How good are the
NEW YORK ISLANDERS
? If you took their four best players and put them on the dark side of the moon, the Islanders would still be one of the top four teams in the NHL. So much for depth. Bring those players back—Denis Potvin, Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier and Bill Smith—and you have a dynasty. The question isn't whether the Islanders will win their fourth straight Stanley Cup, but rather, how can they fail? Talent, discipline, speed, toughness, character, coaching—you could go on and on. The only way this team can lose is to be stopped cold by a goaltender—as Pittsburgh's Michel Dion nearly did last spring in the first round of the playoffs. Moreover, the Islanders have traded for New Jersey's first-round 1983 draft choice, which could turn out to be the top pick. The only weakness on this club is its slogan: BRING FOURTH THE CUP.
NEW YORK RANGERS
needed most of last season to become comfortable playing under Coach Herb Brooks' system of constant motion, but by the playoffs they may well have been the second-best team in the league. Barry Beck seems on the verge of becoming the NHL's top defenseman, and if Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson can stay healthy—they played four games between them in 1981-82, when both underwent knee surgery—the offense will be much improved. Goalie John Davidson played only two games last season because of a bad back, and the Rangers are hoping he can return to the form he showed in 1978-79, when he led the Rangers past the Islanders and into the Stanley Cup finals. It could happen again.
To add mobility to their sluggish defense, the
traded pesty Ken Linseman to Hartford for Mark Howe, long considered one of the game's most promising players. Howe, who's 27 now, is at the crossroads, and it will be interesting to see whether he plays at the level that has always been expected of him. At center the Flyers have two old, slow pros, Bobby Clarke and Darryl Sittler, and 22-year-old Ron Flockhart, who last season added a strange new dimension to the Philadelphia attack—speed. The fans in the Spectrum were so shocked, they thought up a name for it: Flocky Hockey. Gone are the days of the Broad Street Bullies—Rocky Hockey—as the Flyers try to change their image.
Already a shoo-in for Executive of the Year honors is David Poile, rookie GM for the
. Within 10 days of taking the job, he plucked the panicky Canadiens of their defense with a deal that might make the Caps the most improved team in hockey. Poile sent Rick Green and Ryan Walter to Montreal for Rod Langway and Brian Engblom, two of the NHL's best defensemen, and Doug Jarvis, a legendary face-off specialist who plays Trottier tougher than any other center. Trots now will see him seven times a season instead of three. Complementing the instant defense will be a plethora of goals. One-way player Dennis Maruk had 60 last year. Mike Gartner scored 35 and Bobby Carpenter had 32. Over the summer Washington acquired 31-year-old Milan Novy, the top Czechoslovakian scorer of all time. Pat Riggin, who came from Calgary, is only so-so in goal, but Washington has enough going for it to make the playoffs for the first time.
Which means the
will miss them. Pittsburgh has a fine coach in Eddie Johnston, an All-Star goalie in Dion, and a power play that scored a league-record 99 goals last season. Beyond that, the Penguins have too many holes. One telling stat: This was the first year that the Penguins have had a first-and a second-round draft choice since 1976.
Don't look for the 1,800-mile shift East from Denver to improve the
NEW JERSEY DEVILS
, the sorriest team in the league. Instead of having the top pick in this year's amateur draft, they had Forward Dwight Foster, for whom they had dealt the choice to Boston in the summer of '81. Foster's plus-minus performance last season was-53, the worst in the NHL. Stung by that deal and one in which they traded their first choice in 1983 to the Islanders (for Bob Lorimer), Coach and General Manager Billy MacMillan pulled off a real biggie. He traded his one high-quality skater, Rob Ramage, to St. Louis for the Blues' No. 1 pick this year and next. MacMillan used St. Louis' 1982 selection to obtain Rocky Trottier, Bryan's brother. But Rocky missed most of last season with an injured knee, and the knee went kaput again in training camp.
The player the
selected with New Jersey's first choice was 18-year-old Gord Kluzak, a defenseman who goes 6'4", 221. Skating around him on the tiny Boston Garden rink is going to be no mean feat. Defense is the team's forte, with Ray Bourque, Mike Milbury, Mike O'Connell and Brad Park. Goaltending, a minus last season, will be much improved with the addition of Pete Peeters and 20-year-old Mike Moffat. But Boston needs to develop a power play if it is to challenge the Islanders. Last season only five clubs scored fewer power-play goals than the Bruins, who had 65. Rick Middleton had 51 goals in 1981-82, and rookie Center Barry Pederson scored 44. However, the typical Boston goal is still a rebound off the shinbone.
The success formula for the
used to be: Win the Vezina Trophy (least goals allowed) and you'll win the Stanley Cup. It hasn't worked the past two years; the Canadiens were humiliated in the first round of postseason play in both 1980-81 and 1981-82 despite giving up the fewest goals in the regular season. Now, Managing Director Irving Grundman has evidently scrapped the formula. The day after he made The Trade that sent Rod Langway, Brian Engblom, Doug Jarvis and Craig Laughlin to Washington, Grundman dealt Doug Risebrough, a solid defensive forward, to Calgary for second- and third-round draft choices. "How are we going to get the puck out of our end?" asks Goalie Rick Wamsley. Good question. Grundman's answer is Gaston Gingras, Gilbert Delorme and Robert Picard, three inexperienced defensemen who'll give veteran Larry Robinson fits. The Canadiens expect Ryan Walter, who arrived with Rick Green from Washington, to kill penalties, beef up their power play and rejuvenate Guy Lafleur, who has slumped to 27 goals in each of his last two injury-plagued seasons. Lafleur threatened to play this season in Japan unless his contract was renegotiated. Montreal complied, but Lafleur may still wish he'd slipped into his kimono and gone.