Eastern Conference preview capsules

 

25-year-old Zach Parise enjoyed a breakout season last year, finishing third in the race for the Rocket Richard Trophy with 45 goals, but with the defensively focused Lemaire back behind the bench his numbers could suffer marginally.

 
 
 
 

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ATLANTIC DIVISION

New Jersey Devils

Last season: 51-27-4 - 106 points, third in conference, lost in conference quarter-finals to Carolina.

Behind the bench: Jacques Lemaire, first year of second stint.

Additions: G Yann Danis, C Rob Niedermayer, D Cory Murphy, F Andrew Peters.

Subtractions: G Scott Clemmensen, G Kevin Weekes, C Brian Gionta, C Bobby Holik, C John Madden, RW Michael Rupp.

Newcomer to watch: Murphy. The five-foot-nine, 185-pounder had 15 points in 25 games with Tampa last season and appears to be competing for a spot with Andy Greene. He could see some power-play time if he wins the battle of undersized blue-liners.

Between the pipes: Martin Brodeur is fully recovered from a torn bicep injury that forced him to miss four months last season and will add to his all-time wins record by handling the bulk of the Devils’ games once again. Yann Danis will serve as official benchwarmer.

Fantasy studs: Zach Parise and Brodeur. The 25-year-old Parise enjoyed a breakout season last year, finishing third in the race for the Rocket Richard Trophy with 45 goals, but with the defensively focused Lemaire back behind the bench his numbers could suffer marginally. Brodeur is a no-brainer if your pool rewards goalie stats.

Bet you didn’t know: Barring injury, Brodeur will become just the second goalie to play in 1,000 regular season games when he hits the ice for the Devils’ season-opener. Patrick Roy (1,029) is the other.

Outlook: The Devils’ success this season will rest on Brodeur, who isn’t getting any younger, and whether some of the youngsters — see Travis Zajac and Nicklas Bergfors — can help Parise and Patrik Elias on the offensive side of things.

— Dave Washburn, Canwest News Service

Pittsburgh Penguins

Last season: 45-28-9 - 99 points, fourth in the conference, won the Stanley Cup.

Behind the bench: Dan Bylsma, second year.

Additions: G Brent Johnson, D Jay McKee, LW Michael Rupp, F Ryan Bayda, F Martin Skoula.

Subtractions: D Philippe Boucher, G Mathieu Garon, D Hal Gill, RW Miro Satan, D Rob Scuderi, RW Petr Sykora, C Mike Zigomanis.

Newcomer to watch: McKee. After being bought out his contract by St. Louis, the shot-blocking specialist landed with the Stanley Cup champions and should bring strong defensive play against the opposition’s top players.

Between the pipes: Marc-Andre Fleury silenced critics who questioned his potential to win the big game with a Stanley Cup-clinching save on Nicklas Lidstrom at the end Game 7 of the final last June. He’s not yet 25, already has six seasons under his belt and will likely backstop the Penguins for years to come. Veteran Brent Johnson will relieve Fleury from time to time.

Fantasy studs: Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin should crack the top-five of any draft list.

Bet you didn’t know: With Malkin’s scoring title last year, the Penguins have a total of 13 Art Ross Trophy winners, the most of any NHL team. Mario Lemieux captured six during his playing days in Pittsburgh, followed by Jaromir Jagr (five) and Crosby (one).

Outlook: Three straight Stanley Cup finals might be a little much to ask for most teams, but with Crosby and Malkin leading the way it’s hard to discount the Penguins from doing just that.

— Dave Washburn, Canwest News Service

Philadelphia Flyers

Last season: 44-27-11 - 99 points, fifth in conference, lost in conference quarter-finals to Pittsburgh.

Behind the bench: John Stevens, fourth year.

Additions: G Brian Boucher, G Ray Emery, C Ian Laperriere, D Chris Pronger.

Subtractions: D Andrew Alberts, G Martin Biron, RW Mike Knuble, RW Joffrey Lupul, G Antero Niittymaki, D Luca Sbisa, D Lasse Kukkonen.

Newcomer to watch: Emery. If he can shake the off-ice issues that plagued him in Ottawa and return to the form in which he carried the Senators to the Stanley Cup final, he’ll quickly become a legend in the City of Brotherly Love.

Between the pipes: The Flyers cut ties with both Biron and Niittymaki and took, ahem, a flyer on Emery with a one-year deal. Brian Boucher, who backstopped the club to the Eastern Conference final in 1999-2000, returns to the club that drafted him thanks to a two-year pact.

Fantasy studs: Jeff Carter and Mike Richards. Can’t go wrong with either.

Bet you didn’t know: With the addition of Laperriere, the Flyers boast five players who combined for 889 penalty minutes last season — Daniel Carcillo (league-high 254), Riley Cote (174), Laperriere (163), Arron Asham (155) and Scott Hartnell (143) — more than four NHL clubs. Carolina had 786, followed by Detroit (810), Minnesota (869) and Florida (884).

Outlook: It wouldn’t be shocking to see the Broad Street Bullies V2.0 trigger a few cases of the Philly flu this season as they’ll be a team that can beat you in more ways than one. With a Norris Trophy winner in Pronger anchoring the blue-line, expect the Flyers to battle the Penguins for top spot in the Atlantic.

— Dave Washburn, Canwest News Service

New York Rangers

Last season: 43-30-9 - 95 points, seventh in conference, lost in conference quarter-finals to Washington.

Behind the bench: John Tortorella, second year.

Additions: C Tyler Arnason, LW Donald Brashear, RW Marian Gaborik, LW Christopher Higgins, LW Ales Kotalik, RW Enver Lisin, LW Vinny Prospal, D Matt Gilroy.

Subtractions: RW Nik Antropov, C Blair Betts, C Scott Gomez, LW Lauri Korpikoski, D Paul Mara, D Derek Morris, RW Colton Orr, LW Markus Naslund, LW Fredrik Sjostrom.

Newcomer to watch: Higgins. After a subpar fourth year in the NHL, the Long Island native escaped the Montreal microscope thanks to the off-season trade that sent Scott Gomez packing. A change of venue might just be the answer for a guy who scored 20-plus goals in each of his first three seasons._Between the pipes: Three-time Vezina Trophy nominee Henrik Lundqvist has played 70-plus games each of the last three seasons and will carry a heavy workload once again this season, but expect to Steve Valiquette to play a little more with Lundqvist heading to Vancouver to help defend Sweden’s Olympic gold medal.

Fantasy studs: Gaborik. The oft-injured slick Slovak can be frustrating due to his inability to stay healthy, but he averaged better than a point a game (1.11) over the past four seasons.

Bet you didn’t know: Last season, Lundqvist became the first NHL goaltender to begin his career with four 30-win seasons. He finished with a personal-best 38.

Outlook: The Rangers will be hard-pressed to top the tough Atlantic Division, but another post-season berth isn’t out of the question.

— Dave Washburn, Canwest News Service

New York Islanders

Last season: 26-47-9 - 61 points, last in conference, missed playoffs.

Behind the bench: Scott Gordon, second year.

Additions: G Martin Biron, G Dwayne Roloson, C John Tavares, C Rob Schremp

Subtractions: G Yann Danis, LW Andy Hilbert, LW Dean McAmmond, G Joey McDonald, D Thomas Pock, C Mike Sillinger.

Newcomer to watch: Tavares. The new face of the franchise has a knack for putting the puck in the net —_a skill the Islanders have been lacking for the last couple of years — but the knock on the first-overall pick last June has been his defensive play. The learning curve could prove frustrating for Islander fans, but his potential for highlight-reel goals at least gives them hope for the future.

Between the pipes: Rick DiPietro has been a bust since signing a 15-year contract extension in 2006. The 28-year-old was held to a handful of games last season due to a bum knee and has had a tough time staying healthy, which justifies GM Garth Snow’s decision to bring in veterans Biron and Roloson in the off-season.

Fantasy studs: Poolies who’ve drafted Islanders in recent years can all but kiss their chances of winning goodbye. But, if you must, selecting Tavares, Kyle Okposo or defenceman Mark Streit might help your cause.

Bet you didn’t know: The Islanders haven’t won a playoff series since 1993.

