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NHL Preview 2007 - 08

Beyond the blue line

Coaches on the hot seat, overpaid players, and this season's Stanley Cup contenders

BONA FIDE CONTENDERS

  • DETROIT RED WINGS: Gotta love the Winged Wheels, even if their offense is prone to dead spells. They still have the No. 1 defenseman in the business, Nicklas Lidstrom, who last season won his fifth Norris Trophy in six seasons. They also have Dominik Hasek back in net after his impressive 2006-07 season, in which he avoided a recurrence of groin problems. Lost Mathieu Schneider to the Ducks, but got younger and more mobile with addition of ex-Devil Brian Rafalski.

  • NEW YORK RANGERS: The Rangers spent money like in the carefree precap days, lavishing big deals on Scott Gomez and Chris Drury. Had it not been for Drury's late heroics for Buffalo in Round 2, the Rangers would have been New York's rep in the Eastern finals against the Senators. Henrik Lundqvist is the real deal in net and ex-King Sean Avery, acquired late last season, is perhaps the game's No. 1 agitator.

  • SAN JOSE SHARKS AND ANAHEIM DUCKS: If only the Kings could join California's royalty. The Sharks still need some grit, but mysteriously stood pat in the offseason, content to extend the contracts of their top two centers, Joe Thornton and Patrick Marleau. They added Jeremy Roenick, but his best years are long gone. The Ducks, defending Cup champs, still don’t know if Teemu Selanne and/or Scott Niedermayer will be back. Their return could mean a repeat. Their retirement could mean an early-round KO.

    THREE WANNABES WHO WON’T BE

  • PHOENIX COYOTES: Dead last in the West last season, and it cost Wayne Gretzky’s old pal, Mike Barnett, the GM job. Not much here to build on, other than the hope that some very fresh young faces, such as centers Peter Mueller and Kyle Turris, can grow up in a hurry. Ex-Bruin Nick Boynton is still around for duty, as is the vastly overpaid Ed Jovanovski (four more years at $6.5 million average). Leafs castaway Mikael Tellqvist could be answer in net. Questions?

  • COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS: Another club that lost its GM (Doug MacLean) in the residue of a 33-42-7 season. Now it’s up to new boss Scott Howson to find a half-decent team for what seems to be a pretty good hockey market. It's going to take a while, unless Howson can dish away some older goods (Sergei Fedorov/Adam Foote) and some tantalizing draft picks, like Jakub Voracek and Derick Brassard, can fast-forward their learning curves.

  • NEW YORK ISLANDERS: They picked up Ryan Smyth, Mr. Oiler, at the trade deadline, made it into the playoffs, then lost in Round 1 (Sabres) and saw Smyth rush off to Colorado as a free agent. Lots of movement, small results. They finally cut the cord with Alexei Yashin, but spent, shall we say, curiously on the free agent likes of Ruslan Fedotenko, Mike Comrie, and Bill Guerin. Hey, who knows, maybe it works -- much like the philosophy that brought Yashin aboard long ago.

  • MOST LIKELY TO BE FIRED

  • MICHEL THERRIEN, PITTSBURGH PENGUINS: A curious fit from the day he took over for the fired Ed Olczyk the first season back from the lockout. The 43-year-old ex-Canadiens coach is an old-school boss with perhaps the youngest/richest bunch of talent in the NHL. With Sidney Crosby back as the MVP, and hopes pinned high in Western Pennsylvania, a slow start could lead to a quick ending for Therrien, who was shown the door halfway through the 2002-03 season in Montreal.

  • JOHN STEVENS, PHILADELPHIA FLYERS: A career minor leaguer, the 41-year-old Stevens was aboard in Philly as assistant coach last season and moved to the top job when Ken Hitchcock was given the quick heave-ho. All he did was prove that the slow start was not Hitch's fault. The lineup has been overhauled, and the Broad Streeters, off their deadlast finish in the East last season, are expected to get right back in the playoff hunt. Out of the gate like Hitch and he'll get the gate.

