Volume 93, Issue 23

Thursday, October 7, 1999


Turkey, stuffing and football

NHL Western Conference are still contenders

NHL Eastern Conference making a new drive

NHL Eastern Conference making a new drive

By Wes Brown
Gazette Staff

The Eastern Conference has not beaten their Western counterparts in The Stanley Cup finals in the past five years, but they will have one of their strongest showings in the 1999-00 season.

Leading the way are the Philadelphia Flyers who have more depth than an Olympic size swimming pool. Goalie John Vanbiesbrouck must shake his playoff cobwebs for the Flyers to last longer than they did a year ago. But their fate will lie squarely on the broad shoulders of "Legion of Doomers" Eric Lindros and John LeClair. If they can stay healthy – opposition beware.

Close behind will be the Toronto Maple Leafs as they continue their explosive offensive style. Shaking their make-me-laugh image over the past few seasons has been a direct result of Mats Sundin and supporting cast Steve Thomas and Sergei Berezin. If Curtis Joseph can stone wall the competition again this season, look for a long playoff drive

The New York Rangers have all the key ingredients to be number one in the league this year but you can't buy love or the Stanley Cup. The spent $60 million in the off-season picking up guys like Theo Fleury, Valeri Kamenski and Sylvain Lefebvre. The only one they were unable to get was "The Great One" and his leadership will be missed.

The Ottawa Senators will barely miss the podium this year, but don't be surprised if they do make it interesting. The big question will be whether Hart Trophy finalist Alexei Yashin comes back to a team and city who are less than impressed with his contract dispute. Regardless, the Senators have solid goaltender Ron Tugnutt, coach of the year Jacques Martin and a core of young talented players.

The Buffalo Sabres round out the top five and will need Dominik Hasek to stand on his head night after night in order to match their Eastern Conference title from last season. Unlike earlier years, the Vezina trophy winner has growing support from a young group of Sabre snipers – namely Miroslav Satan, Mike Peca and Curtis Brown. Watch for Hasek to go out with a bang in his final season.

The New Jersey Devils have needed more playoff Heimlich manoeuvers over the past three years then any other Eastern Conference team. No one can explain their poor play and this season their bad luck will show its ugly head more than ever. Goalie Martin Brodeur will have to bounce back after the media and fans laid into him during the off-season.

The Boston Bruins will find themselves fighting off the basement dwellers to finish seventh overall in the conference. The Notorious S.I.N. (Boston general manager Harry Sinden) has been up to his penny pinching ways already this season. First he released top Bruin goal scorer Dimitri Khristich and most recently, has told goalie Byron Dafoe he is worth a big contract, though he will not give it to him.

Scraping in again this year will be the Pittsburgh Penguins fueled by the reuniting of Hart Trophy winner Jaromir Jagr and former great, now owner, Mario Lemieux. Coach Kevin Constantine will be relying heavily on the big Czech to make everyone he plays with better. Whether or not the Penguins act as playoff spoilers remains to be seen.

As for the rest of the post-season wannabee's – the Montreal Canadiens have a new captain in Saku Koivu but still have a lot of injuries and shaky goaltending. The New York Islanders lost their offence with Zigmund Palffy, Trevor Linden and Bryan Smolinski leaving – they also have Felix Potvin in net.

The Carolina Hurricanes had a playoff season last year and still couldn't get anyone out to their games – how do you win in that environment? The Florida Panther's will need Pavel Bure and his gimpy knee to carry them to .500 hockey. The Tampa Bay Lightning have no depth and have gotten quite comfortable at the bottom of the heap. The Washington Capitals have some good players and will be close to making it into the playoffs – but they won't. The Atlanta Thrashers are called the Atlanta Thrashers – 'nuff said.

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