Claude Julien (4th season)
39-30-13 (6th in East); lost in second round to Flyers
C Gregory Campbell, RW Nathan Horton, F Tyler Seguin
RW Miroslav Satan, D Dennis Wideman
THE BRUINS are intent on turning the page after becoming just the third NHL team to squander a 3--0 playoff lead. The pivotal moment of Boston's second-round collapse against Philadelphia: the crushing, wrist-dislocating hit that Flyers captain Mike Richards laid on one of the league's most underrated players, David Krejci, in Game 3. On a team with Marc Savard, a sublime passer, and Patrice Bergeron, an Olympic gold medalist, Krejci, the third center, is the Boston bellwether. He is a creative playmaker and dedicated checker, a get-well-card player who cheers up practically everybody. After he went down, the Bruins scored eight goals in four straight losses to Philly.
The Boston attack will need Krejci in 2010--11. After ranking second in the NHL in scoring the previous year, the Bruins plummeted to 30th last season, due in part to a raft of injuries, as well as a curious lack of finish. According to their internal statistics, they had roughly the same number of scoring opportunities as during their goalfest season. "The chances came," says coach Claude Julien. "It's a question of bearing down and finishing."
With the additions of potential 35-goal winger Nathan Horton, acquired from the Panthers in June, and Tyler Seguin, the No. 2 draft pick who will play the wing because of the logjam at center, it's unlikely Boston will spend the next six months fumbling around the offensive zone. Krejci, whose production dipped by five goals last season before he rebounded with a strong (preinjury) playoff, also must return to the form he showed during 2008--09, when he finished second on the team with 73 points. With the news last month that Savard is suffering from postconcussion syndrome, Krejci takes on an even more pivotal role.
"We need him on his game," Julien says of Krejci, who underwent surgery on his right wrist in May and now has almost total flexion in the joint. "We know how much he can do for us."
Lindy Ruff (13th season)
45-27-10 (3rd in East); lost in first round to Bruins
D Jordan Leopold, D Shaone Morrisonn, C Rob Niedermayer
LW Tim Kennedy, D Toni Lydman, D Henrik Tallinder
WHETHER HE likes it or not—and he assuredly doesn't—Ryan Miller has essentially become a latter-day Dominik Hasek in Buffalo. The goalies obviously have different styles and personalities. Miller (below) internalizes his emotions while the Dominator was Teflon-brained, but Miller, the U.S. Olympic star, is hardly less significant and only moderately less accomplished than Hasek was a decade ago. In an age when almost any goaltender can win a Cup (hello, Antti Niemi!), Miller is the foundation of the rare NHL team still built from the goal out.
"I think he's mature enough to deal with it," coach Lindy Ruff says. "When he was younger, he was pretty emotional and hard on himself. It was just a question of his understanding the ups and downs."
Miller needs more support from an offense that tilts left. Right wing Drew Stafford, coming off a desultory 14-goal season, is a first-liner by default. Slick but brittle center Tim Connolly, who finally stayed healthy enough to appear in 73 games but scored just 17 goals, also has to provide more muscular play.
"Yeah, there are guys we hope have bigger years," Ruff says. "Playing close, low-scoring games puts a lot of pressure on Ryan." He laughs. "And the coach."
Jacques Martin (2nd season)
39-33-10 (8th in East); lost in conference finals to Flyers
G Alex Auld, C Jeff Halpern
G Jaroslav Halak, C Glen Metropolit, C Dominic Moore
THE LINE started forming at a suburban Montreal mall six hours early last month, not for a chance to buy precious single-game tickets but to say thank you—and au revoir—to Jaroslav Halak, a goalie who scribbled his name all over the Eastern Conference playoffs in 2010 and was now signing autographs to raise money for a children's hospital. Because the net, payroll and city weren't big enough for two presumptive No. 1s, G.M. Pierre Gauthier traded Halak to St. Louis in June and anointed Carey Price, a former first-round draft pick, as the starter.
If the laconic Price, whose pedigree includes world junior championship and AHL titles, wins back a city of critics that makes Simon Cowell look like Pollyanna, the Canadiens could replicate their surprising playoff run. If not, bleu, blanc, rouge becomes boo, blanch and rue.
Two prominent Eastern Conference veterans believe the 23-year-old Price will be a star ... but on his next team, because he does not have the mental makeup to handle playing in Montreal. After riding the bench behind Halak during the playoffs, says Price, "I'm a little more humble. Last year I learned that you need to earn your ice time. Things aren't necessarily given to you. And that's something I'm really going to remind myself of."
