NHL Preview: 2009-10
Eastern Conference: Atlantic
And this year it worked.
"I called [Ruslan Fedotenko] this summer and I said, 'Please sign,' " Art Ross Trophy winner Evgeni Malkin said. "I like playing with him. He's a good deal for Pittsburgh."
Unlike Marian Hossa, who ignored Sidney Crosby's entreaties to return before last season, Fedotenko was happy to oblige. And after scoring 14 points in 24 playoff games (he had 39 during the regular season), Fedotenko could be a bargain at $1.8 million, almost half a million less than he made in 2008-09. Fedotenko wasn't the only veteran who settled for less to remain with the reigning Stanley Cup champs; late-season additions Bill Guerin, who flanked Crosby, and fourth-line center Craig Adams also took pay cuts for a chance to repeat. "It says a lot for them to come back and fit themselves underneath the salary cap to help us try to get another championship," G.M. Ray Shero says.
While the Penguins' front end stays more or less intact, their defensive corps has to make up for losing stay-at-home stalwarts Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi to free agency. They picked up former Blues defenseman Jay McKee, 32, to help fill that role, and having a healthy Sergei Gonchar (he missed nearly 60 games last year after shoulder surgery) should make an even bigger impact.
"We realize that just because we won, everything [won't] come easy," Crosby says. "Last year was a good wake-up call. We went to the finals [in 2007-08], and came back the next year and were in 10th place in January. You have to learn how to deal with success, and that's a hard thing. If you don't find ways to motivate yourself, you're not going to have success for long."
For Malkin, the Conn Smythe Trophy winner and a Hart Trophy finalist for the second straight year, his motivation is in his hands. The Penguins were to get their Stanley Cup rings on Sept. 29. "I have 10 fingers," he says. "I want to win 10 times."
New Flyer Chris Pronger fits in with Philadelphia like Max among the Wild Things. The big No. 1 defenseman, who arrived in a June trade with Anaheim, brings sheer nastiness to a team that has long prized it. Pronger, 34, will absorb minutes from defensemen Braydon Coburn and Kimmo Timonen, add punch to Philly's already potent power play and help lighten the leadership role of captain Mike Richards. "I've made a lot of mistakes on and off the ice," says Pronger, who won the 2007 Cup with the Ducks. "It's a chance to not only help these kids to learn how to win, but also how to handle different situations and develop into better players."
The Flyers' crushing defense should ease the stress on goalie Ray Emery, fresh off a stint in the KHL. "They don't need spectacular goaltending. They need a solid goaltender," says Emery. "That's the pressure I put on myself -- to be that."
Despite losing two of their six 25-goal scorers, Philly, fortified by the game's most ornery star, should be better than it was a year ago.
New Jersey Devils
The Devils' new look has an old feel: The franchise welcomed back Jacques Lemaire behind its bench. The 64-year-old coach, who spent eight years in Minnesota, is best known for the defensive style -- if trapping and clutching opponents can be considered stylish -- that helped New Jersey win its first Stanley Cup, in 1995. But don't expect the Devils of the '90s to reemerge completely.
Lemaire's old Devils never had a scoring sensation like Zach Parise. The 25-year-old left wing, who broke out last season with 45 goals and 94 points, will again skate with Travis Zajac and Jamie Langenbrunner, each of whom had career years with more than 60 points. That production, along with 31 goals and 78 points from winger Patrik Elias, helped New Jersey score a respectable 238 goals.
"This team had a great season," Lemaire says, acknowledging that offense does, in fact, have a place in the game. "I want to keep what they did good and maybe correct the mistakes."
New York Rangers
The Rangers unloaded one unwieldy contract, Scott Gomez's, to take on another, luring former Wild sniper Marian Gaborik with a five-year, $37.5 million deal. Unfortunately for New York the deal didn't come with an if-he's-healthy clause. Hampered by groin troubles, Gaborik, 27, has played 70 games just once in the last five seasons and had hip surgery last December. During training camp last month, he complained of soreness in his groin.
When he plays, Gaborik is a dynamic scorer -- his 0.44 goals-per-game average is fifth among active players -- and the Rangers desperately need that. Their 200 goals last season ranked 28th and explains why they parted ways with all but five of their forwards. "With so many new guys, it's going to take a while to know how it's going to look," says goalie Henrik Lundqvist one of two players left from the 2005-06 Rangers. "We need to have patience." What they need is a healthy Gaborik.
New York Islanders
Another New York team, another injury concern. The Islanders' signing of Dwayne Roloson and Marty Biron, top goalies last season for Edmonton and Philadelphia, respectively, underscores the iffy status of franchise keeper Rick DiPietro, who has missed 98 games since signing a 15-year, $67.5 million contract in 2006. DiPietro followed hip surgery in March of 2008 with knee surgery that October, and though G.M. Garth Snow says cryptically that DiPietro's rehab is "right on track," there's no indication of when the goalie will be ready for a full-time load. By the end of preseason he had just begun to face shots in practice. "Adding Dwayne and Marty allows Rick to make sure he's 100 percent," Snow says.
Last season the Islanders allowed the third-most goals in the league, which wouldn't have been so bad had they not also been the lowest-scoring team in the East. Although the Isles have promising talent up front in 2009 top draft pick John Tavares and gritty right wing Kyle Okposo, there isn't a goalie in the NHL that can save them from another woeful year.
Of the league's 10 most active pugilists, the Devils' right wing was the only one to have more points (32) than fights (20) last season. Tough and resilient near the net, he scores some garbage goals -- and he likes it that way.
On the Spot: Wade Redden
The Rangers' defenseman, who signed a six-year, $39 million deal before last season, was heavily booed during a disappointing first year in New York. To quiet the jeers he must raise his point total (26) and curb his giveaways (40).
On the Verge: Claude Giroux
The Flyers' right wing tied for a team-best five points in last spring's playoff series against Pittsburgh. Now, with Philadelphia having lost some secondary scoring, the creative 21-year-old moves up the depth chart.
-- Sarah Kwak
Pierre McGuire's In the Crease
If Jordan Staal and Marc-André Fleury win roster spots with Team Canada, the Penguins could have six players in the Olympics..... Tick, tick, tick. Flyers goalie Ray Emery, repeatedly disciplined for altercations with opponents and teammates during his three-plus seasons in Ottawa, vows that he has matured after a season with Atlant Moscow Oblast. The league will keep a watchful eye on him.... Devil Paul Martin is already the NHL's most underappreciated defenseman; he'll get better still under coach Jacques Lemaire.... John Tortorella may not be a ton of fun to be around, but the irascible Rangers coach should improve the team with his aggressive, up-tempo system.
This article appears in the October 5, 2009 issue of Sports Illustrated
NHL Truth & Rumors