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> NORTHEAST DIVISION

1. Boston Bruins

Offense: Top forward Marc Savard continues to have concussion-related problems, a concern for the lowest-scoring team in the conference. Nathan Horton comes over from Florida. Second pick overall Tyler Seguin could have an immediate impact. Blake Wheeler (6-foot-5, 210) needs to play to his size. Production should improve.

Defense: Zdeno Chara and Johnny Boychuk were one of the NHL's top pairings at the end of last season. Dennis Seidenberg, picked up at the deadline, it reunited with Horton. Dennis Wideman is gone after a tough year. The third pairing is suspect, but the Bruins allowed the second-fewest goals (200) in the NHL.

Goaltending: Tuukka Rask took over the No. 1 job from Tim Thomas, a former Vezina winner. They make up the NHL's best duo.

Intangibles: The Bruins are intent on bouncing back after becoming the third team in NHL history to blow a 3-0 lead in the playoffs. Injuries were a major issue last season. Nice mix of young legs and experienced minds.

Outlook: Boston has been thrown in a group of preseason favorites to win it all. They can win the division, but the whole thing? Not quite.

2. Buffalo Sabres

Offense: The Sabres had 235 goals last season, third in the East, but they should get even more production. Tim Connolly is inconsistent. They need more than 52 goals combined from Thomas Vanek and Jason Pominville. Drew Stafford, this is your contract-year wake-up call. Kick back and enjoy Tyler Ennis.

Defense: Tyler Myers will become the best D-man in franchise history, assuming they don't lose him. Veterans Shaone Morrisonn and JordanLeopold give them a different look, but are they an upgrade over Toni Lydman and Henrik Tallinder? Rob Niedermayer gives them a true
checking-line center.

Goaltending: Ryan Miller was the best in the league, especially when you factor the Olympics into the equation. It wasn't a fluke. He gets better every year.

Intangibles: The Sabres' must get more from their so-called core, which overall lacked Miller's competitive toughness. Too many players have been too comfortable for too long. Influx of veteran leaders should help.

Outlook: Management insists that winning the Cup is the goal but its actions show otherwise. Miller makes them a playoff team, but they can miss if too many players have down years.

3. Montreal Canadiens

Offense: Scott Gomez has averaged 14 goals and 61 points since 2005-06, when he had 33 goals and 84 points. He's making $8 million. Mike Cammalleri must stay healthy for them to have a chance. D Andrei Markov (45 games) and unsigned D Marc-Andre Bergeron (60 games) were tied for fifth in scoring with 34 points.

Defense: Keep an eye on P.K. Suppan, who emerged late last season and was one of their better players in the postseason. Ex-Sabres blue-liner Jaroslav Spacek was a bright spot, but they still lack a shutdown defenseman. Hal Gill? Sorry.

Goaltending: The Canadiens' infatuation with Carey Price, who has been great at times and awful at others, is misplaced. He was outplayed by backup Jaroslav Halak, the guy they traded.

Intangibles: Montreal is hoping to recapture the teamwork, confidence and sacrifice -- not to mention the NHL's second-best PP -- that helped them knock off Washington en route to the conference finals. It's not easy.

Outlook: The Habs aren't great in any particular area, but they're not terrible either. That puts them somewhere between sixth and 10th in the conference.

4. Toronto Maple Leafs

Offense: Phil Kessel, coming off a terrific preseason, is looking for his third straight 30-goal season. Kris Versteeg brings back-to-back 20-goal seasons from Chicago. D Tomas Kaberle was their second-leading scorer. Forwards lack talent and depth, a bad sign for a team that had the NHL's worst PP.

Defense: The Leafs are spending $13 million on Dion Phaneuf, acquired last year from Calgary, and Mike Komisarek, who was minus-9 in 34 games after becoming their prize free agent. Kablerle was minus-16. It's time for Luke Schenn to take the next step.

