Tag:Chris Pronger
Posted on: November 8, 2011 1:14 pm
Edited on: November 9, 2011 1:54 pm
 

Flyers' Pronger to return to lineup vs. Lightning

By Brian Stubits

The Flyers are getting their captain back right on schedule.

Chris Pronger joined the rest of his team in Tuesday's morning skate and afterward Tim Panaccio of CSN Philadelphia concluded that it looks like Pronger is a go for Wednesday's game against the Lightning.

Well the team confimed as much on Wednesday, announcing Pronger will be in the lineup for the game in Tampa Bay.

Pronger has been out of the lineup since taking a stick to the eye Oct. 24 vs. the Maple Leafs. The original call was for Pronger to be out of the lineup for 2-3 weeks, a pretty accurate timetable it would appear.

When he returns to the ice Wednesday night, we'll have an unusual sight: Pronger with a visor. You might remember that he wasn't the first player to take a puck or stick to the face, but his was the one that reignited the debate about mandatory shields in hockey. They still aren't required by the NHL but for Pronger, it is being required by his GM Paul Holmgren, at least for the time being.

In their captain's absence, the Flyers have held their own pretty well, picking up seven of the eight possible points. Minus the first two games sans Pronger -- including a 9-8 loss to the Jets -- the Flyers have been able to stabilize themselves, largely through the offense. And here I thought they were going to rely more on defense this season after trading Jeff Carter and Mike Richards this summer.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: October 29, 2011 10:22 pm
Edited on: October 29, 2011 10:25 pm
 

Pronger talks eye injury as visor debate rolls on

prongereyeBy: Adam Gretz

Chris Pronger addressed the media on Saturday night for the first time since suffering an eye injury last week that will sideline him for the next couple of weeks. His right eye looked every bit as mangled as one would expect after taking a stick to the face during a game against the Toronto Maple Leafs, and the defenseman said he has no idea on a timetable for his return to the lineup.

He also said that he's experiencing some blurred vision, and when asked if he feels lucky that the injury wasn't worse, he admitted it could have easily been a lot worse but also added that you never feel lucky after getting hit. Flyers beat writer Anthony SanFilippo has the video of the entire media scrum which lasts about three-and-a-half minutes.

It's been reported that Pronger will not be cleared to return to the Flyers' lineup without wearing a visor, and when asked if the injury has changed his opinion on wearing one he simply said "You don't want to know my stance, that's for another day."

And with that, the debate rolls on. While Pronger was addressing the Philadelphia media, the folks on CBC Hotstove were debating whether or not the NHL should make visors mandatory and, predictably, former NHL player and New York Islanders general manager Mike Milbury was completely against the idea and the very suggestion of it, arguing that it would change the game and be a major step toward the elimination of fighting, while also claiming that he likes seeing players bloodied because it's a badge or honor and courage.

Leaving aside the argument as to whether or not fighting should or should not be eliminated (which is another, more difficult discussion for another day) the flaw in that argument, of course (the fighting part, anyway), as pointed out by TSN's Bob McKenzie via Twitter, is that the American Hockey League has made visors mandatory and fighting still takes place.

As I pointed out last week there are still are a good number of NHL players that view wearing a visor as their own personal choice because it's only putting themselves at risk for injury. And while that's true, that they're the only person that has to deal with the pain and injury that could come from not wearing a visor, they are putting their teams at risk -- as well as the large financial investments of their front office -- by potentially missing games due to what could be an easily preventable injury. And as far as increasing player safety is concerned, this is one change that would not, contary to Milbury's howls for blood, have a major impact on the game, unlike some other potential changes (like, for example, no-touch icing).

You're not going to completely eliminate injuries no matter what changes you make to the way the game is played or the equipment players are forced to wear. Playing the game will always carry a certain amount of risk. But the issue isn't whether or not visors can completely eliminate the potential for injury, it's about whether or not (and how much) it can reduce the risk of preventable ones.

