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GENERAL MANAGER Paul Holmgren turned Philly from a last-place team in 2006--07 into an Eastern Conference finalist last season by orchestrating smart trades and signing free-agent All-Star center Daniel Bri�re. "We took awhile to come together," coach John Stevens says, "but by season's end there was a real affection for one another. We had a group that wanted to win for each other."
After witnessing his team's playoff run, Holmgren smartly stayed mostly idle this off-season, tinkering but nothing more. The Flyers could challenge the Penguins for the division title, though to do so they'll need help from first-line left wing Simon Gagn� (above), who missed more than 50 games and all of the playoffs last season while battling concussion-resulted problems. Gagn�, a two-time 40-goal scorer, appeared in good form during the preseason, averaging 16 minutes in his first two games and taking nine shots. "If we had him last [playoffs], we could have gone over the top," says Bri�re. "Having him healthy is huge. He was our best acquisition of the summer."
IN THE 14 years that Martin Brodeur (below) has been their goalie, the Devils have made the playoffs 13 times, including the last 11 in a row. The four-time Vezina Trophy winner showed a touch of what coach Brent Sutter calls "mental fatigue" in the playoffs last spring, but during the regular season Brodeur was his typical daunting self, ranking in the top 10 in wins (44), save percentage (.920) and goals-against average (2.17) while playing a league high 4,635 minutes. "I don't know who put the [idea] in everybody's head that a goalie can't play every game," says Brodeur, 36.
After scoring the fourth-fewest goals in the NHL, the Devils brought back two of Brodeur's former teammates—forwards Bobby Holik and Brian Rolston—who won Stanley Cups with the team in 1995 and 2000. Rolston, who had three straight 30-goal seasons with the Wild, will give the Devils needed offensive support and boost their anemic power play, but New Jersey's overall load will again be carried largely by Brodeur. He remains very much up to the task.