Goaltending: Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who won the Cup in 2007, is looking to resurrect his career after losing the No. 1 job in Anaheim. They're still high on Jonas Gustavsson, once considered the best goalie in Europe. The Leafs gave up 267 goals, second-most behind Edmonton.

Intangibles: Kaberle has been the subject of trade rumors for years, and it's not going to change until the deadline. Inexperience up front, especially at center, is a problem.

Outlook: Scoring is their biggest problem. They're probably a year away from the playoffs, but never underestimate GM Brian Burke and coach Ron Wilson.

5. Ottawa Senators

Offense: Jason Spezza was the most maligned player in town until Alexei Kovalev arrived. Daniel Alfredsson has been good for at least 20 goals and 70 points in nine straight seasons. Milan Michalek is a player to watch after he had 22 goals but only 34 points in 66 GP last season.

Defense: Sergei Gonchar comes over from Pittsburgh, giving a huge boost to a team that lacks depth after the top three. Chris Phillips was plus-8 on a team riddled with minus players. Anton Volchenkov split for New Jersey.

Goaltending: Who's the No. 1 goalie? Pascal Leclaire, back from injuries and poor play, is hoping to provide the answer. Brian Elliott is average. Rookie Robin Lehner is unproven. Their minus-13 goal differential, worst among playoff teams, was largely due to problems in net.

Intangibles: The Sens' lack of cohesiveness led to inconsistent play, but they often found ways to beat the Sabres. Goaltending issues lead to loss in confidence.

Outlook: Ottawa could contend for one of the final playoff spots, but only if its goaltending comes through.

> ATLANTIC DIVISION

1. Pittsburgh Penguins

Offense: Superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, plus stopper Jordan Staal, make them the NHL's deepest team down the middle. Crosby is coming off his first 50-goal season. Malkin had 77 points in 67 games. Staal (foot) could be out until December. Bill Guerin (21 goals) is gone. Cup hero Maxime Talbot was limited to 45 games last season and fell to two goals and a minus-9 rating.

Defense: Paul Martin was their answer for Sergei Gonchar's departure. East Amherst's Brooks Orpik has been their best defensive defenseman for years. Alex Goligoski is evolving into a very good player. Third and fourth lines are very responsible.

Goaltending: Marc-Andre Fleury is the No. 1 until further notice, but he had his share of problems last season with a GAA (2.65) that was 24th in the NHL and a SP (.905) that was 33rd. Cup hangover? Likely.

Intangibles: This is a young team that knows how to win, which makes them dangerous. Newcomer Arron Asham, very good in the postseason last year with Philly, brings needed toughness. Dan Bylsma is an excellent coach.

Outlook: Look for the Penguins to come back strong after a slow start last season left them just behind New Jersey for the division title. Another Cup is possible.

2. New Jersey Devils

Offense: We'll see if Ilya Kovalchuk can shift from LW to RW and whether signing him was worth the trouble. Jason Arnott returns to a team already armed with Zach Parise and Travis Zajac. Brian Rolston needs to justify $5 million salary. David Clarkson could score 20-plus goals if he stays healthy.

Defense: Henrik Tallinder and Anton Volchenkov were signed in the offseason to help make up for Paul Martin's departure. Colin White and Bryce Salvador are consistent but not great. The Devils' forwards are a major part of their team D, which allowed an NHL-low 191 goals last season.

Goaltending: Martin Brodeur could be the best in NHL history, and he hasn't lost much in recent years. He led the league again in wins (45) and had a 2.24 GAA and .916 SP with his NHL high nine shutouts.

Intangibles: Kovalchuk can score, but he's an odd fit for a franchise known for teamwork and defense. How do you justify his $6.6 million cap hit when Brodeur ($5.2 million) took less money for the greater good? John MacLean is a first-year head coach.

Outlook: The Devs won the division last season and should make the playoffs, but don't be surprised if they're closer to eighth than first in the conference.

