If someone was to put together a team of the best players in the Atlantic Division, what might it look like? Here's my thoughts. This does not include Kovalchuk (Devils) or Gagne (Flyers), as both have uncertain futures with the division, although both would certainly be here if they stayed. Half of the choices are made with projected production in the 2010-11 season.
Tavares is a very talented young player. Richards has proven his worth not only as a standout offensive player (career high 31 goals in 2009-10) but also as an elite shorthanded threat. Carter possesses one of the most lethal wrist shots in the game. But there are no ifs, ands or buts about it. Crosby is the best center in the division, in the conference and on the planet. You'd take him in the blink of an eye for the All-NHL team. Choice: Crosby
Okposo has grown tremendously in each of his two full seasons in the NHL, and should certainly continue that trend alongside Tavares. He plays a strong physical game and barring catastrophe, will break the 20 goal plateau in 2010-11. But he isn't close to the top scoring winger. Briere had a superb playoffs last year, leading the league with 30 although only posting 52 in the regular season. Gaborik found a way to stay healthy with the Rangers and established himself as their only scoring threat, matching a career high in goals (42) and setting a career high in points (86). But he's far too one dimensional as a player.
So it's down to Malkin and Parise. Parise has been Mr. Reliable for the Devils, playing in at least 81 games every year in his Devils career. He also put up 94 points two years ago. Malkin on the other hand, won the Art Ross that same season with 113 points, but should be making the transition to wing and could need some adjustment. Choice: Parise
Zajac posted career numbers in 2009-10 with 25 goals playing on the "ZZ Pops" Line with Parise and Langenbrunner. He also recorded a nifty 53% on faceoffs with 51 takeaways, leading the defensive-minded Devils in both categories. Dubinsky also set career highs with 20 goals while dramatically cutting the time he spent in the penalty box. Staal further established his title of the best 3rd center in the league, posting an impressive +19 rating. Drury would throw himself in front of a maglev train if it prevented a shot getting through. But it comes down to a very simple five letter word, as they are all high quality defensive centers - S-e-l-k-e. Choice: J. Staal
Psycho Kunitz is a quality player who acts as the heat-seaking missile for Crosby. Now 35, Langenbrunner has proven he can still play at a very high level while still sticking to his solid two-way game. He was named captain of the USA team that won Silver at the Olympics and again managed to put up 61 points. But tough as nails, Callahan is the obvious choice. He'll do absolutely anything from delivering bone-crunching hits to blocking shots or scoring big goals. Choice: Callahan
The 27-year-old Greene had a major breakout season last year, but nobody knows if he can come anywhere near 37 points again. Del Zotto, in his first NHL season matched Greene with 37 points, but also scored 9 goals. But his defense was awful, as you could expect from a teenager in the NHL. Timonen and Letang both played secondary roles behind other defensemen on the offensive totem pole. Which leaves Streit and Pronger. Both have put up double digit goal totals in each of the past 4 seasons and both are now in their mid-30s, however, one man was helped significantly by his team's excellent power play, the other was not. Choice: Streit
White is a huge body who improves the closer he gets to Brodeur. Staal is the opposite, he uses his size and reach to take opponents one-on-one, then take the puck the other way. Volchenkov and Michalek are both world-class shot blockers and possibly two of the Top 5 in the league. Coburn and Orpik diversify their game a little more and not only will block shots decently well, but are also proficient at laying hits. Choice: White
MAF had a Stanley Cup ring at 24 years old. He was also named to the Canadian Olympic team and posted 37 wins on the season. But still, it's very much a two-horse race, between the other two men. The old guard, put up huge numbers leading the Devils to a Division title. Lundqvist however, despite not leading the Rangers to the playoffs in 2010, was the sole reason why the Rangers were even in contention at the end of the year. On the team that allowed the most shots in the entire Eastern Conference, he still managed to put up a 2.38 GAA. Choice: Lundqvist
COACH - Options: John Tortorella, Peter Laviolette, Dan Bylsma
This All-Star team of sorts needs a coach as well. It just so happens that three of the better ones in the league call the Atlantic Division home. All three have won the Stanley Cup. All three coaches have taken their respective current clubs into the playoffs, and each have done it their own way. Tortorella, the fiery, loud-mouthed motivator who believes shouting will solve any problem, took over as Rangers boss in the in early 2009. Laviolette is the shortest-tenured coach of the three but has already taken the Flyers to the Stanley Cup final after replacing John Stevens mid-season. Bylsma, the tactician who simply loves hockey, is the only one to have won a Cup with his current team - however, he also has the least amount of coaching experience. Choice: Laviolette
So if we're actually setting this team up, the lines could look like...
Parise - Crosby - Gaborik
Carter - Richards - Malkin
Kunitz - Staal - Callahan
Zajac - Dubinsky - Okposo
Pronger - Streit
Volchenkov - Letang
White - Orpik
Backup Skaters: Briere, Michalek
Backup Goalie: Brodeur
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