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YOUR FOUR-PAGE GUIDE TO THE 2008-09 NHL SEASON

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Rod Brind’Amour remains the Hurricanes’ captain, but Eric Staal is learning fast on the job as the captain-in-waiting

BY CHIP ALEXANDER

STAFF WRITER

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ROD BRIND’AMOUR

ERIC STAAL

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tanding side by side, the contrast in their appearance is sharp, definitive. Rod Brind’Amour’s face has the bent nose, broken time and again by elbows, pucks and sticks. It has the scar tissue, the evidence of countless games, countless battles in the NHL. Just look at those eyes — so wide, so wise, seeing all. The Hurricanes’ Eric Staal’s face is unlined, nearly captain is entering unmarked, still so youthful in counhis 20th season in the NHL. tenance. And yet there’s the way he sets his jaw, the way he squares his shoulders. Entering his fifth There’s this look in his dark eyes season, he has won a — confident, intense, almost predaStanley Cup and been tory. All-Star Game MVP. Brind’Amour, 38, is the captain of the Carolina Hurricanes and likely will be until he retires. He wears the “C,” designating him the captain, Watch a timeproudly on his chest, as Ron Francis lapse video of did, as Kevin Dineen did, as Keith Brind’Amour and Staal at the photo shoot. Primeau did. newsobserver.com/ But Eric Staal is coming. Oh, man, sports is he coming. ■ For the latest news “When Roddy moves on to the on the Hurricanes, greener pastures one day, this is check out Lord going to be Eric’s team,” veteran Stanley’s blog at winger Ray Whitney said. blogs.newsobserver .com/canes In his first three seasons with the Hurricanes, Staal was making his mark in the league. In 2005-06, he was a 100point scorer in the regular season, then the leading scorer in the Stanley Cup playoffs as the Canes swept to the Cup.

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HURRICANES VS. FLORIDA PANTHERS

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ON LEADERSHIP, WEARING THE ‘C’

STAFF FILE PHOTO BY CHRIS SEWARD

ROD BRIND’AMOUR (2005-PRESENT)

‘Leadership is important. I think what I like about this team is it’s not about one guy. I don’t know where that kind of started, but the last few years it’s always been about the group. One night it’s going to be this guy leading, then this one. I think what’s good is the young guys feel they can lead as well as the older guys.’
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Eric Staal (12) picked up the slack during the absence of captain Rod Brind’Amour last season and played some of the best hockey of his career.
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LEADERS

STAFF FILE PHOTO BY CHRIS SEWARD

RON FRANCIS (1999-2004)

‘I was not barking every day. If you bark every day, people tune you out. You pick your situations wisely, so when you speak, people are listening and understand the importance of what you’re trying to say. At some point, it’s more than just a letter on your jersey. It’s everybody in the locker room knowing and understanding what you’re saying.’
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STAFF FILE PHOTO BY SCOTT SHARPE

Brind’Amour, in turn, was the quintessential captain. Many believe he should have been the Conn Smythe Trophy winner in 2006, although Canes goalie Cam Ward was a deserving winner. “Rod is a great leader and has all the respect in the [locker] room,” said Francis, the Canes’ captain before Brind’Amour and now the team’s assistant general manager. But last season, the Canes lost their leader. Brind’Amour was felled with a severe knee injury in a Feb. 14 game against the Pittsburgh Penguins, knocking him out of the last 22 games. A 19-year veteran, Brind’Amour was a presence on the ice — one of the league’s best defensive forwards, one of the best on faceoffs, a penalty-killer and steady scorer. He was forceful in the locker room, stern when he had to be. Suddenly, he was gone. Someone had to lead. At 23, Staal was ready. “We needed to win games,” said Staal, an alternate captain. “I wanted to do as much as I could.” With Brind’Amour out, Staal responded with perhaps the best hockey of his young career, notching 10 goals and 22 assists (32 points) in those 22 games. “With the injuries we had, we needed that one big horse,” Canes coach Peter Laviolette said. “He took control.” But it was more than just the points. Tall in stature at 6 feet 4, he became a bigger man in the locker room. “He took charge,” Whitney said. “I think that was a good boost for the organization, to see he’s capable of doing that. “For one, willing to do it. A lot of young guys don’t necessarily want to do that, to be that guy. A lot of guys just want to go play. He took it upon himself to do both — to not only play exceptionally well down the stretch, but to make the other guys around him better. “It was nice to see that he was willing to take it on as much as he did. He’s our future captain.” But when? One almost could sense the mantle beginning to be passed last season, Brind’Amour to Staal. “I guess the natural thing is when they kick me out of here, if not sooner, he’ll definitely be doing it [captain],” Brind’Amour said. “Who knows? But it’s almost better for him to do his thing.