  • GLEN HANLON, WASHINGTON CAPITALS: The former NHL goalie, now 50, tuned up his coaching skills for three seasons in Portland (AHL) before he picked up the pieces from Bruce Cassidy in the 2003-04 season. This will be Hanlon's third full season, and GM George McPhee spent some dough over the summer with the aim of ending a string of three DNQ playoff seasons. They've won only 72 times, or roughly once a week, in Hanlon's 2 1/2 seasons. Not a pace he can afford to keep.

    MOST OVERPAID

  • ALEXEI YASHIN, NEW YORK ISLANDERS: Actually, the 33-year-old Yashin is back playing in Russia, fresh from receiving the most lucrative buyout in NHL history. Fed up after five of his underperforming seasons, the Islanders chose to pay him to go away -- at an average cost of $2.019 million for the next eight seasons. He is suiting up this season for Lokomotiv Yaroslavl, where at last look he stood 2-6--8 in eight games. Hey, just the kind of player coveted by the NHL.

  • RICK DIPIETRO, NEW YORK ISLANDERS: The former BU standout, chosen No. 1 overall in the 2000 draft, still has 14 years left at $4.5 million per season. And we thought only the lottery dreamed up these kinds of deals. No telling what a No. 1 stopper will be earning 14 years down the road, but the top end these days is around $7 million. And right now, DiPietro has yet to make his way among the elite. Good, yes. But good enough for 15 years? Not even for Wayne Gretzky in his prime.

  • ED JOVANOVSKI, PHOENIX COYOTES: Sure, long ago, Jovocop was a force, first with the Panthers and then the Canucks. These days he is an overpriced and fading hood ornament, due $6.5 million each of the next four seasons. He played in only 54 games last season, because of a variety of injuries, and shut it down over the final quarter after abdominal surgery. Maybe something left in the tank, but it's hard to stay motivated with such a bad team.

  • BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK

  • ANTON VOLCHENKOV, OTTAWA SENATORS: The Russian-born defenseman, only 25, dishes out heavy hits and is among the game’s premier shotblockers. He led the league last season with 273 blocks and ranked 12th with 205 hits. The man is engaged, and at a very cap-friendly $2.5 million over each of the next three years. If he were entering the market this past summer, even as a restricted free agent, he easily could have requested nearly double the dough.

  • MARTIN BRODEUR, NEW JERSEY DEVILS: Stoppin' Martin at age 35 is still the best, and he’ll be paid well for that -- at $5.2 million for each of the next five years. The money looks light only when considering the fact that he won his third career Vezina Trophy last season and remains the goalie gold standard. Aging, but still a great 'tender. Even if he poops out in three years, and collects that $5.2 million on the dole, the Devils got out of it on the cheap.

  • CHRIS CHELIOS, DETROIT RED WINGS: OK, he's old, staring down the glare of 46 candles come January. But the old buzzard still plays with grit and passion, and he does it for the near-comical sum of $850,000 (clearly, age has addled the old bird's financial faculties). Most nights last season, he logged a hefty 20 minutes. Bargain beyond words. Imagine what former union boss Ted Saskin would have paid him just to go away, oh, three or four years ago.

    GUYS YOU HATE UNLESS THEY’RE ON YOUR TEAM

  • SEAN AVERY, NEW YORK RANGERS: Arrived on Broadway near the trade deadline last season, pegged as a creep the Kings couldn't wait to unload. Down the stretch, though, he might have been the most valuable Blueshirt, kept in line by team graybeard Brendan Shanahan. Avery wasn't happy with the salary arbitration process -- oh, heavens, the things those management brutes say! -- or the reward ($1.9 million). Shanny may have to work OT to keep him happy this year.

  • DARCY TUCKER, TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS: Now 32, he's not the pest he once was, but he's still got enough yap and game to dig under the skin, whether he’s on the ice or the bench. Started life as a Canadien, which is enough for any Bruins fan not to like the 5-foot, 10-inch right winger. For all his antics (1,196 career penalty minutes), he also usually pops in about 15 goals a year, with a penchant to stick them when they hurt most.

  • STEVE OTT, DALLAS STARS: A broken ankle last season limited this checking-line rabble-rouser to 19 games, and he no doubt received countless shipments of flowers, Whitman Samplers, and get-well cards from opponents and dear friends around the league. Which is exactly why the Stars made him the No. 25 pick in the 2000 draft. Tough in the corners and skates devilishly hard into checks. Only 6 feet, 193 pounds, but plays bigger and nastier.

