Tuesday, August 20th, 2002
Time to check back in with hockey after some long months of being forced
to watch bench clearing brawls in baseball or gritty arena football as a
substitute for the beloved game of hockey -- something we all wish would
last all year long.
But even if we can't watch hockey, following the NHL offseason is as interesting
as watching it. To make up for lost time, I will update you all with the
progress of each Eastern Conference team during the offseason. Let's get
Atlanta Thrashers: This squad looks very different from last
year's in the sense that the core of the team actually possesses a few players
who have displayed decent amounts of talent in past years such as D Uwe
Krupp, F Slava Kozlov, F Shawn McEachern, and D Richard
Smehlik. The maturation of C Patrik Stefan and wingers Dany
Heatley and Ilya Kovalchuk should be complimented with the addition
of these players although the Thrashers are still a few bona fide veteran
players away from being contenders.
Boston Bruins Touted as contenders last season, much still
remains the same despite the loss of Bill Guerin and the inevitable
departure of Byron Dafoe -- two of the team's most critical and talented
players. The addition of coach Robbie Ftorek, ex-Devils coach and
known disciplinarian, should be a good fix for a team whose focus slipped
in its playoff series against Montreal (Kyle McLaren, need
I say more?). The addition of Bryan Berard helps a team in need of
some defensive leadership, something it hasn't seen much of since the departure
of hockey legend Ray Bourque (makes it seem longer than it is). Berard
and Co. will have to step it up a notch because Steve Shields is no
Byron Dafoe in the clutch.
Buffalo Sabres: With the thought that the team's days are numbered
and that they possess one of the youngest and weakest offenses, there isn't
much of an effort to win this year. They let go of core players Richard
Smehlik, Slava Kozlov, and F Erik Rasmussen while banking
on a few youngsters led by C Jochen Hecht. But it desperately needs
to resign its remaining offense in F Maxim Afinogenov, F Vaclav
Varada, and C Chris Gratton -- all fairly young and still developing.
Carolina Hurricanes: Even if last season was one big Cinderella
story, the Carolina Hurricanes can be expected to compete again thanks to
the always-weak Southeast Division. The 'Canes also have the core of their
team from last season with the exception of Martin Gelinas, who departed
for Calgary. Signing David Tanabe is key for their future.
Florida Panthers: This team hasn't seen much success in the
last five years and you can probably add another year making it six years
of doldrums. But amongst all the dismalness, there does lie hope -- in the
form of franchise player G Roberto Luongo, who the team hopes to build
around. D Robert Svehla and F Jason Wiemer leave as the team
continues to rebuild.
Montreal Canadiens: A cellar-dweller turned playoff contender
also led by their franchise player also in the form of a goalie -- Hart and
Vezina winner Jose Theodore. The Canadiens got grittier and more offensive
with the acquisitions of Randy McKay from the Stars and
Mariusz Czerkawski from the Islanders. They should definitely
compete again through Theodore.
New Jersey Devils: These aren't the same Devils from previous
seasons, that's one thing for sure. The additions of C/F Jeff Friesen
and D Oleg Tverdovsky are known to be proven talent, but GM Lou
Lamiorello doesn't see Friesen playing his better suited centering game,
but rather as a winger to Patrick Elias, who's more better suited
at the wing. The addition of Tverdovsky is ill-suited to the Devils notorious
trap game, since Oleg is small and not so physical. The success of the Devils
is really uncertain, but one thing that is sure is the fact that these Devils
won't be playing the (in)famous Jersey style hockey of past years.
New York Islanders: Perhaps the Islanders were one bona fide
veteran from being top contenders in the East. They will have to manage with
what they had left from last season minus Czerkawski so in essence, their
team only got worse since they didn't really play any prospects or
all-stars-to-be in their four lines last year. In fact, they lost one in
Branislav Mezei, who got shipped to the Sunshine State for Jason
Wiemer, who won't change these Islanders enough to appease management.
New York Rangers: This team still remains one of the biggest
quandaries in the league year after year. All this talent, no results. The
hiring of Islander great Bryan Trottier as head coach doesn't help
matters, either, but chemistry could fall into place this year with the addition
of some grittiness in the form of C Bobby Holik, D Darius
Kasparaitis, and D Krzystof Oliwa -- something weaklings Eric
Lindros and Pavel Bure weren't able to provide last year. But
still, it comes down to their shoddy goaltending in the form of geezer Mike
Richter, who was picked off free agency. Curtis Joseph would have
meant more to this team than Holik.
Ottawa Senators: There isn't much in the way of additions for
this club, but its subtractions will really hurt losing scorers Shawn McEachern
and Chris Herperger.
Philadelphia Flyers: The addition of Michal Handzus
should definitely benefit this club since they get a player who can both
score and hit -- something they haven't seen since the glory days of Eric
Lindros. Handzus is not in Eric's league yet, but the youngster definitely
possesses the potential to move up the ranks. And with it, their goaltending
predicament is also resolved, making Roman Cechmanek the all out number
Pittsburgh Penguins: This is team is on the edge of demise.
Mario Lemieux turns 37 this year, Martin Straka seems as fragile
as Eric Lindros of late, and they still haven't signed or gained confidence
in a second line center to make them forget the departure of Robert
Lang, who bolted for D.C. To make things worse, their youngsters haven't
come along very rapidly, especially those that they received in the Jagr
deal last offseason. This team is a rebuildment and a half from contending
again if injuries continue to plague them.
Tampa Bay Lightning: As is the trend for most of the East's
perennial cellar-dwellers, this team is finally coming around. Led by ex-Coyote
holdout G Nikolai Khabibulin, the team allowed 60 less goals than
the previous season -- the best in the league. Offensively, the team is full
of youngsters who look prime to mature into star players: C Vincent
Lecavalier, C Brad Richards, and F Martin St. Louis. They're
complimented by veterans F Dave Andreychuk, Ruslan Fedotenko
from the Flyers, and F Fredrik Modin. Whether this team competes rests
on the shoulders of its youngsters and the continued prominence of the Bhulin
Toronto Maple Leafs: This team is bringing back much of the
same squad that really broke out in the regular season despite only moving
a round higher in the playoffs last season than the one before. But there
is one difference -- this is a Maple Leafs team without CuJo, their franchise
player for almost the past decade. Eddie Belfour or not, Big Ed's
got some big shoes to fill in Toronto.
Washington Capitals: Seeing who they gained, the Caps did fairly
well again this offseason, getting C Robert Lang while only losing
a backup goaltender and F Ulf Dahlen. But the real question is whether
Lang will mesh well with his teammates enough for everyone to come together
over F Jaromir Jagr. The success of Jagr remains the underscoring
facet to the success of this hockey club.