Philadelphia Flyers v Pittsburgh Penguins

Does the Atlantic Division have a true favorite?

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Every year, sportswriters face tough choices when they make predictions. Can a surprise team find lightning in a bottle once again or will they prove to be one-hit wonders? Will the splashiest moves create a “Dream Team” or an expensive, embarrassing nightmare? Should you tab the best team on paper or try to chart intangible things like chemistry?

While most decisions are tough, there are certain situations that stand out by being unusually difficult to gauge. In my mind, the Atlantic Division race is far more difficult to forecast in 2011-12. You could make an argument for almost every team to win the title, although I don’t think the New York Islanders are “there” yet. (Expect significant strides from that young bunch, though.)

Let’s take a look at what makes each Atlantic team confounding.

New Jersey Devils

The Devils were expected to collapse like they did in 2010-11 during just about every season since the lockout. That’s the natural assumption when you keep losing great (Scott Stevens, Scott Niedermayer) and very good (Brian Rafalski, Paul Martin) defensemen while your star goalie slides further away from his prime.

New Jersey has burned many pundits for counting them out over the years, though. Before 10-11, they ranked high in the standings more often than not, even when they looked thin on paper. They’re a deeply flawed team, but it’s tough to count them out completely considering their organizational guile (not to mention the fact that they employ Zach Parise, Martin Brodeur, Ilya Kovalchuk and Patrik Elias).

New York Islanders

Again, I don’t expect them to be in the division title chase, but counting this rising team out of the playoff picture is foolish. The Isles could turn some heads, especially if Mark Streit and Kyle Okposo are healthy.

New York Rangers

Click here for a post full of questions about the team, but to play my own devil’s advocate, they have arguably the best goalie in the world (Henrik Lundqvist), one of the league’s best passers (Brad Richards), a fiery coach (John Tortorella) and a ton of worker bees to drop in front of shots and hustle for loose pucks. It’s not outrageous to put them in the mix.

Philadelphia Flyers

Not many division title winners trade away their captain (Mike Richards) and a potent, affordable sniper like Jeff Carter. Then again, the Flyers march to the beat of their own stone-faced drummer.

They still have a nice variety of forwards to work into the lineup, although that group won’t be as good in all three areas of the ice (especially on the penalty kill). It’s hard to tell what to expect from Jaromir Jagr and Jakub Voracek this year, in particular.

Oddly enough, public sentiment seems to be that Ilya Bryzgalov will be a bust. I disagree, even if I firmly nod my head when people discuss the risky nature of his contract. For all that’s been made about Dave Tippett’s defensive system, the Phoenix Coyotes allowed the third most shots per game (32.6) last season. Bryzgalov kept them afloat and should be able to clean up some messes for Philly, which is promising since Chris Pronger’s health is unclear – at best.

Pittsburgh Penguins

A lot of people – and at least one prominent video game – picked the Penguins to win the Stanley Cup, which probably means that they expect them to take their division as well. Two factors make that a risky proposition, though:

1. Obviously, Crosby’s health is a big question mark.

2. The Penguins earned just one division title since Crosby’s debut.

The team should be commended for its work without Crosby and Malkin last season, but they played with a tiny margin of error and scrapped out a lot of charity points in that time. Geno could indeed be explosive next season, but the Penguins’ aren’t a lock to win the Atlantic by any means.

Then again, who is?

Jason Demers tweets #FreeTorres, gets mocked

Los Angeles Kings v San Jose Sharks - Game One
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Following his stunning 41-game suspension, it looks like Raffi Torres has at least one former teammate in his corner.

We haven’t yet seen how the San Jose Sharks or the NHLPA are reacting to the league’s hammer-dropping decision to punish Torres for his Torres-like hit on Jakob Silfverberg, but Jason Demers decided to put in a good word for Torres tonight.

It was a simple message: “#FreeTorres.”

Demers, now of the Dallas Stars, was once with Torres and the Sharks. (In case this post’s main image didn’t make that clear enough already.)

Perhaps this will become “a thing” at some point.

So far, it seems like it’s instead “a thing (that people are making fun of).”

… You get the idea.

The bottom line is that there are some who either a) blindly support Torres because they’re Sharks fans or b) simply think that the punishment was excessive.

The most important statement came from the Department of Player Safety, though.

Bruins list Chara on IR, for now

Zdeno Chara

Those who feel as though the Boston Bruins may rebound – John Tortorella, maybe? – likely rest some of their optimism on the back of a healthy Zdeno Chara.

It’s possible that he’s merely limping into what may otherwise be a healthy 2015-16 season, but it’s definitely looking like a slow start thanks to a lower-body injury.

The latest sign of a bumpy beginning came on Monday, as several onlookers (including’s Joe Haggerty) pointed out that Chara was listed on injured reserve.

As Haggerty notes, that move is retroactive to Sept. 24, so his status really just opens up options for the Bruins.

Still … it’s a little unsettling, isn’t it?

The Bruins likely realize that they need to transition away from their generational behemoth, but last season provided a stark suggestion that may not be ready yet. Trading Dougie Hamilton and losing Dennis Seidenberg to injury only make them more dependent on the towering 38-year-old.

This isn’t really something to panic about, yet it might leave a few extra seats open on the Bruins’ bandwagon.