Meanwhile, Washington Capitals forward Brooks Laich addressed the subject on Saturday, and according to Katie Carrera of the Washington Post, he feels the NHL is within five to 10 years of making visors mandatory.

Said Laich, via the Post:
“I think eventually visors will be mandatory for players coming into the league,” said Laich, who is Washington’s NHLPA representative. “If they do institute that rule I’d like to be grandfathered where [those already in the NHL] have a choice. I almost wish I wore a visor because incidents that can happen. Last night, you take the ear and maybe that’s two inches and it’s in your eye.”
My only question: five to 10 years? Why so long?

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: October 27, 2011 1:46 pm
Edited on: October 27, 2011 3:28 pm
 

Flyers rookie Schenn breaks foot, out 4-6 weeks

By Brian Stubits

Philadelphia Flyers GM Paul Holmgren announced on Thursday that one of the team's top prospects, Brayden Schenn, has a broken foot that will obviously keep him out of the lineup.

"Brayden Schenn suffered a broken left foot in the game last night. He will be out of action for 4 – 6 weeks," the team relayed from Holmgren on its Twitter account.

A short while after the announcement, the Flyers recalled Zac Rinaldo and Erik Gustafsson.

It's a bad ... um ... break for Schenn, who entered the season as the favorite for many to win the Calder Trophy as the league's top rookie. The prized prospect was picked up by the Flyers in the trade for Mike Richards to the Kings, which also landed Philadelphia Wayne Simmonds.

He didn't actually begin the season with the Flyers as he dealt with a minor shoulder issue, but he was recalled and played in four games. He has averaged 14:52 of ice time while failing to pick up a point and posting a minus-5. He did get the chance to go against his brother Luke Schenn of the Maple Leafs in that time as well.

Schenn apparently suffered the broken foot against the Canadiens when blocking a shot from defenseman P.K. Subban. In true hockey-player fashion, Schenn played the remainder of the game, but was seen with a noticeable limp afterward.

The injury comes on the heels of team captain Chris Pronger going down for a couple of weeks after taking a stick to the eye.

Schenn is one of four rookies the Flyers have been playing this season, joining Rinaldo, somewhat surprising Calder candidate Matt Read and the team's top pick in last summer's draft Sean Couturier.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: October 25, 2011 5:25 pm
Edited on: October 25, 2011 5:39 pm
 

Players still see protective visors as a choice

VisorsBy: Adam Gretz

The eye injury suffered by Philadelphia Flyers defenseman Chris Pronger on Monday night produced the obvious reaction, as the debate as to whether or not protective visors should be made mandatory at the NHL level was instantly fired up.

Had Pronger been wearing one it's likely he wouldn't have suffered the injury and wouldn't be out of the lineup for a couple of weeks. When he does eventually return to the lineup it's expected that he'll be wearing a visor.

Will this injury, isolated as it may be, bring the NHL any closer to making visors a required piece of equipment? Probably not, and we're still probably a long way off from that becoming a reality.

As Greg Wyshynski pointed out on Monday afternoon there are still more than enough players -- including some of Pronger's own teammates, players that had to watch him take a stick in the eye on Monday night and then frantically race off the ice  -- that view it as their face, their risk and their decision. Whether or not Pronger keeps the visor he's expected to wear once he returns for the remainder of his career remains to be seen, but he wouldn't be the first player to have a change of heart after suffering an injury to his face.

Helene St. James of the Detroit Free Press spoke with Red Wings defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom who started wearing a protective shield following an incident during the 2008-09 season when a puck hit him in the face. Said Lidstrom:
"If I'd had a shield on, it probably just would have hit the shield," Lidstrom said. "That's why I put one on. It kind of gave me a wake-up call, not having been wearing a shield for 17, 18 years maybe. So that's why I put one on. That's one of the precautions I wanted to take.