3. Philadelphia Flyers

Offense: Talent is there even when results are not. Leading scorer Mike Richards remains one of the better two-way forwards in the league. Daniel Briere was terrific in the playoffs. Look out for second-year man Claude Giroux. D Chris Pronger had 45 assists. Only four other Flyers had more points.

Defense: Pronger and Kimmo Timonen ($14.6 million combined) lead the deepest corps in the NHL, and newcomer Andrej Meszaros (acquired for F Simon Gagne) makes it deeper. Matt Carle is solid. Braydon Coburn played well in the postseason after inconsistent year.

Goaltending: The names change, but uncertainty remains. Philly was hoping ex-Sabres castoff Michael Leighton was the answer after he came to the rescue last season, but he's sidelined with a bulging disk. It looks like Brian Boucher, for now.

Intangibles: Coach Peter Laviolette brings stability and discipline, but Philly has problems playing to its potential.

Outlook: Cup losers typically have a tough time bouncing back, but this team has enough experience to overcome that hurdle. The fourth seed is within reach, but it will depend on goaltending.

4. New York Rangers

Offense: One well-placed goal separated them from making the playoffs. Marian Gaborik had 42 goals and 86 points last season, 28 more points than second-leading man Vinny Prospal. Alexander Frolov should help. Chris Drury was never a big scorer, but they should get more than 14 goals and 32 points (minus-10) for $8 million.

Defense: Wade Redden ($6.5 million for this season, $23 million remaining over the next four) as sent to AHL Hartford. Michal Roszival has the best combination of experience and talent. Marc Staal is a rising star. Steve Eminger is a former first-round pick looking to break through.

Goaltending: Henrik Lundqvist is among the elite when he's at the top of his game, but he's also had stretches in which he's been average or below. Backup Martin Biron can relieve the load for Lundqvist, who has played at least 70 games in four straight years.

Intangibles: John Tortorella's tough-but-demanding style should help their young players (see: Kennedy, Tim). Ryan Callahan does all the little things.

Outlook: The Rangers have a chance to make the playoffs, but 10th seems more likely.

5. New York Islanders

Offense: Second-year center John Tavares (24 goals, 54 points) leads a young group of forwards desperate for more talent around them. Kyle Okposo is out with a shoulder injury. Josh Bailey is a supplemental player thrust into a big role. Matt Moulson had 30 goals last season but Tavares was the only other player with more than 20.

Defense: The Islanders scored the same number of goals (222) as the division-winning Devils and the Rangers. Their problem was 264 goals allowed. Mark Streit was by far their best defenseman, but he's out with a shoulder injury. James Wisniewski has had injury problems. Mike Mottau was signed late in camp for depth.

Goaltending: Rick DiPietro is feeling better, but we've heard that before. He has played just 13 games over the past two seasons. Dwayne Roloson was 23-18-7 on a bad team. He's still chugging along 10 years after the Sabres lost faith in him.

Intangibles: The Isles had 11 road wins, second-fewest in the NHL. It's a sign of inexperience. They were ranked near the bottom in both PP and PK. The work ethic is there, but it needs to produce results.

Outlook: It's tough to pick them for anything but last in the division. After all, they're the Islanders.

> SOUTHEAST DIVISION

1. Washington Capitals

Offense: The Caps lost almost nothing after netting 318 goals, or 46 more than the second highest team (Vancouver). Alex Ovechkin has had 50 goals and 100 points in five of six NHL seasons. Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin and defenseman Mike Green averaged more than a point per game. Watch for rookie center Marcus Johansson.

Defense: Green gives them offense, but 6-foot-6 Jeff Schultz gives them the defensive dimension they need. He led the league with a plus-50 rating last season. Tom Poti is still there, but they lost some toughness when Shaone Morrisonn signed with Buffalo. Their best defense is offense.

Goaltending: Semyon Varlamov returns after missing much of last season with injuries, but the Caps are high on rookie Michal Neuvirth after he led Hershey to the Calder Cup title. The two young goalies could share the net unless one pulls away.

