Is the Atlantic now the best division in the NHL?

So, with the draft behind us and our free agency coverage ready to begin tomorrow, we don’t have much time for general NHL meandering. But with the mammoth Chris Pronger trade and John Tavares going to the New York Islanders, we couldn’t help but wonder:

Is the Atlantic Division now primed to become the best division in the entire league?

Let’s look at the “Pros” for such an argument.

1. Everything the Penguins bring to the table

It never hurts to have the reigning Stanley Cup champions in your division, especially since they’re obviously not a flash in the pan after going to two SCFs in a row. They might not always be great in the regular season, but it’s hard to deny their heart, hustle and talent.

2. All kinds of elite talent, most of it young

Pronger gives this division the one thing it truly lacked: an elite defenseman (with all due respect to Sergei Gonchar). Pittsburgh features two of the three best forwards in the league. New Jersey saw Zach Parise jump to an elite level and also employs a goalie with more wins than any in NHL history.

Along with Parise and Pittsburgh’s dynamic duo, the Flyers have Mike Richards and Jeff Carter while the Islanders even landed a blue chip in Tavares.

3. Four quality teams

In addition to the Penguins, the Atlantic produced half of the Eastern Conference’s playoff representatives with the Rangers, Flyers and Devils also making it to the postseason.

4. Enigmatic, but potentially outstanding goaltending

Every Atlantic division team has a goalie who could be somewhere between above average to outstanding. Obviously, one must assume that Brodeur is still an outstanding goalie but it goes beyond that.

Henrik Lundqvist consistently puts together borderline Vezina caliber seasons. Marc Andre Fleury was erratic at times in the postseason, but a lot of people will probably remember his save on Nicklas Lidstrom a long time after they forget about some of those awful goals he allowed against the Washington Capitals.

Even the question mark goalies have potential. Sure, Ray Emery is a head case who eats bugs and potentially consumes other harmful toxins in his free time, but let’s not forget that he was often excellent in the Senators’ run to a SCF berth. Say what you want about his lifetime contract, Rick Dipietro was once the future of American goaltending and might still have a chance to be a solid franchise goalie if he can get over his injury concerns.

***

Again, this is looking at the situation before what typically changes the league the most: July 1st. Still, it’s interesting to ask: at this moment in time, did the Atlantic division leapfrog the Pacific and Central as the class of the NHL?

We’d love to hear what you think about that.

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