"You just have to get used to it, get over the hump of wearing it," Lidstrom said. "When you're so used to not wearing one and put one on, it's not the same. But once you get used to it, you're OK with it."
Despite Lidstrom's experience and comments, he still thinks it should be the players decision, a sentiment that was seemingly echoed by his head coach, Mike Babcock, who said "A guy like Prongs, who plays the game the way he does, and he's been doing it so long, and suddenly, someone is going to make you wear a visor. I don't know. I don't know the answer. It's an individual question."

It is an individual question, and the players, despite the occassional incident when a preventable injury does occur, seem to like it that way. And if past NHL history is any indication we're still probably a long way from having that particular piece of equipment become mandatory. Take, for example, how it took the NHL 11 years to officially make helmets mandatory following the death of Bill Masterson which came after he fell and hit his head on the ice during a game in January, 1968.

There was a time when something as practical -- and now accepted -- as helmets, and even goalie masks, were considered to be the individual players choice. And even then it was a struggle. When Jacques Plante wanted to wear his first goalie mask, because he had so suffered so many broken bones in his face, his coach, Toe Blake, attempted to prevent him from wearing it during games because, as the story goes, he felt it would hurt his goaltenders vision (oddly enough, that's one of the biggest complaints current players have regarding visors).

Eventually common sense prevailed in both cases, and helmets and goalie masks are now accepted pieces of equipment at all levels of hockey. It seems inevitable that the same thing will one day happen with the visor, but based on the mindset of so many current players it doesn't seem like that day is as close as it probably should be.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: October 24, 2011 8:29 pm
Edited on: October 25, 2011 10:19 am
 

Pronger takes stick to face, out 2-3 weeks

By Brian Stubits

The first period of the Flyers and Maple Leafs tilt in Philadelphia on Monday night featured three high-sticking incidents, the most disturbing of them was the one Chris Pronger took. Coincidentally, it was the only one of the three that wasn't called a penalty.

Have a look.

Pronger scrambled to the bench and didn't return in the first period. Between periods, GM Paul Holmgren said Pronger would not return against Toronto. No more information about the injury was given from the team, but Tim Panaccio of CSN Philadelphia said Pronger remained in the arena and wasn't hospitalized.

The reaction from Pronger makes you shiver. On the video you can hear Pronger screaming as he lay on the ice and then rushed off as fast as he could.

TSN's Bob McKenzie later reported more. "He is seeing an eye specialist but because of swelling, more time will be required for an evaluation. No further details."

After the game, Holmgren addressed the situation further. Pronger will be bed-ridden for the next three days with swelling around his right eye.

“He’s got a little bit of an issue with his eye," Holmgren said. "Over the next three or four days, no real concern other than swelling or something behind the eye. He’s going to be on bed rest for the next three days.
 
“The hope is he’ll be fine in a few weeks here.  He will see the eye doctor for the next four days.”

Holmgren said it will be 10 days-2 weeks until Pronger is able to return to the team. That doesn't necessarily mean a return to the lineup, just to team activities.

"It's scary, obviously, to see him clutching his eye," teammate Scott Hartnell said in an interview after the second period. Yes, Scott, yes it is.

Earlier this season, Francois Beauchemin of the Anaheim Ducks had a similarly terrifying moment when he took a slap shot square to the face. Luckily for him, he was wearing a visor and he came out of the incident with just a few stitches above his eye from the cut. If he hadn't been wearing a visor, it would have -- not could have, but would have -- been much worse.

“To me, it’s not an issue, players should wear them,” Holmgren said. “Some of these guys have been around a long time and for whatever reason don’t want to wear them. When Chris comes back, he’ll be wearing a visor.”

This will only reopen the conversation on mandatory visors in hockey again.

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: October 14, 2011 5:23 pm
Edited on: October 14, 2011 5:29 pm
 

Jumping to conclusions and the early NHL season

CBJ1

By: Adam Gretz

We're a little over a week into the regular season which means it's only natural to start jumping to conclusions based on a small sampling of games or head coaching decisions, and we're all guilty of it. Sometimes your initial knee-jerk reaction is accurate, and teams or players are as good or bad as they appear this early in the season, and other times it proves to be way too soon for such a judgement.