Hurricanes captain Rod Brind’Amour, left, celebrating a winning goal with Chad LaRose, is the quintessential leader on and off the ice.

“If you put too much on him right away, who knows how that would work out? ... I think it’s just better for him to do what he’s been doing.” But there comes a time when the older veteran gives up the “C” to a more accomplished player — or to a younger, rising star. Dineen was once the Canes’ captain, popular and respected in the room. Yet, he gave up the “C” in 1998 to Keith Primeau, a younger, more productive player. “It’s a hard thing to do,” Dineen said. “You know it’s the right decision. You know you’re giving it to the right guy, but it becomes a little part of your identity.” After Primeau, the “C” went to Francis, who had been the captain of the Hartford Whalers at 22 and later captain of the Penguins. Francis came to the Hurricanes as a free agent in 1998 and was chosen captain the next year. “I think the most important thing is you have to be yourself,” Francis said. “You have to be up front and honest and a stand-up guy. Guys appreciate that

and respect that.” Brind’Amour thinks highly of Staal, as a player, as a person. The two dress next to each other in the locker room, and their respect for each other is evident. “Leadership, to me, is a little bit of everything,” Staal said. “It’s bringing that work ethic, bringing that desire to win every night, showing the younger guys how to perform, how to be ready. “Rod brings all those elements. For me, being here the last four or five years, just watching him, it really helped my game and helped me as a leader to do those same sort of things. That’s what I’m going to try to bring the rest of my career.” Brind’Amour, in turn, has watched Staal grow and mature. Staal has filled out physically. He’s married. He’s more experienced. Call him the “Big E.” In four seasons with the Canes, Staal has missed just one game — in his rookie season. A year ago, he was voted the MVP in the NHL All-Star Game. “Eric leads by making great plays,” Brind’Amour said. “He’s not one of those guys you hear say things or stand up in

the room and say things. But I think that gets overdone, anyway. “I’ve always believed, and why I think he’s going to be great, that you lead by the way you play. If you’re busting it and you’re producing and playing the game the way you’re supposed to play ... nobody can say anything, and everyone else will follow along. “I think Eric’s learned that, and I think he’ll keep doing that.” Jim Rutherford, the team’s president and general manager, said Brind’Amour would remain the captain as long as he plays for the Canes. But he does envision Staal continuing to take on a bigger role, as well. “I see it more as a shared leadership,” Rutherford said. “When Rod came out of our lineup last year, somebody had to step up and be the leader, and that opened the door for Eric, and he did it on and off the ice. “It was really his team, and at a young age. When Rod is done, that will continue, but for now it will be more of a shared leadership with Rod and Eric.” Francis said there is a learning curve for all young players, even Pittsburgh’s Sidney Crosby, who wears the “C” for the Penguins at 21. “They have to get their feet wet and sort of earn their respect in the room,” he said. “The next step is you start to take more and more responsibility, whether it’s the way you play on the ice or in the room or off the ice with the guys. “Certainly Eric feels extremely comfortable here now. He’s been here awhile and had the success, and I think last year was a big confidence boost for him.” Staal said he’s in no rush to wear the “C.” It’s not something he’s seeking or believes he now deserves. “Right now, that’s not what I’m thinking about,” Staal said. “Right now, I’m thinking about what I can do to help our team win games, get back to the playoffs, because that’s where we need to be and want to be. “Whether it be Rod’s team, my team or anybody’s team, it really doesn’t matter. It’s about bringing your best game onto the ice to help your team achieve success.” At the end of a recent practice, the Canes split up in two groups for some speed skating. Brind’Amour led one pack, Staal led the other. It seemed picture perfect.
chip.alexander@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8945

KEVIN DINEEN (1997-1998)

‘I think you put that “C” on your chest and a lot of times it’s something where your teammates feel that you have some character attributes. It becomes a part of your identity. I don’t always think the captain of the team is always the best player. But there are guys who come to play, and it is about the wins.’

