NHL Preview: Eastern Conference

Oct 3, 2005 (published on www.tvnz.co.nz)
By Fred Lunjevich

In the new NHL there is a new reality, and the big spending franchises won’t like it.

All 30 teams will hit the ice on Thursday in a vastly new look league that sees a $39 million salary cap spread talent.

That will mean the Colorado’s, Detroit’s Dallas’ and New Jersey’s of the world will no longer have things their way.

The Eastern Conference is shaping up to be very competitive as the weak invariably got better while the strong stayed that way.

Look out for the speedy Montreal Canadiens, Florida Panthers, and the Pittsburgh Penguins to make big strides this year.

All these teams have young talent that will be immediate forces on the ice with a healthy mix of veterans who will provide leadership off the ice.

Expect number one draft pick Sidney Crosby and Ryan Malone to put up big numbers for the Penguins considering the veteran talents of Mario Lemiuex, Zigmund Palffy, Mark Recchi and John Leclair.

Despite the additions, Pittsburgh will still find it tough elevating themselves from the depths of the league’s cellar, but will be vastly improved from two-years ago.

The Washington Capitals will struggle once again with plenty of fresh faces making NHL debuts. On the plus side, the Capitals can only get better and are fortunate to have the 2004 number one draft pick in points scoring machine Alexander Ovechkin.

Don’t expect too much from the New York Rangers. Traditionally, the Rangers have been the Yankees of the NHL – big spenders and stacked with talent. The Rangers no longer have the luxury of offering irresistible salaries to players and will suffer as a consequence.

The New York Islanders will fare much better than their inner city rivals as new players will add to an already solid lineup.

Buffalo lost their key goal scorer – Miroslav Satan in the offseason and didn’t add a lot. Buffalo is a young team but far from a dominant one.

Florida added veteran stars Gary Roberts and Joe Nieuwendyk to their cast of young forwards. With a go-go gadget arms goalie in Roberto Luongo, skilled European players Kristian Huselius, Nicklas Nagman and Olli Jokinen the Panthers may well be the surprise package in the east.

Montreal, a team that has won 26 Stanley Cups over the years, is blessed with youngsters with quick feet and skilled hands. Michael Ryder scored 68 points as a rookie in 2003-04, while newcomers Guillame Letandresse and Tomas Plekanec made good impressions in the preseason.

The Atlanta Thrashers may struggle, as the loss of the impressive Ilya Kovalchuk might be too much. With a Stanley Cup winning coach at the helm anything is possible but the Thrashers’ will rely on veterans Bobby Holika and Peter Bondra as well as the goal-scoring prowess of Marian Hossa.

The defensive minded New Jersey Devils lost two future hall of fame defensemen; Scott Stevens to retirement and Scott Niedermayer to Anaheim, but the team is still solid and is backed by the best goalie in the league in Martin Brodeur.

Without doubt, the eastern conference teams that embraced the new CBA in the best possible way are Philadelphia, Boston, the Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning, Pittsburgh and Ottawa.

The Ottawa Senators have an experienced and skilled line up that has residents of the Canadian capital talking up their cup chances.

Philadelphia made big moves signing the leagues best forward in Peter Forsberg and bolstering its defense by adding three huge defensemen. All while holding on to inspirational captain Keith Primeau and skilled forward Simon Gagne.

Boston is a solid team with a young up and coming goaltender in Andrew Raycroft. A solid defensive unit coupled with skilled forwards including 223-pound all-star centre Joe Thornton. This team has the potential of owning the Eastern Conference.

Tampa Bay is largely unchanged although the loss of Nikolai Khabibulin in goal raises a big question mark.

The big unknown in the east is the Toronto Maple Leafs. Toronto is often called the “centre of the hockey universe,” but will enter this season with an aging team that always steps up with tough hockey.

There is a strong possibility the Eastern Conference will produce the 2005/06 Stanley Cup winning team.

Source: ONE Sport

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