ATLANTIC REPORT.

with Doug Tyburski.

We are about a quarter of the way into the season and just like any other year, there are a few surprises early on in the division. To start, the biggest surprise in the Eastern Conference, and quite possibly the league, are the New York Rangers. The Devils are a disappointment to a lot of experts, but not all. The usual reliable team from the Swamp, is obviously not the dominant team they were throughout the mid 90's to 2003. That may not be so unexpected considering the new rules and the loss of key players. Philadelphia Flyer fans have gotten what they expected from the their team, especially after the revamping of the club over the summer, that included the signing of Peter Forsberg. Sidney Crosby and the Pens are about what you expected. Crosby is having a huge impact in his rookie season, and the team has been inconsistent, which was not unexpected, considering the defense is still a bit weak, and the majority of the players are still youngsters. Finally, the Islanders have played to form. With an 11-10 record, they have been inconsistent as well, but that can be blamed on the fact that players like Miroslav Satan, Mike York, Alexei Zhitnik, Brad Lukowich, and Brent Sopel, are still getting used to their surroundings. The Isles have been playing better as of late, and it does appear the addition of Satan, has brought Yashin back to the level he played at in Ottawa, which can only be good news for the Islanders and their fans.

The New York Rangers - For all the ribbing GM Glen Sather has taken this year (myself included), he can at least feel vindicated, at least so far. The Rangers have the least talent overall in the division, but they have proved that talent doesn't win games every night, hard work does. As a team, the Blueshirts out work and out hustle teams on a nightly basis, except the games they decide to take a night off, it shows in a big way, usually being on the losing end of a blowout. When they out work you, which is most every game, they will leave you wondering how they can look so dominant. Credit must go to coach Tom Renney. Renney instilled the team's work ethic, and for that, he deserves props. Let's not forget one of the talented players they do have, Jaromir Jagr. He is having an incredible season and he also is a main reason the Rangers are sitting on top of the division with 27 points. Will they be on top of the division come April? Probably not, but 20 games into the season, they have showed other teams who have more talent, how good they can be if they work as hard as the Rangers do.

The Philadelphia Flyers - No big surprises here. The Flyers are looking like one of the teams to beat in the Eastern Conference. Peter Forsberg and company are looking more and more comfortable with every game. The only downfall could be an injury to Robert Esche, but barring that from occurring, the Flyers should be in very good position to win the Atlantic.

The New York Islanders - The Islanders have been an up and down team to this point. As I'm writing this article, the Isles sit in third place with 22 points. They do appear to be playing better and more consistently every game. The club just finished a stretch where they played seven of their past eight games on the road, winning four on the road, and also beating Boston in their only home game during that span. Miroslav Satan, who has a team leading twelve goals, has been exactly what the team expected when they signed him this past summer. Alexei Yashin, has also found his game again. Yashin, who is currently on a seven game point scoring streak, has excelled playing along side Satan. The defense is starting to play at a top level, and as the Islanders play a number of home games these next two weeks, it should be interesting to see what direction they go in.

The New Jersey Devils - The team that plays in the Meadowlands may be in trouble. This fourth place team has not found it's game yet, or it's quite possibly they never will. Whether it's the new rules, the loss of key players like, Scott Niedermayer, and Scott Stevens, the injury to Martin Brodeur, the change behind the bench from Pat Burns to Larry Robinson, or just age starting to creep in, something is definatelt not right with the Devils. It's still very early, but if the lackluster play continues, GM Lou Lameriello will have no choice but to make a deal, or very possibly bring in a new coach to shake things up. Bringing in a new coach this early may sound unfair, but Lameriello has a track record of pulling the trigger on a coachinh switch, and he'll do it again.

