NHL 2017: Eastern Conference team capsules


By Ed Barkowitz - The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News



Eastern Conference

In predicted order of finish

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Metropolitan Division

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Pittsburgh Penguins

Last season: 111 points, 2nd in division, won second consecutive Stanley Cup and third in nine years.

Ice chips: Will try to become the first team to win three consecutive Stanley Cups since the Islanders won four in a row from 1980-83. Wayne Gretzky never won three in a row. Neither did Mario Lemieux. … Assistant coach Rick Tocchet left to take the Coyotes’ head coaching position. He was replaced by Mark Recchi. … Lost longtime goalie Marc-Andre Fleury in the expansion draft.

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New York Rangers

Last season: 102 points, 4th in division, lost to Ottawa in second round.

Ice chips: Added Washington’s Kevin Shattenkirk, which will help the power-play and the defense, but traded forward Derek Stepan, who was third on the team in scoring last season. … The key piece in the Stepan deal with Arizona is Anthony DeAngelo, another defenseman with strong offensive skills. DeAngelo, from Sewell, N.J., is 21 and already with his third organization. Tampa Bay drafted him in the first round in 2014.

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Columbus Blue Jackets

Last season: 108 points, third in division, lost to Pittsburgh in first round.

Ice chips: Swapped Brandon Saad for Artemi Panarin from Chicago. Panarin has scored at least 30 goals in his two NHL seasons, is a two-time All-Star and was rookie of the year in 2015-16. … The Blue Jackets have never made the playoffs in consecutive seasons.

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Washington Capitals

Last season: 118 points, most in NHL, los to Pittsburgh in second round.

Ice chips: Nobody was stung more by the NHL’s decision to forbid players from participating in the 2018 Olympics than Capitals star Alex Ovechkin. He had a three-year run of 50 goals snapped last season when he scored 33. … The Caps lost a ton of veterans — including Justin Williams and Marcus Johansson — in a salary-cap crunch. … They did decide to keep young star Evgeny Kuznetsov, 25, with a $62.4 million contract. Kuznetsov is seven years younger than Ovechkin and the future face of the franchise.

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Philadelphia Flyers

Last season: 88 points, 6th in division, no playoffs.

Ice chips: A bunch of nameplates have changed in the locker room, but the core group — especially some of the maligned forwards — remains intact. … Claude Giroux will start the season playing left wing with Jake Voracek on the right side and Sean Couturier centering. Giroux, the team captain, has centered the first line for most of his career. … Brian Elliott replaced Steve Mason as one of the goalies alongside Michal Neuvirth.

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New York Islanders

Last season: 94 points, 5th in division, missed playoffs by one point.

Ice chips: The Islanders will play their third season in Brooklyn, a location many of their core fans still hate, but a site where the Isles have played pretty well (47-23-12). … The more pertinent issue is the status of franchise star John Tavares, who can become a free agent next summer. Tavares, 27, is in his prime and has all the leverage.

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New Jersey Devils

Last season: 70 points, 8th in division, finished last in the conference.

Ice chips: The Devils scored the fewest goals in the Eastern Conference and tied for most allowed. … All eyes are on No. 1 overall pick Nico Hischier. … Acquired Marcus Johansson (61 goals over last three seasons) from Washington. … Reliable fourth-line center Brian Boyle was diagnosed with early-stage chronic myeloid leukemia. Doctors think oral medication will be sufficient to treat Boyle.

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Carolina Hurricanes

Last season: 87 points, 7th in division, no playoffs

Ice chips: Haven’t been to the postseason in eight years, the longest current drought in the league. Not surprisingly, the Hurricanes were last in attendance last season at an average of 11,776 per game. … In fact, three of the four teams with the lowest attendances are in this division: Carolina (30th), the Islanders (28th), and the Devils (27th). Arizona was 29th.

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Atlantic Division

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Toronto Maple Leafs

Last season: 95 points, 4th in division, lost in first round to Washington.

Ice chips: The Leafs are one of the most fun young teams in the league. It’ll be interesting to see if last year’s taste of the postseason means anything for this season. … Three of their top five scorers were under 21 years old, including Auston Matthews, who just turned 20 on Sept. 17. He was tied for second in the NHL with 40 goals and ran away with the rookie of the year award.

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Tampa Bay Lightning

Last season: 94 points, 5th in division, missed playoffs by one point.

Ice chips: Will host the All-Star Game on Jan. 28. … Defenseman Mikhail Sergachev, 19, is ready to start contributing. He was the key piece in the deal that sent Jonathan Drouin to Montreal. … Steven Stamkos (knee) and Ryan Callahan (hip) both look healthy after missing extensive time with injuries.

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Florida Panthers

Last season: 81 points, sixth in division, no playoffs.

Ice chips: Underachieved big-time last season, which led to Bob Boughner taking over as coach and Dale Tallon returning as general manager. … Chose not to re-sign Jaromir Jagr. … Top winger Jonathan Huberdeau, who missed the first 51 games because of injury during an exhibition game last year, had an excellent preseason.

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Ottawa Senators

Last season: 98 points, 2nd in division, lost to Pittsburgh in conference finals.

Ice chips: The Senators were one of the best stories from last season. They pushed the Penguins to double overtime in Game 7 of the Eastern finals after not making the playoffs in 2015-16. … Star defenseman Erik Karlsson, who valiantly played through torn tendons in his ankle during the playoff run, is expected to be in the lineup for Thursday’s opener or shortly thereafter.

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Boston Bruins

Last season: 95 points, third in division, lost to Ottawa in first round.

Ice chips: Possibly using two rookies among their top-six forwards with Anders Bjork on the first line and Jake DeBrusk on the second. … 40-year-old Zdeno Chara still anchors the defense, something coach Bruce Cassidy said isn’t an issue. “Until he proves he can’t play, he’s our guy,” Cassidy told the Boston Herald. “I don’t see that happening anytime soon. He’s our shutdown guy.”

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Buffalo Sabres

Last season: 78 points, last in division, no playoffs.

Ice chips: Took a slight step back from 81 points in 2015-16, which cost head coach Dan Bylsma his job. Phil Housley, a Hall of Fame defenseman who played for the Sabres from 1982-90, is an NHL head coach for the first time. … Young star Jack Eichel has 113 points in 142 games over his first two years, which he characterized as disappointing. “Two mediocre seasons on a losing team,” he grumbled.

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Montreal Canadiens

Last season: 103 points, 1st in division, upset by Rangers in first round.

Ice chips: Forward Jonathan Drouin finally got out of Tampa Bay and landed in what could be hockey heaven (for him). French-Canadian stars in Montreal — Drouin was born in Quebec — are part rock stars/part hockey players. … The Canadiens have posted 100 points in three of the last four years, but are dealing with a Stanley Cup drought that will reach 25 years this spring.

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Detroit Red Wings

Last season: 79 points, 7th in division, snapped a 25-year run of postseason appearances.

Ice chips: Will play at Little Caesars Arena in downtown Detroit after 37 years at Joe Louis Arena, which had been the second-oldest NHL venue after Madison Square Garden. … Goaltender Jimmy Howard noted that the boards aren’t nearly as lively as they were at the Joe. … The Flyers’ two games at the Pizza Joint are Jan. 23 and March 20 — both Tuesdays.

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By Ed Barkowitz

The Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News