2007 NHL Preview

By Tarik El-Bashir
Wednesday, October 3, 2007; Page E09

(Photo by Jim McIsaac - Getty Images)
1. Will Crosby Put Penguins on Top?
Last season, Sidney Crosby became the first teenager to lead a major North American professional league in scoring, and by no coincidence, the Pittsburgh Penguins advanced to the playoffs for the first time since 2001. Surrounded by a superb mix of veterans and emerging stars such as Evgeni Malkin, the question isn't so much when Crosby will hoist the Stanley Cup, but how many times?
2. Will Rangers See Return on Investment?
Expectations (and the payroll) are always high on Broadway. It's especially true this season, making anything less than a trip to the Stanley Cup finals a disappointment for the New York Rangers, who dropped $87 million on free agent centers Scott Gomez and Chris Drury. With Jaromir Jagr on the wing and Henrik Lundqvist in net, the pieces are in place. Now it's up to Coach Tom Renney to put them together.
3. The League's New West Coast Bias
Hockey purists in Canada might need to get used to the idea of the Stanley Cup residing in California -- because it could happen again. If Jean-Sebastien Giguere and the reigning champion Anaheim Ducks don't win it, Joe Thornton and the San Jose Sharks could.
4. The Toast of Their Towns -- With Shirley Temples
When has the NHL had more talent under the age of 21? Probably never. Washington's Nicklas Backstrom, Anaheim's Bobby Ryan, the two Johnsons (Jack in Los Angeles and Erik in St. Louis), Chicago's Jonathan Toews and a handful of others will ensure that voting for the Calder Trophy will be tight.
5. Hopes and Expectations Rise in Nation's Capital
Washington Capitals star winger Alex Ovechkin asked for help -- and General Manager George McPhee gave it to him. The addition of free agents Michael Nylander, Viktor Kozlov and Tom Poti this summer means the rebuilding in the nation's capital is over. So is the time for excuses.
1. New York Rangers
2006-07: 42-30-10, sixth.
Star: RW Jaromir Jagr (30 goals, 66 assists, plus-26).
Supporting cast: C Chris Drury (69 points, 17 pp goals), C Scott Gomez (13 goals, 47 assists), G Henrik Lundqvist (37 wins, .917 save percentage).
Why they'll be in the show: GM Glen Sather scored not one, but both of the top free agents in Drury and Gomez, spending a combined $87 million. Who said you can't buy a championship?
2. Ottawa Senators
2006-07: 48-25-9, fourth.
Star: RW Dany Heatley (50 goals, 105 points, plus-31).
Supporting Cast: C Jason Spezza (87 points, 13 pp goals), RW Daniel Alfredsson (87 points, plus-42), D Anton Volchenkov (19 points, plus-37).
Why they'll be in the show: With Heatley and several other key players entering the final year of their contracts, the core won't remain together much longer, so the time is now for the Senators.