Pittsburgh Penguins - The Pens are exactly how I thought they would be at this point. Sidney Crosby is have a great rookie season, Mario Lemieux is off to a solid year as well, but the team is still young and has played that way to this point. Mario's team started out of the gate very slow, then they picked it up and wheeled off a few wins in a row, including a very good road trip, more recently they have started to stumble a bit. By no means is this a knock on the Penguins, but it wasn't unexpected. As I stated in my Atlantic Division preview, this team will be a fun and exciting team to watch, especially offensively, but as constituted right now, the team is still thin on defense, and also a very young team on a whole. They will go on winning streaks and look like a powerhouse on some nights, then they will go on a losing streak and look like an expansion team other nights. That is how you play when your young and still learning in this league, as the Pens are. I still believe the Penguins can be an eighty point team and be in a hunt for a playoff spot, which is a great first step in the Sidney Crosby era, but to be a division contender right now, is asking too much.

Doug Tyburski (dtybur@optonline.net)

 

As the first week of the NHL season winds down, the early prognosis is a good one. The league had a lot of questions that needed to be answered, and if this first week is any indication, the answers are exactly what the NHL wanted to hear.

Since we are only seven days into the season, I thought it would be a good time to break away from talking about the Atlantic division, at least just for this report, and center on the league as a whole. Scoring is up dramatically, as are shots on goal, and what may be the most intriguing stat of all, is the fact that attendance is up almost twenty five percent compared to the first week of the 2003-2004 campaign. I know it's early, and by no means can you judge a season on a seven day basis, but you would be hard pressed to argue that this is anything but great news to the NHL, the players, and the fans.

The owners, players, and even the fans for that matter, are now working together as a team. The better the league gets, the better it is for everyone involved. The owners need the players to promote, the players need the fans to come back, and the fans need the NHL. Living in the United States and being a die hard hockey fan, we as fans are tired of hearing about the NHL being the fourth sport on the map, or being the league that only has a cult following, and always listening to so called "experts" on talk radio, taking shots at the television ratings. We have had enough! The real fans who watch this sport on a nightly basis, subscribe to satellite and digital cable packages to receive every game, check out websites for trade rumors, play fantasy hockey, try to tune into a radio station in Canada on a weeknight for a hockey game, or just wake up each morning and look for their local team's report in the newspaper, these are the fans who know what a great sport this is, and anyone who wants to ridicule it, obviously never went to a hockey game, and therefore probably never watched a whole game on television in their life.

It all hinges on promotion. The owners, players, and fans, need to promote each other. If everyone can tell someone else to go to a game, or bring a friend to a sports bar to watch a game, it is very possible this game will catch on. It might not ever be the most popular sport here in the States, but I have no doubt it can be better, and more importantly, it can get the respect it deserves. It won't happen overnight, but it will over time. This week, and this season for that matter, will be an important first step.

 

September 23: It's been about a month since my last report, and during that time I have been watching some pre season games and evaluating the rule changes. I now believe I have had enough time to make my predictions on how the Atlantic Division will play out. Feel free to e-mail or post your comments to these predictions, it's just an opinion. Here we go:

First Place: PHILADELPHIA FLYERS

The off season moves the Flyers made, have made them the obvious choice to take this division. The addition of Peter Forsberg and Derian Hatcher are great assets, and with the young talent such as Simon Gagne and Bruno Radivojevic, Philadelphia has some depth, when a player like Forsberg (who is injured now) goes down. The only question regarding the Flyers is health. Can this team stay healthy, and is Robert Esche a big time playoff goalie? As for staying healthy, every team in the league hopes they can. When it comes to Esche, that's an answer he can only answer. When it's all said and done, the Flyers appear to be a 100 point team this year.