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH
1. INJURIES: The Hurricanes can’t take too many more hits after losing forwards Justin Williams and Scott Walker. 2. ROD BRIND’AMOUR’S KNEE: The captain had reconstructive surgery on his left knee last season and then additional surgery in September for a cartilage tear. Can the knee hold up? 3. CAM WARD IN GOAL: The 2006 Conn Smythe Trophy winner needs to come close to matching his 2006 playoff numbers (2.14 goals against, .920 save percentage) over the course of a season. 4. POINT-ROBBING SLUMPS: After a fast start last season, the Canes went 5-10-0 from mid-November to mid-December. There can’t be a repeat. 5. THE PENALTY KILL: The Hurricanes were 26th in the NHL (78.9 percent) last season. “We have to be in at least the top half,” Brind’Amour says. Cam Ward needs to show the skills that earned him the Conn Smythe Trophy in ’06.
STAFF FILE PHOTO BY CHRIS SEWARD

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FRIDAY, OCTOBER 10, 2008

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Veterans know what it takes to win Stanley Cup, but Carolina must reach postseason first
BY CHIP ALEXANDER
STAFF WRITER

Canes’ first goal: playoffs

CANES ROSTER
FORWARDS

RALEIGH — For Ray Whitney of the Carolina Hurricanes, winning the Stanley Cup in 2006 was exhilarating and intoxicating. “To be honest with you, it’s such a high emotionally that it’s like a drug,” the Canes’ veteran winger said. “When you do it, and you think back to that night, for the players who were there and the feeling it created, I don’t think too many drugs would have gotten us any higher than that feeling. “You want that back. When you do it, you want to do it again even more. It’s just an unbelievable feeling, but it’s an incredibly hard thing to do.” A lot goes into winning “that trophy,” as the Canes’ Eric Staal called it. Good talent. Good coaching. A good, productive system. Good health. Good goaltending. Maybe a little luck, too. “You need that energy and that work ethic and the chemistry and making sure everyone is doing their job,” Staal said. “All those things have to come together.” While winning the Stanley Cup is the ultimate objective, making the playoffs is a more immediate goal. The Hurricanes haven’t done that the past two seasons, falling just short last season when they were overrun by the surging Washington Capitals at the end and failed to win the Southeast Division. “It’s hard to make the playoffs,” defenseman Frantisek Kaberle said. “With the

The Canes will need Justin Williams to return strong in order to lift the Stanley Cup again.
STAFF FILE PHOTO BY CHRIS SEWARD

economics [salary cap] in the league, all the teams are pretty even these days. “You have to be at your best throughout the whole season. Especially in the middle, in December and January, it’s important you win because at the end you need every point to make the playoffs.” A slide in late November and early December last season robbed the Canes of those points. By year’s end, a 43-33-6

record wasn’t good enough. “Every team has its ups and downs in a season. Ours was a little too long,” defenseman Niclas Wallin said. The Canes also had a staggering 337 man-games lost in the season because of injuries and illness. That was 70 more than in the 2006 season. The Hurricanes already have absorbed some hits. Forward Justin Williams tore an Achilles tendon in September, sidelining

him for four to six months. Forward Scott Walker had surgery this week for a ligament injury to his left hand and will miss the first six weeks of the season. Still, the players believe enough pieces are in place, not just to reach the playoffs again but to be a contender. The trade for defenseman Joni Pitkanen should give the Canes more punch from the blue line. Goalie Cam Ward has the potential