Cory Clouston (3rd season)
44-32-6 (5th in East); lost in first round to Penguins
D Sergei Gonchar, D David Hale
C Matt Cullen, D Andy Sutton, D Anton Volchenkov
CHANGE TAKES an eternity in most national capitals, but Ottawa rebuilt its back end at warp speed. Sergei Gonchar left the Penguins for a three-year, $16.5 million contract mere minutes after the start of the free-agency signing period on July 1, a wham-bam-glam deal that provided the 36-year-old with the extra year he wanted and the Senators with the premier puck-moving defenseman they so desperately craved.
Gonchar's slick passing should remedy the chronic lack of flow between the defensemen and forwards that has undermined the scoring efforts of Daniel Alfredsson (above), Jason Spezza and Alex Kovalev.
So why abandon a Cup favorite in Pittsburgh? "[The Senators] have a mix of young and old players," says Gonchar, who has had at least 50 points in nine of the past 10 seasons. "There's toughness and skill, and they are well-organized. My plan is to play four more years and win another Cup. I think I can do it in Ottawa."
Ron Wilson (3rd season)
30-38-14 (15th in East)
RW Colby Armstrong, LW Clarke MacArthur, LW Kris Versteeg
D Garnet Exelby, C Wayne Primeau, LW Viktor Stalberg
WHEN DION PHANEUF became the 18th captain of the Maple Leafs in June, he gushed about the history of the Original Six franchise. Of course, the sinking of the Lusitania also falls under the extremely broad category of history.
In 1967, the last time Toronto won a Stanley Cup, Canada was barely out of the black-and-white TV era. Under G.M. Brian Burke, the Leafs, in the midst of their black-and-blue era, continue to painstakingly rebuild. Phaneuf, who came over in a trade with Calgary last January, has nevertheless declared that anything less than a playoff berth next spring is "unacceptable"—a statement without consequence in hockey-besotted Toronto, where his comments have, of course, dominated headlines. "He's an assertive person," says coach Ron Wilson. "He's not afraid of the pressure that comes with being captain of the Leafs, which is a significant position."
Also significant positions: ranking 30th in both penalty kill and power play, areas in which Phaneuf must have a significant impact in his first full season with the Leafs. The hard-rock defenseman doesn't have to play harder, just smarter. "Because he has a big shot, teams try to take it away," Wilson says. "He's getting overplayed, but that frees lanes for other people. Dion will learn it can't always be about the shot. It's about the shot at the right time."
ON THE VERGE
• P.K. SUBBAN
With eight points in the playoffs, the rookie defenseman was a revelation. If he can temper his recklessness, his skating and puckhandling will be pillars of a long career.
THE HOT SEAT
• RON WILSON
G.M. Brian Burke has solidly backed his old Providence College teammate, and the performance of Wilson's U.S. team at the 2010 Olympics should have removed any doubts about his bench smarts. Still, the acerbic coach is hardly bulletproof if Toronto gets off to another ragged start.
• JOHNNY BOYCHUK
Sure, it's easy to be hidden on the Bruins' blue line; 6'9" Zdeno Chara is a human eclipse. But the late-blooming Boychuk, 26, who spent five seasons in the AHL before becoming a regular last year, delivers seismic hits—ask Matt Stajan—and has offensive skill worthy of power-play time.
PIERRE MCGUIRE'S IN THE CREASE
The addition of forward Nathan Horton and the potential for hard-nosed winger Milan Lucic to bounce back from an injury-riddled season should make the Bruins one of the league's most physical forecheck teams.... With a soft defense, the Senators must be aggressive on the attack—right wing Alex Kovalev(below) and center Jason Spezza have to each score more than 80 points.... Buffalo will be fun to watch, especially if Thomas Vanek can return to being a 35-plus goal scorer and young left wing Tyler Ennis is given the chance to flash his skills.... Young centers Lars Eller and Dustin Boyd will have to grow up offensively if the Canadiens are to improve.... The Leafs need second-year center Tyler Bozak to develop more consistency playing alongside high-scoring winger Phil Kessel.
DAMIAN STROHMEYER (KREJCI)
MAN IN THE MIDDLE The Bruins' third center, Krejci needs to regain his scoring touch from two years ago when he had 22 goals.
KEVIN HOFFMAN/US PRESSWIRE (MILLER)
ANDRE RINGUETTE/NHLI/GETTY IMAGES (ALFREDSSON)