Second Place: New Jersey Devils

This prediction was not as easy as it may seem. The Devils lost a lot of key performers, and you kind of get the feeling that this could be the year they start to fall back to the pack a bit. The losses of all star Scott Niedermayer and Scott Stevens on the blue line will hurt tremendously. Niedermayer is one of the best all around defensemen in the game and Stevens' was one of the best leaders in the sport, or any sport for that matter. Veteran defensemen like Vladimir Malakhov, and Dan McGillis, do not come anywhere near talent and leadership qualities Niedermayer and Stevens gave the club. Two other interesting side notes to this year, will be the play of Alexander Mogilny, and the coaching of Larry Robinson. Mogilny is 36 years old and coming off arthritic hip surgery that caused him to play in only 37 games in the 2003-2004 season. As for Larry Robinson, he did win a Cup with this team, but his most recent venture with the Devils, had a lot of bumps in the road. There were some players who admitted to not playing up to their abilities and some even think Robinson is too much of a player's coach, where he doesn't get on some players back when he should. Let's not forget the situation with Patrik Elias, who may not return until December or January due to complications of hepatitis A. Will Elias be the player he was? If so, when will he recover? Can he recover well enough to play this season? These are all important and relevant questions that need to be answered. With all that being said, the Devils still have future hall of famer in goal, Martin Brodeur, and a future hall of fame GM in Lou Lamoriello. Those two alone, will somehow get this team to the top of the division again……but it won't be easy this time.

Third Place: New York Islanders
This is a team I think is on the rise. I was actually considering putting the Islanders in second place above the Devils. I had to ponder it, and figured it was best to play it safe and take a wait and see approach. I really give Mike Milbury an A + for the moves he made after the lockout. The siging of Miroslav Satan is exactly what Alexei Yashin finally needed, and star sniper on his wing. Yashin had great stats while in Ottawa, and a lot of the credit goes to his former linemates who had a few 30 goal seasons. When Yashin was brought into the Island, he was expected to make the players around him better, let's be fair here, sometimes the teammates around you, make you better. Maybe Yashin isn't the star player who makes everyone else around him better, but the only thing that should matter now is, the Islanders got him players to make HIM better. The new NHL will key on speed and play making. The additions of Satan, Mike York, and Alexei Zhitnik, give the Isles the talent, speed, and playmaking ability on the power play they were so sorely lacking. Rookies like Robert Nilsson, and Sean Bergenheim will only help that talent as well. The loss of Adrian Aucoin and Kenny Jonsson on defense was a blow, but by Milbury acting quickly in aquiring the likes of Zhitnik, Brent Sopel, and Brad Lukowich, give this team a more than adequate defense. In addition, rookie Chris Campoli who is 21 years old and coming off an all star AHL season with Bridgeport, has been getting rave reviews from scouts around the league. I'd be remised not to mention the loss of Micael Peca. Peca was a great addition whenhe was aquired in 2001, he helped this team gain respectability and provided them with leadership when they had one. Unfortunately, since he took the hip check from Darcy Tucker in the playoffs, he was never the same player. The fact that him and Yashin clashed at times, didn't help things either. To get a speedy offensive skilled player like York in return, was a very wise move on the Islanders part. In goal, Rick DiPietro has a great chance to come into his own this season. He can win games by himself on some nights. The starting goalie for team USA in the Olympics, will be relied on heavily if this team is expected to take the next step.

Fourth Place: Pittsburgh Penguins

Possibly, no team made a bigger splash in the off season than the Pens. Not only did they win Sidney Crosby in the lottery, they decided to spend some money with the new salary cap system. Mario Lemieux returns as owner/player once again, this time to ease in the "next one", and make his adjustment to the league that much easier. With the signings of players, Sergei Gonchar, Ziggy Palffy, John LeClair, and Lyle Odelein, respectability was immediately brought back to this team. Mark Recchi will be a great addition to this new line up as well……but a lot of media and fans, may be getting carried away to quickly with this team as it's presently put together. Sure, Gonchar, Palffy, LeClair, Recchi, Lemieux, and Odelein, all have something in common, they are name players, but what else do they have in common? They are all a little bit up there in age, and are all injury prone. As much as Gonchar will help on defense, the defense as a whole is not that strong. Dick Tarnstrom had a break season offensively in 2003-2004, but he is not known as the greatest physical defensemen and his plus/minus was nothing to brag about while he was on the Islanders or Penguins. Lyle Odelein is not exactly someone who you expect to play 82 games at his age either. Don't get me wrong, this isn't a bad review of the Pens, far from it. This team improved greatly, and I expect them to challenge for a playoff spot, I just think this team is a 75-80 point team at best, which is a great improvement. The goaltending looks very bright. Marc Fleury needs to get as many games at this level as possible, and Jocelyn Thibault is a very capable back up or starter if the Penguin brass feels he (Fleury) needs a little more time. One thing is for sure, the Crosby era should be fun to watch. The young future stars this team has right now, should make the Pens a league power in the next few seasons.

