Gazette sports 1997-98 NHL forecast: Atlantic
The Philadelphia Flyers were the busiest team in the summer, releasing Terry Murray in favour of Wayne Cashman, acquiring forward Chris Gratton for Mikael Renberg, signing free agent Luke Richardson and inking Eric Lindros to a new contract. Yet even though Philly's house seems to be in order, it boggles the mind to think why the team's management didn't go after a quality goaltender. Garth Snow won't be allowed to wear his oversized pads anymore and Ron Hextall showed that he still chokes in big games.
This season could make or break Jacques Lemaire's job as head coach of the New Jersey Devils. Lemaire's system that preaches "defence first" above all else, has had a strangling effect on the offensive numbers of players like Scott Niedermayer and will likely limit the production of Doug Gilmour's numbers this season. If Lemaire's players abide to his style, the team should do well, but if they don't, the Devils could end up missing the playoffs.
The biggest disappointment from last season was the play of the Washington Capitals, but with the hiring of former Anaheim coach Ron Wilson the Cap's should reap huge benefits. His offensive approach to the game will benefit a team that is loaded with good scorers including Joe Juneau, Adam Oates, Peter Bondra, Mikael Pivonka and Phil Housley.
The New York Rangers will be a good playoff team, but with a roster filled with aging bodies, it is hard to imagine them going all-out during the regular season. The team needs a quality second-line centre to replace Mark Messier and expect problems if goalie Mike Richter goes down with an injury, considering the team doesn't have a backup with NHL experience.
For the New York Islanders, Zigmund Palffy and Robert Reichel are bonafide scorers, but there is a looming question mark on a young defensive corps and inconsistent goaltending.
The Florida Panthers have one the league's best goaltenders in John Vanbiesbrouck, but there isn't enough offensive talent on this team to be contenders.
Things are not looking good in Florida's other NHL city either, as Tampa Bay couldn't settle on a contract with their so-called franchise player Chris Gratton. With Gratton gone to the Flyers and John Cullen hospitalized with cancer, the Lightning won't be striking too often.