to be one of the NHL’s best goalies. Staal is a proven scorer. The power play should be potent. “I think it’s a good, wellrounded team,” defenseman Joe Corvo said. “I feel pretty confident. I don’t see anybody beating up on us.” Williams should return at some point, bolstering the lines and adding a scoring threat. “He can be back for the critical stretch of the season,” general manager Jim Rutherford said. Missing the playoffs the past two seasons has cost the team millions of dollars and left everyone in a funk. Attendance took a slight dip last season. Should the Canes fail to reach the playoffs, some tough decisions could be made about personnel and coaches. Management might decide to move in another direction. The core group that won the Cup could be dissolved. “You’re always evaluating,” Rutherford said. In 2006, the Canes won 16 playoff games in a grind that captain Rod Brind’Amour equated to climbing Mount Everest. There were clutch goals, clutch victories and, in the end, a Stanley Cup. “Our goal is to win opening night, our goal is to win our division, our goal is to win the Stanley Cup,” coach Peter Laviolette said. “Our job is to get to the playoffs and compete for that thing. “It’s not an easy job to get to the end of the road, but it’s everybody’s goal, and it’s certainly ours.”

ERIC STAAL 6-4, 205

ROD BRIND‘AMOUR 6-1, 205

RAY WHITNEY 5-10, 180

MATT CULLEN 6-1, 200

SERGEI SAMSONOV 5-8, 188

SCOTT WALKER 5-10, 196

TUOMO RUUTU 6-0, 200

PATRICK EAVES 5-11, 190

CHAD LAROSE 5-10, 181

BRANDON SUTTER 6-3, 183

RYAN BAYDA 5-11, 185

WADE BROOKBANK 6-4, 225

DAN LACOUTURE 6-2, 215

ZACH BOYCHUK 5-10, 180

DEFENSEMEN

JONI PITKANEN 6-3, 200

TIM GLEASON 6-0, 217

JOE CORVO 6-0, 204 Although he didn’t have an answer for the Canes’ midseason woes, coach Peter Laviolette, left, led the team to the cusp of the playoffs last season.
STAFF FILE PHOTO BY JASON ARTHURS

FRANTISEK KABERLE 6-0, 190

Laviolette deserves another chance
RALEIGH — After letting Peter Laviolette dangle for more than a month after the season, Jim Rutherford made sure to underline the coach’s job security long before this season ever started. “I don’t want to enter the season with anybody being under the gun,” Rutherford, the Carolina Hurricanes’ general manager, said before trainLuke ing camp opened. “I DeCock don’t think that’s fair. We made the changes we felt were necessary in the offseason. “If I wanted to put somebody under the gun, I would have made whatever change ... in the offseason.” That was the smart thing to say. Now, Rutherford has to stick to his guns. If the Hurricanes don’t get off to a good start, and they face a difficult early schedule, Laviolette may be shopping for asbestos pants. It shouldn’t be an issue. With the talent the Hurricanes have, a third straight season out of the playoffs would be unacceptable. If that’s the case, then Laviolette should go, for the sake of change as much as anything else. But we’re not there yet. Not even close. While Laviolette bears some share of the blame for the Hurricanes’ struggles the past two seasons, he’s hardly alone in that department. He has shown he can win at every level, and there’s no reason he can’t win again this season. If the Hurricanes wanted Laviolette gone, the time to fire him was the middle of last season, when the team was struggling and Laviolette appeared powerless to change the situation. As it turned out, he wasn’t, and the addition of Joe Corvo and his willingness to give larger roles to minor league call-ups gave him the resources he needed to get the Canes pointed in the right direction (his much-debated decision to rush Matt Cullen, Ray Whitney and Justin Williams back into the lineup during the final week of the season aside). Instead, the Canes waited until after the season to let it be known how unhappy they were with his performance — Rutherford practically begged a radio reporter to ask him if Laviolette was “under evaluation” during his end-of-season news conference — but the team let the issue simmer until a meeting between Laviolette and team owner Peter Karmanos on May 16 put the situation to rest. Only later did we find out Laviolette never held exit meetings with his players, a breach of protocol that could have cost him his job. But if it didn’t then, it shouldn’t now. It doesn’t do anyone any good to have Laviolette’s job status hanging over this team. Rutherford has said the right things so far, but it’s easy to say the right things in September and a lot tougher to do it when a team is struggling in November. The Canes owe Laviolette the security to coach the team the way he feels he needs to do it, with long-term goals in mind instead of a must-win mentality. Coaches worried about the next game in November end up with tired goalies and worn out top-line players in April. It’s a long season. Now, if the Canes reach January or February mired in the same malaise that cost them a playoff spot last season, by all means a coaching change should be considered. But not right away. It’s a new season. The roster, particularly on defense, is practically built from scratch, and Laviolette deserves a clean start as well. Holding him responsible for past transgressions isn’t fair to him, the players or the fans. It was the right decision to stick with him. Now the team needs to stick with that decision.
luke.decock@newsobserver.com or 919-829-8947