Fifth Place: New York Rangers

This was an easy one. After over spending year after year for big name players, who were past their prime, the Rangers are now deciding to go with youth. The only problem is, the young talent they have in the system is few and far between. GM Glen Sather may be trying to buy time with his job if he keeps telling the fans and ownership to "have patience". The team should have been saying that 7 years ago and built the team through their draft. When the NHL had no cap, the organization decided to throw away money left and right, and has not made the playoffs since. Now, when every team in the league is starting from scratch, they Rangers decide to rebuild now????? Now, when you can easily add a few name players STILL in their prime, who can actually help you, and on top of that, only have a 42.5 payroll…..you decide to rebuild????? Makes no sense at all. Jaromir Jagr is still there, and to appease him, Sather signed some of his close Czech buddies, Martin Straka, Martin Rucinsky, and how can we forget the great Marek Malik (who Sather thought was worth the $ 2.5 million per year contract)?
Jagr will have a very good year, but there isn't much else to talk about with this team. All blue seat fans can hope for, is some of the young talent on this team emerges, and they can start putting pieces together and adding payroll next year.

AUGUST 29, 2005: With just about two weeks until the opening of training camps around the NHL and around a week before kids all over North America pack their school bags to head back to school, I figured there was no better time to think report cards. In honor of students and hockey players everywhere, here are my grades for the work that was done for each team in the Atlantic division since the end of the lockout.

PHILADELPHIA FLYERS: A

You knew the Flyer brass meant business on day one of free agency, when they announced the buyouts of fan favorite John LeClair, along with Tony Amonte. Philadelphia not only made a very good business move, since both players are on the downside of their careers, they also opened up cap space to sign the likes of, Peter Forsberg, Derian Hatcher, Mike Rathje, and Chris Therien. The only thing that is holding the Flyers back from receiving a grade of an A + is the goalie situation. There is no doubt that Robert Esche is a great regular season performer, he just never proved played at the same level during the playoffs, not yet anyway. If Esche can finally step up during the playoffs, there is no reason this team can't make it to, or win the Stanley Cup.

PITTSBURGH PENGUINS: A

The Penguins not only improved themselves by a large margin, they turned themselves into a playoff contender at worst. With the young talent and leadership this team acquired, this team could also be a dangerous playoff contender. With Sidney Crosby labeled as "The next one" (fair or unfair), they have instant credibility. Player/owner Mario Lemieux will only ease the 18 year olds transition to the NHL. When you go out and sign Ziggy Palffy, Sergei Gonchar, and veteran forward John LeClair, that makes other teams around the league notice, which will make it that much easier for GM Craig Patrick to go out and try to acquie anoth big name player before the trade deadline, should he be in position to make a deal to help his club for a playoff run or to solidify a spot. The only question the Pens may have is on defense and in goal. The defense seems a little weak at this point, and it will be interesting to see if Marc Andre Fleury or Jocelyn Thibault gets the nod as the #1 goalie this year. Fleury has all the tools to be a premiere # 1 in the league, and the only question remaining is, is he ready? Thibault never became the goalie the Hawks thought he would be when he was drafted in the first round, but nevertheless, he is more than capable and should give Fleury a good battle for the job.

NEW YORK ISLANDERS: B

At first glance, you would think the Islanders lost a lot, when all star defensemen Adrian Aucoin signed a contract with Chicago. Then, you lose popular team leader and penalty killer specialist Dave Scathard to Boston, and you begin to raise a red flag. You can put that flag down. GM Mike Milbury wasted no time in acquiring two time all star defensemen, Alexei Zhitnik, then signed free agent all star forward Miroslav Satan. Zhitnik logs just as much ice time as Aucoin, and has the offense ability to equal Aucoin's. In Zhitnik, the club gained a grittier presence on the blue line as well. As for Satan, he finally gives Alexei Yashin the star sniper he so sorely missed while playing on the Island. A Yashin/Satan combo, could emerge as one of the best in the league. Michael Peca was traded away to open up cap room, but also to make a trade that will actually help the team. Mike York was in the deal for Peca, is only 27 years old and has the speed and offensive ability that Peca doesn't have. With the new rules and a more offensive game, York will have a major impact with his style of play on this team. Two other notable newcomers to the club, are defensemen Brad Lukowich and Brent Sopel. Both players are leaders and aren't afraid to throw the body around, which will give future all star goalie, Rick Dipietro all the room he needs in front of the net. Sopel will also be a major player on the power play along with Zhitnik.

New Jersey Devils: C

This is the first time in a long time, I can actually see the Devils taking a slight step back to the pack. To start, they lose Scott Niedermayer, who was a very good two way defensemen and an offsensive stud. They do manage to re-sign Brian Rafalsky, but then decide to add a career underachiever in Vladimir Malakhov and veteran Dan McGillis. These moves are an overall loss as compared to what that had in Niedermayer and Rafalsky during the 2003-2004 season. With all respect to Malakhov and McGillis, they won't even come close to filling the hole on defense. The signing of Alexander Mogilny is also a curious one. Mogilny is a player who was contemplating retirement due to a a second operation on his arthritic left hip. GM Lou Lamoriello thinks he is 100 percent, but you can't be sure until he hits the ice. Finally, the re-signing of forward Patrick Elias was a no brainer, but he to come with a lot of questions. Elias is recovering from hepatitis A, and nobody is really sure when he will be back, although it is expected he will definitely be out through October and into November. As all this questions abound, the Devils are still the Devils, and as long as Martin Brodeur stays healthy, this team will be one of the toughest to beat.

New York Rangers: D

We should either give Rangers GM Glen Sather a lot of credit, or give him an award for being clueless. He has been stating all along that the Rangers need to become younger, and promises they will no longer go out and sign older players who are now known more for the name on the back of their jersey, than their performance on the ice. On the surface, that is the right idea…..finally. What doesn't make any sense is this, why go with the "going young philosophy" and not really abide by it? The decision to buy out Bobby Holik to create cap room was a good one, but then using that same cap space to sign 13 year veteran Martin Rucinsky was a bad move. Rucinsky was brought on the team for no other reason than to keep Jaromir Jagr happy. Jagr and Rucinsky are good friends, as are Martin Straka and Marek Malik. It appears that this is now a team that is trying to placate it's best player and surround him with familiar faces, rather than legitimately trying to rebuild. The signing of Kevin Weekes was a good one. Weekes has always been an underrated goalie and deserves a chance to win a starting job. He is one of the more classier and nicest players in the league as well, and will be a great influence on rookie Al Montoya. We shall see what direction this team goes in. It's very possible Sather has a plan, but it's also possible he is buying his time until he decides it's time retire and hopefully have people remember him as a great coach/gm with the Oilers and not the gm/president who took the Rangers down a road that led nowhere.

 

AUGUST 21, 2005: Another week of free agency came and went this week with the number of players available slowly dwindling down. That being said, there were still some movement in the Atlantic division.

The New York Islanders signed former Lightning Brad Lukowich. Lukowich is a solid d-man who will clear up some room in front of the net for Rick Dipietro. With a solid blue line core consisting of Alexei Zhitnik, Lukowich, Brent Sopel, Janne Niinimaa, Radek Martinek, and youngsters Bruno Gervais and Chris Campoli , the Isles seem set at the blue line for the foreseeable future. The team also locked up Sopel, Trent Hunter, Oleg Kvasha, Aaron Asham, and Mike York, leaving Justin Papineau as the only player heading to arbitration.

Mario Lemieux's Pittsburgh Penguins added yet another big name to their roster, signing free agent forward, John LeClair to a two year contract. LeClair who is 37 and still has many questions concerning his health, will join first year Pens, Ziggy Palffy, Sergei Gonchar, Mark Recchi, Jocelyn Thibault, and phenom Sidney Crosby. GM Craig Patrick has done an outstanding job of turning this team from pretender to contender in just a matter of weeks. The Penguins are just a defenseman or two away from being a serious contender in this division.

The Devil's made a splash by landing free agent forward and one time former Devil Alexander Mogilny. Mogilny, signed a 2 year $7 million dollar contract late Wednesday night. At 36 years old and coming off a second arthritic left hip operation, there was talk that Mogilny may call it quits, but that was never an option. Devil's GM Lou Lamoriello said, "We're 100 per cent comfortable that he's 100 per cent healthy." Only time will tell.

The blueshirts known as the New York Rangers have kept their word and are going for a younger roster as GM Glen Sather promised. The team has been extremely quiet in the free agent market and appears the team will go with the rebuild while staying competitive approach. Tom Poti was re-signed on Monday, along with veterans Jason Ward and Ville Nieminen. Neither signing will give Ranger fans much to cheer about.

 

AUGUST 12, 2005. After a frenzied first week of free agency, this past week has been a bit more quiet on the free agent front, but there were a few intriguing signings and some possible future signings that could help round out teams' rosters for this upcoming season.

The Penguins signed yet another star player, inking Ziggy Palffy to a 3 year 13.5 million dollar contract. Palffy turned down offers from the Kings and his original club, the Islanders, in order to play with Sidney Croby, and Mario Lemieux. The new wide open game, stemming from new rule changes, will make the Pens offensive explosive at times, which is just one reason Super Mario decided not to sell his stake in this team. In a move designed to protect Crosby, former Lightning Andre Roy was signed last Thursday. Roy will open up even more room on the ice for Crosby and company. Finally, Jocelyn Thibault was dealt to Pittsburgh for a 4th round pick in the 2006 entry draft. Sean Burke was on the top of the team's list, but Burke decided to sign with the Lightning. Thibault was expendable after Chicago signed all star Nikolai Khabibulin. Andre Fleury will now have an easier transition as he can split time between the pipes Thibault until he is ready to become the #1 goaltender for the club.

The Flyers spent the past week doing some in house business. With the departure of Jeremy Roenick (who was traded to the Kings last week), the Flyers concentrated on keeping some of their own players after making blockbuster moves the first week of free agency. Kim Johnsson accepted a 2.2 million qualifying offer. Johnsson had career highs in goals (13) and points (42) during the 2003-2004 season. The team also inked forward prospects, Brank Radivojevic and Patrick Sharp to qualifying offers as well. With those moves out of the way, Bobby Clarke signed forward Simon Gagne to one year deal worth about 2 million dollars. Gagne is an important player for the Philadelphia and at only 25 years old, the club hope he can come back to the year he had in 2001-2002, where he scored 33 goals and accumulated 66 points. Possibly the most important move was the signing of goaltender Robert Esche to a two year deal. Terms of the contract were not disclosed, but it is believed to be around 2.5 million per year. Esche has put up very good numbers, 51-44-16 record in his career with a 2.48 GAA. Esche still must prove he can be a playoff goaltender who can at least take the Flyers to the Cup finals. He has been labled at times as a goalie who can make the great save, but can also give up the soft goal. Something he must work on to get to the next level.

