1 RED WINGS A talented and deep offense, one of the top goalies
(Dominik Hasek) and the best coach (Scotty Bowman) of all time
make them the team to beat. What could derail Detroit? Lack of
depth on the blue line or old legs that could tire.
2 AVALANCHE With goalie Patrick Roy not playing in the Olympics
and center Peter Forsberg likely to return after the Games (he
has missed all season recovering from various injuries), two key
players should be fresh come the postseason. Improved special
teams make Colorado a threat to repeat as champion.
3 FLYERS Aggressive forechecking should wear down opponents
in a long series. Scoring forwards Simon Gagne, John LeClair,
Mark Recchi and Jeremy Roenick make Philly difficult to match up
against. One concern is the unproven goaltending of Brian Boucher
and Roman Cechmanek.
4 SHARKS A physical team built for a long playoff run. Their
penalty killing is the most consistent in the league, and the
grinding line of Mike Ricci, Niklas Sundstrom and Scott Thornton
is tough to play against. Teemu Selanne and Vincent Damphousse,
two scoring forwards, must be effective.
5 BRUINS The offensive forwards, led by Joe Thornton, are
superb. Goaltender Byron Dafoe, who has been sharp all season,
must be on top of his game, because the team is not consistent
6 MAPLE LEAFS Center Mats Sundin has been outstanding after
last season's terrific playoff performance. Curtis Joseph, the
probable No. 1 goalie for the Canadian Olympic team, is among the
NHL's best. Toronto needs to add a top defensive defenseman who
is also a physical force.
7 OILERS In his second season, Craig MacTavish has become
one of the league's best coaches. Few teams are faster, and none
crash the net as well as Edmonton, which has the most underrated
defense in the NHL. The big question is, can No. 1 center Mike
Comrie, who's only 5'9" and 170 pounds, hold up under postseason
8 SENATORS Balanced scoring and a team-oriented system make
them a threat. A fourth straight early playoff exit should be
averted because of the addition of gritty players like 6'9",
250-pound defenseman Zdeno Chara. But the team must be ready to
play a more grinding style.