Outlook: By season’s end, it’ll mark 30 years since the Islanders began their dynasty with the first of four straight Stanley Cups. That’s about as safe a prediction as you can make.

— Dave Washburn, Canwest News Service

NORTHEAST DIVISION

Boston Bruins

Last season: 53-19-10 - 116 points, first in conference, lost in Eastern Conference semifinals to Carolina.

Behind the bench: Claude Julien, third season.

Additions: C Steve Begin, D Derek Morris, G Dany Sabourin.

Subtractions: G Manny Fernandez, D Shane Hnidy, C Phil Kessel, D Steve Montador, D Aaron Ward, C Stephane Yelle.

Newcomer to watch: Begin already looks like a nice, feisty fit through the pre-season. He’ll have extra incentive playing against Montreal, where he figures he got a raw deal. Julien loves him — he coached Begin previously in Montreal.

Between the pipes: Vezina Trophy winner Tim Thomas is as good as it gets. Tuukka Rask (former first-round pick) looks like a lock for the backup role.

Fantasy studs: Lots to choose from — power forward Milan Lucic gets goals (17 last year and should improve) and penalty minutes (136). For pure offence, no one does it better or with more consistency than Marc Savard (88 points).

Bet you didn’t know: Legendary Bruin Eddie Shore once missed the team train for a game in Montreal. Shore hopped into his car and drove through a blizzard all the way to Montreal just in time for the game. As luck would have it, Shore scored the only goal of the game in a Bruins win.

Outlook: The Bruins aren’t going anywhere. Pencil them in as Northeast winners again in 2009-10 as long as the health holds out. Blake Wheeler, Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci are all young and progressing.

— Dave Gross, Canwest News Service

Montreal Canadiens

Last season: 41-30-11 - 93 points, eighth in conference, lost in Eastern Conference quarter-finals to Boston.

Behind the bench: Jacques Martin, first season.

Additions: LW Mike Cammalleri, D Hal Gill, RW Brian Gionta, C Scott Gomez, D Paul Mara, LW Travis Moen, G Curtis Sanford, D Jaroslav Spacek.

Subtractions: D Francis Bouillon, D Patrice Brisebois, D Mathieu Dandenault, LW Christopher Higgins, C Saku Koivu, D Mike Komisarek, RW Tom Kostopoulos, RW Alex Kovalev, C Robert Lang, D Mathieu Schnider, LW Alex Tanguay.

Newcomer to watch: Pick a name, really. The Habs have revamped the lineup and all eyes will be focused on any of Cammalleri, Gionta or Gomez. Mara will be an important cog on the power play.

Between the pipes: Is any netminder under the microscope more than Carey Price? A tremendous rookie season in 2007-08 was followed by a shaky sophomore showing last winter. Jaroslav Halak has also been solid in the pre-season.

Fantasy studs: Cammalleri, Gionta and Gomez are slated to start the season on the same line which means fireworks. Consistent effort should land Andrei Kostitsyn 30 goals.

Bet you didn’t know: Habs farmhand Eric Neilson once rode shotgun for Sidney Crosby with the QMJHL’s Rimouski Oceanic. Neilson almost completed the trifecta of fights this pre-season against Ottawa when he tried to get involved in his third fight of the evening. After tussling with Chris Neil then Jeremy Yablonski, Neilson attempted to engage Cody Bass.

Outlook: Moen and Gill add much-needed size, but outside of that duo and seldom-used enforcer Georges Laraque, the Habs are awfully tiny. GM Bob Gainey must believe speed, not size, will be the determining factors in wins. If that opening series collapse against Boston last spring is accurate, Gainey’s way off base.

— Dave Gross, Canwest News Service

Buffalo Sabres

Last season: 41-32-9 - 91 points, 10th in conference, missed playoffs.

Behind the bench: Lindy Ruff, 12th season.

Additions: RW Mike Grier, D Joe DiPenta, C Cody McCormick, D Steve Montador.

Subtractions: RW Maxim Afinogenov, C Dominic Moore, D Teppo Numminen, D Jaroslav Spacek, G Mikael Tellqvist.