AUGUST 6, 2005. After the moves the Islanders made last week, this week has been very slow in terms of signings, as no player has been signed since the busy week GM Mike Milbury had. After the goings of Adrian Aucion, Michael Peca, and Dave Scatchard, along with the comings of Alexei Zhitnik, Miroslav Satan, Mike York, and Brent Sopel, Milbury is concentrating on adding a few more pieces internally and exploring the possibility of adding a few more parts from outside the organization. The Isles have been talking to Peter Bondra, Josef Stumpel, and Valeri Bure's camps, while still having on going discussions with Roman Hamrlik , who has been with the team the last five seasons. Any one of the possible forwards mentioned are a good possiblilty, with Hamrlik being anybody's guess. Indications are that Hamrlik may be pricing himself out of the market, and may even decide to head back to the Czech Republic and play there, if he is not offered the money he thinks he deserves. Milbury will be very careful not to over pay for any of these players due to a variety of reasons, one being the newly implemented salary cap, and secondly, the Islanders have blue chip blue line prospects in Bruno Gervais, and Chris Campoli. The emergence of Robert Nilsson and Sean Bergenheim at the forward positions, gives the Isles a lot options from within as well, the next week should be interesting in Islander country. In moves off the ice, the team announced that former Whaler and Senator, Brad Shaw has been brought in to become one of Steve Sterling's assistant coaches. Sterling would have liked to announce his other two assistants last week, but that is still being hammered out. There are reports that former Red Wings coach and former Islander, Dave Lewis is a candidate, as is Bryan Trottier.

The Devils lost Scott Neidermayer to Anaheim, but they immediately re-signed Brian Rafalski to an 8.2 million two year deal, then followed that up with the the signing of former Devil, Islander, Ranger, Hab, and now Devil again, Vladimir Malakhov to a two year 7.2 million dollar deal, and former Flyer, Oiler, Shark, and Bruin, Dan McGillis, signed a 2 year 4.4 million dollar deal. While none of these players can take the place of Neidermayer, they will fit into New Jersey's scheme just fine. The Devils are still one of the deepest clubs position by position in the league, ans really shouldn't miss a beat. In other Devil news, the team made qualifying offers to Patrik Elias (4.18 million), Scott Gomez (2.2 million), and Jeff Friesen (2.18 million). All of those three players can either accept the qualifying offer or go to salary arbitration. Elias is still recovering from hepatitis A, and doesn't think he will be ready for opening night, but it was important to keep Elias on board no matter when he returns.

The New York Rangers have done virtually nothing since last week's quiet signing of Kevin Weekes, Marek Malik, and Martin Straka. As of now it appears GM Glen Sather is keeping his word. Sather has been telling anybody who will listen, that the Rangers would not be signing big name free agents this year, but rather build with young players from within. There is still time for Sather to make a splash, either via free agent or trade, but that seems more and more improbable as days go in. There are rumblings that the Ranger brass are looking more towards next season, especially with the possibility of signing Vincent Lecavalier during the 2006 off season. They are keeping an eye on the Lecavalier and John Tortorella situation. If player and coach are unable to work out their differences, it's certain that Lecavalier will test the free agent market after this upcoming season, and Sather and company might just swoop in and attempt to sign the all star.

 

Well, it's now Wednesday evening on the east coast, just past 9:00 pm, and the NHL landscape for the 2005-2006 season is about 70% set, with some big names still left on a few teams' wish list. Thus far the Atlantic division has made a big splash, with the Flyers, Islanders, and Penguins, leading the pack with big time free agent acquisitions and carefully planned trades.

To start, the Flyers wasted no time in this new era of the salary cap, and decided to buyout the contracts of John LeClair and Tony Amonte. Those buyouts gave the Flyers significant cap room to dip into the free agent market, which they did in a very big way. On Tuesday, the club signed a pair of quality defensemen in Derian Hatcher and Mike Rathje, and later brought Chris Therien back to the "City of Brotherly Love" after a trade in march 2004 that sent him to Dallas. Philadelphia was not done there, as they announced late Wednesday that former Avalanche great Peter Forsberg has been signed. These signings mean two things, first it marks the end of Jeremy Roenick's run in Philly, and secondly, the Flyers will once again be fighting for the top of the division this coming year, as always. As for where Roenick may end up, there is buzz that the Kings are on the verge of making a deal for the future hall of famer.