Intangibles: The Caps spent the entire offseason boiling after blowing a 3-1 series lead to Montreal in the playoffs, so they're not taking anybody for granted. It makes them that much scarier.

Outlook: Anything less than a Stanley Cup title will be viewed as failure.

2. Atlanta Thrashers

Offense: Too much revolved around Ilya Kovalchuk, whose departure was a blessing. Nik Antropov returns after a career-high 67 points.
Rich Peverley needs to prove last season (22 goals, 55 points) wasn't a fluke. Evander Kane should be more productive after scoring 14 goals as a rookie.

Defense: Dustin Byfuglien has been moved back to defense after playing defense and forward in Chicago. He can switch back when needed. He joins Blackhawks teammate Brent Sopel. Zach Bogosian could blossom under new coach Craig Ramsay. Ron Hainsey needs to play to his $5 million salary.

Goaltending: Chris Mason comes over from St. Louis after posting career-highs in games (61) and victories (30) last season. He'll play while they figure out whether they can count on Ondrej Pavelec down the road.

Intangibles: GM Rick Dudley knows how to build winners, and he grabbed a few gamers in Byfuglien, Ben Eager and Andrew Ladd from
the Blackhawks. He also made a great choice in Ramsay.

Outlook: Les Thrash plowed forward without Kovalchuk after the deadline and could open some eyes once they're familiar with one another. The playoffs are possible.

3. Tampa Bay Lightning

Offense: Steven Stamkos had 51 goals, including an NHL-leading 24 on the PP. Martin St. Louis has had at least 80 points five times in the past six years. Vincent Lecavalier has had 70 points or fewer the past two years. He's making $10 million. Welcome, Simon Gagne. Can ruffian Steve Downie score 20 again?

Defense: Victor Hedman arrived with more fanfare than Tyler Myers but had problems adjusting to the NHL in his first season. Still, he's going to very good. Veteran Mattias Ohlund and newcomer Pavel Kubina bring much-needed experience.

Goaltending: Mike Smith and Dan Ellis have had success, but neither has been able to remain consistent over a long period. Neither has played more than 44 games in a season.

Intangibles: It's going to take time for GM Steve Yzerman to make the necessary changes and rookie coach Guy Boucher to get adjusted to the NHL.

Outlook: They're not a playoff team yet, but check back next year.

4. Florida Panthers

Offense: The Panthers' 208 goals were third-fewest in the league before they traded Nathan Horton (57 points), their second-leading scorer. David Booth looks like he made a full recovery from a concussion after playing just 28 games, thanks to Mike Richards. They lack the size needed to open the ice for their skilled players.

Defense: Keith Ballard, Jordan Leopold, Dennis Seidenberg are gone, leaving holes along the blue line. Dennis Wideman needs to play better in Florida than he did his last season in Boston. Young defenseman Dmitry Kulikov, 19, is a keeper.

Goaltending: Tomas Vokoun can keep the Panthers in games most nights, but he needs help. His 23-28-11 record wasn't indicative of his play so much as his .925 SP, third-best in the NHL.

Intangibles: GM Dale Tallon started rebuilding almost immediately after he was hired. The players respect Peter DeBoer, but they need to play better for him.

Outlook: Florida's 10-year playoff drought is almost certain to reach 11.

5. Carolina Hurricanes

Offense: Eric Staal returns as their leading scorer, but is it worth paying him $7.5 million and surrounding him with mediocrity? No. If Jussi Jokinen can validate his 30-goal, 65-point season, he's looking at a big payday as a UFA. Brandon Sutter (21 goals) is worth watching, but Sergei Samsonov is past his prime.

Defense: Joe Corvo comes back to his comfort zone after being dealt at the deadline to Washington. Anton Babchuk's return from Russia isn't overly inspiring. Tim Gleason is their best defensive defenseman by a mile. Joni Pitkanen is inconsistent.

Goaltending: Cam Ward couldn't have played any worse than he did last season, which was troubling after he sign the monster contract extension. He's getting a ton of mileage -- and a ton of money -- for what amounts to one Stanley Cup run and five average seasons.