What about the Columbus Blue Jackets, one of the three teams in the NHL that has yet to win a game this season as of Friday afternoon. After an exciting summer of big-name acquisitions (Jeff Carter and James Wisniewski) is it still more of the same for an organization that has known nothing but losing since entering the NHL a decade ago? Or is it just a slow start hindered by the fact that one of those players (Wisniewski) has yet to appear in a game?

Is there really a goaltending controversy in Washington because Michal Neuvirth started the first game of the season instead of Tomas Vokoun? And is Vokoun really thee guy the Capitals can trust after struggling through his first start? Is Brendan Shanhan's early season run of suspensions going to be overkill?

In the spirit of Tom Symkowski and his Jump To Conclusions Mat in Office Space, we're going to jump to our own conclusions on those -- and more -- early season storylines .

1) New Look, Same Old Blue Jackets

Our Conclusion: Too soon

A lot of the Blue Jackets success (or lack of success) this season will depend on how well goaltender Steve Mason plays, and so far, it's been a less-than-inspiring start for Columbus and its young goaltender.

But it's too soon to think these are the same old Blue Jackets.

For one, Wisniewski is still serving his suspension that runs through the first eight games of the regular season, and that has definitely been a big blow to the Jackets' lineup. Wisniewski is expected to be -- and will be -- one of Columbus' top-defensemen and anytime you're playing without that sort of presence in your lineup it's going to have a negative impact. The biggest issue for Columbus so far, and an area Wisniewski should certainly help improve once he returns to the lineup, has been its  dreadful power play, which is currently off to an 0-for-20 start. This should get better when Wisniewski returns, and while the playoffs still aren't a given this season, the Blue Jackets are going to improve and take a step forward.

2) Tomas Vokoun Isn't The Answer For Washington/Capitals Goaltending Controversy

Our Conclusion: Crazy talk. And Way Too Soon

When Michal Neuvirth received the opening night start over free agent acquisition Tomas Vokoun it started the discussion as to whether or not the Washington Capitals had a goaltender controversy on their hands. When Vokoun earned his first start of the season in game No. 2 and struggled during a shootout win against Tampa Bay, allowing five goals against the Tampa Bay Lightning, there were concerns that he's not the answer in goal for Washington.

Traditionally Vokoun has been a slow starter throughout his career. Tim Greenberg of the Washington Post, for example, recently pointed out that October has been the worst month of Vokoun's career from a save percentage perspective, and generally plays better as the season progresses. He already rebounded on Thursday during the Capitals' 3-2 win in Pittsburgh with a strong performance that saw him make 39 saves, giving his team a chance to pick up two points in the standings.

Vokoun has been one of the best goalies in the NHL in recent years, and even at 35, should have enough left in the tank to help form one of the better goaltending duos in the NHL with Neuvirth. And both will get the fair share of starts throughout the season.

3) Buffalo is a Stanley Cup contender

Our Conclusion: Probably Accurate

The Sabres were already a playoff caliber team with plenty of excitement around them heading into the regular season, and a pair of impressive wins over Anaheim and Los Angeles to open the season in Europe did nothing to hurt that. The Sabres have one of the NHL's best goalies in Ryan Miller and boosted their defense over the summer with Christian Ehrhoff and, perhaps their best offseason addition, Robyn Regehr, to go along with Tyler Myers.

They were already a top-10 team a year ago offensively -- even with Derek Roy and Drew Stafford missing extended time due to injury -- and only added to that firepower up front by signing Ville Leino to help complement their already impressive group of forwards.

With that type of scoring depth, a trio of defensemen like Myers, Regehr and Ehrhoff, and a goaltender like Miller the Sabres should be one of the Eastern Conference's top contenders for a trip to the Stanley Cup Final.

4) Ilya Bryzgalov Will Be Philadelphia's Savior

Our Conclusion: Too Soon

The Philadelphia Flyers finally have their No. 1 goalie and in his first two starts managed to allow just one goal. Problem solved, right? Maybe.

