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NHL preview

Eastern Conference

By Kevin Paul Dupont
Globe Staff / October 8, 2008
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1. Pittsburgh
Coach:
Michel Therrien (seventh season, fourth with Penguins).
Record: 47-27-4-4, 102 points, second in East.
Playoffs: Lost to Red Wings in Stanley Cup finals.
Notable: Loads to like here, but backline has already taken a heavy hit with losses of top pairing Ryan Whitney (foot surgery) and Sergei Gonchar (shoulder surgery). Could be a patchwork back there for the entire season. Of course, with talents such as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the puck may never be back there.

2. Washington
Coach:
Bruce Boudreau (second season, second with Capitals).
Record: 43-31-4-4, 94 points, third in East.
Playoffs: Lost to Flyers in Round 1.
Notable: Looked like world-beaters over final month of regular season, but hit a wall in first postseason visit since '03. World's No. 1 talent in left winger Alex Ovechkin. Fun and exciting to watch, especially with Boudreau not schooled in trap-happy NHL ways. But a questionable defensive corps backed by Jose Theodore could make it harder than it has to be.

3. Montreal
Coach:
Guy Carbonneau (third season, third with Canadiens).
Record: 47-25-4-6, 104 points, first in East.
Playoffs: Lost to Flyers in Round 2.
Notable: For all their speed and skill, Habs got pushed to limit by Bruins in Round 1. So this summer they spruced up the offense with Alex Tanguay, Robert Lang, and tough guy Georges Laraque. Underrated defensive corps, including Roman Hamrlik. No one knows if goalie Carey Price is ready to carry Habs through playoffs.

4. Philadelphia
Coach:
John Stevens (third year, third with Flyers).
Record: 42-29-5-6, 95 points, sixth in East.
Playoffs: Lost to Penguins in East finals.
Notable: Plodding defenseman Derian Hatcher (ravaged knee) is all done, and Broad Street Bullies now hope to pick up pace and thrive in New NHL speed game. Very nice bunch of scorers, with ex-Bruin Glen Metropolit adding some diversity and depth. A quirky, inexperienced bunch of blue liners could limit the upside.

5. New Jersey
Coach:
Brent Sutter (second year, second with Devils).
Record: 46-29-3-4, 99 points, fourth in East.
Playoffs: Lost to Rangers in Round 1.
Notable: Devils scored only 206 times last season. Only the Islanders (194) were worse in the East. Ex-Bruin Brian Rolston adds pop from the point on power play, and Sutter also will have him play pivot in hopes of reigniting Patrik Elias as a winger. Bobby Holik is back, too. Devils want to party like it's 1995.

6. Boston
Coach:
Claude Julien (sixth season, second with Bruins).
Record: 41-29-5-7, 94 points, eighth in East.
Playoffs: Lost to Canadiens in Round 1.
Notable: B's are banking big on the return of Patrice Bergeron (concussion) and the acquisition of Michael Ryder to pump up an offense that connected only 212 times season. But will the defense finesse the puck enough to help trigger a meaningful, dependable attack? A franchise in real need of one giant step forward.

7. NY Rangers
Coach:
Tom Renney (seventh year, fourth with Rangers).
Record: 42-27-4-9, 97 points, fifth in East.
Playoffs: Lost to Penguins in Round 2.
Notable: Last year, the conference favorites plodded along, and now they are without the mighty Jaromir Jagr, who defected to Russia. Couple of interesting new offensive parts in Markus Naslund and Nikolai Zherdev. Much less hype this time around, and maybe that's a good thing.

8. Tampa Bay
Coach:
Barry Melrose (fourth season, first with Lightning).
Record: 31-42-8-1, 71 points, 15th in East.
Playoffs: Did not qualify.
Notable: The hockey team by the Bay made lots of splashes - new ownership, new GM (Brian Lawton), and new coach, not to mention a roster overhaul. Overpaid for free agent winger Ryan Malone. Hustled top blue liner Dan Boyle off to San Jose. After dead-last finish, nowhere to go but up, but upside looks limited.

9. Ottawa
Coach:
Craig Hartsburg (seventh season, first with Senators).
Record: 43-31-3-5, 94 points, seventh in East.
Playoffs: Lost to Penguins in Round 1.
Notable: GM Bryan Murray bought out problematic goaltender Ray Emery (now in Russia), and stepped away from bench duties, giving Hartsburg another NHL tour. Senators can score with the best of them, but will partners Martin Gerber and ex-Bruin Alex Auld keep their own net sealed? Left wing supreme Daniel Alfredsson turns 36 in December. It's getting late for that Cup in waiting.

10. Buffalo
Coach:
Lindy Ruff (11th season, 11th with Sabres).
Record: 39-31-3-9, 90 points, 10th in East.
Playoffs: Did not qualify.
Notable: Good job by GM Darcy Regier, tying up key contributors in goalie Ryan Miller and winger Jason Pominville. Maybe the Erie Country talent drain has ended. Added a physical presence along blue line with Craig Rivet. The Sabres can score, but they must prove they can button up back end and overcome loss of puck mover Brian Campbell.
11. Carolina Coach: Peter Laviolette (seventh season, fourth with Hurricanes).
Record: 43-33-3-3, 92 points, ninth in East.
Playoffs: Did not qualify.
Notable: Two DNQs since winning the Cup in '06. Injuries haven't helped, and already they have lost Rod Brind'Amour (knee) and Justin Williams (Achilles'). They probably can score enough, but their defensive group, now with ex-Oiler Joni Pitkanen leading the way, could make it hard for goalie Cam Ward to reestablish his game.

12. NY Islanders
Coach:
Scott Gordon (first year, first with Islanders).
Record: 35-38-6-3, 79 points, 13th in East.
Playoffs: Did not qualify.
Notable: Gordon, formerly in charge of Providence's WannaB's, gets his first kick at an NHL bench. Hope he has steel-toed boots for this bunch. They'll play with more energy, be more accountable in all three zones, but an offense led by Mike Comrie and Bill Guerin is just not enough, even if opposing goalies opt to go sans pads and gloves.

13. Florida
Coach:
Peter DeBoer (first season, first with Panthers).
Record: 38-35-3-6, 85 points, 11th in East.
Playoffs: Did not qualify.
Notable: Seven straight seasons without a playoff berth. When will the sun set for good in Sunrise? Swapped franchise centerpiece Olli Jokinen to Coyotes for blue liners Nick Boynton and Keith Ballard, then later picked up puck-moving Bryan McCabe from Toronto. Rookie coach DeBoer has a top goalie in Tomas Vokoun. At least it's a place to start - and maybe end?

14. Atlanta
Coach:
John Anderson (first season, first with Thrashers).
Record: 34-40-2-6, 76 points, 14th in East.
Playoffs: Did not qualify.
Notable: Halfway through the preseason, GM Don Waddell swung a deal for puck-moving defenseman Mathieu Schneider. He'll help back there, as will free agent signing Ron Hainsey. But rookie coach Anderson first has to find a team identity, along with a work ethic and cohesiveness. Tall order for a group short on experience and discipline.

15. Toronto
Coach:
Ron Wilson (15th season, first with Maple Leafs).
Record: 36-35-7-4, 83 points, 12th in East.
Playoffs: Did not qualify.
Notable: GM Cliff Fletcher has warned Blue-and-White Nation to be prepared for some tough nights. And weeks. And months. Buyouts (Darcy Tucker and Andrew Raycroft) and deals (Bryan McCabe to Florida) have rendered the Leafs AHL material. Still a chance that Mats Sundin returns. But why? Public humiliation is a terrible way to end a career.

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