NICLAS WALLIN 6-3, 220

DENNIS SEIDENBERG 6-1, 210

ANTON BABCHUK 6-5, 212

JOSEF MELICHAR 6-2, 220

GOALTENDERS

CAM WARD 6-1, 183

MICHAEL LEIGHTON 6-3, 186

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CAROLINA HURRICANES SEASON PREVIEW
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A TEAM-BY-TEAM LOOK AT THE NHL

FRIDAY, OCTOBER 10, 2008

THE NEWS & OBSERVER

EASTERN CONFERENCE
SOUTHEAST DIVISION
1. WASHINGTON CAPITALS Prognosis: Last season’s darlings may find the going a little tougher this time around, but the Caps still have enough talent to win the division again. Keep an eye on: Notoriously inconsistent goalie Jose Theodore replaces rock-solid Cristobal Huet. That’s a potential weak link. 2. CAROLINA HURRICANES Prognosis: After two straight playoff misses, the Hurricanes are loaded up front and are counting on a rebuilt defense to improve their offense. Keep an eye on: Patrick Eaves scored 20 goals as a rookie and could be in line to double that with top-line playing time this season. 3. FLORIDA PANTHERS Prognosis: Florida’s young stars (except Jay Bouwmeester) have signed long-term deals and could make the jump to the next level. Keep an eye on: Wildly successful junior coach Peter DeBoer should be able to get more out of this lineup than safety-first predecessor Jacques Martin. 4. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING Prognosis: The Bolts cleaned house at every level of the organization. Whether the wholesale changes will prove fruitful is anybody’s guess. Keep an eye on: The NHL has changed in the past decade, but not Barry Melrose’s hair. The coach-turnedanalyst-turned-coach is under a lot of pressure. 5. ATLANTA THRASHERS Prognosis: New coach John Anderson has never coached a losing team. But he has questionable goaltending, a weak defense and a shortage of forwards.

WESTERN CONFERENCE
CENTRAL DIVISION
1. DETROIT RED WINGS Prognosis: The winged wheel keeps rolling with no signs of stopping. As always, goaltending is the potential weak spot for the defending champs. Keep an eye on: Marian Hossa spurned big-money, long-term offers to sign a one-year deal with the Red Wings in an attempt to win the Stanley Cup. 2. CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS Prognosis: The Blackhawks took a big step forward last season, and now Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and company should be ready for the next one. Keep an eye on: If he’s healthy, and he rarely is, Martin Havlat might be the weapon that puts the Chicago offense over the top.

New Capitals goalie Jose Theodore has had flashes of inconsistency in his career.
GETTY IMAGES PHOTO BY ANDY MARLIN

3. NASHVILLE PREDATORS Prognosis: The Predators escaped last year’s salary purge unscathed, and there’s nothing stopping them from holding onto their playoff spot. Keep an eye on: After Dan Ellis took over the No. 1 goalie job last season, the Preds let previous starter Chris Mason go and will rely on unproven Ellis. 4. COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS Prognosis: There’s a big hole at center, but the Blue Jackets have some players elsewhere and could find themselves in the playoff mix.

Patrick Kane and the Blackhawks are coming off an uplifting season. The challenge is to keep it going.
GETTY IMAGES PHOTO BY DAVE REGINEK

Keep an eye on: In Philadelphia, R.J. Umberger was one of many forwards, but he could be the No. 1 center in Columbus, with Rick Nash on his wing. 5. ST. LOUIS BLUES Prognosis: The long-term rebuilding plan continues in St. Louis, but it’s a long way from completion — especially with Erik Johnson (knee) out for the season. Keep an eye on: David Perron scored an unlikely 13 goals as a 19-year-old rookie. T.J. Oshie has the potential to do the same this season.

