed infusion of offensive talent to their ranks....Simon Gagne should have another outstanding year playing on Briere's wing....Kimmo Timmonen should quarterback an improved powerplay, a former weakness of the team.
Weaknesses: The defense, though big in stature, remains slow of foot, a factor that will be taken advantage of by more fleet teams....Neither Martin Biron nor Antero Niittiymaki inspires much confidence in terms of providing the Flyers with consistently good goaltending....The team is still very young in their maturation process and doesn't have a strong leader to guide them.
Prediction: 5th in Atlantic Division