Newcomer to watch: At six-foot-eight, Tyler Myers is just what the Sabres need on the blue-line. The 19-year-old was key to Canada’s gold medal win at the world juniors and was named Western Hockey League playoff MVP.

Between the pipes: With 110 wins in his last three seasons, Ryan Miller remains Buffalo’s go-to guy. Well-travelled vet Patrick Lalime slides in as the backup.

Fantasy studs: Stop us if you’ve heard this tune before: If Tim Connolly stays injury-free, he’s a point-per-game producer. Derek Roy led the Sabres in points last season, but Thomas Vanek (40 goals) should capture this year’s race.

Bet you didn’t know: With Maxim Afinogenov no longer in the mix, defenceman Henrik Tallinder becomes the longest serving current Sabre (seven seasons).

Outlook: The budget-conscious Sabres bring their lunch pails to work practically every night — it’s the Ruff way. But gumption can only get you so far, which is what this franchise has discovered since letting Daniel Briere, Brian Campbell and Chris Drury slip away. They’re on the bubble for a playoff spot, again.

— Dave Gross, Canwest News Service

Ottawa Senators

Last season: 36-35-11 - 83 points, 11th in conference, missed playoffs.

Behind the bench: Cory Clouston, second year.

Additions: RW Jonathan Cheechoo, RW Alex Kovalev, LW Milan Michalek.

Subtractions: G Alex Auld, C Mike Comrie, LW Dany Heatley, D Jason Smith.

Newcomer to watch: Michalek is the key to the Heatley-to-San Jose swap. He has size, skill and tenacity and will slot in either on the Senators’ top line or second line. Thirty-five goals aren’t out of the question and would be most welcome.

Between the pipes: Pascal Leclaire, picked up at last year’s trade deadline while recovering from ankle injury, is technically another newcomer to watch. Ottawa needs a healthy Leclaire to make a run at a post-season spot. If he performs as advertised, Leclaire gives Ottawa a legitimate No. 1 stopper for the first time since Dominik Hasek.

Fantasy studs: Whoever lands on Jason Spezza’s wing — Cheechoo, Michalek or both — would be a plum. Defenceman Filip Kuba was a power-play stud last season and led the blue-line with 40 points.

Bet you didn’t know: That one of the newest Senators, Cheechoo, was a member of the despised Belleville Bulls of the Ontario Hockey League in 1998-99. The Bulls upset the hometown Ottawa 67’s in the playoffs before winning the league championship. The 67’s had the last laugh though, beating Cheechoo and the Bulls in the Memorial Cup semifinal.

Outlook: Clouston had Ottawa playing hard and winning down the stretch, but all that was accomplished when the pressure of making the playoffs was off. Balanced scoring helps the Ottawa cause this season, but a lack of grit means a few long nights ahead against, say, the Philadelphia Flyers.

— Dave Gross, Canwest News Service

Toronto Maple Leafs

Last season: 34-35-13 - 81 points, 12th in conference, missed playoffs.

Behind the bench: Ron Wilson, second season.

Additions: D Francois Beauchemin, D Garnet Exelby, G Jonas Gustavsson, C Phil Kessel, D Mike Komisarek, RW Colton Orr, C Wayne Primeau.

Subtractions: C Boyd Devereaux, G Martin Gerber, G Curtis Joseph, D Pavel Kubina, LW Brad May, D Anton Stralman.

Newcomer to watch: Beauchemin is captain material and Komisarek is solid, but no one dishes out more bang for the buck than Exelby.

Between the pipes: Toronto maintains that Vesa Toskala is their guy, but the leash is short given how much effort GM Brian Burke put in to signing Gustavsson.

Fantasy studs: More duds than studs. Tomas Kaberle will chew up just about as much ice time as he likes . . . particularly with the man advantage. Flashy Mikhail Grabovski should bump up the 20 goals he bagged last season. Blake, at 36, is the team’s lone experienced offensive strike. Kessel (shoulder surgery) won’t be in the lineup until mid-November.

Bet you didn’t know: Beauchemin played precisely one whole game for the Maple Leafs’ storied rival Montreal Canadiens. The Habs had drafted Beauchemin in Round 3 of the 1998 draft and he played one regular-season game with Montreal in 2002-03 before being placed on waivers and claimed by the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2004.

