by PuckStopsHere on 01/19/13 at 01:08 AM ET
I am continuing my pre-season predictions today by looking at the Atlantic Division. I have already done the Northwest Division, Pacific Division, Central Division and Northeast Division, as well as predicted a finish order in the West Conference.
Predictions are difficult in the best of times and this season will be harder than the best of times. A shortened season means that random events such as slumps and streaks will have their effects magnified. The start to the season will be especially hard to predict because there is a difference in physical fitness among players after some were more active than others during the lockout. This will lead to some players getting off to slow starts are possibly suffering injury. That further complicates the already tough game of pre-season predictions.
In a typical NHL season the best prognosticators fail to get 60% of the games correct. That is accomplished by picking the better team that is most likely to win each game. Thus 40% of the time the weaker team wins due to random chance. Since luck doesn't favor only weak teams, the stronger team would also win 40% of the time by random chance. Only about 20% of games (or one in five) is won by the better team because they are the better team. That is a small signal to try to find to make predictions.
Here are my Atlantic Division predictions:
1. Pittsburgh Penguins - Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin will be healthy together and that is a great start for any team. James Neal and Chris Kunitz are also solid forwards. Pascal Dupuis and Matt Cooke provide depth. On defence, Kris Letang is a star. Paul Martin and Brooks Orpik are solid depth players. Tomas Vokoun and Marc-Andre Fleury are a strong twosome in goal. This is a strong team that has solid front-line talent and as such should be one of the top teams in the NHL.
2. New York Rangers - The Rangers won the East Conference last year and added Rick Nash, so the New York hype machine has declared them Stanley Cup favorites. I think that is pushing them too far. They should be a good team, but there are better. Henrik Lundqvist is arguably the best goalie in hockey. Their defence is deep with Marc Staal, Michael Del Zotto, Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi, but it lacks a front-line star. Offensively, Nash joins Brad Richards, Marian Gaborik and Ryan Callahan. It\s a solid group of players, but they do not match the Penguins core.
3. Philadelphia Flyers - Claude Giroux is one of the best players in hockey and will help the Flyers have a solid offence. Jakub Voracek, Danny Briere, Wayne Simmonds and Matt Read are all solid offensive players and Brayden Schenn may join them. Their defence won't be as strong; Braydon Coburn and 37 year old Kimmo Timonen are their top defencemen. Ilya Bryzgalov is their goalie. He had an up and down season last year but he is talented enough to give the Flyers a solid year. This team has the front-line talent to match the two teams I pick above them but they also have some potential holes on defence and thus will likely not win their division.
4. New Jersey Devils - The Devils weakness may be goaltending. Martin Brodeur is 40 and Johan Hedberg is 39. At their age, neither may be able to keep putting up solid NHL seasons. Offensively Ilya Kovalchuk is very dangerous. Patrik Elias and Travis Zajac are also solid competitors. Adam Henrique and David Clarkson provide depth. Adam Larsson may develop into a solid defenceman, but he will likely need to because key defencemen Marek Zidlicky and Bryce Salvador are well into their 30'a.
5. New York Islanders - This is the likely also ran team of the Atlantic Division. Evgeni Nabokov is their top goalie and he is 37 years old and in decline. Rick DiPietro is supposed to be his backup if he can remain healthy. Mark Streit, Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald lead their defence. John Tavares is their top scorer and is a strong player. Their other top scorers in Matt Moulson, Kyle Okposo and Michael Grabner are not nearly as scary. Frans Nielsen is a solid two-way player, who would look great one the second line of a top team. His talents are wasted on Long Island.
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