I'm still not sure he's going to be enough to get Philadelphia it's long-awaited Stanley Cup, and for as much as the Flyers revolving door of goaltenders was criticized last season, they were still in the top-half of the league in save percentage and not that far below what Bryzgalov put up in Phoenix's tight defensive system.

It's not that Philadelphia isn't a good team defensively, but I have some concerns over the age -- and and durability -- of their top-two defensemen, Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen, I'm just not sure Bryzgalov is going to be enough of an upgrade to make up for what Philadelphia lost up front this summer.

5) Brendan Shanahan Will Be Too Quick On The Suspension Trigger

Our Conclusion: It's simply been the adjustment period.

New rules (or new wording of one of the rules -- rule 48) and a new person in charge of handing out discipline led to a sudden spike in suspensions during the preseason and sky is falling fears that hitting and all physical contact will be removed from the game. It's no different than when we came out of the lockout when the league put an emphasis on eliminating clutch-and-grab hockey and we saw a sudden spike in penalties, which eventually started to regress once players adjusted to the rules. The same thing will happen with Shanahan and the suspensions. The hammer will be dropped early as players figure out what they can and can not do, and once they adjust, business will go on as usual.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

Posted on: September 29, 2011 2:23 pm
 

Flyers captain Chris Pronger to play vs. Devils

By Brian Stubits

It wasn't long ago that Chris Pronger couldn't even lift weights as he prepared for the NHL season after surgeries on both his back and wrist. Tonight, the Flyers captain will be in the lineup in tonight's exhibition against the Devils, his first game this preseason.

Obviously, it signals that the start of the season isn't really in jeopardy like it was before.

"I'm looking forward to just getting into some game action," Pronger said in a statement. "You can only practice so much and try to prepare that way, but there's not like some good, old fashioned live-action hockey. You can't simulate that.

"Decisions need to be quicker and obviously the pace of the game is a lot quicker, so getting into that action is what you need to prepare for the season."

Very reliable throughout the majority of his career, Pronger has all of a sudden become an injury concern. He is 37 years old and has undergone five surgeries since 2010. The hard-hitting style he plays doesn't seem to mesh well with a recovering body.

But it's a huge lift for Philadelphia to get its captain back. The team basically made the decision to build around him and the defense this offseason, so getting him healthy is massive for the team.

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @BrianStubitsNHL on Twitter.

Posted on: September 27, 2011 6:08 pm
Edited on: September 27, 2011 6:12 pm
 

Atlantic Division Preview: Penguins climb to top

Atlantic1

By: Adam Gretz

Since the NHL went it to its current divisional alignment with Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New Jersey and both New York teams occupying the Atlantic Division it's pretty much been a three-team race at the top every year.

Since the 1998-99 season only three teams have managed to win the Atlantic outright -- New Jersey (seven times), Philadelphia (four times) and Pittsburgh (one time). The Rangers and Islanders have never won it, while only one of them, the Islanders during the 2001-02 season, has finished higher than third (second place).

Will it be one of the same three teams fighting for the top spot this season, or will one of the New York clubs find a way to win it for the first time under this current setup?

This year the division is loaded with story lines. The Flyers, the defending division champs, re-tooled their roster over the summer, while the Penguins may have to start the season without their best player -- and arguably the best player in the world -- as Sidney Crosby continues to recover from a concussion.

The Islanders look to be a team on the rise, while the Rangers landed the biggest free agent that hit the open market over the summer (of course they did). Meanwhile, the Devils look to build on the momentum of a strong second half and have to figure out what to do with Zach Parise, playing on a one-year deal, as he's eligible to become an unrestricted free agent next summer.

Atlantic Division (in predicted order of finish):

PenguinsPittsburgh Penguins: Playing without Jordan Staal for the first half of the season and without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin for the second half of the season the Penguins still managed to finish tied for the top spot in the Atlantic last season with 106 points, losing in a tiebreaker to the Flyers. That's an impressive accomplishment given how the team is built around those three players. Malkin and Staal look to be ready to go this season, and assuming Crosby returns to his former self, the Penguins should have the personnel to not only finish on top of the division, but also make up for two straight early exits in the playoffs.