Outlook: Truculence? You bet. Goals? Not so much. The Leafs are tougher and better behind their own blue-line but a lack of offence could mean another season out of the playoff picture. Kessel will help once he returns, but he won’t have Marc Savard feeding him the puck in Toronto.

— Dave Gross, Canwest News Service

SOUTHEAST DIVISION

Washington Capitals

Last season: 50-24-8 - 108 points, second in conference, lost in Eastern Conference semifinals to Pittsburgh.

Behind the bench: Bruce Boudreau, third season.

Additions: F Mike Knuble, C Brendan Morrison.

Subtractions: LW Donald Brashear, G Brent Johnson, F Sergei Fedorov, F Viktor Kozlov.

Newcomer to watch: Morrison. If he can somehow return to the level of play he showed in Vancouver a few years back, the Caps will have a solid second-line centre.

Between the pipes: Semyon Varlamov. The Russian rookie pushed Jose Theodore out of the No. 1 job last season and, unless he shows he can’t hold up under the rigours of a full season, the job is all his. Theodore has enjoyed a solid pre-season though, so there could be a battle brewing.

Fantasy studs: Ovechkin, Green and Semin are no-brainer’s. Young blue-liners Karl Alzner and Jeff Schultz might be worth a look.

Bet you didn’t know: Varlamov is only the fourth NHL goalie to record a shutout before turning 21. Harry Lumley, Patrick Roy and Carey Price are the others.

Outlook: The Capitals have a legitimate shot at representing the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup final. They likely learned a lot from last season’s playoff experience and should be better this time around. Biggest concerns are on the blue-line and whether Varlamov is more than just a flash in the pan.

— Don McGowan, Canwest News Service

Carolina Hurricanes

Last season: 45-30-7 - 97, sixth in conference, lost in Eastern Conference final to Pittsburgh.

Behind the bench: Paul Maurice, second season.

Additions: D Andrew Alberts, D Aaron Ward, F Tom Kostopoulos.

Subtractions: F Patrick Eaves, D Frantisek Kaberle, D Dennis Seidenberg.

Newcomer to watch: The Hurricanes shied away from major roster additions in the off-season, but keep an eye on F Zach Boychuk, who was recently sent to the minors. The former WHL scoring star could work his way back to Carolina sometime this season.

Between the pipes: Cam Ward has a Stanley Cup ring and a Conn Smythe Trophy on his resume, so how come he gets little respect? His resurgent play was a big reason the Hurricanes thrived in 2008-09, especially in the playoffs.

Fantasy studs: C Eric Staal (40-35-75) and F Ray Whitney (24-53-77) will be high picks in any pool, and Erik Cole plays his best hockey while with the Hurricanes.

Bet you didn’t know: Rod Brind’Amour, 39, made his NHL debut on April 11, 1989, just two months after Brandon Sutter, 20, was born. Sutter played last season with the ’Canes, but was sent down this past weekend.

Outlook: The Hurricanes have a lot of upside, but likely won’t challenge the Washington Capitals for top spot in the division. What they do have is a deep and gritty lineup and a game-stealing goalie. In other words, they’re built for the playoffs.

— Don McGowan, Canwest News Service

Florida Panthers

Last season: 41-30-11, ninth in Eastern Conference, missed playoffs.

Behind the bench: Peter DeBoer, second season.

Additions: D Jordan Leopold, G Scott Clemmensen, C Steven Reinprecht.

Subtractions: D Jay Bouwmeester, G Craig Anderson, D Nick Boynton, LW Richard Zednik, LW Ville Peltonen, LW Anthony Stewart, D Karlis Skrastins.

Newcomer to watch: Shawn Matthias has had an outstanding training camp and appears to have won a spot on the roster, giving Florida yet another top young player up front.

Between the pipes: Tomas Vokoun’s 2008-09 season wasn’t as bad a some make out, but it nonetheless inspired the Panthers to sign Clemmensen to a three-year, $3.6-million deal as a free agent. Entering the season they are co-starters, but the question is will Clemmensen eventually push Vokoun into the backup’s role.

