Breaking down the East's playoff contenders
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.