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SPORTS EXTRA / NHL PREVIEW

Eastern Conference Capsules

October 04, 2000|ELLIOTT TEAFORD | Times Staff Writer

* In predicted order of finish

1. NEW JERSEY

Coach: Larry Robinson, first full season.

1999-2000: 45-29-8-5, 103 points.

Who's new: Left wing Jim McKenzie (free agent), right wing Ed Ward (trade with Ducks).

Outlook: The Devils won the Stanley Cup thanks, in part, to Robinson's gentle hand after he took over for the fired Robbie Ftorek in the season's final month. On a less experienced team Robinson might have trouble duplicating the feat, but the Devils are loaded with veteran role players. If goalie Martin Brodeur isn't the league's best, then he's a close second behind Buffalo's Dominik Hasek. Brodeur led the league with 43 victories last season. Defenseman Scott Stevens strikes terror in the hearts of forwards league-wide. Keep your head up at all times, fellas. Left wing Patrik Elias (35 goals, 72 points) and rookie of the year Scott Gomez (19 goals, 70 points) give the Devils good balance up front. There's a great deal to like here.

2. TORONTO

Coach: Pat Quinn, third season.

1999-2000: 45-30-7-3, 100 points.

Who's new: Left wings Gary Roberts and Shayne Corson (free agents) and defenseman Dave Manson (free agent).

Outlook: Goalie Curtis Joseph matched his career high with 36 victories last season. Center Mats Sundin led the Maple Leafs for the sixth consecutive season, scoring 32 goals and 73 points. The names get a little less familiar after Joseph and Sundin, but the Maple Leafs' speed and depth gives them a rare European look in the bruising Eastern Conference. No question, Toronto lacked toughness last season and it showed in the playoffs. The Maple Leafs advanced only to the second round, losing to the Devils in six games. But the addition of gritty veterans Corson, Manson and Roberts should help in that area. Keep an eye on reliable defenseman Tomas Kaberle, who is poised for a breakout season.

3. PHILADELPHIA

Coach: Craig Ramsay, first full season.

1999-2000: 45-25-12-3, 105 points.

Who's new: Left wing Paul Ranheim (trade with Carolina), left wing Kevin Stevens and defenseman Michal Sykora (free agents).

Outlook: ABC hasn't added "The Flyers" to its lineup of afternoon soap operas, it merely seems that way. The Eric Lindros story line has provided a year's worth of plot twists and turns. This team doesn't need a coach, it needs a shrink. It also needs a new general manager. In any other town, Bob Clarke would have worn out his welcome long ago. But neither the good citizens of Philadelphia nor team chairman Ed Snider will cast off Clarke, a hero of the Flyers' Stanley Cup champion teams of the mid-1970s. So Clarke wins his personality conflict with unsigned free agent Lindros, leaving the team weaker. Lindros' fate isn't certain. He is still recovering from post-concussion syndrome and has been told to rest until after Jan. 1.

4. BUFFALO

Coach: Lindy Ruff, fourth season.

1999-2000: 35-36-11-4, 85 points.

Who's new: Left wing Dave Andreychuk (free agent).

Outlook: Any team with a healthy Dominik Hasek in goal must be considered a contender. (See: Sabres, 1998-99). Hasek planned to be retired and living in his native Czech Republic by now, but a groin injury that sidelined him for all but 35 games last season forced him to change his mind. Martin Biron (19-18-2 last season) will have to wait until at least the end of this season to take Hasek's spot. The Sabres also have Satan on their side. That's Miroslav Satan, a crafty winger who had a team-leading 33 goals last season. Andreychuk, who played his first 11 seasons in Buffalo, signed as a free agent, but is at the end of his career. There also are questions about how much longer center Doug Gilmour, 37, can be an effective NHL player.

5. WASHINGTON

Coach: Ron Wilson, fourth season.

1999-2000: 44-26-12-2, 102 points.

Who's new: Defenseman Sylvain Cote (free agent).

Outlook: Hard to imagine the Capitals challenging for the Stanley Cup this season. But as Wilson showed when they reached the finals in 1997-98, anything is possible if he begs, pleads, tricks and cajoles his players into reaching new heights. Heck, he turned tough guy Chris Simon into a goal-scorer last season. Simon led the Capitals with 29 goals, 10 more than he scored in the previous three seasons combined. Washington won the Southeast Division title, but bowed out of the playoffs in the first round. Bad news for the Capitals is that is all-star goalie Olaf Kolzig will be sidelined at the start of the season after undergoing arthroscopic surgery on his right knee. Veteran center Adam Oates led the NHL with a 57% face-off success rate. He also had a team-leading 71 points, including 56 assists last season.

6. N.Y. RANGERS

Coach: Ron Low, first season.

1999-2000: 29-41-12-3, 73 points.

Who's new: Center Mark Messier (free agent), team President Glen Sather, Low.

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