  • WHEN YOU NEED A GOAL

  • DANY HEATLEY, OTTAWA SENATORS: The former Wisconsin standout potted 50 goals for the second season in a row in 2006-07 and picked up 105 points, a 2-point bump over his 2005-06 total. If he were slightly more selfi sh, he has the moves and the shot to bury 60, something we might see this season. By signing a six-year, $45 million extension yesterday, he opted to pass on a chance at free agency July 1 and a shot at averaging more than $10 million per season.

  • ALEXANDER OVECHKIN, WASHINGTON CAPITALS: A.O. "dipped" to 46 goals last season after knocking home 52 en route to winning rookie of the year honors in 2005-06. Big engine with lots of nerve and heart; his 91 goals trail only Heatley's 100 over the last two years. Can be a bit selfi sh with the puck -- passing is a fourth option after 1) shoot, 2) shoot, and 3) shoot. Brash and bold, seems to enjoy tying defensemen in knots and then ripping hard slapper by goalie.

  • VINCENT LECAVLIER, TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING: His 52-56--108 season was his best yet, his first time reaching both 50 goals and 100 points. It took him eight years to realize the offensive production the Lightning were expecting out of the chute when they made the 6-4 pivot the No. 1 pick in the '98 draft -- back when their then owner, Art Williams, touted him as the "Michael Jordan of hockey."

    MOST LIKELY TO BE TRADED

  • SERGEI FEDOROV, COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS: Pawned off by Anaheim during the Jackets' prior management regime, he'd be gone today if anyone would take his full $6.08 million off their books. It won't happen now, but there will be takers for the fading 37-year-old superstar as the trade deadline draws near. He can play center, wing, and even defense in a pinch, which will make him a versatile pickup for a club vying for a Cup. He then can work for short money here, or return to Russia.

  • P.J. AXELSSON, BOSTON BRUINS: The versatile Swede can fi ll a number of roles, on a scoring or checking line, and he makes a very cap-friendly $1.85 million each of the next two years. The Bruins are in big need of help on defense right now, which means the affable Axelsson could be out of here sooner rather than later. Packaged with a draft pick, he could bring a second-pairing blue liner -- a vital addition for a club with Zdeno Chara at the top and otherwise a lot of No. 5-8 defensemen.

  • MIROSLAV SATAN, NEW YORK ISLANDERS: Sure, he is still a top-six winger, refl ected in his pay of $4.5 million. But he's not Ted Nolan’s idea of a top-six winger, and he is also a free agent July 1. Much more prudent for the Fishermen to move his money off the books, then put a young, eager digger in his roster spot. Depending on how many of their kids make it, the Euro-friendly Blackhawks could be his next stop.

    WHEN YOU ABSOLUTELY HAVE TO WIN THE FACEOFF

  • ROD BRIND'AMOUR, CAROLINA HURRICANES: Almost bionic in terms of durability and proficiency, the 37-year-old strongman has led the league in faceoff wins the last three seasons with nearly 3,600 W's at the dot. He went 1,213-834 last season for a 59.2 winning percentage, second only to Yanic Perreault (Phoenix/Toronto), who had a signifi cantly lighter workload (506-300/62.8 percent). Strong, smart, and ornery, he may be the best of all time.

  • CHRIS DRURY, NEW YORK RANGERS: The Sabres will miss much more than the former BU standout's clutch goal scoring and stoic leadership. He has always been a key performer in the circle, last season piling up 948 wins and a 58.8 percent success rate. Coach Tom Renney will be certain to have him out on all key draws, and augment him with Scott Gomez, a comfort level Renney didn't have last season with the likes of Matt Cullen and Michael Nylander.

  • MIKE SILLINGER, NEW YORK ISLANDERS: Under Ted Nolan’s tutelage for the first time last season, Sillinger finished with 1,004 victories at the dot, second only to Brind’Amour. Now 36, Sillinger never handled that kind of workload with his previous 11 -- yes, e-l-e-v-e-n -- NHL clubs. Never considered in the Brind’Amour-Drury class of hunker down and get 'er done, but the numbers cannot be denied (1,004-704/58.8 percent).

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