ADVERTISEMENT

> SOUTHEAST DIVISION

1. Tampa Bay Lightning (14.0)

Offense: The Big Three of Martin St. Louis (31 goals, 99 points), Steven Stamkos (45 goals, 91 points) and Vincent Lecavalier (25 goals, 54 points) accounted for nearly 41 percent of their scoring. Rookie Brett Connolly looked good on the top line in the preseason. They need more from secondary scorers. 3.5

Defense: Eric Brewer helped beef up the blue line after the trade deadline. He's back along with Victor Hedman, Brett Clark, Pavel Kubina and Mattias Ohlund. Overall, they need to play better in their own end. The Big Three combined for a minus-2 rating. 3.5

Goaltending: Dwayne Roloson, 41, will be the No. 1 goalie. He's never played on a team with this much talent. He also hasn't had a GAA less than 2.40 or a SP above .920 since 2002-03, a career year with the Wild. If he plays well, look out. 3.0

Intangibles: The Lightning lost in the conference finals to Boston and know what's required to contend. They have a good mix in young stars such as Stamkos and Hedman and experience in St. Louis and Brewer. Plus, they believe in coach Guy Boucher. 4.0

Outlook: Tampa Bay can knock off Washington for the division title, but the Bolts must get more production from their middle two lines.

2. Washington Capitals (13.5)

Offense: The Caps scored 94 fewer goals last season than they did in 2009-10 and still finished first in the conference. Alex Ovechkin is coming off his worst season with 32 goals and 85 points, good by most standards but not his. They had only three 20-goal scorers, but look for Alexander Semin (18) and Brooks Laich (16) to bounce back. 4.0

Defense: Coach Bruce Boudreau was looking for better defense, and the Caps delivered by allowing 197 goals, second-fewest in the conference. Mike Green is coming back after a miserable season with injuries. John Carlson, 21, is headed for a great career. Tom Poti, Roman Hamrlik, Dennis Wideman and Jeff Schultz are solid veterans. 3.5

Goaltending: The Caps made a good move in signing Tomas Vokoun to a one-year deal for $1.5 million. He's had a .919 save percentage or better for six straight seasons, but he's never been past the first round of the playoffs. He could provide the steady hand they need with young Michal Neuvirth backing up. 3.0

Intangibles: Washington has won the conference title the last two seasons but failed to get past the second round both times. The Caps are talented, hungry and have a veteran goaltender. 3.0

Outlook: The talent is there for a fifth straight division title, if their big boys don't play like fat cats.

3. Winnipeg Jets (11.5)

Offense: Winnipeg needs more offense from its forwards after D-men Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom finished 2-3 in team scoring behind Andrew Ladd (29 goals, 59 points) in Atlanta. The talent is there with Evander Kane, Nik Antropov and Bryan Little. Watch for rookie Mark Scheifele, selected seventh overall in June. 3.0

Defense: Byfuglien became an all-star when he moved to the blue line after playing forward in Chicago. Their defense corps is deep when you add Enstrom, Ron Hainsey, Johnny Oduya and future star Zach Bogosian and Randy Jones. 3.5

Goaltending: Ondrej Pavelec is expected to be the No. 1 goalie, but he doesn't have a sure hold on the job even though Chris Mason struggled last year (3.39 GAA, .892 SP). 2.0

Intangibles: The Jets' return has Winnipeg buzzing about hockey, which can only help players who spent years playing before small crowds in Atlanta. The excitement will help them overcome a brutal travel schedule. 3.0.

Outlook: Atlanta was a young team on the rise before the move. Look for the Jets to take the next step into the playoffs.

4. Florida Panthers (10.0)

Offense: GM Dale Tallon was busy in the offseason signing or trading for forwards Scottie Upshall, Kris Versteeg, Tomas Fleishmann, Sean Bergenheim, Marcel Goc and Tomas Kopecky, among others, to help Stephen Weiss & Co. They need all the help they can get after scoring 195 goals and finishing last in the conference. 2.5

Defense: Veterans Brian Campbell and Ed Jovanovski are immediate upgrades and bring skill and experience to young group. Former first-round pick Dmitry Kulikov is entering his third season before celebrating his 21st birthday. Keaton Ellerby is big but unproven like many on the roster. 2.5

Goaltending: Former Hart Trophy winner Jose Theodore will battle Scott Clemmensen for the top job. Theodore has been average for years. Clemmensen hasn't been much better in his two years with the Panthers. 2.0

Intangibles: Campbell and Jovanovski are true professionals, which goes a long way with a young team trying to rebuild. Kevin Dineen is a rookie coach, but he was very good at developing players and knows the ways of the NHL. 3.0

Outlook: The Panthers have missed the playoffs for a record 10 straight seasons. It could end this season, but only if enough things fall into place.

5. Carolina Hurricanes (9.5)

Offense: Jeff Skinner burst onto the scene as a rookie last season with 31 goals and 63 points. He's on the top line with veteran star Eric Staal and Jussi Jokinen, a 30-goal scorer two years ago. After them, there's a dropoff. Erik Cole took 26 goals and 52 points to Montreal. Newcomer Alex Ponikarovsky isn't the answer. 2.0

Defense: Tomas Kaberle arrives with a three-year deal worth $12.75 million, a good deal for the 'Canes. He's had 40-plus assists in five of the last six seasons and is certain to help the PP. Tim Gleason is their best defensive defenseman. Jamie McBain can help on both ends. Joni Pitkanen is consistent and plays big minutes. 2.5

Goaltending: The 'Canes are getting their money's worth from Cam Ward (2.56 GAA, .923 SP), who started 74 games last season to lead the league. He'll play less this year with veteran Brian Boucher backing up. 3.0

Intangibles: Carolina allowed more shots than any team in the league, which explains Ward's average GAA but good SP. Ho-hum moves up front limit optimism. 2.0

Outlook: The Canes are like many teams. They can finish anywhere from fifth in the conference to 13th.