Strengths: How did the Penguins manage to stay competitive last season without their three best players for such a long period of time? An outstanding defense anchored by Brooks Orpik, Kris Letang, Zbynek Michalek and Paul Martin. Combine the defense with the goaltending of Marc-Andre Fleury and Brent Johnson and the Penguins finished the regular season allowing the sixth fewest goals per game in the league. Even if Crosby isn't ready for the start of the season the Penguins still have excellent depth down the middle with Malkin, Staal and Mark Letestu, a nice two-way player that excels in the faceoff circle.

Weaknesses: When you have so much money invested down the middle (centers, defense and goaltending) it's going to be difficult to fill in talent on the wings. James Neal is supposed to be the goal-scoring winger they've been searching for, but he struggled in his debut season with the Penguins after coming over in a trade with Dallas. Steve Sullivan signed a one-year deal this summer and can still provide some offense, assuming he's able to stay on the ice.

The Penguins power play has been, well, pretty awful the past three years, even with the talent they're capable of putting on the ice. There are a lot of reasons they went out in the first round last year, and their 1-for-35 showing on the power play is at the top of the list.

RangersNew York Rangers: Surely you're not surprised that the biggest free agent available (Brad Richards) landed with the New York Rangers. Especially when said free agent has such a great track record playing for coach John Tortorella. The two spent a number of years together in Tampa Bay, including the 2003-04 season when the Lightning won their Stanley Cup, while Richards took home the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP.

Still, a lot of their success will depend on how well Richards and Gaborik play together, and whether or not Gabork bounces back from a disappointing season a year ago.

Strengths: Henrik Lundqvist is as steady and durable as they come in the crease, and a goaltender that's capable of stealing a game by himself. Brandon Dubinsky and Ryan Callahan bring a nice mix of skill and grit to the top lines.

Strong team defensively -- and Lundqivst certainly helps that -- even if their blue line, which is anchored by Marc Staal and Dan Girardi, doesn't contain a single player over the age of 27.

Weaknesses: Speaking of Staal, he's still dealing with some symptoms as a result of a concussion he suffered at the end of last season, which is not a good thing. Gaborik, for all his skill and ability, is always one shift away from his next injury (and yes, that's technically true for every player, but Gaborik's career speaks for itself: he's played more than 65 games just five times in 10 years). Mediocre power play during the regular season that scored one goal in 19 attempts during their first-round playoff loss to the Capitals.

FlyersPhiladelphia Flyers: Talk about a team that went through a transition this summer. When all was said and done the Flyers basically swapped Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Ville Leino, Daniel Carcillo, Sean O'Donnell and Darroll Powe for Ilya Bryzgalov, Jaromir Jagr, Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek, Brayden Schenn, Andreas Lilja and Max Talbot. Better? Worse? The same? Paul Holmgren and Flyers fans are about to find out.

Strengths: Claude Giroux and James van Riemsdyk are excellent young forwards, and Van Riemsdyk could be ready to have a breakout season following his impressive postseason run from a year ago. Danny Briere is still around to be one of their leading offensive weapons.

In a bizarre twist, goaltending moves from an area weakness to one of their biggest strengths thanks to the offseason addition of Bryzgalov from the Phoenix Coyotes.

Weaknesses: Unfortunately, in order to improve their goaltending the Flyers had to make a series of moves that involved trading Richards and  Carter, while also losing Leino to free agency. That's three of their top-five scorers from a year ago.

It's possible the addition of Bryzgalov, combined with the development of the young players and draft picks they acquired in the Richards and Carter deals, could allow this to  allwork out for the better in the long run, but they may have taken a step back in the short-term.

Will Giroux and Briere be as productive now that they'll be facing the other teams best players in the absence of Richards and Carter?

