Northeast Division


Ottawa Senators

Last season: 39-27-9-7, lost to Toronto in conference semifinals.

Coach: Jacques Martin, eighth season

Pluses: Most balanced flock of forwards, led by Daniel Alfredsson, returns intact. Rookie Jason Spezza has a chance to be special. In goal, Patrick Lalime and rookie Martin Prusek provide a good one-two punch.

Minuses: Same group that cannot seem to get past the second round, no matter how good the regular season. New GM John Muckler had no success with the Rangers as coach in his most recent gig.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Last season: 43-25-10-4, lost to Carolina in conference finals.

Coach: Pat Quinn, fifth season

Pluses: Emergence of defensemen Bryan McCabe and Tomas Kaberle helped run to semis. Alex Mogilny is forever good for 30 goals, and Mats Sundin is a star. Playoff experience last season should benefit tight group.

Minuses: Failed to add any significant player and lost goalie Curtis Joseph to the Wings. Replaced CuJo with Ed Belfour, whose reliability has slipped in recent seasons. Core forwards (Gary Roberts, Shayne Corson, Tie Domi) are old and infirm.

Montreal Canadiens

Last season: 36-31-12-3, lost to Carolina in conference semifinals.

Coach: Michel Therrien, third season

Pluses: Goaltender Jose Theodore did everything but fly the team charter last season, and the league MVP is back for more. Captain Saku Koivu, with his cancer in remission, is ready for a full season. Good young players (Mike Ribiero, Marcel Hossa) and one old (Doug Gilmour) provide depth.

Minuses: Depth, but not enough of it to cover up failings in front of Theodore. A bit undersized up front, so the Habs will pray the new obstruction rules are truly enforced.

Boston Bruins

Last season: 43-24-6-9, lost to Montreal in first round.

Coach: Robbie Ftorek, second season

Pluses: Joe Thornton had offseason shoulder surgery but emerged as a real star last year. Glen Murray, Sergei Samsonov and Brian Rolston look to improve on career years as well. Speaking of careers, defenseman Nick Boynton should have a nice, long one as the heir to Ray Bourque's mantle.

Minuses: Scorer Bill Guerin left, and no one took his place. Goaltender Byron Dafoe was ignored, replaced by career backup Steve Shields. Defenseman Kyle McLaren wants out. Another Eastern Conference regular-season crown is not happening.

Buffalo Sabres

Last season: 35-35-11-1

Coach: Lindy Ruff, sixth season

Pluses: A steady presence behind the bench, at least. Former Isles Tim Connolly and J.P. Dumont may break out, and Miroslav Satan is a consistent scorer. Good defense and decent goaltending, with young Martin Biron tending the nets.

Minuses: Start at the top - no owner, after John Rigas took the money and ran. The league runs the club now, and if the Sabres can finish as well as the Expos did with baseball running them, consider the season a success.

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