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EASTERN CONFERENCE CAPSULES

An uncommon Dominator?

ATLANTIC DIVISION
Philadelphia Flyers

The Broad Streeters, not convinced speed and mobility were the way to go in the new NHL, moved quickly to sign plodding defensemen Derian Hatcher and Mike Rathje. But they also feel they landed the prize free agent in Peter Forsberg - arguably the top player of the last 10 years. In the process, they dealt the edgy Jeremy Roenick to Los Angeles, lost Alexei Zhamnov to Boston, and cleared out the underperforming likes of Tony Amonte and John LeClair. All in all, an impressive blend of skill, and fair mobility, but a potential bugaboo - entrusting the net to second-tier goalie Robert Esche.

Arrivals: Fs Jeff Carter, Peter Forsberg, Mike Knuble, Mike Richards, and Jon Sim; Ds Derian Hatcher, Mike Rathje, and Chris Therien.

Departures: Fs Tony Amonte, Todd Fedoruk, John LeClair, Jeremy Roenick, and Alexei Zhamnov; Ds Valeri Malakhov, Danny Markov, Marcus Ragnarsson, and Mattias Timander; G Sean Burke.

Coach: Ken Hitchcock.

2003-04 record: 40-21-15-6 (third overall).

Postseason. Lost to Tampa Bay in the conference finals.

Pittsburgh Penguins
GM Craig Patrick came to the draft lottery with a four-leaf clover tucked in his pocket, then headed home with senational rookie Sidney Crosby as the cornerstone of the franchise's rebirth. Now it's up to Ed Olczyk, with owner/superstar Mario Lemieux in the sidecar, to whip the New Kid and a whole bunch of new parts (including ex-Bruin Sergei Gonchar) into a contender. Insert phenom, add water, chill till frozen, and presto, a city steels for another Cup? No one knows the true upside here until one of the kid goalies - none older than 25 - proves capable.

Arrivals: Fs Sidney Crosby, John LeClair, Ziggy Palffy, Mark Recchi, Andre Roy and Ryan VandenBussche; Ds Sergei Gonchar and Ryan Whitney.

Departures: Fs Matt Bradley, Kelly Buchberger, Mike Eastwood, Tom Kotsopolous, Steve McKenna, Aleksey Morozov, Jon Sim, and Landon Wilson; D Michal Rozsival; G Jean-Sebastien Aubin.

Coach: Eddie Olcyzk.

2003-04 record: 23-47-8-4 (15th overall).

Postseason: Did not qualify.

New Jersey Devils
Scott Niedermayer bolted to the Ducks as a free agent and Scott Stevens, his ticket punched for the Hall of Fame, decided to retire - a blue picture for the Exit 16W blue line. They still have one of the best goalies in Martin Brodeur, which will help ease the extreme back line makeover. The offense, thin already, lost a little more touch when Jeff Friesen was dealt to the Capitals because of a salary pinch. Overall, they're small at center, spotty at the wing, and very questionable in the back. Could mean Brodeur finishes with fewer than 35 wins for the first time since 1995-96.

Arrivals: Fs Darren Langdon, Alex Mogilny, Krzysztof Oliwa, and Zach Parise; Ds Vladimir Malakhov, Richard Matvichuk, and Dan McGillis.

Departures: Fs Jeff Friesen, Jan Hrdina, Igor Larionov, and Turner Stevenson; Ds Tommy Albelin, Scott Niedermayer, and Scott Stevens.

Coach: Larry Robinson (for the ailing Pat Burns).

2003-04 record: 43-25-12-2 (sixth overall).

Postseason: Lost to Philadelphia in the first round.

New York Islanders
Three lackluster seasons into the Alexei Yashin era, the Isles handed their enigmatic star the captaincy over the summer and overhauled the cast with pricey imports Miro Satan and Alexei Zhitnik. Now it's Yashin or bust, only in double time. Lack of grit up front could be a concern, with Dave Scatchard gone to Boston. Adrian Aucoin (free agent, Chicago) and Kenny Jonsson (returned to Sweden) were critical hits on the blue line. Can ex-Boston University Terrier Rick DiPietro be a franchise goalie? He'll certainly have the workload that will provide the answer.