> CENTRAL DIVISION

1. Detroit Red Wings (14.5)

Offense: Pavel Datsyuk had 23 goals and 59 points, impressive considering he played 56 games last season. Kris Draper and Mike Modano retired, but the Wings have plenty of firepower up front. Tomas Holmstrom had only eight even-strength goals last season and needs to get back to the 25-goal, 50-point range. 4.0

Defense: Brian Rafalski retired, giving the Wings one fewer puck-mover. Ageless leader Nicklas Lidstrom, who is returning for a 20th season, is still one of the NHL's most dominant defensemen. Mike Commodore and Garnet Exelby arrive as free agents to help Jonathan Ericsson, big-hitting Niklas Kronwall and Brad Stuart. 4.0

Goaltending: Jimmy Howard took a step back last season (2.79 GAA, .908 SP) after a terrific rookie year (2.26, .924). The Wings signed him to an extension because they believe in him. Ty Conklin is an ideal backup for Detroit. 3.0

Intangibles: The Red Wings have had 100 points or more in the standings for 11 straight seasons, an NHL record. Obviously, they know how to win. 3.5

Outlook: Detroit is the team to beat in the division, but questions remain about whether it has enough legs to make a run at the Cup.

2. Chicago Blackhawks (13.0)

Offense: The Hawks still have terrific forwards in South Buffalo's Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and Marian Hossa. They were one of four teams to average more than three goals per game. Kane is known for his work on the PP, but 22 of his 27 goals came at even strength. Depth is an issue. 4.0

Defense: Brian Campbell is gone, along with his plus-28 rating -- and his contract. Steve Montador arrives from Buffalo to help Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook. Niklas Hjalmarsson is solid. Nick Leddy is young and very talented. 3.5

Goaltending: Corey Crawford had seven- and eight-game winning streaks last season, but otherwise he was inconsistent. He played better on the road than at home. The lack of a proven backup prompted the Hawks to sign Ray Emery. 2.5

Intangibles: GM Stan Bowman was forced to make big changes after winning the Stanley Cup, but a solid core remains. Chicago pushed Vancouver to seven games, so the Hawks know they can still play with anyone. 3.0

Outlook: The Blackhawks can win the division, but it's going to take top-notch goaltending.

3. Nashville Predators (12.0)

Offense: Sergei Kostitsyn and Martin Erat tied for the team scoring lead, but their 50 points didn't crack the top 90 in the NHL. Seven players had 16 goals or more. J.P. Dumont was bought out. Mike Fisher will help. Keep an eye on West Seneca native Chris Mueller, who appeared in 16 games last year. 2.5

Defense: Shea Weber is back with a one-year, $7.5 million contract. Ryan Suter is another good one. Their top four D-men are back. Their forwards play a big role. Nashville allowed only 194 goals last season, third-fewest in the league behind Cup finalists Vancouver and Boston. 3.5

Goaltending: Pekka Rinne is among the best in the NHL. He was ranked third in GAA (2.12) and second in SP (.930) last season. They have another big goalie behind him in Anders Lindback, who had an 11-5-2 record in 22 games. 4.0

Intangibles: Trade rumors concerning Weber and uncertainty about his future could become a distraction. Suter is headed for UFA after this season, another problem. 2.0

Outlook: Coach Barry Trotz finds a way to keep his team in the hunt, but don't expect a deep playoff run.

4. Columbus Blue Jackets (10.5)

Offense: Jeff Carter comes over from Philly, giving Columbus a very good playmaker for Rick Nash and another scorer. Carter will keep teams honest, which will open up more ice for the big winger. Their supporting cast provides a good mix with Antoine Vermette, Derick Brassard, Vinny Prospal and R.J. Umberger, among others. 3.5.

Defense: James Wisniewski signed as a free agent after a very good season. He's on his fourth team in three years, but he'll help immensely if he plays the way he did last year. Radek Martinek comes over from the Isles. Their blue line is OK, but overall the group lacks depth. 2.5

Goaltending: Steve Mason has played more than 50 games but had a GAA over 3.00 and a .901 SP in each of the last two seasons. It's not good enough. Worse, there isn't much behind him. 2.0.

Intangibles: All the moves up front created some much-needed excitement, which helps. It's not easy playing in the same division with Detroit. 2.5

Outlook: Mason must play much better if they're going to crack the top eight in the conference.

5. St. Louis Blues (10.0)

Offense: St. Louis is sticking with the youth movement up front. Patrik Berglund, Matt D'Agostini, T.J. O'Shie, David Perron, Vladimir Sobotka and Chris Stewart are all 24 or younger. Jason Arnott, Jamie Langenbrunner and Scott Nichol are all 36. David Backes (31 goals, 62 points, plus-32) is their best all-around forward. 3.0

Defense: Former first pick overall Erik Johnson and Eric Brewer, two key members of the defense, were sent packing last season. Kevin Shattenkirk played well after arriving from Colorado in the Johnson trade. Ales Pietrangelo is turning into a star. Ian Cole, 22, will likely start the season in St. Louis. 2.5.

Goaltending: The Blues were hoping for better play from Jaroslav Halak after he was acquired from Montreal. He was mediocre. Brian Elliott is the backup. 2.5.

Intangibles: Management has been patient while waiting for its young players to develop and gain confidence. A strong start could go a long way for this team. 2.0

Outlook: Halak has shown flashes of brilliance throughout his career. If he can play well for an entire season, the Blues will surprise some teams.