Intangibles: Inspirational leader Rod Brind'Amour is gone. Coach Paul Maurice needs to solve PP and PK, both of which are below average.

Outlook: The 'Canes need big years from too many people to be taken seriously. Too thin all the way around.

> CENTRAL DIVISION

1. Detroit Red Wings

Offense: The Red Wings had only three players score 20 goals last season and none score 30. Pavel Datsyuk had a 27-point dropoff from 2008-09.
Henrik Zetterberg is coming off a 23-goal season, his fewest since 2003-04. Johan Franzen needs to stay healthy.

Defense: Nicklas Lidstrom had his second-worst season since 1994-95, but he was still plus-22. He's plus-431 for his career. Datsyuk and Zetterberg remain among the NHL's best defensive forwards. Brian Rafalski is still solid at age 36, and Niklas Kronwall gives them the aggression they need.

Goaltending: Jimmy Howard confirmed he was a No. 1 goalie last season with a 37-15-10 record with a 2.26 GAA and .924 SP, putting him with the leaders. Chris Osgood returns as a backup.

Intangibles: Mike Modano returns home to inject leadership and depth. The Red Wings had their longest offseason since 2005-06, which should help. Darren Helm, Justin Abdelkader and Drew Miller understand their roles.

Outlook: Detroit is the best team in a weakened division. With their talent and experience, they're capable of another deep playoff run, aging legs and all.


2. St. Louis Blues

Offense: Leading scorer Andy McDonald (57 points) was not among the top 60 in the NHL last season and was the only St. Louis player in the top 100. Brad Boyes (14 goals, 42 points last year) must regain the form that helped him average 38 goals and 68 points the previous two seasons. It will improve.

Defense: Eric Brewer will remain the captain, against the wishes of a growing number of fans. Erik Johnson and Barrett Jackman are solid. Former fourth pick overall Alex Pietrangelo is looking to break through. The Blues led the league in PK last season, finishing one spot ahead of Buffalo.

Goaltending: Jaroslav Halak (26-13-5, 2.40, .924) takes over as the top goalie after leading Montreal into the conference finals.

Intangibles: New leadership should emerge with Keith Tkachuk and Paul Kariya no longer around. St. Louis was better on the road than at home, a sign they were putting too much pressure on themselves.

Outlook: If the Blues can maintain quality play on the road and win one more home game per month than they did last year, they can challenge for the division title.

3. Chicago Blackhawks

Offense: South Buffalo's Patrick Kane is coming off a career year that ended in storybook fashion, with him scoring the Stanley Cup-clinching goal -- in overtime, no less. The 'Hawks are still dangerous with their top five scorers returning, but more than 100 goals walked out the door in a cap crunch.

Defense: Their top four are solid, with Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith leading the way, before a major dropoff. Brent Seabrook is entering the last year of his contract, so more tough decisions are ahead. Niklas Hjalmarsson could see his ice time increase from 19:39 per game to 24-plus minutes.

Goaltending: Overpaid Cristobal Huet was sent to a team in Europe, getting his salary off their cap figure. Marty Turco is ready to take over

Intangibles: The 'Hawks should brace for a juicy hangover after winning their first Cup in 49 years and experiencing the roster overhaul that followed. Chemistry is a primary concern.

Outlook: Repeating is asking way too much in the NHL these days. Finishing in the top four in the conference would be a major accomplishment.

4. Nashville Predators

Offense: Patric Hornqvist (30) and Martin Erat (21) were Nashville's only 20-goal scorers last season. Jason Arnott had 19, and he's gone. Matthew Lombardi brings over 19 goals and 53 points from Phoenix. J.P. Dumont had five 20-goal seasons in a six-year stretch but hasn't hit the mark since 2007-08.

Defense: Dan Hamhuis' departure for Vancouver was a major loss, but two good ones remain in Shea Weber and Ryan Suter. Still, the Preds are very thin along the blue line and need help from the likes of Kevin Klein and Ryan Parent.

