New York Islanders
Does it ever seem like the Islanders get better? Do they think it's 1996 and Bill Geurin and Doug Weight can lead them into the playoffs? Will Rick Dipietro carry this team into the playoffs? I say the answers are "No" all around. The only bright spots are Kyle Okposo and Blake Comeau. They will both get singnificant playing time this year, but are probably a year or two away from being impact players.
New Jersey Devils
I think Martin Brodeur has now hit his "twilight years", but he's still pretty damn good! Scoring should be improved with the return of Brian Rolston, but the team is just not good enough to beat the Rangers, Flyers and Penguins on a consistent basis. Bobby Holik and Scott Clemmensen are back. Faceoffs should improve with Holik and the backup goalie position in New Jersey should be renamed "Official Team Bench Warmer"
A lot of people were saying that the Pens were the new Oilers of the 80's. The salary cap era is proving that you have a 3-5 year window of building and keeping a core set of players. Pittsburgh is heading into year 4. Last season in the Finals, Malkin disappeared and didn't seem interested in taking the lumps needed to win the Cup and that leaves Crosby to do things on his own, with Hossa out now. Staal has to be moved up from the 3rd line to progress him into the offensive threat that he can be. Defence may struggle early this season as Gonchar and Whitney are both out for a significant period of time. Fleury will have to be spectacular again as reliable backup, Ty Conklin has moved onto Detroit. I say the Pens biggest weakness is their coach, who is hidden behind a good team right now. In games 1 & 2 of the Finals he could not find a way to get Crosby and Malkin away from the top defensive unit of Detroit's.
New York Rangers
Naslund, Redden and Zherdev should add some scoring that was lacking at times last season. They should also replace the points lost with Jagr going to Russia. Redden should regain his 2006 form which found him on Canada's Olympic team. Lundqvist may be the best goalie in the league. Shannahan wants to return to New York, but that may end up being a mid season addition and a contract may have to be moved out. Mark Staal might prove himself as the Rangers' #1 defenceman this season.
The Flyers had seven 20 goal scorers last season and only one of them left the team (Prospal). The natural improvement of new captain, Mike Richards and Jeff Carter should fill that void. Braydon Coburn will emerge as the Flyers #1 D-Man this season with the departure of Jason Smith and Jaroslav Modry. Goaltending is solid and proven after Martin Biron finally got his chance.