Arrivals: Fs Robert Nilsson, Miro Satan, and Mike York; Ds Brad Lukowich, Brett Sopel, and Alexei Zhitnik.

Departures: Fs Michael Peca, Cliff Ronning, and Dave Scatchard; Ds Adrian Aucoin, Eric Cairns, Roman Hamrlik, Kenny Jonsson, and Alexander Karpovtsev.

Coach: Steve Stirling.

2003-04 record: 38-29-11-4 (eighth overall).

Postseason: Lost to Tampa Bay in the first round.

New York Rangers
Glen Sather has been the boss on Broadway for more than five years, but the curtain just never seems to lift on the Blueshirts' sad act. They'll try a leaner, faster approach up front, with the likes of Bobby Holik (bought out/Atlanta), Eric Lindros (free agent/Toronto), and Mark Messier (retired) out of the forward equation. An eclectic, spotty defense could lead to nightmares for the goalie of the hour (Kevin Weekes?). Their last visit to the playoffs was the spring of '97. Even a 120-point season from oft-disengaged Jaromir Jagr might not get them there in '06.

Arrivals: Fs Ville Nieminen, Michael Nylander, Martin Rucinsky, Martin Straka, and Jason Ward; D Marek Malik; G Kevin Weekes.

Departures: Fs Bobby Holik, Jan Hlavac, Eric Lindros, Sandy McCarthy, and Mark Messier; D Bo Mironov; G Mike Dunham.

Coach: Tom Renney.

2003-04 record: 27-40-7-8 (13th overall).

Postseason: Did not qualify.

NORTHEAST DIVISION
Ottawa Senators

Love 'em because of Dominik Hasek. Hate 'em for the same reason. If you're on the love side of Hasek, who will be 41 in January, then it's easy to conjure up a Cup for the Senators. On the hate side? Then maybe they're just more Original 30 fodder. GM John Muckler's swap that sent Marian Hossa to Atlanta for Dany Heatley was brilliant, trimming payroll and adding an elite, tough talent at the wing. It's all here, including 6-foot-9-inch force Zdeno Chara on defense, to win it now. But the outcome no doubt will rest in the blocker, glove, and stick of Hasek.

Arrivals: F Dany Heatley; D Lance Ward; G Dominik Hasek.

Departures: Fs Peter Bondra, Radek Bonk, Marian Hossa, and Todd White; D Curtis Leschyshyn; G Patrick Lalime.

Coach: Bryan Murray.

2003-04 record: 43-23-10-6 (fifth overall).

Postseason: Lost to Toronto in the first round.

Boston Bruins
Stripping the payroll pre-lockout looked prudent, until the new collective bargaining agreement found Messrs. Joe Thornton and Sergei Samsonov only some 49 weeks from unrestricted free agency. GM Mike O'Connell then had to rush headlong into a very pricey '05 unrestricted free agent market. Outcome: a rocket-ride to the new salary-cap ceiling. They're deep down the middle with Thornton and Alexei Zhamnov as the 1-2 pivots and the net is secure in hands of Rookie-of-Year returnee Andrew Raycroft. But even with the addition of Brian Leetch and a boatload of young candidates, the back line is a worry in the works.

Arrivals: Fs Brad Boyes, Tom Fitzgerald, Brad Isbister, Shawn McEachern, Colton Orr; Dave Scatchard, and Alexei Zhamnov; Ds Andrew Alberts, Milan Jurcina, and Brian Leetch.

Departures: Fs Ted Donato, Mike Knuble, Marty Lapointe, Michael Nylander, Brian Rolston and Rob Zamuner; Ds Sergei Gonchar, Dan McGillis, and Sean O'Donnell; G Felix Potvin.

Coach: Mike Sullivan.

2003-04 record: 41-19-15-7 (second overall).

Postseason: Lost to Montreal in the first round.

Montreal Canadiens
The Habs went into the weekend with a handful of young, skilled forwards still lobbying coach Claude Julien for jobs, the outcome of one of Montreal's most competitive camps in years. GM Bob Gainey appears to have his Bleu-Blanc-Rouge on the verge of a sudden growth spurt. Other than franchise goalie Jose Theodore, it's a mediocre lineup, especially on the blue line. But if two or three of the young forwards come up big, and the Habs get on an emotional roll, Les Glorieux could be headed in the right direction sooner than many believed.