Goaltending: Pekka Rinne was terrific again last season and the biggest reason for them finishing with 100 points. He's going to need to carry a greater load this season.

Intangibles: The franchise had been tormented by years of unstable ownership before taking a turn toward improvement just before training camp. It can only help a team that needs all the assistance it can get in a weak hockey market.

Outlook: The Preds are doomed if Rinne is anything but spectacular. Making the playoffs again will be difficult.

5. Columbus Blue Jackets

Offense: Rick Nash will pocket $7.5 million this year but has averaged just more than 60 points per season. He led four 20-goal scorers last year. Jakub Vorecek (16 goals) is the only other returning player who had more than nine. Derick Brassard, a promising rookie in 2008-09, must bounce back after scoring nine goals and 36 points last season.

Defense: Only the lowly Oilers (284) allowed more goals than Columbus (259) among Western Conference teams. Edmonton (minus-70) and Toronto (minus-53) were the only NHL teams with a worse goal differential than the Blue Jackets (minus-43). Mike Commodore is their highest paid player on the blue line, which is not a good sign.

Goaltending: Steve Mason's GAA ballooned to 3.06 last year from 2.29 the previous season, a major concern. Mathieu Garon has never shown he can be a quality No. 1.

Intangibles: Ex-Sabres forward/assistant Scott Arniel takes over a fragile group that lost 52 percent of the games it was leading after the first period. No other team lost more than 40 percent in the same situation.

Outlook: Arniel must find ways to open up offensively and buckle down defensively. He'll need at least a year to pull them from the bottom.

> NORTHWEST DIVISION

1. Vancouver Canucks

Offense: Re-signing the Sedin twins to matching contracts went a long way toward restoring hope for the Stanley Cup. Hart Trophy winner Henrik led the league with 83 assists and 112 points. Washington (318) was the only team to score more goals than Vancouver (272), which had six forwards with 25 or more.

Defense: This group was already deep before adding Dan Hamhuis and ex-Sabres draft pick Keith Ballard. Christian Ehrhoff (44 points, plus-36) is one of the most underrated D-men in the league. Rumors were rampant about them trading Kevin Bieksa, but he's still there.

Goaltending: Roberto Luongo flamed out after helping Canada win Olympic gold in his home city. He's still one of the NHL's best and making $10 million this season. He vacated the captaincy, which should help him focus.

Intangibles: Four division titles in six years have not added up to postseason success, which suggests they crumble under pressure. Experience always helps.

Outlook: They're loaded with big-game players but haven't been past the second round since 1993-94, when they lost to the Rangers in the finals. They're capable of winning it all for the first time in history.

2. Colorado Avalanche

Offense: Paul Stastny (20 goals, 79 points) leads a young group looking to build off surprising success from last season, when the Avs were sixth in the NHL in scoring. Matt Duchene (24 goals) had a solid rookie year, and Chris Stewart (28 goals) is a well-kept secret. Peter Mueller had 20 points in 15 games after he was acquired from Phoenix but he's having concussion problems.

Defense: Kyle Quincey was their best all-around defenseman last season. Scott Hannan is the best in his own end. Adam Foote is entering his 19th season. They're hoping former first-round pick Kevin Skattenkirk or his bigger Boston University teammate Colby Cohen can break through.

Goaltending: Craig Anderson started 71 games after never appearing in more than 31 in any previous season. His 10-1-2 start was offset by his 3-6-2 finish, but his .917 SP overall was more than respectable.

Intangibles: The best asset for young players is confidence, and this group knows it can play with any team in the league. Joe Sacco was a finalist for the Jack Adams.

Outlook: Finishing ahead of Vancouver is a reach, but fifth in the conference is not.

3. Minnesota Wild

Offense: Mikko Koivu had 71 points last season, making him a bargain at $3.7 million. Martin Havlat was brutal early last season but played better later in the year. He needs to justify his $5 million haul. Guillaume Latendresse, who had 25 goals in only 55 games last year after being acquired from Montreal, is a player to watch.

