Hockey: NHL 2001-02 Preview

October 03, 2001|By Knight Ridder/Tribune

Eastern Conference

(In projected order of finish in points)

1. Philadelphia Flyers

2000-01: 43-25-11-3, 100 points (second in Atlantic, fourth in East), lost to Buffalo in first round.

Most feared: LW John LeClair, if he plays in more than the 16 games he did last season.

To win the East: The Flyers are loaded after dealing C Eric Lindros to the New York Rangers for young talent and signing free agent Jeremy Roenick, but G Roman Cechmanek must prove that his unbelievable first season as an NHL starter wasn't a fluke.

2. New Jersey Devils

2000-01: 48-19-12-3, 111 points (first in Atlantic, first in East), lost to Colorado in Stanley Cup Finals.

Most feared: D Scott Stevens is a warrior, but he's also 37. When does he start showing his age? With Eric Lindros (who was given his most recent concussion by Stevens in the 2000 playoffs) just across the Hudson River playing for the New York Rangers, one of hockey's best rivalries just got a little better.

To win the East: Last season, the Devils found out how tough it is to repeat as Stanley Cup champions. They're refocused this season, but they must keep their three 37-year-old defensemen -- Stevens, Tommy Albelin and Ken Daneyko -- at or near the top of their games. And someone has to pick up the 43-goal void left by RW Alexander Mogilny's departure.

3. Washington Capitals

2000-01: 41-27-10-4, 96 points (first in Southeast, third in East), lost to Pittsburgh in first round.

Most feared: Despite rumors he would be traded, RW Jaromir Jagr led the league in scoring with 121 points last season. He's ready to solidify his claim as the best player in the game.

To win the East: Jagr must be happy in Washington. RW Peter Bondra, who has more goals than any NHL player other than Jagr since the start of the 1994-95 season, must play as he did last season, when he returned to form with 45 goals. G Olie Kolzig must continue to be solid in goal. And perhaps Jagr will finally help the Caps get past the Penguins in the playoffs.

4. Toronto Maple Leafs

2000-01: 37-29-11-5, 90 points (third in Northeast, seventh in East), lost to New Jersey in second round.

Most feared: Which Alexander Mogilny did the Leafs sign as a free agent? The RW who scored 43 goals (83 points) last season -- his best output since getting 107 points for Vancouver in 1995-96 -- or the underachiever who averaged 44.7 points a season from 1997-2000?

To win the East: A potentially porous defense is backed by one of the best goalies in the game, Curtis Joseph. When he's on his game, the Leafs can beat anyone.

5. Ottawa Senators

2000-01: 48-21-9-4, 109 points (first in Northeast, second in East), lost to Toronto in first round.

Most feared: RW Marian Hossa is the team's most skilled player and had career high in goals (32), assists (43) and plus-minus (19) last season.

To win the East: Ottawa has been great in the regular season but terrible in the postseason the past few seasons. The Senators need to get tougher -- and replace C Alexei Yashin's scoring -- to make a run at the title.

6. Pittsburgh Penguins

2000-01: 42-28-9-3, 96 points (third in Atlantic, sixth in East), lost to New Jersey in conference finals.

Most feared: C Mario Lemieux averaged 1.77 points per game after returning in December from a three-year retirement.

To win the East: G Johan Hedberg needs to duplicate his strong late-season and playoff performance, and the defense has to compensate for the offense Jaromir Jagr supplied. Lemieux has to avoid missing many games because of his chronic back problems.

7. New York Rangers

2000-01: 33-43-5-1, 72 points (fourth in Atlantic, 10th in East).

Most feared: It's C Eric Lindros if he remains healthy and returns to the form that made him one of the league's top five players. But he has suffered six concussions, and the next one could force retirement.

To win the East: Slow down. The Rangers have to get to the playoffs first, where they haven't been since 1997. To be contenders, their defense must improve. Having a healthy Mike Richter in goal is a start. Last season, New York gave up 290 goals, most in the league.

8. Carolina Hurricanes

2000-01: 38-32-9-3, 88 points (second in Southeast, eighth in East), lost to New Jersey in first round.

Most feared: G Arturs Irbe played in 77 of 82 games last season and in 152 of 164 the past two seasons, or 92.7 percent.

To win the East: The Hurricanes showed some mettle by winning two games against the Devils after dropping the first three in a first-round playoff series. For the Hurricanes to move up, Irbe must be given more rest to keep him fresh and RW Jeff O'Neill, who had 41 goals last season, must continue to be productive.

9. Buffalo Sabres

2000-01: 46-30-5-1, 98 points (second in Northeast, fifth in East), lost to Pittsburgh in second round.

Most feared: With G Dominik Hasek gone, the title falls to W Miroslav Satan, who is the Sabres' top returning scorer and has missed only two regular-season games in the past three seasons, averaging 65 points per season.

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