Eastern Conference NHL PREVIEW

October 09, 1998

Atlantic Division

New Jersey Devils

Coach: Robbie Ftorek (new)

Outlook: Since winning the Stanley Cup in 1995, the Devils have continued to shine in the regular season and struggle in the postseason. A first-round playoff loss to Ottawa last season in which they scored just 12 goals in six games spelled the end for defensive-minded coach Jacques Lemaire. The loss of C Doug Gilmour to free agency puts pressure on young centers, especially Brendan Morrison. G Martin Brodeur again was outstanding (1.89 goals-against average).

New York Islanders

Coach: Mike Milbury

Outlook: GM Mike Milbury replaced Rick Bowness as coach in midseason and gave up some duties, including contract signings. After successive last-place finishes, the Islanders finished ahead of the rival Rangers. Top prospects in recent seasons haven't panned out. D Eric Brewer, 19, is expected to crack the lineup.

New York Rangers

Coach: John Muckler

Outlook: The team reeled from the loss of captain Mark Messier to free agency, especially his close friends, G Mike Richter (21-31-15, no shutouts), D Brian Leetch (minus-36) and LW Adam Graves (minus-30). C Wayne Gretzky, 37, continues to amaze, tied for third in league scoring last season with 90 points.

Philadelphia Flyers

Coach: Roger Neilson

Outlook: The Flyers had a conference-leading 242 goals, but were ousted in the first round by Buffalo one year after reaching the finals. C Eric Lindros (30 goals, 71 points) missed 19 games with a concussion. LW John LeClair (51 goals, 87 points, plus-30) one of the best in the game. Philadelphia signed 35-year-old G John Vanbiesbrouck (2.87 GAA with Florida) to replace Ron Hextall.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Coach: Kevin Constantine

Outlook: The Penguins move back into the division with longtime rivals after a first-round playoff ouster by Montreal. RW Jaromir Jagr (35 goals, 102 points) easily won the scoring title. Losing free-agent C Ron Francis (87 points) will hurt. The loss of tough D Darius Kasparaitis (127 penalty minutes) for four to six months after right knee surgery is devastating.

Northeast Division

Boston Bruins

Coach: Pat Burns

Outlook: Burns helped the Bruins rebound from their first non-playoff season in 30 years with a 30-point improvement. Jason Allison (33 goals, 50 assists) emerged as a top-line center. Five-time Norris Trophy-winning D Ray Bourque returns for a 19th season.

Buffalo Sabres

Coach: Lindy Ruff

Outlook: Buffalo reached the Eastern finals before falling in six games to Washington. Two-time MVP Dominik Hasek (2.09 GAA) continues to astound and carry this offensively challenged team. LW Miroslav Satan was the leading scorer with just 46 points.

Montreal Canadiens

Coach: Alain Vigneault

Outlook: The Canadiens upset division-winner Pittsburgh before getting swept by Buffalo. RW Mark Recchi (32 goals, 74 points) received the highest arbitration award in league history ($4.5 million). C Vincent Damphousse scored a disappointing 18 goals (lowest since 1987-88) for a then-record $3.275 million deal.

Ottawa Senators

Coach: Jacques Martin

Outlook: The Senators made the playoffs for the second straight season and upset top-seeded New Jersey before falling in the second round to Washington. Despite a winning record, they gave up seven more goals than they scored. C Alexei Yashin (33 goals, 72 points) is the top offensive threat.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Coach: Pat Quinn (new)

Outlook: Toronto missed the playoffs for the second straight season, but made a big splash with the signing of free-agent G Curtis Joseph (2.63 GAA with Edmonton). C Mats Sundin (33 goals, 74 points) is the only other All-Star-caliber player.

Southeast Division

Carolina Hurricanes

Coach: Paul Maurice

Outlook: The franchise missed the playoffs for the sixth straight season. Carolina signed free-agent C Ron Francis (25 goals, 62 assists with Pittsburgh), who started his career with the franchise when it was the Hartford Whalers. C Keith Primeau and RW Sami Kapanen tied for team scoring lead (26 goals, 37 assists each).

Florida Panthers

Coach: Terry Murray (new)

Outlook: The Panthers have been on a downward spiral since making the finals in 1996, losing in the first round in 1997 and missing the playoffs last season. They signed G Sean Burke to replace John Vanbiesbrouck. LW Ray Whitney, a waiver acquisition, led the team with 33 goals and 65 points.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Coach: Jacques Demers

Outlook: Demers, a Stanley Cup winner in Montreal, promises optimism with an up-tempo style. The Lightning acquired playmaking C Craig Janney (53 points in 68 games with Phoenix), former top G Bill Ranford (2.79 GAA), oft-injured LW Wendel Clark from Toronto and the No. 1 overall draft pick, C Vincent Lecavalier.

Washington Capitals

Coach: Ron Wilson

Outlook: The Capitals made the finals for the first time in franchise history one year after missing the playoffs for the first time in 15 years. Wilson was a big success in his first year, as was the new MCI Center (23-12-6 at home). They should cruise to first place in a relatively easy division. RW Peter Bondra (52 goals in 76 games) has the most goals in the last four NHL seasons. C Adam Oates (58 assists) passed the 1,000-point career mark and should soon pass 800 assists (796). G Olaf Kolzig had excellent playoffs, with 1.95 GAA, and league bests of four shutouts and .941 save percentage.

Pub Date: 10/09/98

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