Mandatory Credit: Greg Bartman US-PRESSWIRE

Teams In The NHL's Atlantic Division Are Headed For A Showdown

 

Wow. What a scene we have shaping up in the Eastern Conference and more specifically the Atlantic Division. The Philadelphia Flyers lost out on all world defensemen Shea Weber after the Nashville Predators matched the 14 year $110 million dollar offer sheet, the New York Rangers added superstar winger Rick Nash, winger Zach Parise left the New Jersey Devils in his rearview to sign a multi-year, mega-millions deal with the Minnesota Wild and center Jordan Staal left Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in Pittsburgh to join his brother Eric in Carolina. It’s not often we see such big names being tossed around in one division and the Atlantic would’ve been even more star studded had Nashville not matched Philadelphia’s offer sheet to Shea Weber.

The Nashville Predators made the decision a day early to match the 14 year $110 million dollar offer sheet from the Philadelphia Flyers that their captain Shea Weber signed last week. It was a move the Predators had to make after losing their other star defensemen, Ryan Suter, to the Minnesota Wild via free agency. They couldn’t afford to lose Weber while some say they can’t afford to keep him. Getting back to the point of this article it left the Flyers holding the short straw and now they must face the reality of not having a true number one defensemen next season after they lost a quietly reliable defenseman in Matt Carle to the Tampa Bay Lightning via free agency and all the while Chris Pronger’s status for next season is still very much up in the air. The Flyers did however add a promising young blue-liner in Luke Schenn (they traded winger James van Riemsdyk to the Toronto Maple Leafs in return for Schenn. Both teams are hoping a change of scenery will do each player some good). The Flyers already have solid defensemen in Braydon Coburn, an aging Kimmo Timonen, Andrej Meszeros and Nicklas Grossman but bringing inWeber or retaining Carle would certainly have been a boost. They do have somewhat of a question mark between the pipes with the enigma that has become Ilya Bryzgalov being backed up by Michael Leighton after they sent their young, up and coming backup Sergei Bobrovsky to the Columbus Blue Jackets for some draft picks. They still have plenty of fire power up front in Claude “Field goal post smile” Giroux, Scott “It’s the hair” HarntellDanny Briere and good young talent in Brayden Schenn, Matt Read, and Sean Couturier. But they lost Jaromir Jagr (I salute you) and while I write this have yet to resign Jakub Voracek.  So while I don’t believe theres any need to panic, I think this team is young and full of potential, but there is cause for concern. Especially when you consider the New York Rangers added a perennial 30 goal scorer in Rick Nash.

I still can’t believe New York Rangers GM Glen Sather acquired Rick Nash without having to part with young talents like Carl Hagelin, JT Miller and Chris Kreider. Instead he sent underachieving Brandon Dubinsky, a sporadic Artem Anisimov, a young defensemen in Tim Erixon and a first round pick in 2013 to the Blue Jackets in return for Nash’s services. It’s a good but not great deal for Columbus in my opinion because it adds depth and potential to their lineup. They also now have 3 first round picks in next years NHL entry draft. On the other hand it definitely gives New York an elite goal scorer and yet another option on the power play. Nash’s contract however can be considered a bit of an albatross, he has a 7.8 million dollar cap hit from now through the 2017-18 NHL season. He’s only 28 years old so he should still be producing in 6 years but this gives the Rangers four contracts of 6.6 million or more. That’s a lot of money especially when you have young players like Hagelin, Miller and Kreider who should sometime in the near future be due for a pay raise. However in the short term with this move the Rangers have to be considered an early Stanley Cup favorite with names like Henrik Lundqvist, Marian Gaborik, Rick Nash and Brad Richards on the roster. That being said, as long as numbers 87 and 71 still play together in Pittsburgh, the Penguins can never be counted out.

The Pittsburgh Penguins parted ways with “3rd line center” Jordan Staal when they sent him to the Carolina Hurricanes to join his brother and all-star center Eric Staal. While that would be a blow to almost any team in the NHL the Penguins are more than equipped to handle it with two star centers already in place in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Now I’m not saying they are better off without him but it’s a move that had to be made for both Pittsburgh and Staal. With Crosby and Malkin atop the center depth chart  (and payroll) he’d never get the ice time he needs or deserves. Also he was due for a hefty pay raise and asking for a long-term contract which the Hurricanes gave him in the form of a 10 year, 60 million dollar deal. That being said it’s not as if the Penguins just gave Staal away. They got a very solid 3rd line center option in Brandon Sutter, an arguably NHL ready defensemen in Brian Dumoulin and the 8th overall pick in this past year’s NHL entry draft which was used on defensemen Derrick Pouliot. Not bad at all if you ask me, Pittsburgh gets cheap depth and a prospect while Carolina gets a very solid second line center with first line potential. Finally, like I said earlier if you have talents like Crosby and Malkin with forwards like James Neal and Chris Kunitz you always have a chance to win and oh yeah, it doesn’t hurt to have Marc-Andre Fleury in net and Kris Letang anchoring the blue line.

With all these talented players to go with all these moves and non-moves being made or not being made in the Eastern Conference and within the Atlantic Division one could easily argue the Atlantic is now one of the toughest divisions in hockey. These teams all loathe each other to begin with and now have even more cards in their decks with which to boom or bust. Hopefully this should lead to some highly contested hockey and one heck of a battle for the division. Now I know I didn’t speak about the New Jersey Devils and losing Zach Parise (he’s a stud in every sense of the word and yes I have a bit of a man crush on him) but that will definitely hurt them. However with the ageless Martin “The Best Ever” Brodeur in net and Ilya Kovalchuk scoring goals left and right they won’t go quietly into the good night. Especially with young budding star Adam Henrique scoring clutch goals. The Atlantic Division is sure to be a battle of epic proportions and I for one cannot wait to see how this division unfolds, as well as the Eastern Conference. One can only hope it’s not delayed or the entire season lost by greed or hard-headiness. But thats a story for another day, for now let’s all just be excited.

UPDATE:  The Flyers have since signed forward Jakub Voracek to a four-year deal worth 17 million. Alexander Semin has signed a one year deal with the Carolina Hurricanes.

 

Feel free to follow Billy Bryson on Twitter @BillyBrysonNHL

Tags: Atlantic Division Evgeni Malkin Jordan Staal New Jersey Devils NHL NHL Eastern Conference Philadelpia Flyers Pittsburgh Penguins Rick Nash Shea Weber Sidney Crosby Zach Parise

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