Gazette sports 1997-98 NHL forecast: Northeast
The Northeast division, once a powerhouse, is easily the weakest division in the league. This opens the door for anyone with a little talent or luck to jump up and steal first place.
The division dark horse is definitely the Ottawa Senators. With the return of Stan Neckar and Sean Hill and the signing of Chris Phillips, the team has solid defensive corps perhaps one of the best in the league. Offensively, the Senators' forwards are young and improving. They will get some help from defencemen like Steve Duschesne, Janne Laukkanen, Wade Redden, and Chris Phillips who move the puck up the ice well and can contribute offensively. Ottawa's goaltending could be their weakness as they have two solid netminders, but no clear starter. One of the league's best coaches, Jacques Martin, will lead this young team to an over .500 season which will be enough to finish first in their division.
The Buffalo Sabres were overachievers last year with coach of the year Ted Nolan bringing a divisional title to a gritty, but talent-lacking team. Their only superstar is Dominik Hasek who is a streaky goalie on a three-year hot streak. The Sabres will only be as good as him. He will win games for the Sabres even if they can't score.
The Montreal Canadiens have tons of speed up front but none on defence. If Saku Koivu can stay healthy, the Habs will score some goals, but they will have a hard time keeping them out. The new coaching staff of Alain Vigneault and Dave King will help bring respectability back to this team and possibly a .500 record.
The Carolina Hurricanes need a breath of fresh air with their new location because as the Whalers they sucked. The Hurricanes have a good stand-up goaltender in Sean Burke, they have a good crew of solid stay-at-home defenceman and Jeff Brown to run the power-play.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are not the same team without Mario Lemieux and everyone knows it. Jaromir Jagr is good, but he can't carry a team like Lemieux could. Weak goaltending, brutal team defence and a lack of speed and depth make this season outlook bleak for the Penguins.
The Boston Bruins are the worst team in the NHL. Ray Bourque is old, Jim Carey is a mediocre and Sergei Samsonov will be their best forward. If they win 25 games, Pat Burns is a genius.