Keep an eye on: The dwindling fan base. The Thrashers were on their way up in Atlanta in 2007 before a playoff collapse; now they’re totally off the radar.

ATLANTIC DIVISION
1. PITTSBURGH PENGUINS Prognosis: The window is open for Sidney Crosby and the Penguins. Over the next few years, they’ll be strangled by the salary cap. Now is the time. Keep an eye on: Marc-Andre Fleury matured and developed as a goaltender last season; he’s the missing piece of the puzzle for the Penguins. 2. PHILADELPHIA FLYERS Prognosis: The Flyers were three wins from the Stanley Cup finals and are looking to build on that success. Keep an eye on: It’s hard to believe the Flyers got Jeff Carter and Mike Richards out of the same draft (2003). They’ll continue to get better. 3. NEW JERSEY DEVILS Prognosis: The Devils went back to Sidney Crosby and the rest of the Penguins the future, bringing back veterans Brian are poised to chase an NHL championship. Rolston and Bobby Holik, but that Devils AP PHOTO BY NIKLAS LARSSON mystique continues to slip away. Keep an eye on: At 36, who knows shake another 40-goal season loose. how much longer goalie Martin Brodeur can continue to carry the Devils while playing nearly every game. 5. NEW YORK ISLANDERS 4. NEW YORK RANGERS Prognosis: With Jaromir Jagr fleeing to Russia and Martin Straka gone, the Rangers should play a more direct style that may be a better fit for their roster. Keep an eye on: Things went stale for Markus Naslund in Vancouver. The change of scenery to Manhattan could

NORTHWEST DIVISION
1. DALLAS STARS Prognosis: The Stars rebuilt their roster on the fly, adding Brad Richards last season and Sean Avery over the summer. They may be Detroit’s most serious rival. Keep an eye on: If the Stars had won the Cup, Brenden Morrow would have been a shoo-in for the Conn Smythe. The torch has been passed from Mike Modano. 2. MINNESOTA WILD Prognosis: The departures of Pavol Demitra and Brian Rolston may knock the Wild down a notch, but a division title repeat remains possible Keep an eye on: The Wild considered trading PierreMarc Bouchard during the offseason but held onto him in hopes he’ll improve on last season’s 13 goals. 3. COLORADO AVALANCHE Prognosis: A middle-of-the-pack offensive team with poor special teams, Colorado needs improvement in those areas to make the playoffs. Keep an eye on: Joe Sakic debated whether to return but decided to take one more run at the Cup. The Avs need him to contribute as well as lead. 4. CALGARY FLAMES Prognosis: Mike Cammelleri will team with Jarome Iginla to give the Flames more offensive punch, but will it make a dent in Calgary’s defensive mentality? Keep an eye on: This is season No. 2 for Mike Keenan behind the bench. Only four of his seven coaching stints have lasted longer. The clock is ticking. 5. EDMONTON OILERS Prognosis: If the Oilers can stay healthy, they have the talent to compete for the division title. But that’s been

Prognosis: Ted Nolan was fired when he wouldn’t buy into the Islanders’ rebuilding process. Scott Gordon comes from the AHL, where he’s used to young players. Keep an eye on: Second-year winger Jeff Tambellini, son of former NHLer and current Edmonton general manager Steve, will see plenty of ice time.

Former Hurricane Erik Cole gets a fresh start with the Oilers.
GETTY IMAGES PHOTO BY JIMMY JEONG

a big “if” the past few years. Keep an eye on: Former Hurricanes forward Erik Cole, no stranger to the training room himself, will have plenty to prove in his first season in Edmonton.

