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Canes Country Clash: Atlantic Division Predictions, 2009-10

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Cory and I will now take a gander at the Atlantic Division, home of the Stanley Cup Champion, Pittsburgh Penguins. Will the Pens repeat as Cup champs? Will they at least be able to win their own division this season?

Last year, Cory picked them to win the Atlantic while I picked New Jersey. (Yippee, I got one right). So, what do we think this year?

Cory's take:

1. New Jersey
2. Pittsburgh
3. Philadelphia
4. Rangers
5. Islanders

The Atlantic is the most competitive division in the East. For the second-straight year, I think the division will send four teams to the postseason.

The Devils, like San Jose out West, are built for the regular season. The return of Jacques Lemaire behind the bench will restore New Jersey's defense-first-at-all-costs style (sorry fantasy owners of Zach Parise) that wavered under the leadership of Brent Sutter. There are many familiar faces gone (John Madden and Brian Gionta stand out), but the Devils know how to win over the 82-game grind.

The defending champs will likely have a hangover, but not a big one. I love the addition of Jay McKee to the defense, and Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby will likely sit atop of the scoring race again.

Everyone's touting the Flyers as a Cup favorite this year. Listen up: Ray Emery is not the answer in net. The addition of Chris Pronger will help immensely, but I worry about Mike Richards being as effective coming off surgery on both shoulders. Losing Mike Knuble doesn't help either.

A full year of John Tortorella should help the Rangers, but there was big turnover again due to trade and free-agent signings. If newcomer Marian Gaborik can stay healthy, the Blueshirts could be very dangerous. But that's as big as an "if" can get.

With Dwayne Roloson and Martin Biron on board, the Islanders have plenty of insurance for oft-inured goalie Rick DiPietro. That doesn't cover up the mostly pedestrian defense or untested forward lines. If nothing else, it should be fun to watch John Tavares, Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey grow in front of our eyes.

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Bob's Take:

  1. Philadelphia
  2. Pittsburgh
  3. New Jersey
  4. New York Rangers
  5. New York Islanders

The division as a whole is very strong, but I don't see four teams making it to the postseason again. If Martin Brodeur still performs like Martin Brodeur, then three will make it.

I'm going to jump on the Philadelphia bandwagon and choose them to win because on paper, they have a very strong team. They are talented up the middle, with Carter, Richards, and Briere, and they are loaded on defense. You want size, how about this for size? Chris Pronger, 6-6, Braydon Coburn, 6-5, Ryan Parent, 6-3, and Ole-Kristian Tollefsen, 6-2. Throw in playmaker Kimmo Timonen, and the defense will be tough to play against. Scoring shouldn't be a problem with Simon Gagne returning to form and Danny Briere having something to prove. Ray Emery might not be the best goalie in the world, but with this bunch in front of him he might not need to be.

Oh yeah, that dude named Pronger always seems to play on successful teams, what's up with that?

It's really not necessary to delve into the Penguins lineup very much. They have all the key pieces returning. The question is, do they have enough in the tank, mentally and physically, to do it again? Will the recent signing of Ryan Bayda push them over the top?

They will be dangerous in the playoffs, but I don't think they will win the division.

Jersey has taken a step back with the loss of Brian Gionta and Jacques Lemaire's "defense at all costs" style finally wore out it's welcome in Minnesota. Don't expect sell out crowds in Newark to watch the mastermind in action. Since the lockout, you also need to score goals in this league to win and Lemaire has not warmed up to that idea. Just ask Marian Gaborik, who begged out of Minnesota because of that defensive system.

Having said that, the Devils will be very good and should not be taken lightly. I just don't see them repeating as division champs.

The New York Rangers are a bit of a mystery. You look at the roster and wonder how these guys can win. Ryan Callahan, Christopher Higgins, and Brandon Dubinsky are solid players, but not superstars. Of course much rides on the groins of Marian Gaborik, but even if he is healthy, will it matter? Overpaid and under-performing Wade Redden still takes up space at the blueline. Marc Staal can only do so much.

Henrik Lundqvist is still a good goalie, but not good enough to push these guys into the playoffs.

The New York Islanders have a lot of young talent and should be fun to watch. But the final scores might be a bit painful. Sit back and enjoy Islander fans while there is no pressure to win.

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Now it's your turn to choose: