IN THE CREASE: The fight for jobs (Part I)

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The opening of training camp is upon us and as is the case every season, there will be many jobs up for grabs amongst the NHL¿s 30 teams. For the next two weeks, I will examine each NHL team¿s roster and determine where there are fantasy-relevant battles for jobs. This week I will focus on the Eastern Conference. BOSTON BRUINS — Starting goalie With the signing of unrestricted free agent to an incentive-laden one-year contract, the now have three goaltenders who are theoretically capable of starting. had a fine season in Providence with the Baby , posting a 2.50 goals against average and a .917 save percentage, and starred in the P-Bruins¿ first-round playoff loss to Manitoba. He is considered Boston¿s ¿goalie of the future¿, but it remains to be seen if the future is now. Veteran journeyman was inconsistent last season and has never really been able to hold down the No. 1 job in any of his four NHL stops. If the felt that either Raycroft or Shields could become their number one puck stopper there would have been no need to sign Potvin. ¿Felix the Cat¿ suffered through an injury-plagued 2002-03 season (a sprained left ACL forced him to miss 31 games) in which he posted a poor 2.66 goals against average and .894 save percentage, but remains the favorite to be in the ¿ net opening night. Look for Raycroft to return to Providence for more seasoning before he becomes the ¿ starter after the all but inevitable lockout this coming summer. BOSTON BRUINS — Powerplay quarterback Once the declined to accept the arbitrator¿s decision on , making Boston¿s former quarterback an unrestricted free agent, an opportunity opened up on the left point of the ¿ first unit powerplay. The vacancy might have been filled by offensive-minded rearguard , however he fractured his pelvic bone in a July car accident, and will miss the entire season. That leaves (20 points in 70 games), (24 points in 74 games), or (6 points in 26 games) as the likely candidates to play the point alongside forward . The smart money is on McGills. Boynton is currently unsigned, and the can ill afford to play the offensively gifted but defensively challenged Jillson on the point with a forward, as the risk of a short-handed tally is just too great. BUFFALO SABRES — Backup goaltender , despite his inconsistent play (he posted a 2.56 goals against average and .908 save percentage), will likely be the ¿ starting netminder this season. However, pushing him, and each other, are Buffalo¿s two goalie phenoms, and . Noronen will start the year as Biron¿s backup, as he is more experienced than Miller. However, it will be Miller who eventually wrestles the starting job from Biron late in the 2003-04 season. CAROLINA HURRICANES — Second-line left winger It is fairly certain that , Jeff O¿Neill and will form Carolina¿s number one line this season. It is also likely that Rod Brind¿amour will center the 'Canes¿ second unit with right winger by his side. The interesting question remains, who will line up on Brind¿amour¿s left? There are many candidates, but no clear-cut favorite. , and all have a chance to impress coach Paul Maurice in training camp and land the job. Look for Svoboda to make the switch from the right side and win the assignment before the season starts. MONTREAL CANADIENS — Second-line left winger If captain gets his way, he will be playing between and on the ¿ No. 1 line. Saddled with disappointing ¿s multi-million dollar long-term contract, Montreal will have to play him on the right wing of the Hab¿s second unit alongside of . Who will toil on the left side? The current favorite is , little brother of Ottawa star . He has enough scoring ability (19 goals in 37 games in Hamilton of the AHL last season) and size (6-foot-2, 210 pounds) to earn and keep the aforementioned assignment despite competition from , and perhaps prodigy Andrei Kastsitsyn. NEW JERSEY DEVILS — Second-line right winger The are set on the left side with and . They also have , and last year¿s rookie sensation Mike Rupp down the middle. , thriving under Pat Burns, will continue his top-line duties on the right side, but New Jersey management is not sure at this time who their second-line right winger will be. The battle will likely be between pint-sized , bruising , or clone . This one¿s a toss-up. NEW YORK ISLANDERS — Starting goaltender Grizzled and under-appreciated veteran (2.31 goals against average and .918 save percentage) will have a battle on his hands this month fending off phenom (2.97 goals against average and .894 save percentage) for the ¿ starting goaltending position. The Isles would love to hand the job to 2000 first-overall pick DiPietro, but they are not sure he is ready. As such, look for Snow and DiPietro to split the job this season, with the latter taking over full-time after the impending lockout. PITTSBURGH PENGUINS — An entire second line Mario¿s back! Thank goodness for that, or else the might not have been able to score more than a goal a game this season. Lemieux will likely play between budding star and on a potent first line. Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, these three players can¿t play a full 60 minutes. The team is going to have to come up with a second unit, and that¿s where things get a bit dicey. Of course, new bench boss Ed Olczyk may choose to use Straka as a center on the second line, but barring that, he has either journeymen or unproven youngsters to draw from in forming another scoring threesome. If unsigned (18 points in 33 games last season) can ever sort out his contract troubles with the , he may be a good bet to land on the second line. Underachieving centers (12 points in 31 games last season) and (26 points in 91 career NHL games) will once again try to impress, while European imports (11 points in 26 games last season) and are nice sleeper candidates. Look for Olczyk to mix and match for the first month or so before moving Straka down to center the second unit alongside Abid and Koltsov. Lemieux will likely insist on a big-bodied winger like to play to his left on the top line. TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING — Second-line right winger Coach John Tortorella will likely not mess up a good thing. That is why the , , and threesome will likely be kept intact to start the season. Newcomer will play on the left side of future superstar , but there is a job opening on the right flank of this unit. (32 points in 76 games in 2002-03) and (6 points in 37 games last season) will attempt to lay claim to this position, but super slick Finnish star Eero Somervuori (46 goals in 112 games in the Finnish Elite League the past two seasons) is a better bet to win out. WASHINGTON CAPITALS — Second-line winger The have five forwards, each of whom will obviously play on one of the team¿s top two scoring lines. , , , and are all set to lead Washington offensively. Yet, there is still one position unclaimed amongst the Capital¿s top six forwards. Competing for the position of the final scoring forward are the usual cast of modest talents; , and . However, there is hope that 19-year-old phenom Alexander Semin may be ready to make the jump to the NHL. If so, he will be a good bet to play on one of Washington¿s scoring lines and possibly compete for Rookie of the Year honors.
Tagged: Kip Miller, Bryan Berard, Bruins, Sabres, Hurricanes, Stars, Canadiens, Devils, Islanders, Rangers, Senators, Penguins, Lightning, Capitals, Brian Rolston, Mika Noronen, Michael Nylander, Mike Grier, Grant Marshall, Jamie Langenbrunner, Richard Zednik, Jan Bulis, Saku Koivu, Patrik Elias, John Madden, Garth Snow, Rick DiPietro, Robert Lang, Martin Straka, Cory Stillman, Vincent Lecavalier, Fredrik Modin, Dainius Zubrus, Jaromir Jagr, Radim Vrbata, Erik Cole, Jaroslav Svoboda, Andrew Raycroft, Brad Richards, Jeff Jillson, Scott Gomez

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