What's in store for Eastern Conference

STEPHEN KNIGHT, Sports Network

, Last Updated: 11:33 AM ET

TORONTO -- Exhibition games begin this week and the newsstands are chock full of fantasy preview guides. It's the most wonderful time of the year.

Although this offseason was mostly taken up by the Ilya Kovalchuk contract drama, there were other notable moves in the Eastern Conference that lead into our five burning questions in the Eastern Conference for 2010-11.

5. Can the "Atlanta Blackhawks" make the playoffs?

In order to get over the loss of Ilya Kovalchuk (and Maxim Afinogenov), the Thrashers have decided to poach most of the Chicago Blackhawks' Stanley Cup- winning roster.

With the champagne barely dry on their playoff beards, forwards Dustin Byfuglien, Ben Eager, Andrew Ladd and defenceman Brent Sopel were all acquired from Chicago in off-season trades.

What the Thrash lost in speed and skill will apparently be compensated for with size and general orneriness. Niklas Bergfors and Evander Kane provide youth and speed up front and Nik Antropov led the team in scoring last season.

Free agent and former St. Louis Blues netminder Chris Mason immediately gives Atlanta credibility in goal, as youngster Ondrej Pavelec continues to develop.

It will be interesting to see what general manager Rick Dudley and coach Craig Ramsay -- former Buffalo Sabres teammates in the 1970s -- put together in the post-Kovy era. Ramsay is a master strategist from the Roger Neilson school. If the kids buy in, they might sneak in to the postseason.

4. Can the Flyers get back to the Stanley Cup finals?

Hard to believe that the well-oiled orange machine we watched in the Stanley Cup finals squeaked into the playoffs on the last night of the season.

The Flyers enter 2010-11 with much the same personnel that took them to within two wins of a Stanley Cup, with the notable exception of Simon Gagne being traded to Tampa Bay and Nikolai Zherdev being lured back from Europe and his one-year flirtation with the KHL.

With Danny Briere, Jeff Carter, Zherdev, Mike Richards, Claude Giroux, Ville Leino and Scott Hartnell, the Flyers are going to score some goals this season.

The question becomes, will the team be able to ride far into the playoffs by using what amounts to four defencemen -- Chris Pronger, Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn and Matt Carle. The acquisition of blueliners Andrej Meszaros and Sean O'Donnell should help.

Can goalie Michael Leighton continue the dreamy playoff run from the spring? Not likely, and this "goaltending" could be the Flyers' undoing (as it has been in so many years past).

3. How will the Lightning do in Steve Yzerman's first season as GM?

Stevie Y will have a tough time following his own act. He was the architect of the gold-medal-winning Team Canada squad at the Olympic Winter Games in Vancouver and, well, anything short of a second Stanley Cup in Tampa may pale by comparison.

He and new coach Guy Boucher have their work cut out for them, but with the chaos that has surrounded the team in recent years, just about anything will be an improvement.

The Bolts start from a nice spot with the emergence of Steven Stamkos, who was on fire all of last season and ended with 51 goals and 95 points while appearing in all 82 games.

The addition of Simon Gagne will be brilliant if he can stay healthy. Martin St. Louis had an amazing campaign setting up Stamkos last season, but he's 35 now. Can he keep it up? Vinny Lecavalier has seen his production fall off the past two seasons. If he is inspired under the Yzerman-Boucher regime, Lecavalier may start having fun again. Heck, agitator Steve Downie amped up his game, adding 22 goals to his 208 PIMs.

Gone is blueliner Andrej Meszaros and in his place steps veteran Pavel Kubina, he of the Stanley Cup ring with Tampa Bay in 2004.

In goal, the Bolts have two middling $2-million men in Nashville castoff Dan Ellis and Mike Smith. For Yzerman's sake, the two of them will need to inspire one another. Playoffs are not out of the question, but not much more should be expected in Year 1 of the Yzerman regime.

2. Will Tyler Seguin live up to the hype in Boston?

The Bruins have to hope this past spring's second-round playoff collapse against Philly doesn't creep into the start of this season. It's just embarrassing to lose four straight to anyone, and now the Beantowners have the dubious distinction of being one of just three teams in NHL history to have been eliminated from the playoffs after building a 3-0 series lead.

With that out of the way, the Bruins have lots to look forward to this season. The acquisition of rugged power forward Nathan Horton from Florida should complement the skilled stylings of Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci.

Second overall pick in 2010 Tyler Seguin would seem to be a lock to make the big team out of camp, especially if playmaker Marc Savard continues to be out with post-concussion symptoms following a head shot by Pittsburgh's Matt Cooke last March.

The Bruins sent puck-moving defenceman Dennis Wideman to Florida in the Nathan Horton deal, but another Dennis, as in Seidenberg, fills in capably on both sides of the puck.

Seguin will be given every chance to make it on one of the top two lines in Boston. Having 42-year veteran Mark Recchi around to help ease the transition from junior bodes well.

1. Can Carey Price deal with the fishbowl in Montreal?

New Habs GM Pierre Gauthier didn't take long to get fans into a foaming lather after he traded goalie and playoff hero Jaroslav Halak to the St. Louis Blues for two prospects -- skilled 21-year-old Danish forward Lars Eller and 20-year- old Canadian smash-'em-up forward Ian Schultz.

So for at least 15 minutes there is no goaltending controversy. As of the end of the first game of the season, though, you can bet the Montreal media will be asking if it's time for backup Alex Auld to take the reins; and that's if Carey Price pulls off a clean sheet.

Price is still just 23, but he already has three NHL seasons under his belt, with last year being his worst. This is not a happy development in Hab-land. Price's zen-like demeanor -- which reporters never ceased to marvel at in his first two seasons -- has been called into question. Yes, Price is calm, but maybe he needs to be a little more frazzled, weird and/or on edge because what he was doing last season plainly wasn't working.

The addition of rookie PK Subban on the blue line will mean some great end-to- end rushes, but also some bad gambles and risky gaffes. Strap on those pads, Carey, it could be a bumpy season. It's a pity Halak and the Blues do not play at all in Montreal this season.


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