The New York Islanders and "Mad Mike" Milbury have struck again. You get the feeling the captain of the Isles ship couldn't wait for the lockout to end, so he could mix it up with free agents, player agents, and fellow GM's once again. Tuesday began as a somber day in Islander country as they lost their top power play anchor and someone who logged a ton of minutes, Adrian Aucion, to Chicago. Milbury quickly moved to offset that loss, by signing two time all star and work horse, Alexei Zhitnik. "The Islanders were at the top of the list of teams I wanted to play for, I spoke with Mike Milbury and coach Stirling, and they told me what they expected of me, I'm very happy to be an Islander." Zhitnik will be even happier to find out the Isles added sniper Miroslav Satan, 28 year old defensemen Brent Sopel, and Mike York, all on Wednesday.

The Isles signed Satan to a 3 year deal, aquired Sopel in a trade with Vancouver for either a 2006 second or third round pick, depending on whether he is resigned after his contract expires following the upcoming season. Mike York arrived via a trade with the Oilers in which former captain and now former Islander Michael Peca went to Edmonton in return. The trade was made to free up some cap space, but also to give the Isles another talented offensive chip, who will hopefully flourish in the new no clutching and grabbing NHL. The main goal this team had to provide Alexei Yashin with a bonafide goal scorer which Satan is.

Nobody would have ever expected the Pittsburgh Penguins to be a an above average hockey team the next time they took to the ice after the 2004 season, but that is exactly what they can be. With a little help from the economic change, a draft lottery which gave them someone by the name of Sydney Crosby, the nucleus of young talent they already had (including Marc Andre Fleury and Evgeny Malkin), and the return of Super Mario, this team can now compete! The Pens will be adding some veteran leadership to help out the "next one", possibly Mark Recchi, and have already signed Sergei Gonchar, who the Penguins surely couldn't afford before the cap system was put into place. Alexei Kovalev was a possibility, but the Canadiens won that battle, as they signed the free agent on Wednesday. At worse, the Penguins will be a fun team to watch, as the young talent matures, the veterans add depth, the Crosby era begins…with # 66 as his tutor.

The Devils will be the Devils. GM Lou Lamoriello always seems to put the right pieces in place. If Scott Niedermayer sings with San Jose or Anaheim, expect Lamoriello to quickly fill that hole and not miss a step. It seems rather weird to even think the loss of Niedermayer would be nothing more than a bump in the road for the Devils, but time and time again, this team just moves on and looks forward…..and they win. Martin Brodeur is the the constant that keeps this team among the elite in the league, and he will continue to be. It will be interesting to see how Larry Robinson handles his role as head coach, after returning due to the poor health of Pat Burns. Robinson is a players coach, so the transition should be an easy one for the players and coach.

Finally, that leaves us with the New York Rangers. GM Glen Sather who once said, " If I had the Rangers payroll to work with, I would never lose a game." Well, not only have the Rangers lost more than their share of games since Sather's tenure as GM and President, they haven't made the playoffs in his seven years! The Rangers now have the philosophy that they will go with youth. No more big name players, no more high salaries, no more veteren players over 40 years old………we'll see.

The Rangers seem to be attempting to cater to Jaromir Jagr with the additions of of Martin Rucinsky, Martin Straka, Marek Malik. Straka is a former teammate of Jagr, and will try to rekindle some chemistry they once had. A Rucinsky, Jagr, Straka, power play unit, may make for a very good one. The odd signing of the bunch is is Marek Malik. Malik is known as a very good first passer, which will help outlet passes, especially with no red line, but as important as it may be to send a pass up ice to Jagr, is it worth 2.5 million? Malik is a stay at home defensemen who was signed for three years at 7.5 million (2.5 per). A recent report states that one prominent NHL executive who heard the news of the Malik signing by the Rangers, responded, "Who's he?"

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