Chris Pronger and Kimmo Timonen are both a year older, and Pronger's health was a big problem last season.

DevilsNew Jersey Devils: When it comes to making coaching changes, no league seems to make more than the NHL, and within the NHL, no team seems to make more than the New Jersey Devils. After a summer-long saga involving their pursuit and eventual signing of Ilya Kovalchuk (who they acquired at the trade deadline of the previous season), the Devils had a disastrous start to last season, winning just nine of their first 31 games, resulting in the firing of head coach John MacLean.

Who did the Devils turn to at the point? Jacques Lemaire, naturally, for his third different stint with the team.

They finished with a 29-17-3 record under his watch and managed to stay in the playoff race longer than anybody could have expected following their awful start. Pete DeBoer takes over behind the bench this season, making him the 9th different coach to lead the team since the start of the 2000-01 season.

Strengths: The Devils should have a strong top-six once Travis Zajac returns, and they'll also benefit from the return of Zach Parise after he missedall but 13 games of last season. He's also playing on a one-year contract (perhaps a "show me" contract. As in, show me you're fully recovered and can once again be one of the top left wingers in the league before we sign you long-term).

As always, they finished with strong numbers defensively allowing just over 2.5 goals per game. Will they be as strong defensively without LeMaire running the ship?

Weaknesses: Who on the defense is going to provide some offense? No defenseman scored more than Andy Greene's 23 points a season ago. Adam Larsson, the Devils first-round pick in June, looks to have a ton of upside but some growing pains should be expected as a rookie.

Martin Brodeur is a Hall of Famer and one of the best goalies to ever play in the NHL, but he's clearly not the player he once was. And if the Devils do make it back to the playoffs, well, he's been pretty bad in two of his past three postseason appearances, while the Devils haven't made it out of the first round since 2006-07.

IslandersNew York Islanders: The New York Islanders made headlines last season because of a massive on-ice brawl in early February. They should make headlines this season because they're an improving team that's going to compete for a playoff spot thanks to their impressive collection of young forwards, with the recently signed John Tavares leading the way.

The Islanders offseason didn't see them bring in anybody significant from outside the organization, unless you're counting on Brian Rolston returning to his 30-goal form from four years ago, but they are getting back their top defenseman, Mark Streit, who missed all of last season with a shoulder injury, and that can be a huge addition to a team that's thin on the blue line.

Along with the return of Streit, a full-season for Kyle Okposo, an excellent two-way forward, will be a welcome addition as well.

Strengths: Definitely their forwards. They're young, they're productive, and many of them are signed long-term for what could be excellent value against the salary cap. The Islanders had eight different players score at least 10 goals last season, and seven of them are returning this season (the only one that isn't is Rob Schremp and his 10 goals).

Michael Grabner, Matt Moulson, Tavares, Blake Comeau and P.A. Parenteau all scored at least 20 goals for the Islanders a year ago.

Frans Nielsen is one of the NHL's most underrated defensive forwards and showed last season he's also capable of chipping in some offense, scoring 13 goals. He finished sixth the voting for the Selke Trophy which goes to the NHL's best defensive forward.

Weaknesses: Even with the return of Streit, as well as the presence of emerging young defenseman Travis Hamonic, who looks like he's going to be quite a player, there is still a lot of questions about this team defensively and in goal, and in the end that could prove to be their downfall this season. 

Rick DiPietro is still signed through the 2020-21 season and has appeared in just 39 games over the past three years.

NHL season preview schedule
Wed., Sept. 21: Step-back players Tues., Sept. 27: Atlantic Division
Thur., Sept. 22: Breakout players Wed., Sept. 28: Central Division
Fri., Sept. 23: Southeast Division Thur. Sept. 29: Northeast Division
Mon., Sept. 26: Pacific Division Fri., Sept. 30: Northwest Division

Photo: Getty Images

For more hockey news, rumors and analysis, follow @EyeOnHockey and @agretz on Twitter.

 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com