Defense: Marek Zidlicky was re-signed more for his 43 points than his minus-16 rating. Brent Burns is looking to bounce back after an injury-plagued 2009-10. Cam Barker comes over from Chicago to help steady the blue line. Top four defensemen are fine, bottom three are shaky.

Goaltending: Former Vezina finalist Niklas Backstrom took a step back last season (2.72 GAA, .903 SP) after signing four-year contract worth $24 million.

Intangibles: Minnesota native Matt Cullen comes home for his 13th NHL season to bring much-needed leadership along with proven winner John Madden. They should help second-year coach Todd Richards.

Outlook: Minnesota had a 13-24-4 record on the road last season, giving them the second-most regulation losses away from home in the NHL. That must improve if it is going to reach the playoffs.

4. Edmonton Oilers

Offense: First pick overall Taylor Hall should boost the third-lowest scoring team in the league. Shawn Horcoff (13 goals, 36 points, $7 million) couldn't play any worse, and Ales Hemsky is healthy again after playing just 22 games last season. Dustin Penner finally emerged with 32 goals and 63 points.

Defense: Sheldon Souray ($4.5 million), banned from training camp after a dispute with management, is waiting to be traded. Kurtis Foster comes over from Tampa Bay after proving he recovered from a broken femur two years ago. Tom Gilbert can move the puck. They lack a solid defensive defenseman.

Goaltending: Nikolai Khabibulin is coming off back surgery, but he could solve many problems if he can stay healthy and postpone his 30-day jail sentence for drunken driving. Both are major questions.

Intangibles: Tom Renney takes over behind the bench for Pat Quinn, which should help improve a losing atmosphere. The law of averages suggests not as much will go wrong two years in a row.

Outlook: The Oilers could surprise people if they buy into Renney, but the playoffs are out of reach given their lack of talent and uncertainty in goal.

5. Calgary Flames

Offense: Bringing back former Flames forwards Olli Jokinen and Alex Tanguay was hardly the answer for the lowest-scoring team in the league. Jarome Iginla has scored 30 goals in nine straight years. Rene Bourque is coming off a career year. Ales Kotalik is not going to solve their problems.

Defense: Steve Staios came aboard after the trade deadline and could take pressure off Jay Bouwmeester, who again finds himself on a mediocre team. Robyn Regehr and Cory Sarich are solid. Ian White gets better every year. They don't score much, but their 210 goals allowed were sixth-fewest in the league.

Goaltending: Miikka Kiprusoff has played 73 games or more for five straight seasons and can win games by himself. He was in the top 10 in wins (35), GAA (2.31) and SP (.920) again last year.

Intangibles: GM Darryl Sutter hasn't done the job, which makes things difficult for his coach and brother Brent. Both could be on their way out the door, instability that often trickles to the dressing room.

Outlook: The Flames missed the playoffs last season and haven't given fans much reason for optimism this year. Eighth or better in the conference would be a surprise.

> PACIFIC DIVISION

1. San Jose Sharks

Offense: Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Dany Heatley each averaged at least a point per game last year and made up the NHL's top line, but there's more. Joe Pavelski and Devin Setoguchi had 20-goal seasons. Thornton was minus-11 in 15 postseason games, continuing a disturbing trend.

Defense: Rob Blake's retirement left them with one fewer experienced leader, but it also helped them re-sign Marleau. They have five defensemen entering the season at age 30 or older with Dan Boyle (15 goals, 58 points) leading the sway. Marc-Edouard Vlasic has the best nickname in the NHL: Pickles.

Goaltending: San Jose is hoping Antti Niemi will continue with the same play that helped Chicago to the Stanley Cup. Some believe the Blackhawks carried him during his rookie year more than he carried them.

Intangibles: The Sharks reached the conference finals last season, an experience that should strengthen their chemistry this year. They know they're good enough to win the whole thing.

