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2013 Atlantic Division Preview

A look at the competition from the division. Who is in, who is out, the ex-Penguins on each team a look at which teams we think will make the playoffs this season.

Al Bello
The 2012-13 schedule is going to be 48 games long -- 18 of those games being against division opponents. It's an uneven split, the Pens will face the Philadelphia Flyers and New Jersey Devils four times a piece (2 games at each team's home arena) and Pittsburgh will meet the New York Rangers (2 home, 3 away) and NY Islanders (3 home, 2 away) five times. Given that, now seems like a good time to a take a look around the Atlantic Division to see what we can expect from the frequent match-ups this season. Teams are listed in expected order of finish.

New York Rangers
Last year: 51-24-7 (first place in Atlantic, first place in Eastern Conference)
Playoffs: Defeated Ottawa (4 games to 3), defeated Washington (4-3), lost to New Jersey (1-4)
Who’s in: Rick Nash, Arron Asham, Jeff Halpern, Taylor Pyatt
Who’s out: Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Ruslan Fedotenko, Brandon Prust
Key player: Brad Richards
Rising star: Carl Hagelin
Unsung hero: Dan Girardi
Ex-Penguins: Asham, Mike Rupp
2012-13 outlook:
By adding Rick Nash to the puzzle, the Rangers will get to see how he fits into the big city, a demanding coach and team with the highest of expectations. This is the polar opposite of what Nash has been accustomed to in his NHL career in Columbus. Depth-wise, Nash, Richards and Marian Gaborik have Ryan Callahan, Derek Stepan and Chris Kreider to support them in scoring roles for a diverse and dynamic set of offensive weapons. Defensively, the Rangers are known for their total team dedication to shot-blocking and clogging lanes and will lean on Girardi, Ryan McDonaugh and Marc Staal as they did last year. The Blueshirts have one of the top goalies in the league in Henrik Lundqvist. Lundqvist is used to a heavy workload, and good thing, because he's going to see less rest and a ton of game-time during the 48-game season. On paper, the Rangers might be the most complete, balanced team with most depth in not only the division, but the whole conference.

Philadelphia Flyers
Last year: 47-26-9 (third place in Atlantic, fifth place in Eastern Conference)
Playoffs: Defeated Pittsburgh (4 games to 2), lost to New Jersey (2-4)
Who’s in: Luke Schenn, Ruslan Fedotenko
Who’s out: James van Riemsdyk, Jaromir Jagr, Matt Carle
Key player: Claude Giroux
Rising star: Brayden Schenn
Unsung hero: Wayne Simmonds
Ex-Penguins on the Roster: Fedotenko, Max Talbot
2012-13 outlook:
With Chris Pronger expected not to play due to his lingering concussion and Kimmo Timonen, Andreas Lilja, Andrej Mezaros and Nicklas Grossman all coming off significant summer injuries and/or surgeries, the state of the Flyers blueline health and durability could be a question mark. Up front, they didn’t gain any large pieces, but expect youngsters like Jakub Voracek, Brayden Schenn, Matt Read and Sean Couturier to assume bigger roles. The Flyers should have the offensive firepower to remain a top team, but their defensive depth and caliber of goaltending remains the biggest question marks moving into the year.

New Jersey Devils
Last year: 48-28-6 (fourth place in Atlantic, sixth in Eastern Conference)
Playoffs: Defeated Florida (4 games to 3), defeated Philly (4-2), defeated NY Rangers (4-1) lost to LA Kings (2-4)
Who’s in: Bobby Butler, Kris Barch
Who’s out: Zach Parise, Petr Sykora
Key player: Ilya Kovalchuk
Rising star: Adam Larsson
Unsung hero: Travis Zajac
Ex-Penguins on the Roster: Johan Hedberg
2012-13 outlook:
Like the Atlanta Braves of the early 2000s, seemingly everyone predicts the next year will be the end of the Devils run. Last year all they did was go to the Stanley Cup finals on a great playoff run. They still have Martin Brodeur, who has proven he can still when games when they count. The loss of leadership and scoring production from team captain Parise will be a devastating blow. New Jersey relied heavily on Kovalchuk last year, and he’ll have to be even better this year with a lesser supporting cast. There could be a carry-over in the locker room for Kovalchuk’s hesitation to return to the NHL after the CBA was ratified, especially if he plays poorly. All odds are against another NJD playoff appearance, but that isn’t the first time someone has predicted that, and in a short season, anything could happen. GM Lou Lamieriello and Brodeur won the cup in the last shortened NHL season and, while certainly no one expects that this time around, the Devils showed last spring they’re not in a rebuilding mode quite yet.

New York Islanders
Last year: 34-37-11 (fifth place in Atlantic, 14th in Eastern Conference)
Playoffs: LOLOL
Who’s in: Brad Boyes, Matt Carkner
Who’s out: PA Parenteau, Jay Pandolfo, Mark Eaton, Milan Jurcina
Key player: John Tavares
Rising star: Travis Hamonic
Unsung hero: Frans Nielson
Ex-Penguins on the Roster: none
2012-13 outlook:
The Islanders will look to climb out of the basement with a young roster led by Tavares, Matt Moulson and Michael Grabner. Defensively, they still have a lot of work to be done, especially depending on if defenseman Lubomir Visnovsky decides to ignore his NHL contract and remain in Slovakia. In net, the Isles will return Evgeni Nabokov and the oft-injured Rick DiPietro for what has been one of the most unstable goaltending situations in the league in the past few seasons. If the Isles do anything, it would probably be on the strength of their younger players growing into NHL roles, but even in a short season it looks like it’ll be another rebuilding year on Long Island.