The Atlantic Division continually houses four of the top teams in hockey. Last year, those four teams tallied over 100 points each.
The top seed in the Eastern Conference and its eventual champion return with high expectations, after each round of the playoffs saw an exciting Atlantic Division rivalry.
It begs the question – how many teams can realistically make the playoffs again from the Atlantic Division in 2012-13?
The New York Rangers improved their roster this offseason, just a season removed from finishing atop the Eastern Conference. The Pittsburgh Penguins have a healthy Sidney Crosby playing what could be his first full season in three years.
The Philadelphia Flyers didn’t add much this season, but they are still one of the most talented teams in hockey. Can theNew Jersey Devils mirror last season’s success despite losing Zach Parise and getting a year older?
Is there any hope for the New York Islanders? The Atlantic Division looks to be the most talented division in the NHL yet again.
The New York Rangers appear to be in good shape to make the playoffs again in 2012, provided there is actually a hockey season.
They return the most of the roster from the top seed in the Eastern Conference, Henrik Lundqvist is still arguably the best goaltender in hockey, and Rick Nash will provide a boost to the offense.
The defensive corps gains a year of experience and their top-line talent could be the best in the NHL.
In the Rangers’ defense-first, shot-blocking, goaltending-anchored system, there appears to be little doubt that the Rangers are a playoff team again in 2012, and may even win the Atlantic Division again.
The Penguins can’t feel great about their goaltending situation after last year’s disastrous defensive performance in the playoffs against the Flyers.
However, who needs goaltending and defense when you have the offensive talent of the Pittsburgh Penguins? Sidney Crosby appears to be healthy again, Evgeni Malkin was the most prolific producer in hockey last season, and the offense should be able to carry them to the playoffs again.
The loss of Jordan Staal hurts, but not enough to knock this dynamic team from the postseason. The Penguins will contend with the top teams in the Atlantic Division again in 2012-13.
Philadelphia lost Jaromir Jagr, leaving Claude Giroux on a top-line island in 2012-13. However, the youth and balance of this roster should be enough to make the playoffs rather comfortably next season.
The Flyers are still one of the top teams in the Atlantic Division, even if their prospects are still developing. Look for the young talent of this roster to step up and carry the Philadelphia Flyers to the playoffs.
The Devils would lose their captain, one of their top-scorers, and the heart and soul of their team when Zach Parise signed with the Minnesota Wild.
Still, the defending Eastern Conference champions return most of their roster.
The grinders that fueled their postseason run remain intact for the 2012-13 season, veteran leadership from Martin Brodeur and Patrik Elias should fill the void left by Parise, and Ilya Kovalchuk could be ready to carry this team.
Throw a healthy Travis Zajac into the mix, and New Jersey should be competitive in the regular season. They don’t look like a Stanley Cup contender right now, but they should make the playoffs with a low seed by finishing fourth in the Atlantic Division.
The New York Islanders seem to be hoping for a lockout. They did little to improve this offseason and return a roster lacking the depth to contend in a loaded Atlantic Division.
The Isles have a questionable goaltending situation and little support for John Tavares. It’s going to be tough for the Islanders to make the playoffs, especially when the Atlantic Division is this loaded. I don’t expect the Isles to compete for a playoff spot this year.
Ultimately, it looks like there will be four playoff teams from the Atlantic Division if everything goes to plan. The Rangers added to a roster that was already one of the best in the NHL.
Pittsburgh has too much scoring to miss the postseason. Philadelphia will rely on youth to step up this season, but they didn’t lose nearly as much as the New Jersey Devils, who need to replace Zach Parise’s scoring from within.
The Devils should still be able to fight their way into the playoffs after last year’s run to the conference championship.
All hope appears lost for the Islanders, though, who will have to fight through the league’s most talented group of teams in the mighty Atlantic division.