Rangers line up on top of NHL for '93 On paper, Penguins drop to second

October 06, 1992|By New York Daily News

So many other things are different in the NHL this season.

There are new teams in Tampa Bay and Ottawa. There are new rules aimed at heightening the speed and skill of the competition.

So why not realign? Let's make four six-team divisions, based on their chances of winning it all in 1992-93:

Going-For-It Division * New York Rangers: They don't have a right-hand shooter for the left-wing circle on the power play. They have more skaters than hitters on defense. Still, this is the best team in the league.

* Pittsburgh Penguins: Their defense never looks good on paper, but this underrated group gets the job done. Playing behind the most lethal line in hockey -- Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr and Kevin Stevens -- also doesn't hurt.

* Detroit Red Wings: Dino Ciccarelli (38 goals) and defenseman Mark Howe will provide the point men who can improve a power play that ranked last of those of the 16 playoff qualifiers. Left wing John Ogrodnick should help as well.

* Vancouver Canucks: The departure of Igor Larionov left a hole at center. They tried right wing Trevor Linden there and it didn't work. Left wing Greg Adams may provide an answer. Right wing Pavel Bure remains a wonder, and goalie Kay Whitmore will help ease the workload on Kirk McLean's shoulders.

* Chicago Blackhawks: You can't count them out because they reached the finals last season and did not get worse over the summer. Except for center Jeremy Roenick (53 goals), too much of their limited offense came from players over 30 years old.

* Montreal Canadiens: On the way to surrendering just 207 goals with a still-maturing defense last season, the Canadiens held their opponents to three goals or fewer 60 times in 80 games. New coach Jacques Demers is not as defensive-minded as Pat Burns was. Badly needed offense should come from newly acquired left wings Vincent Damphousse and Brian Bellows.

Right-Up-There Division * New Jersey Devils: Under coach Herb Brooks, the team's style will activate the defense in the attack, which complements such players as Bruce Driver, Scott Niedermayer and Viacheslav Fetisov. The Devils will play a speed, skill, puck-control game. The Devils got 87 points last year with a less-sophisticated coach and without one minute from 40-goal man John MacLean. Do not take them lightly.

* Washington Capitals: Right wing Pat Elynuik won't match Dino Ciccarelli's scoring but will help an offense that somehow got 330 goals last year. Defense is talented and deep, as capable of creating goals as preventing them. Mike Ridley and Dale Hunter are dependable, but lack of a star-quality center hurts this team in the Patrick Division.

* Edmonton Oilers: Strong coaching by Ted Green, strong goaltending by Bill Ranford. Center Brent Gilchrist and left wing Shayne Corson could help the penalty killing, which was poor last season. Offense will suffer with Damphousse gone, but the Smythe Division isn't a shootout section any more. Team chemistry will be disrupted by departures of Kevin Lowe and Joe Murphy to points unknown.

* Winnipeg Jets: Improved 18 points last season. They've got Soviet skaters galore, impressive forwards Keith Tkachuk and Darrin Shannon, good goalies Bob Essensa and Rick Tabaracci. But they could use some young leadership and intensity.

* Buffalo Sabres: Haven't won a playoff series since 1983, and their goaltending (Daren Puppa, Dominik Hasek, Tom Draper, Clint Malarchuk) is more quantity than quality unless Puppa returns to form from injury-induced funk. However, Pat LaFontaine was on fire in second half, Dave Andreychuk is NHL's premier power-play scorer. Alexander Mogilny and Dale Hawerchuk leave no doubt about the offense. The defense is still taking form, however.

* New York Islanders: You know they can score. You don't know how many they'll keep out of the net. They have three of the top defensive prospects in the league -- Scott Lachance, Vladimir Malakhov and Darius Kasparaitis -- but adjustments to the NHL pace and skill level take time.

Dark-horse Division * Calgary Flames: Coach Dave King already has the Flames better prepared, playing more disciplined. He'll have a reclamation project in Gary Leeman and needs playmaking out of Robert Reichel, who may center for 50-goal man Gary Roberts and Sergei Makarov.

* Quebec Nordiques: They used the Eric Lindros deal to fill a lot of needs. Center Mike Ricci has been a firebrand leader in camp who should provide solid support for Joe Sakic and improve last year's incompetent penalty killing. Goalie Ron Hextall always is a health question, but he's going to help the improved defense. Top-notch forwards Mats Sundin, Owen Nolan and Valeri Kamensky return and will provide the scoring power for a team that won twice on the road last year.

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