A Rockhead guide to the 2000-01 NHL season:
Laying the Smackdown
As the title-holders, the Devils deserve the respect due defending
champions. But with a 30-team league, dynasties are a thing of the
past. Only Pittsburgh (1992-93) and Detroit (1997-98) have won back-
to-back titles since Edmonton's double in 1987-88. With Claude
Lemieux gone to free agency, and the defense showing experience gaps,
the task should prove too difficult for the Devils. Still, they are
the beast of the East, and it will require a steel cage match to
wrest away the Cup from them.
The Stars certainly haven't forgot last season's double overtime loss
in Game 6 of the Finals, and that may help. They boast "Mean" Kevin
Hatcher and "Crazy" Eddie Belfour on an imposing defense corps, but
last season a spark was missing, as was oft-injured Jere Lehtinen.
They still should make the Final Four.
The Maple Leafs tend to be overhyped, thanks to a media that seems
more eager than Leaf fans to see the Cup return to the city for the
first time since 1967. Goalie Curtis "Cujo" Joseph gives the Leafs a
chance to win every game, and the addition of free agents Shayne
Corson and Gary Roberts provide a much-needed boost in the grit
department. But the Leafs are still lacking a bona fide No. 2 center
and the defense is suspect, which again leaves them in a No. 1
The Avalanche's Stanley Cup memories aren't that dim â" they
1996 â" but with goalie Patrick Roy turning 35 before the
starts and defenseman Ray Bourque hitting the big 4-0 after
Christmas, they had better win now. If Peter Forbserg stays healthy,
and kids such as Alex Tanguay, Chris Drury, Martin Skoula and Milan
Hejduk continue to develop, the Avs could be the team to beat.
Like Roy, the Sabres' 35-year-old goalie Dominik Hasek wants to
finish up a winner. Roy has won Cups; Hasek has won Olympic gold, but
he put off his retirement for a year to try to win Stanley silver.
Mostly because of Hasek's groin injury, the Sabres slumped last
season after reaching the Finals in 1999. Their lack of a stud
defenseman and scoring punch might send Hasek back to the Czech
Sometimes a team needs to be humbled to learn its playoff lesson, and
the Blues, after winning the Presidents' Trophy with 114 points in
the regular season, were crushed by a first-round playoff loss to San
Jose. Goalie Roman Turek has to atone for his erratic playoffs. The
Blues have to hope that two years of piling on the minutes hasn't
worn out 37-year-old defenseman Al MacInnis. Captain Chris Pronger
won the Norris and Hart Trophies â" now he has to make his team
Just Bring It
The specter of Eric Lindros, the contract squabble with John LeClair,
the dumping of Roger Neilson â" not exactly a quiet offseason
Flyers. Lindros is a restricted free agent, but he hasn't been
cleared, still suffering from another concussion. Losing to the
Devils in the Eastern Conference finals after leading 3-1 still has
to sting, and while goalie Brian Boucher is the real deal, there are
too many questions about the rest of the team to rate the Flyers top
The Red Wings' window of opportunity may have already slammed shut. A
couple of "now" trades failed to pay off with a championship, and
Detroit is left with some gifted but very veteran players in Steve
Yzerman (35), Chris Chelios (38) and Larry Murphy (39).
The Sharks showed some savage intent to take their place among the
elite teams by knocking off St. Louis in the first round last season.
They boast a strong defense and a balance of skill and grit up front,
but without a solid No. 1 goalie, a Cup is out of reach.
The Senators also have goaltending woes â" maybe they can trade
Alexei Yashin, whose year-long holdout and "poor me" routine hasn't
won many fans or teammates. The Sens need Marian Hossa to recover
from the psychological aftermath of his stick incident that injured
Toronto's Bryan Berard.
The Capitals won't have bedrock goalie Olaf Kolzig (arthroscopic knee
surgery) for the opening weeks of the season and have to resolve
their Peter Bondra issues before moving forward in the pack. Bondra
and the Caps are trying to work a trade, and the team desperately
needs to gets a scorer or two in return to come up with those goals
Bondra once did with ease.
The Panthers made one of the most intriguing moves of the offseason,
acquiring goalie Roberto Luongo from the Islanders. When 50-goal
scorer Pavel Bure was shut down by the Devils in the playoffs,
however, it wasn't the fault of the Panthers goalies.
The best player in the game, the Penguins' Jaromir Jagr, continues to
be surrounded by a cast of average players. How Jagr must long for a
return to the tag-team days with current Pens owner Mario Lemieux.
Do You Like Pancakes?
Assuming our top 13 make the playoffs, these will be the teams duking
it out in the final weeks for the remaining five playoff positions.
It's true, it's true, the Rangers have missed the playoffs the past
three seasons, but new GM Glen Sather and coach Ron Low and old
captain Mark Messier will try to end that slide. Low replacing John
Muckler should be worth 10 points, but don't expect many miracles on
this corner of 33rd Street.
Whoever said making the NHL playoffs was easy? Not the Islanders, who
hold the current longest futility streak of six seasons without a
playoff game. But GM "Mad" Mike Milbury has fashioned a fascinating
team that might take some time to jell but with young players, such
as Tim Connolly, Taylor Pyatt and Rick DiPietro, will be fun to watch.
Kings GM Dave Taylor is making no friends with hard-line stances
against Rob Blake, who relinquished his captaincy, and offensive
catalyst Jozef Stumpel. The Kings improved 25 points last season but
vanished in the playoffs and are weak in goaltending and special
Paul Kariya, Teemu Selanne ... so, what else is new with the Mighty
Ducks? Nothing. There is still no second-line support, no first-rate
goalie and no depth on defense.
The low-budget Oilers always seem to have the young skaters to pull
off an upset or two in the playoffs. Expect the same under new GM
Kevin Lowe and coach Craig MacTavish. They have a lot of speed and an
aggressive offense but not a lot of grit at crunch time.
The Bruins will be start a season without Bourque for the first time
since 1979. Boston has a nice one-two punch up the middle with Jason
Allison and Joe Thornton but will need to prevent goalie Byron Dafoe
from following teammate John Grahame off of curbs.
Coyotes GM Bobby Smith played hardball with goalie Nikolai Khabibulin
last season, to the detriment of his team, and new owner Wayne
Gretzky will need to flex some muscle to avoid the bones of these
Coyotes being picked clean by the rest of the NHL again.
Considering the staggering number of injuries the Canadiens suffered
last year, Montreal coach Alain Vigneault deserved some kind of award
just for keeping his team in playoff contention until the final days
of the season. It will be another long winter.
After the Rangers, no team seems to spend more for its talent and
accomplish less than the Hurricanes. Defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh is
their big-ticket addition this year. So?
The Canucks unveil the twins, Henrik and Daniel Sedin, and there will
be plenty of hard-knock lessons for this young team. ... The Flames
have a new GM (Craig Button) and a new coach (Don Hay) with the same
old Canadian dollar blues. ... The Thrashers will still get thrashed
in their second year in the league.
The Lightning has the league's best babyface in 20-year-old Vincent
Lecavalier, but he needs a better posse before the team strikes much
fear into its opponents. ... Cynics are already betting that new
Blackhawks coach Alpo Suhonen won't last the season behind the
bench. ... The Predators' progress is slower than a George Jones
Finally, the NHL has come back to Minnesota with the Wild. ... And
there's another expansion team in Columbus with the Blue Jackets. If
you think either of those teams will be a factor in the Cup chase ...
well, it doesn't matter what you think.