Fantasy studs: David Booth has seen his numbers improve each of the last three seasons, highlighted by last season’s 30-goal, breakout performance. Another Panther with the talent to break is Michael Frolik.

Bet you didn’t know: It’s no wonder fans don’t exactly flock to BankAtlantic Center. The Panthers ‘home’ rink is a good 45-minute drive northwest of downtown Miami.

Outlook: Maybe DeBoer, fresh from the junior ranks, was just what the youthful Panthers needed last season. The team, like youngsters Booth, Stephen Weiss and Keith Ballard, is making progress, but the Panthers will be in for a fight in they want to end a streak of eight straight seasons without a playoff berth.

— Don McGowan, Canwest News Service

Atlanta Thrashers

Last season: 35-41-6, 13th in Eastern Conference, missed playoffs.

Behind the bench: John Anderson, second year.

Additions: RW Maxim Afinogenov, F Nik Antropov, D Pavel Kubina, LW Anthony Stewart.

Subtractions: D Garnet Exelby, C Eric Perrin.

Newcomer to watch: Evander Kane was the fourth player selected in last spring’s entry draft and is being given every opportunity to make the team. He has a winner’s pedigree and could soon become the face of the franchise, given that sniper Ilya Kovalchuk is expected to be traded this season or walk as a UFA in the spring.

Between the pipes: Kari Lehtonen needs to start playing like a player selected second overall in the 2002 entry draft, rather than the player mocked last season as Kari Let ’Em In. The fragile Lehtonen is already battling back problems. He’ll be on a short leash, with youngster Ondrej Pavelec and Johan Hedberg waiting in the wings.

Fantasy studs: Kovalchuk is the man in Atlanta, finishing tied for sixth in league scoring with 91 points. Antropov, coming off his best season in 2008-09 with the Maple Leafs and Rangers, might thrive in Atlanta, where, unlike Toronto, each and every shift won’t be dissected. Blue-liner Tobias Enstrom posted a plus-14 rating on a team that allowed 279 goals last season, second most in the NHL.

Bet you didn’t know: Among the NHL’s top-10 point-producers last season, Kovalchuk was the only one with a negative plus/minus rating (minus-12).

Outlook: Not great. Kovalchuk is in the final year of his contract, meaning his name will be mentioned frequently as the trade deadline nears. The muddied ownership situation has some wondering when Jim Balsillie might make a surprise appearance in Atlanta.

— Don McGowan, Canwest News Service

Tampa Bay Lightning

Last season: 24-40-18 - 66 points, 14th in Eastern Conference, missed playoffs.

Behind the bench: Rick Tocchet, second year.

Additions: D Mattias Ohlund, D Victor Hedman, LW Todd Fedoruk, D Matt Walker, D Kurtis Foster, F Alex Tanguay, G Antero Niittymaki.

Subtractions: G Karri Ramo, RW Radim Vrbata, D Cory Murphy, LW Vinnie Prospal.

Newcomer to watch: Tanguay was having a fine season in Montreal before shoulder injuries shelved him for 32 games. There’s hope the five-time 20-goal scorer can form a French Connection in Tampa with fellow Quebecers Lecavalier and St. Louis.

Between the pipes: Mike Smith was on his way to a productive season when post-concussion syndrome caused him to miss 41 games. The Bolts still believe in Smith, but signed Niittymaki as a low-cost insurance policy.

Fantasy studs: Steven Stamkos, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2008 entry draft, looked like a flop when he was forced into the Lightning lineup, but he thrived once Tocchet replaced Barry Melrose as coach. He notched 31 points in his final 38 games. St. Louis recorded 30 goals and 80 points. Lecavalier used to be a lock as a fantasy player, but injuries have hampered him and he dropped to 67 points in 2008-09, his lowest output in four seasons.

Bet you didn’t know: At 12-18-11, the Lightning had the worst home record in the NHL last season.

Outlook: The defence has been shored up, with the additions of Ohlund, Hedman and veteran free agents Kurtis Foster and Matt Walker. But with ownership infighting hampering the progress of the club, it’s hard to believe the Lightning has much of a chance at making the playoffs.

— Don McGowan, Canwest News Service

 
 
 
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