Outlook: This could be the year the perennial power finally breaks through.

2. Los Angeles Kings

Offense: Anze Kopitar is the lone star up front, but the Kings have a collection of good young forwards who are ready to join him. Alexei Ponikarovski had 21 goals and 50 points last season in Toronto and Pittsburgh. Veteran Ryan Smyth would greatly help the cause if he can stay healthy for the entire season.

Defense: Drew Doughty has emerged as a premier NHL defenseman. His contract negotiations will provide insight into the eventual price for Tyler Myers. Kings were hoping for more last season from Rob Scuderi. Jack Johnson needs to improve his defense. Willie Mitchell was worth the risk. Overall it's a solid group.

Goaltending: Jonathan Quick had 39 wins last season before stumbling in the playoffs. Former first-round pick Jonathan Bernier played well in three games last season and is looking to prove he belongs in the NHL for good.

Intangibles: The Kings could sneak up on teams last season, but they're no longer a secret after making the playoffs with 101 points. The chore for their young players will be performing at a consistent level against teams prepared to beat them.

Outlook: The Kings are ready to take the next step and could be the fourth seed in the West.

3. Anaheim Ducks

Offense: Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Bobby Ryan combined for 81 goals and 209 points last season, accounting for 34 percent of the Ducks' offense. Teemu Selanne is back for another season after collecting 48 points in 54 games. Saku Koivu can still play, but can they count on Jason Blake?

Defense: Scott Niedermayer's retirement left a gaping hole that they're trying to fill with Lubomir Visnovsky, Andy Sutton and ex-Sabre Toni Lydman. Lydman has a mysterious vision problem that's causing him to see double. Anaheim allowed 251 goals, fourth-most in the conference.

Goaltending: Jonas Hiller takes over at the No. 1 after the Ducks traded away Jean-Sebastien Giguere. Hiller was better, but he was far from brilliant with a 2.73 GAA and .918 SP.

Intangibles: Niedermayer's departure was a blow, but they still have a sound leadership core that includes Williamsville native Todd Marchant.

Outlook: If they can avoid another slow start, they could make things interesting in a difficult division.

4. Phoenix Coyotes

Offense: Shane Doan leads the Desert Dogs, who are looking to build off a surprise finish last season. Wojtek Wolski, picked up at the trade deadline from Colorado, finished with 23 goals and 65 points last season. West Seneca native Lee Stempniak had 14 goals in 18 games after coming over from Toronto.

Defense: Look for a good season from Ed Jovanovski, who is in the last year of his contract and wants to prove he's still a top-tier D-man. The rest of the group is unspectacular. Derek Morris will help the PP. Adrian Aucoin doesn't have much left.

Goaltending: Ilya Bryzgalov was the biggest reason for their success last season. He'll need to continue a high level of play if they're going to remain competitive.

Intangibles: Dave Tippett was named coach of the year after getting his team to buy into his defensive philosophy without being overwhelmed by ongoing ownership issues that continue to be a headache.

Outlook: The Desert Dogs want to show last year wasn't a fluke, but they could see themselves taking a step back.

5. Dallas Stars

Offense: Brad Richards played well and led them in scoring last season, but he's not the missing piece they thought when they traded for him. Loui Eriksson continues to quietly make an impact up front. James Neal plays to his moniker, "The Real Deal." He had 28 goals and 55 points on a poor team last season.

Defense: Here's one reason for their demise. The Stars allowed 254 goals last season, third most in the conference. A bright spot in this group was Mark Fistric, who was plus-27 on a team that had 17 players on the wrong side of the ledger.

Goaltending: Here's another reason. Marty Turco left for Chicago and was replaced by Kari Lehtonen, a former second pick overall who never lived up to the hype. His GAA has never been below 2.79 and his SP has never been above .916 in a season in which he played at least five games.

Intangibles: The Stars are trying to compete while keeping payroll down, which generally doesn't work and does little to boost team morale.

Outlook: Too many holes on defense and lack of goaltending to be taken seriously.