The atlantic division has three very good teams and there are a couple of other strong teams in the east outside of the atlantic division so it could be hard to decide who the early favorite is to go to the cup. The Devils have a very good shot at getting to the cup if Kovalchuk comes back. They added some other upgrades this off season offensively and defensively.
The addition of Johan Hedberg could also help a lot because he could play about 15-20 games of year and give them a chance to win in those games. That was a problem in the last few years because brodeur was wearing down in the playoffs from playing 75-80 games in the regular season. If they use hedberg this will help a lot for Broduer in the playoffs. They now have the best all around goaltending in the league.
On defense they added Anton volchenkov who is an elite shutdown defensman with an intimidating presence. Henrik tallinder is another very good shutdown defensman to play with Volchenkov. That easily makes up for Martin defensively and the improvement of andy greene and development of one of the rookies if it happens will make up for his offense. Volchenkov and Tallinder will greatly improve the penalty kill. Andy Greene will give them a very good all around defensman that will play in all game situations and paly the point on the power play. They will still need one of the rookies to develop this year and they expect it to happen. There are a few that have very good all around ability and could develop into a top four defensman. They also have good depth with colin white and Matt Corrente. if they can pickup Randy jones for the league minimum that would be good because he would add depth and puck moving ability. He can also play point on the power play and has good passing ability.
On offense if Kovalchuk returns he could lift them into the top five in goals scored because he will likely flourish in the new system. Elias, Arnott and Kovalchuk will be a dynamic line. Arnott will benefit from the skill and playmaking ability of Elias and Kovalchuk. Elias has a good chance too score between 27-32 goals this season if he stays and and his playmaking abililty will also help kovalchuk get even more chances. He has the ability to score between 45-50 in this system with this line and Arnott will also be dangerous with his size, passing ability and shooting ability. The best thing about this line is that it is there second line and teams usually match their top defensman up against Parise and Zajac. Parise, Zajac and Langenbrunner have developed great chemistry together and are a potent combination. Parise has great speed, shooting ability and moves which make him a 40 plus goal scorer nd he is not afraid to get to the front of the net which helps Zajac who has improved every year. He is a very good all around center with very good passing ability, playmaking skills and he can also score goals. He has a shot too put up 80 points and 30 goals this year. He is also very strong defensively and can kill penalties. Jamie Langebrunner is another very solid all around player who scores and a lot of clutch goals and works well with Zajac and Parise. Even though his captain ability has been questioned he still steps up in big games and can score 20-27 goals per year and is a solid passer. He is also defensively responsible and can kill penalties. I think he is a good fit on this line. On the third line they will have Rolston who is a solid two way player and has a big shot. he is a solid third line left winger. He could have a good year if one of their rookie centers is ready to produce and a couple of them could be. If they can find someone with good size, passing ability, defense and some scoring ability this be a dangerous line. There are two guys who could fit the need as a good all around two way center. David Clarkson is developing into another good two way foward who is willing to do the dirty work in front of the net. He is also a solid power foward. Having him in front of the net is important and will hav plenty of chances with Rolston because he will get a lot of rebounds and is difficult to move. This will be a very good two way line as long as one of the centers is ready.
The special teams will also be very good this year. On the power play they will have Andy Greene and Kovalchuk on the point with Parise, Zajac and Elias. This could be a deadly first unit. The penalty kill will also be much improved with the additionaadditions of volchenkov and tallinder. Volchenkov is one of the best penalty killers because of his tremendous shot blocking skills, one on one ability, crease clearing ability and strength. Tallinder is also a very good shot blocker, good skater and can clear the crease with great size. They also have some good penalty killing fowards like Parise, Zajac, Arnott, Langenbrunner and Clarkson.
Other teams who will be tough-
Penguins- They have two elite scoring centers who will always give them a dangerous offense. They do lack strong wingers to play with them. Crosby still has the ability to make them better. Jordan Staal is also a key player with his elite two way skills. They also improved their defense by adding Paul Martin who is a solid all around top four defensman. Michalek is also a good shutdown defensman to play with Orpik. They now have a very strong top four on defense but they lack a power play quarterback which could be a problem unless Martin can fill that role effectively. He was mediocre in that role for the Devils. They also have a good goalie in Marc andre Fluery. They will still be a contending team although they have some holes.
Flyers- They have the best defense in the league assuming Pronger comes back fully healthy. That could be a big problem if he is not 100%. he is a workhorse who plays all situations for them and if he can not comeback fully healthy it will put a lot of pressure on guys like Timonen, Coburn and Mezarjos. They are also counting on Mezarjos too upgrade the third pair but he has really struggled defensively the past few years. On offense there are also a couple of questions. They are counting on Zherdev too perform to his potential which he is yet to do. They also need Leino to perform for a full season to make up for the loss of Gagne. But they do have a couple of rising young players like Claude Giroux who was strong in the playoffs and Van Reimsdyk who struggled but they are counting on him. If Zherdev and leino do not perform they could have downgraded the offense. The goaltending is always going to be a problem until they find a no.1 guy. Boucher is too inconsistent and Leighton is unreliable. It could be tough for them too get back to the cup if Leino, Van Reimsdyk and Zherdev struggle because the goaltending is to iffy. Their main question is Pronger. If he is fully healthy they will be dangerous.
Capitals- They have the best offense in the league. Ovechkin is the best pure goal scorer in the league. Backstrom is also an elite scoring center who makes ovechkin even more dangerous. Backstrom and Ovechkin could be the best one two in the league and on the second line they also have semin who is capable of scoring 35-40 goals per year. Mike green is also the best offensive defensman in the league. Even with all of this offense they still have a few questions. They lack a shutdown defensman which was a problem in the playoffs last year. They do have a couple of rising defensman who could be shutdown defensman but they might not be ready yet. The goaltending is also shaky. They will always be a contender as long as they have their offense intact and if they develop a shutdown defensman they will have a good shot to win the east.
The Devils should be considered the early favorite because they have the best goaltending, improved defense and a very strong and deep offense. The only questions are whether or not they play Hedberg to save Brodeur for the playoffs and whether a rookie is ready to develop into the third line and center and second pair defensman. They think they have prospects who are ready to do it. If one of them is not ready they might have to make a trade to acquire a center or defensman. If Kovalchuk stays they will also have to clear cap space. The most likely players to be traded are Zubrus and Salvador. He is likely to stay. He would make the Devils the most complete team in the league. The only players who have injury concerns are Elias and Volchenkov. Elias has had a couple of long term injuries and Volchenkov is often battling minor injuries. If they are healthy the Devils have the best all around team in hockey with an elite core group which features two 40 plus goal scorers, Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk, an elite shutdown defensman, Anton Volchenkov, a very good all around top center, Travis Zajac and an all time great goalie in Martin Brodeur.