NORTHEAST DIVISION
1. MONTREAL CANADIENS Prognosis: As long as young goalie Carey Price holds up his end of the bargain, the Canadiens could be the class of the Eastern Conference. Keep an eye on: Quebec native Alex Tanguay is back home and should flourish after going from the defensiveminded Flames to the run-and-gun Habs. 2. BOSTON BRUINS Prognosis: Despite losing to Montreal in the first round of the playoffs, the Bruins are headed in the right direction — if Patrice Bergeron is fully recovered. Keep an eye on: Despite scoring just 14 goals last season for the Canadiens, Michael Ryder was signed to a three-year, $12 million contract. 3. OTTAWA SENATORS Buffalo’s Ales Kotalik appears capable of improving Prognosis: The Senators have been on least season’s 20-goal, 43-point performance. among the Eastern Conference powers GETTY IMAGES PHOTO BY BILL WIPPERT for a decade, but cracks have formed in their facade. effort last season, but he has the talent to double those Keep an eye on: First Zdeno Chara left. Then Wade numbers. Redden. Could Daniel Alfredsson be the next franchise 5. TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS player to depart? Prognosis: Negative. Once again, Leafdom is more 4. BUFFALO SABRES likely to riot on Bay Street than see a parade — although Prognosis: A real wild card, the too-young-to-knowa playoff spot would be grounds for one. better Sabres could miss the playoffs, or they could Keep an eye on: Anaheim general manager Brian challenge for the division title. Anything is possible. Burke, whom the entire hockey world expects to take over Keep an eye on: Ales Kotalik had a 20-goal, 43-point the Leafs next summer when his contract expires.

PACIFIC DIVISION
1. ANAHEIM DUCKS Prognosis: Their title defense fizzled, but the Ducks still have the core that won the Cup, not to mention full seasons of Scott Niedermayer and Teemu Selanne. Keep an eye on: Bobby “Picked After Sidney Crosby” Ryan will start the season in the AHL, but he probably won’t be there long. 2. SAN JOSE SHARKS Prognosis: The NHL’s Most Frustrating Team squandered its assembled talent once again last spring, costing coach Ron Wilson his job. Keep an eye on: If the Sharks don’t make it to the Stanley Cup finals soon, Joe Thornton’s résumé is never going to fill that gaping hole under “leadership.” 3. VANCOUVER CANUCKS Prognosis: The Canucks are so devoid of offensive talent they offered Mats Sundin $10 million a season and appointed goalie Roberto Luongo captain. Keep an eye on: Pavol Demitra will have to fill the offensive void left by the departures of Markus Naslund and Brendan Morrison. 4. PHOENIX COYOTES Prognosis: The jury is still out on whether Wayne Gretzky can coach because he still hasn’t had a team good enough to serve as a barometer. Keep an eye on: Olli Jokinen may have been scapegoated in Florida, but he isn’t likely to crack that 723games-and-counting playoff drought with the Coyotes. 5. LOS ANGELES KINGS Prognosis: The Kings are loaded with young players, San Jose’s Joe Thornton is chasing that elusive Stanley Cup championship.
GETTY IMAGES PHOTO BY BRUCE BENNETT

but they’ll have an easier time getting above the salarycap floor than competing for a playoff spot. Keep an eye on: Former Hurricanes prospect Jack Johnson was minus-19 last season but had 11 points as a rookie; improvement is likely in both areas.

THE N&O’S PREDICTIONS
EASTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPION Pittsburgh Penguins REGULAR-SEASON STANDINGS 6. Carolina Hurricanes 7. New Jersey Devils 8. Florida Panthers 9. New York Rangers 10. Tampa Bay Lightning STANLEY CUP WINNER Dallas Stars WESTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPION Dallas Stars REGULAR-SEASON STANDINGS 6. Chicago Blackhawks 7. Nashville Predators 8. Colorado Avalanche 9. Calgary Flames 10. Columbus Blue Jackets

1. Montreal Canadiens 2. Pittsburgh Penguins 3. Washington Capitals 4. Philadelphia Flyers 5. Boston Bruins

11. Ottawa Senators 12. Buffalo Sabres 13. Toronto Maple Leafs 14. New York Islanders 15. Atlanta Thrashers

1. Detroit Red Wings 2. Dallas Stars 3. Anaheim Ducks 4. San Jose Sharks 5. Minnesota Wild

11. Edmonton Oilers 12. Vancouver Canucks 13. Phoenix Coyotes 14. St. Louis Blues 15. Los Angeles Kings

4CC, Friday, October 10, 2008

CMYK