Darren Eliot
Monday September 8th, 2008

As each new season approaches, I look to see which teams might benefit from the way their previous season ended. I factor in off-season acquisitions and try to extrapolate what those players can mean to a team's fortunes in the upcoming campaign. With that forecast in mind, I offer up four scenarios that are fuel for a debate: Which matters more: preceding playoff performance or new personnel?

Let's first consider the Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings.

Is it more important to this season that they went the distance last spring or that they added Marian Hossa to the mix? Both occurrences set up Detroit as the team to beat again this season. Forget the hangover theory. The Wings benefit from adding a world-class player in Hossa to their already impressive list of supreme talent that includes Nicklas Lidstrom, Pavel Datsyuk and Henrik Zetterberg. Valtteri Filppula, Johan Franzen and Niklas Kronwall all made strides in their own right during the Wings' title run. If ever a team was set up to repeat in the cap era, it is the 2008-09 edition of the Detroit Red Wings.

What about the team that the Red Wings' defeated in the Western Conference Final? The Dallas Stars finally made an inspired playoff run after years of dominating during the regular season only to fall flat come the postseason. Does that experience shape them for success this season more so than the addition of free agent superpest Sean Avery?

For the Stars, positive playoff performance is of greater value than what Avery brings to the mix. Not that he won't be helpful. Avery's agitator bent and all- around game should mesh nicely in Big D -- if placing Avery and mesh nicely in the same sentence isn't oxymoronic. But, the feel-good phenomenon for the likes of captain Brenden Morrow, second-year defenseman Matt Niskanen, trade deadline acquisition Brad Richards and goaltender Marty Turco will be a liberating mental framework. The Stars now know what they are capable of, and with a core of twenty-somethings firmly entrenched as leaders, Avery augments that group's presence rather than having to arrive and define it.

In the east, what about the Washington Capitals and the Boston Bruins? The Caps replaced goaltender Cristobal Huet -- who took over for longtime incumbent Olie Kolzig and performed so well down the stretch -- with Jose Theodore. In this case, the Caps' surge from the bottom to the top of the Southeast Division and subsequent playoff showing -- a first-round loss to Philadelphia in seven games -- is of far greater import when considering this team for the upcoming campaign than who will be tending goal for them.

The Capitals can take heart and confidence from a run that saw them battle hard and prevail in must-win situations on the road just to make the playoffs. Huet was stellar, but the group accomplishment goes far beyond the goalie. Theodore just has to provide a confident and hungry team with the same level of netminding he gave the Colorado Avalanche down the stretch in March. If he does, the Caps should advance even further than they did so stunningly just four months ago.

And then we have the Bruins. GM Pete Chiarelli re-tooled the B's and saw them make the playoffs by securing the eighth and final playoff spot. They played a memorable first round series before finally succumbing to the Montreal Canadiens in seven games. Is that modest success bigger than getting Patrice Bergeron back from missing 72 games and that first round playoff series? Probably not. As exciting as it was for Bruins fans to see their beloved team in postseason action for the first time since 2004, getting Bergeron back in the middle is more of a factor for B's this time around.

Sure, the positive experience garnered last season by David Krejci, Phil Kessel and Milan Lucic is invaluable. Yet, without the return of Bergeron to aid an offense that finished 14th in the east in goals scored, the Bruins would be hard pressed to make it back to the playoffs this season -- even if those players continued to develop as hoped. They lopped off a whopping 67 goals-against compared to the previous season -- a reduction they cannot hope to improve upon. Their inclusion in playoff hockey will rely on an improved attack, which means Bergeron becomes the biggest single variable in projecting the Bruins' potential this season.

So, have at it. As you look to predict your team's potential for success and who might be good fantasy pool picks, don't forget to rank personnel additions and carryover capacity as elements of your analysis. The result may change your overall perspective.

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