The NHL regular season officially begins on Oct. 7, but the retooling and reshaping of many teams has been going on for months. CBCSports.ca offers you a glimpse at what teams across the league have done in the off-season with the first in a series of six divisional previews — starting with the Eastern Conference's Atlantic Division.
2nd in East, 1st in Atlantic in 2009-10
48-27-7 (103 pts.) —14-8-2 vs. Atlantic Division — lost in 1st round to Philadelphia (4-1)
It was a long but productive summer for the Devils. The team won the favour of Ilya Kovalchuk — but getting the NHL's approval was a much longer wait. The cap hit may average out to $6.66 million US a season (an ominous sign indeed) over the 15-year pact and is arguably too much of a gamble, but it will pay dividends sooner rather than later.
The signing of the Russian sniper gives the usually defensive-minded Devils and new head coach John MacLean the offensive depth to ice one of the most formidable top lines in the league with Kovalchuk and Zach Parise on the wings and Travis Zajac down the middle.
Perhaps overlooked was the off-season acquisition that will address the real issue the Devils have had in their recent 1st-round flameouts: the workload placed upon goaltender Marty Brodeur. The signing of Johan Hedberg and shot blocking defenceman extraordinaire Anton Volchenkov should prevent the Devils from having to play Brodeur the same 77 games this year that he was in the crease for last season.
Notable additions: FW Ilya Kovalchuk (Atlanta), G Johan Hedberg (Atlanta), D Anton Volchenkov (Ottawa), D Henrik Tallinder (Buffalo), head coach John MacLean
Notable subtractions: FW Niklas Bergfors (Atlanta), D Paul Martin (Pittsburgh), D Johnny Oduya (Atlanta), head coach Jacques Lemaire (Retired)
Notable Quotables: "I think this is what puts a smile on my face the most, to see how talented we are on the ice and how big we got over the summer … I know the teams around us got better, but we did also." — Marty Brodeur
Outlook: Division winners — but playoff success rests on whether Brodeur gets any rest of his own.
4th in East, 2nd in Atlantic in 2009-10
47-28-7 (101 pts.) — 15-8-1 vs. Atlantic Division — lost in 2nd round to Montreal (4-3)
A year removed from their Stanley Cup win, the Pittsburgh Penguins have done some housecleaning but kept the core intact. Gone are Sergei Gonchar and Bill Guerin — the veteran leaders seemed to fall by the wayside as Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby and Jordan Staal grew up.
Pittsburgh's second round exit at the hands of Montreal came from stumbles at both ends of the ice — they couldn't solve a red-hot goaltender in Jaroslav Halak while Marc-Andre-Fleury seemed unable to come up with big game performances his team grew accustomed to in their last two playoff runs.
To help out their netminder, the Pens poached blueliner Paul Martin from their division rivals in New Jersey and snapped up stay-at-home defender Zbynek Michalek from Phoenix. Both signed long-term deals and are expected to cement a younger, more mobile defensive core to provide the support that was lacking in front of Fleury last season.
The team will start the season without Staal, whose foot injury (dating back to the series against Montreal) has developed complications bad enough that he hasn't been able to fit the injured foot into a skate. Free agent pickup Mike Comrie is expected to fill in on the second line with Malkin until Staal can return.
Notable additions: D Paul Martin (New Jersey), D Zbynek Michalek (Phoenix), F Mike Comrie (Edmonton)
Notable subtractions: D Sergei Gonchar (Ottawa), F Bill Guerin (Free Agent), F Alexei Ponikarovsky (Los Angeles), F Ruslan Fedotenko (NY Rangers)
Notable Quotables: "I am going to try to be more of a leader because it's my fifth year here. I want to help the young guys and all of the new guys to the team. I don't want to just be a leader on the ice." — Evgeni Malkin to the team's website
Outlook: Playoff bound, if someone — namely Martin — can step in and fill the void left on the power play by the departing Gonchar.
7th in East, 3rd in Atlantic in 2009-10
41-35-6 (88 pts.) — 14-9-1 vs. Atlantic Division — lost in Cup final to Chicago (4-2)
The Flyers went from advancing to the playoffs by the skin of their teeth all the way to the Stanley Cup final, proving you only need to get an invitation to the big dance to (almost) win the whole thing. Sneaking in with two points in the final game of the year aside, the question remains: can this year's team muster the points needed from all 82 games to get to the post-season?
The answer to that question is two-fold — who is the number one goalie this season, and who will replace him when he's injured? The Flyers used four different goalies last year, starting with Ray Emery before Michael Leighton shouldered the brunt of the playoff duties. Leighton will return after signing a two-year contract extension and is expected to get the starting job, but as always seems to be the case with the Flyers, they continue be foiled in their quest to lock down a true No. 1 goaltender. Banking on 'ML49' was a good dose of loyalty (especially with what happened in Chicago), but it also leaves them without a starting goalie for the next month as Leighton is sidelined with a bulging disc in his back.
Further up the ice, the team lost Simon Gagne and gained an enigma. Former first round draft pick Nik Zherdev has returned to the NHL after spending a year in the KHL, signing a one-year deal with Philadelphia. The onus will be on head coach Peter Laviolette to keep the Russian interested for all 82 games with the winger's history of mixing brilliance with spates of invisibility.
