NHL

Breaking down the East's playoff contenders

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Spector

At home in Prince Edward Island, Canada, he's known as Lyle Richardson. But around these parts, he's known as Spector, FOXSports.com's Prince of Pucks. Check in with Spector's NHL Blog on Yardbarker.com for NHL rumors and analysis.

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With the NHL's 2009-10 campaign fast approaching here's a look at the eight potential playoff clubs in the Eastern Conference:
Washington Capitals: After pushing the eventual Stanley Cup-champion Pittsburgh Penguins to the limit in a memorable seven-game, second-round playoff series last spring, the Capitals are hungry to push themselves into Cup contention. Adding veterans Mike Knuble and Brendan Morrison could be an improvement over Sergei Fedorov and Viktor Kozlov, while a goaltending duel between Jose Theodore and playoff hero Simeon Varlomov will only benefit the club. Led by superstar winger Alexander Ovechkin and young stars Nicklas Backstrom, Alex Semin and Mike Green, the Capitals should be among the league's elite this season. Boston Bruins: The top Eastern Conference team in 2008-09 remains largely intact and in good shape to rank among the elite teams in the Eastern Conference. With Vezina-winning goalie Tim Thomas, Norris-winning defenseman Zdeno Chara and star center Marc Savard leading the way and with rising stars Milan Lucic and David Krejci, the Bruins under NHL coach of the year Claude Julien will be a difficult team to beat. The only area of concern could be replacing the goal scoring of departed forward Phil Kessel. Pittsburgh Penguins: The defending champions go into this season without having lost as many key players to free agency as they did a year ago, having retained key forwards Bill Guerin and Ruslan Fedotenko. Management also brought in Jay McKee to offset the loss of Hal Gill to free agency. They'll once again be led by superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, who'll be ably supported by Jordan Staal, Sergei Gonchar and Marc-Andre Fleury. The Penguins will likely have to deal with a Stanley Cup hangover but their core of talent ensures they'll remain among the top teams in the East. Philadephia Flyers: The off-season acquisition of top defenseman Chris Pronger provides an extra measure of experienced skill and toughness to their blueline. Young forwards Mike Richards and Jeff Carter have become big stars in their own right and if veterans Simon Gagne and Daniel Briere can stay healthy, the Flyers will have considerable offensive punch up front. As always however the main area of concern is between the pipes, where former Ottawa Senator Ray Emery returns from a season in Russia in hopes of re-establishing himself as a quality starting goaltender. If Emery regains his groove the Flyers could challenge for the Conference crown. Buffalo Sabres: Two seasons of injuries to key players and adjusting to the loss of others hurt the Sabres but they head into 2009-10 with a more mature and hopefully healthier lineup. Young standouts Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy and Jason Pominville are more comfortable in their leadership roles while Drew Stafford and Clarke MacArthur show considerable promise. Veteran blueliner Henrik Tallinder hopes to rebound from last season's poor performance but younger blueliners Andrej Sekeras and Chris Butler will be forced to step up. The Sabres should be playoff-bound this season as long as goalie Ryan Miller remains healthy. Carolina Hurricanes: Riding the strong play of goaltender Cam Ward and star forward Eric Staal, the Hurricanes upset the New Jersey Devils and Bruins in the 2009 playoffs only to fall short to the Penguins in the Eastern Conference Final. Having kept the bulk of their roster intact, the Hurricanes will likely continue to be a defensively strong but low-scoring club. They'll need forwards like Tuomo Ruutu, Erik Cole, Jussi Jokinen and Sergei Samsonov to step up if 37-year-old Ray Whitney and 39-year-old Rod Brind'amour wear down. As in last spring's playoffs, their fortunes should rest with Ward and Staal. New Jersey Devils: It was a summer of change for the Devils, losing long-time veterans Brian Gionta and John Madden to free agency and Bobby Holik to retirement, while Jacques Lemaire was brought back to replace Brent Sutter as head coach. Expect the Devils to return to their low-scoring defensive system they pioneered under Lemaire in the mid-1990s, although young forwards Zach Parise and Travis Zajac will give them a strong scoring line. An area of concern however is in goal as once again the Devils lack a quality backup for 37-year-old starter Martin Brodeur, who could wear down under another heavy workload this season. Montreal Canadiens: The Canadiens made a significant overhaul over the summer, dumping 10 players and replacing them with seven unrestricted free agents, as well as hiring a new head coach in former Senators and Panthers bench boss Jacques Martin. The additions of Scott Gomez, Mike Cammalleri and Brian Gionta should improve their scoring punch and Jaroslav Spacek, Paul Mara and Hal Gill bring welcome experience to the defense. If promising goaltender Carey Price can rebound from last season's second-half meltdown, the Canadiens should be a playoff contender. The Canadiens are better on paper but how the numerous roster changes affect team chemistry will determine how high or low this team places in the standings.
Tagged: Bruins, Sabres, Blackhawks, Hurricanes, Canadiens, Devils, Senators, Flyers, Penguins, Maple Leafs, Capitals, Panthers, Hal Gill, Sergei Samsonov, Bill Guerin, Jay McKee, Marc Savard, Jaroslav Spacek, Sergei Fedorov, Jose Theodore, Martin Brodeur, John Madden, Bobby Holik, Zdeno Chara, Simon Gagne, Ruslan Fedotenko, Chris Pronger, Brendan Morrison, Sergei Gonchar, Paul Mara, Ray Whitney, Erik Cole, Brian Gionta, Henrik Tallinder, Scott Gomez, Viktor Kozlov, Jeff Carter, Mike Richards, Alex Ovechkin, Mike Knuble, Sidney Crosby, Eric Staal, Tuomo Ruutu, Ray Emery, Clarke MacArthur, Marc-Andre Fleury, Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville, Derek Roy, Ryan Miller, Jussi Jokinen, Mike Green, Zach Parise, Cam Ward, Tim Thomas, Andrej Sekera, Phil Kessel, Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal, David Krejci, Carey Price, Drew Stafford, Travis Zajac, Nicklas Backstrom, Milan Lucic, Chris Butler

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