Arrivals: F Peter Vandemeer; D Mathieu Dandenault; G Cristobal Huet.

Departures: Fs Andreas Dackell; Jim Dowd, Joe Juneau, Darren Langdon, Yanic Perreault, and Jason Ward; Ds Patrice Brisebois and Stephane Quintal; G Mathieu Garon.

Coach: Claude Julien.

2003-04 record: 41-30-7-4 (seventh overall).

Postseason: Lost to Tampa Bay in the second round.

Toronto Maple Leafs
A lot of leadership left town with departures of Brian Leetch, Joe Nieuwendyk, and Gary Roberts. GM John Ferguson Jr. attempted to patch with walking wounded Eric Lindros and Jason Allison as cheap hires. If those aging, elite pivots can't produce, it's a remarkably unremarkable lineup that could implode - even faster if elder goalie Eddie Belfour's wonky back isn't able to withstand the strain of 55 or more starts. The Leafs have poked around paydirt, without striking it, consistently since the late-1990s. With a lesser cast, the job looks all the dirtier.

Arrivals: Fs Jason Allison, Mariusz Czerkawski, Eric Lindros, and Jeff O'Neill; Ds Brad Brown and Alexander Khavanov; G Mikael Tellqvist.

Departures: Fs Tom Fitzgerald, Ron Francis, Alexander Mogilny, Joe Nieuwendyk, Owen Nolan, Robert Reichel, Mikael Renberg and Gary Roberts; Ds Drake Berehowsky; Brian Leetch, and Bryan Marchment; G Trevor Kidd.

Coach: Pat Quinn.

2003-04 record: 45-24-10-3 (fourth overall)

Postseason: Lost to Philadelphia in the second round.

Buffalo Sabres
The budget-conscious Sabres kept the cash drawer closed for the past 16 months, barely adding to a lineup that took big hits in walkaways of Miro Satan and Alexei Zhitnink. Veteran coach Lindy Ruff, who once had the luxury of relying nightly on the experienced hand of Dominik Hasek, now has to whip a bunch of kids into winners. Could be a long season. They are skilled but small at center (Daniel Briere, Chris Drury), decent on the wing and spotty on defense. The netminding threesome - Martin Biron, Ryan Miller, Mika Noronen - could produce a phenom. Now's the time.

Arrivals: Fs Derek Roy and Thomas Vanek; Ds Teppo Numminen and Toni Lydman.

Departures: Fs Eric Boulton, Miro Satan; Ds Brad Brown, James Patrick, and Alexei Zhitnik.

Coach: Lindy Ruff.

2003-04 record: 37-34-7-4 (ninth overall).

Postseason: Did not qualify.

SOUTHEAST DIVISION
Tampa Bay Lightning

Jay Feaster, the general manager of the defending Cup champions, was masterful over the summer, signing top stars Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis to long-term deals under the new cap. But the loss of Nikolai Khabibulin (free agent/Chicago) will prove too tough for the champs to repeat (Sean Burke is no 'Bulin Wall). Demanding coach John Tortorella might have to learn to back off a little, now that he is in charge of championship stock. Can he be the same quick study as his 2003-04 students?

Arrivals: Fs Jim Campbell, Rob DiMaio, and Vaclav Prospal; D Todd Rohloff; G Sean Burke.

Departures: Fs Ben Clymer, Craig Darby, Andre Roy, and Cory Stillman; Ds Jassen Cullimore and Brad Lukowich; G Nikolai Khabibulin.

Coach: John Tortorella.

2003-04 record: 46-22-8-6 (first overall).

Postseason: Defeated Calgary for Stanley Cup.

Atlanta Thrashers
Five expansion seasons gone by, the Thrashers need to make the playoffs, and a collection of interesting, talented acquisitions - Bobby Holik, Peter Bondra, and Marian Hossa - could do it for these foster Flames. Key here is what happens with superstar winger Ilya Kovalchuk, who has yet to come to contract terms and contends playing in Russia is a viable alternative. Injuries in the goalie corps forced late signing of Mike Dunham. It's a steadier, tougher defensive corps than many will supsect. If Kovalchuk ends up closer to Macon than Moscow, hockey could sizzle in the south.

