Four of the five Atlantic Division teams made the playoffs last season, more than any other grouping in the NHL. This season, the division could be even stronger.
|With Crosby locked in, the Penguins went out and got him some help. (Getty Images)|
Meanwhile, the Pittsburgh Penguins, the young and talent-rich team that broke out in electrifying fashion last season, has gotten even better. Here are the Atlantic Division midsummer report cards.
Free agents Scott Gomez and Brian Rafalski leaving right off the bat was a blow to the Devils, just not necessarily as crushing as it first appeared. New Jersey lost some of its skill level but seems to have made up that quality with some decent quantity.
The Devils were active themselves on the open market. They picked up veterans Vitali Vishnevsky and Karel Rachunek to help fill Rafalski's void on defense, and Dainius Zubrus to deepen the forward units. And New Jersey signed backup goalie Kevin Weekes, who should keep Martin Brodeur from having to wear himself out by playing around 70 games.
But the biggest move was hiring Brent Sutter as coach. Sutter has been a huge success at the junior level and was considered among the top coaching prospects outside the NHL. Grade: B
They re-signed Sidney Crosby for a long term, added quality veterans on defense and forward and might have got one of the steals of the draft. All in all, it has been a pretty good summer for the Penguins on the heels of a monumental season.
Aside from extending Crosby and talented young defenseman Ryan Whitney, the Penguins reeled in veterans Darryl Sydor to bolster the blue line and Peter Sykora to add scoring depth. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh retained several of its key young players and brought back veteran Mark Recchi and in-demand trade deadline rental Gary Roberts, who is 41 but provides the kind of intangible leadership critical to a young team. Grade: A
No one has made more dramatic offseason changes than the Rangers, who grabbed two of the free-agent prizes in Scott Gomez and Chris Drury with stunning contracts and instantly made themselves serious Stanley Cup contenders. But the expensive signings cost New York the services of several players, including Michael Nylander.
The Rangers also said goodbye to Matt Cullen, Karel Rachunek and Jed Ortmeyer, who were shuffled away to free up money for the newcomers and key returners like goalie Henrik Lundqvist, Brendan Shahanan, Petr Prucha and Marcel Hossa.