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Eastern Conference Also Rans...By Ron "Rink Rat" Steel

New York Islanders Third, Atlantic Division 35-34-11-2 83pts. 224-231 Lost first round to Ottawa 4-1 General Manager Mike Milbury may be remembered for just one achievement - returning the team to their Stanley Cup-winning uniforms. On Oct.6 Milbury was quoted "All I`ve asked for is time to evaluate, time to see where it goes." He was referring to the patience of owner Charles Wang. Milbury has been evaluating for seven years now. New York`s roster is tricky. Alexei Yashin is a motivator`s nightmare; captain Mike Peca pops off when he shouldn`t, and workhorse defenceman Adrian Aucoin dislikes coaches. Milbury hit on the perfect recourse - hire a 54 year old rookie coach. Steve Sterling moved through the through the ranks at a snail`s pace, finally reaching the AHL in 2000/01. By the All-Star break the minors will be looking good.

Montreal Canadiens Fourth Northeast Division 30-35-8-9 77pts. 206-234 Missed Post Season This team last season had the second lowest win total since 1962/63. They scored under 210 goals for the fifth straight year: this is a franchise which has lost it`s way. Their big player move? Importing Canuck knuckle-dragger Darren Langdon. He had three minutes in the box for every five minutes on the ice. The club`s best move in years was bringing in Canadiens legend Bob Gainey, a player steeped in the traditions of the seventies and early eighties. He could be the man to turn the ship around, but not this year. Florida Panthers Fourth Southeast Division 24-36-13-9 70pts. 176-237 Missed Play-offs This club is a joke. GM Rick Dudley is the bonehead who managed to lose two goaltenders in the same waiver draft. The next day he traded with Boston for leaky Steve Shields. Last year they kept 19 year old rookie Steven Weiss. Seventy-seven games played, 21 points, 14 minutes/game. He was dumped into the minors on October 6. Coach Mike Keenan is lousy working with kids; now ! he has 18 year old Nathan Horton to brutalize.

Carolina Hurricanes Fifth, Southeast Division 22-43-11-6 61pts. 171-240 Missed play-offs Owner Peter Karmanos is looking for `partners.` This could mean he is fed up pumping money into this sink hole. General Manager Jim Rutherford should have been fired ages ago. Coach Paul Maurice has seven years on the job and still no-one is sure if he can really coach. Rutherford can`t find a replacement for Ron Francis (40) or a second-line centre to play behind Rod Brind`Amour. Their starting goaltender is an odd duck - Kevin Weekes nearly missed a game for Vancouver Canucks a few years back because, he claimed, he was nearly kidnapped in a downtown back alley. Rutherford has dragged 18 year old Eric Staal onto the roster. Wish the kid better luck than Steven Weiss had.

Atlanta Thrashers Third, Southeast Division 31-39-7-5 74pts. 226-284 Missed play-offs Club management thought the team was making progress to the extent the Thrashers would compete for a play-off spot this season. Now the team is in disarray, sandbagged, if the District Attorney is correct, by one of their own players. Pittsburgh Penguins Fifth, Atlantic Division 27-44-6-5 65pts. 189-255 Missed play-offs General Manager/figurehead Craig Patrick said recently, "We scrape by, year to year." The Penguins require a new arena but their plans hinge on some guy convincing some authority or board to permit him to build a race-track. He wants slots included in the approval. The slots cash, some 60-million, then finds its way to a new rink. This team doesn`t score and can`t stop pucks either. Any possibility of a decent season rests on 18 year old goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. This will end badly.

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