3. Carolina Hurricanes
2006-07: 40-34-8, 11th.
Star: C Eric Staal (70 points, 12 pp goals).
Supporting cast: LW Ray Whitney (32 goals, team-best 83 points), C Rod Brind'Amour (26 goals, 56 assists), LW Erik Cole (29 goals, 32 assists).
Why they'll be in the show: After going from champs to chumps, a deep attack and goaltender Cam Ward (the 2006 Conn Smythe winner) will carry the 'Canes back to the top of the Southeast Division.
4. Pittsburgh Penguins
2006-07: 47-24-11, fifth.
Star: C Sidney Crosby (84 assists, 120 points, league MVP).
Supporting cast: D Sergei Gonchar (67 points, 10 pp goals), C Jordan Staal (29 goals), C Evgeni Malkin (85 points, 16 pp goals, 6 game-winners).
Why they'll be in the show: With the addition of veterans Petr Sykor and Darryl Sydor to a potent lineup that already boasts two of the game's most promising youngsters in Malkin and Staal, the Penguins appear set to take the next step.
5. Tampa Bay Lightning
2006-07: 44-33-5, seventh.
Star: C Vincent Lecavalier (52 goals, 56 assists, 16 pp goals).
Supporting cast: RW Martin St. Louis (43 goals, 102 points), C Brad Richards (70 points, minus-19), D Dan Boyle (20 goals, 43 assists).
Why they'll be in the show: Lecavalier and St. Louis will supply the offense. But who's going to stop the puck? Johan Holmqvist and his .893 save percentage?
6. Buffalo Sabres
2006-07: 53-22-7, first.
Star: LW Thomas Vanek (43 goals, plus-47).
Supporting cast: RW Maxim Afinogenov (61 points in 56 games), RW Jason Pominville (34 goals, 34 assists), G Ryan Miller (40 wins, .911 save percentage).
Why they'll be in the show: The Sabres might have lost Drury, Daniel Briere and deadline rental Dainius Zubrus, but they've still got a seemingly endless supply of skill in the pipeline.
7. New Jersey Devils
2006-07: 49-24-9, second.
Star: G Martin Brodeur (NHL-record 48 wins, .922 save percentage).
Supporting cast: C Patrik Elias (21 goals, 48 assists), RW Brian Gionta (25 goals in 62 games), C Zach Parise (31 goals, 31 assists).
Why they'll be in the show: They've suffered some serious losses in recent years, most recently Gomez and Brian Rafalski, but in New Jersey, it's all about the system. And, oh yeah, the best goalie in the East.
8. Washington Capitals
2006-07: 28-40-14, 14th.
Star: LW Alex Ovechkin (46 goals, 92 points, minus-19 rating).
Supporting cast: C Michael Nylander (83 points, 14 pp goals), LW Alexander Semin (73 points, 17 pp goals), G Olie Kolzig (3.00 goals against average, .910 save percentage).
Why they'll be in the show: With cash in hand, General Manager George McPhee spent it wisely, picking up Nylander, Viktor Kozlov and Tom Poti. But the Caps still are a first-line right wing and veteran defenseman away from being considered serious contenders.
Not ready for prime time
• Atlanta Thrashers
• Boston Bruins
• Florida Panthers
• Montreal Canadiens
• New York Islanders
• Philadelphia Flyers
• Toronto Maple Leafs
1. San Jose Sharks
2006-07: 51-26-5, fifth.
Star: C Joe Thornton (92 assists, 114 points, plus-24).
Supporting cast: C Patrick Marleau (78 points, 14 pp goals), RW Jonathan Cheechoo (37 goals, 15 pp goals), G Evgeni Nabokov (7 shutouts, .914 save percentage).
Why they will be in the show: With more than enough scoring, a mobile defense and an elite goaltender, now is the time for the Sharks reach their potential.
2. Detroit Red Wings
2006-07: 50-19-13, first.
Star: C Pavel Datsyuk (60 assists, plus-36).
Supporting cast: LW Henrik Zetterberg (33 goals, 10 game-winning goals), D Nicklas Lidstrom (49 assists, 10 pp goals), G Dominik Hasek (38 wins, 8 shutouts).
Why they will be in the show: With veteran defenseman Brian Rafalski joining Lidstrom, winner of five of the last six Norris Trophies, and Niklas Kronwall, the Red Wings' defense figures to be as good as their offense.
3. Colorado Avalanche
2006-07: 44-31-7, ninth.
Star: C Joe Sakic (100 points, 16 pp goals).
Supporting cast: LW Ryan Smyth (36 goals, 15 pp goals), D Scott Hannan (24 points), RW Milan Hejduk (35 goals, 12 pp goals).
Why they will be in the show: With the addition of Smyth and Hannan, the Avalanche should go from spectators to contenders -- that is, if goaltender Peter Budaj can become a legit No. 1.
4. Anaheim Ducks
2006-07: 48-20-14, second.
Star: D Chris Pronger (59 points, 8 pp goals, plus-27).
Supporting cast: C Andy McDonald (27 goals, 51 assists), C Ryan Getzlaf (17 points in 21 playoff games), G Jean-Sebastien Giguere (36 wins, .918 save percentage).
Why they will be in the show: Skilled, deep and tough. But will Teemu Selanne and Scott Niedermayer return? Who do they think they are, Michael Strahan?
5. Calgary Flames
2006-07: 43-29-10, eighth.
Star: RW Jarome Iginla (94 points, 13 pp goals, 7 game-winners).
Supporting cast: D Dion Phaneuf (50 points, 13 pp goals), LW Alex Tanguay (22 goals, 59 assists), G Miikka Kiprusoff (40 wins, 7 shutouts).
Why they will be in the show: Combustible coach Mike Keenan was hired to spark this talented bunch. Still has the game's best captain (Iginla) and world-class goaltending (Kiprusoff).
6. Minnesota Wild
2006-07: 48-26-8, seventh.
Star: RW Marian Gaborik (30 goals in 48 games, 12 pp goals).
Supporting cast: RW Pavol Demitra (64 points in 71 games), RW Brian Rolston (31 goals, 21 pp assists), G Niklas Backstrom (23-8-6, .929 save percentage).
Why they will be in the show: Backstrom -- no, not that one -- wrestled the starting job away from Manny Fernandez last season. The defense-first Wild will go as far as Backstrom takes it.
7. Vancouver Canucks
2006-07: 49-26-7, third.
Star: G Roberto Luongo (47 wins, .921 save percentage, 5 shutouts).
Supporting cast: LW Daniel Sedin (36 goals, 84 points, 16 pp goals), C Henrik Sedin (71 assists), LW Markus Naslund (60 points were his lowest total in nine seasons).
Why they will be in the show: Luongo is the best goaltender in the West, but scoring could be a problem.
8. Dallas Stars
2006-07: 50-25-7, sixth.
Star: G Marty Turco (38 wins, 2.23 goals against average).
Supporting cast: C Mike Modano (22 goals in 59 games), D Sergei Zubov (42 assists) C Mike Ribeiro (team-best 59 points).
Why they will be in the show: Six solid defenseman and a more than capable goaltender will get them in; a weak offense will keep them from getting far.
Not ready for prime time
• Chicago Blackhawks
• Columbus Blue Jackets
• Edmonton Oilers
• St. Louis Blues
• Los Angeles Kings
• Nashville Predators
• Phoenix Coyotes
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