Arrivals: Fs Ramzi Abid, Scott Barney, Peter Bondra, Bobby Holik, Marian Hossa and Scott Mellanby; Ds Niclas Havelid and Greg de Vries; G Mike Dunham.

Departures: Dany Heatley, Shawn McEachern and Randy Robitaille; Ds Frantisek Kaberle, Ivan Majesky, Daniel Tarnqvist, and Yannick Tremblay; G Byron Dafoe.

Coach: Bob Hartley.

2003-04 record: 33-37-8-4 (10th overall).

Postseason: Did not qualify.

Florida Panthers
Playoff DNQs in six of their last seven seasons, GM Iron Mike Keenan's kitty kats won't be a powerhouse, but they could chisel away 35 wins and inch into the postseason. Oldsters Joe Nieuwendyk, Gary Roberts, and Martin Gelinas will add more in way of poise than production, especially in the second half. But a bunch of talented kids in the front and back could provide a surprising boost as the season rolls out. The sweetener in all this: franchise netminder Roberto Luongo, capable of winning a game a week by himself. Heck, there's about 25 wins. The rest should be easy, right?

Arrivals: Fs Martin Gelinas, Chris Gratton, Joe Nieuwendyk, Gary Roberts, and Jozef Stumpel; Ds Eric Cairns, Dan Focht, Sean Hill, and Joel Kwiatkowski; Gs Jamie MacLennan and Jean-Marc Pelletier.

Departures: Fs Donald Audette and Darcy Hordichuk; Ds Mathieu Biron, Andreas Lilja, Lyle Odelein, and Pavel Trnka; G Steve Shields.

Coach: Jacques Martin.

2003-04 record: 28-35-15-4 (12th overall).

Postseason: Did not qualify.

Carolina Hurricanes
Not long ago (spring, '02), the 'Canes, ex-of Hartford, were Cup finalists. Sure looks like another change of venue could be in order. Simply not a lineup that would make anyone believe 30 wins would be within reach. Former Baby B's head coach Peter Laviolette, now behind the bench in Carolina, likely will welcome a respite when he heads to Turin to direct Team USA in the Olympics. They added Jack Johnson, considered their best young defenseman, in the draft, but it will be a while before his impact is felt. By then, no telling where the Former Forever .500s will be doing business.

Arrivals: Fs Cory Stillman and Ray Whitney; Ds Mike Commodore, Andrew Hutchinson, Frantisek Kaberle, Oleg Tverdovsky, and Derrick Walser; Gs Cam Ward and Martin Gerber.

Departures: Fs Jeff O'Neill and Jaroslav Svoboda; Ds Sean Hill and Allan Rourke; Gs Arturs Irbe and Kevin Weekes.

Coach: Peter Laviolette.

2003-04 record: 28-34-14-6 (11th overall).

Postseason: Did not qualify.

Washington Capitals
Owner Ted Leonsis tried the big-spending approach when he brought in Jaromir Jagr, and that turned out to match Ross Perot's plan for winning in Washington. Now Leonsis is going the all-budget route with a roster that graded an ugly (but perhaps kind) ''D'' in the Hockey News. They have two true building blocks: 1. Olaf Kolzig in net; 2. Potential star rookie Alexander Ovechkin (No. 1 pick in '04 draft) on left wing. It could be worse (see: Carolina). But it's not going to be pretty. At least the flow of red ink has stopped, and that's saying something in D.C.

Arrivals: Fs Andrew Cassels, Chris Clark, Ben Clymer, Jeff Friesen, and Alexander Ovechkin; Ds Mathieu Biron, Ivan Majesky, and Bryan Muir.

Departures: Fs Bates Battaglia, Craig Johnson, Kip Miller, and Trent Whitfield; Ds Rick Berry, Jason Doig, Jean-Luc Grand-Pierre, Chris Hajt, Joel Kwiatkowski, Brad Norton, and Todd Rohloff.

Coach: Glen Hanlon.

2003-04 record: 23-46-10-3 (14th overall).

Postseason: Did not qualify.

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