The signing of both Sean O'Donnell and Jody Shelley, coupled with the re-signing of Dan Carcillo and the spectre of Chris Pronger on the blue-line shows the Broad Street Bullies mentality will still be front and centre.
Notable additions: Nik Zherdev (KHL), Jody Shelley (NY Rangers), Andrej Meszaros (Tampa Bay), Sean O'Donnell (Los Angeles)
Notable subtractions: Simon Gagne (Tampa Bay), Ray Emery (free agent), Riley Cote (retired)
Notable Quotables: "It definitely makes me feel good. I didn't know what direction they were going in. When they were looking to sign me, I think they were still unsure what they were going to do. Maybe they still aren't sure, I don't know. But if I start the season as the No. 1, that's what I want. That's my goal. I want to be a No. 1 goalie." — Flyers goalie Michael Leighton to the team's website
Outlook: It will be another year on the playoff bubble for the Flyers.
9th in East, 4th in Atlantic in 2009-10
38-33-11 (87 pts.) — 10-10-4 vs. Atlantic Division — missed playoffs (1st season)
To win in the NHL you must a) keep the puck out of your net and b) put it in the other team's net. The Rangers — thanks to all-star goalie Henrik Lundqvist —have consistently done a good job with the former but have struggled with the latter. This point can't be driven home any harder than the culmination in the final game of the year, when a shootout win would've sent them to the playoffs.
The Rangers off-season was a bit different in 2010 as they didn't go out and try to sign big names to big, long-term deals. GM Glen Sather may have shelled out semi-ridiculous money to enforcer Derek Boogaard (four years, $1.625 million a season) but may have offset that with a pair of smart signings in Alex Frolov and Martin Biron.
Frolov's one-year deal — essentially a yearlong tryout to prove he still belongs in the NHL — is an attempt at producing secondary scoring, long a Rangers sore spot. Biron's role is much the same of Johan Hedberg in New Jersey — give the star net minder a rest, keeping in mind that Lundqvist missed some action last season with a hip injury.
One issue put to rest in the pre-season was the status of defenceman Wade Redden and his $6.5 million contract — a salary cap crunch was avoided as Redden was placed on waivers, allowing the team the option bring up youth (F Derek Stepan, D Michael Sauer) from their Hartford AHL affiliate.
Notable additions: Alex Frolov (Los Angeles), Martin Biron (NY Islanders), Derek Boogaard (Minnesota), Ruslan Fedotenko (Pittsburgh)
Notable subtractions: Olli Jokinen (Calgary), Jody Shelley (Philadelphia)
Notable quotables: "It was probably one of the worst summers I ever had. It really just shows you how important every single point is and every single game is. We must learn not to give away points at any point during the season." — Rangers captain Chris Drury to the team's website
Outlook: There are a lot of 'ifs' with this season's Blueshirts and their playoff aspirations: if they can get secondary scoring, if Tortorella can stick with consistent line combinations and if they can turn shootout scenarios into regular time wins.
13th in East, 5th in Atlantic in 2009-10
34-37-11 (79 pts.) — 7-15-2 vs. Atlantic Division — missed playoffs (3rd straight season)
The youth movement continues in 2010, but the questions still abound on Long Island: Will Rick DiPietro be able to return this season with a healthy, full-year campaign? Will John Tavares, Kyle Okposo and rookie draft pick Nino Niederreiter take a huge leap forward in their development? Will owner Charles Wang be able to move his club out of the aging Nassau Coliseum and get his new Lighthouse arena?
Sadly for the Isles and their fans, many of these questions will be fully answered in April with the phrase "not this season."
One thing going against the Isles as an issue faced by most clubs, but has hit this team particularly hard is the injury bug. Not even one game into the pre-season and their power play quarterback Mark Streit is gone, and may be out for the balance of the season.
There are, however, a number of positives going for the team. Re-signing Doug Weight ensures a leader in the dressing room. The acquisition of Matt Moulson was a dynamite move in reuniting Tavares with a familiar face. Dwayne Roloson will be around to provide a steady hand to keep the crease on lockdown if franchise goalie DiPietro can't return as a full-time presence.
DiPietro is expected to be ready for the start of the season, but considering the last two years that saw him start a combined 13 games, it has yet to be seen whether his surgically repaired knee is as ready to go as he is.
Notable additions: D Mark Eaton (Pittsburgh), F P.A. Parenteau (NY Rangers), F Milan Jurcina (Columbus), D Mike Mottau (New Jersey)
Notable subtractions: G Martin Biron (NY Rangers), D Andy Sutton (Ottawa, Anaheim)
Notable Quoteables: "I can't wait [for the season.] It goes without saying. I can't wait for the first exhibition game. So it's a great opportunity for us. I think we have a great chance to do some really positive things this season." — Rick DiPietro to the team's website
Outlook: The Islanders can emerge from the basement of the Atlantic this year, but that's a mighty heavy task hinging upon the health of their goalie, sophomore success from Tavares and whether the other teams in the division trip up.