Northeast division »
1. Boston Bruins
Offense: Six players had 20 goals or more last season, and injured winger Nathan Horton had 17 while playing only 46 games.
Defense: Rookie Dougie Hamilton should add mobility and offense to a blue line that’s already loaded with talent.
Between the lines: Tyler Seguin, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, Zdeno Chara and Chris Kelly were all plus-31 or better last season.
Final score: If goalie Tuukka Rask makes a smooth transition into the No. 1 role, and he should, the Bruins can challenge for the Cup.
2. Buffalo Sabres
Offense: Marcus Foligno, Tyler Ennis and Drew Stafford combined for 21 goals and 49 points in a 13-game stretch last season.
Defense: A healthy Tyler Myers can make a world of difference, and rookie T.J. Brennan should add another dimension.
Between the lines: The Sabres are hoping rookie Mikhail Grigorenko provides answers to serious questions down the middle.
Final score: Playoff-caliber talent remains on a team that missed the playoffs three times in five years. At what point does the R&R Railroad reach the end of the line?
3. Ottawa Senators
Offense: Milan Michalek scored a career-high 35 goals and Jason Spezza matched his with 34 in an otherwise balanced attack.
Defense: Erik Karlsson emerged as a top NHL defenseman en route to 19 goals and 78 points, second most on the team.
Between the lines: Ottawa was one of the surprise teams last year, but its days of sneaking up on teams are over.
Final score: The Senators’ 20 home wins were the fewest among playoff teams, a fact that needs to change if they want to return.
4. Toronto Maple Leafs
Offense: James van Riemsdyk climbs aboard with the idea he can help Phil Kessel and Joffrey Lupul on a thin group.
Defense: The Leafs are deep and talented on the back end, which suits coach Randy Carlyle’s two-way style.
Between the lines: Brian Burke’s biggest mistake was signing Tim Connolly, who had 13 goals and 36 points and was minus-14, to a two-year deal worth $9 million. He has been demoted to the AHL.
Final score: Goaltending remains a question mark. If James Reimer doesn’t play well, the short season could make for another long season in Toronto.
5. Montreal Canadiens
Offense: Scott Gomez has had less than 60 points four years in a row and was on pace for 24 points when he was injured last season. Now he’s been bought out.
Defense: Carey Price played 65 games last season, so starting 45 this year is within reason.
Between the lines: Captain Brian Gionta and defenseman Andrei Markov are healthy after missing 120 games combined last season.
Final score: New management and coaching staff should stabilize a team in turmoil, but reaching the postseason could be a reach.
Atlantic division »
1. New York Rangers
Offense: The possibility of true sniper Rick Nash on a line with gifted playmaker Brad Richards and speedy Marian Gaborik is frightening.
Defense: Great mix of speed, toughness and talent — and that’s before you reach goaltender Henrik Lundqvist.
Between the lines: John Tortorella had them believing they could win the whole thing, and they’re even hungrier this year.
Final score: Anything less than a Stanley Cup would be a disappointment.
2. Pittsburgh Penguins
Offense: Evgeni Malkin (50 goals, 109 points) and James Neal (40-41-81) picked up the pace when Sidney Crosby was sidelined. Crosby is back on a team that led the NHL in scoring.
Defense: Kris Letang established himself as a top-tier defenseman. Brooks Orpik is a strong leader and dependable player. Jordan Staal, traded for financial reasons, was one of the top defensive forwards in the league.
Between the lines: The Pens made an interesting move in grabbing Tomas Vokoun to relieve Marc-Andre Fleury, with so many games in so little time, from a heavy workload.
Final score: Pittsburgh is capable of winning a very tough division.
3. Philadelphia Flyers
Offense: Scott Hartnell will have a difficult time matching his 37-goal output from last season, especially if he’s not in shape.
Defense: Chris Pronger was may retire due to concussion problems, which leaves a big hole along the blue line. They can use Kurtis Foster’s size and experience.
Between the lines: Rumors were swirling that Paul Holmgren was interested in Roberto Luongo, which would give the Flyers two overpaid goalies.
Final score: Goaltending will determine whether the Flyers are a playoff team or a Cup-contending team. It looks the like former.
4. New Jersey Devils
Offense: Zach Parise left for a monster contract in Minnesota, his home state, but they have enough scoring pop with Ilya Kovalchuk and Adam Henrique to beat most teams.
Defense: Goalie Martin Brodeur, 40, is back for another season. The Devils’ success for years has been built with sound team defense, and that has not changed.
Between the lines: The Devils had just the right chemistry last year en route to the Cup finals, but it changed the minute Parise hit the bricks.
Final score: Their remarkable run last season should not be overlooked, but it’s particularly tough to repeat when a team isn’t loaded with talent.
5. New York Islanders
Offense: John Tavares is a star who would be a megastar if he played for the other team in New York. Losing PA Parenteau and adding Brad Boyes was a net loss.
Defense: The Islanders allowed 255 goals last season, but No. 1 goalie Evgeni Nabokov had a winning record (19-18-3). Mark Streit is coming off a tough year.
Between the lines: A losing atmosphere, which is difficult to manage anywhere, can be overwhelming when looking at the other teams in the division.
Final score: They would have been better off if the lockout continued.
Southeast division »
1. Washington Capitals
Offense: Alex Ovechkin’s point production has declined in each of the past four years to a career-low of 65 last season.
Defense: Two things are needed for success: Mike Green at full capacity and goalie Braden Holtby to rediscover a semblance of his playoff success from last season.
Between the lines: The biggest chore for new coach Adam Oates will be establishing an identity that works for a group of stars that was often confused last season.
Final score: Long gone are the days in which they were penciled atop the division, but overlooking their talent would be a mistake.
2. Tampa Bay Lightning
Offense: Steven Stamkos is one of the best players in the NHL. Vincent Lecavalier for years has failed to earn his hefty paycheck.
Defense: The Bolts allowed 282 goals last season, the most in the NHL. They are putting their faith in 6-foot-6 goalie Anders Lindback, the former Predators backup.
Between the lines: Tampa Bay was 25th on the power play and 26th on the penalty kill, leaving coach Guy Boucher with two major problems to address.
Final score: With that much speed and skill, average goaltending should be enough for the Lightning to make the playoffs.
3. Carolina Hurricanes
Offense: Jordan Staal arrives from Pittsburgh to join his brother while Alexander Semin arrives from Washington for a much-needed change in scenery.
Defense: Justin Faulk should build on a strong rookie season. Tim Gleason is reliable in his own end. Welcome back, Joe Corvo.
Between the lines: Jordan Staal’s presence alone will help take pressure off Eric Staal and vice versa. It’s going to help more than many realize.
Final score: Carolina going from worst to first might be a stretch, but it’s possible if Cam Ward plays like a franchise goalie for the first time in years.
4. Florida Panthers
Offense: The Panthers won the division last season with 203 goals, tied with the Islanders for fourth-fewest in the league. Talented center Peter Mueller, slowed by concussions, gets a fresh start.
Defense: Brian Campbell was second among D-men in assists (49) and points (53) and helped plug holes in a leaky group. A return for Roberto Luongo is possible.
Between the lines: They broke through a barrier when qualifying for the playoffs for the first time since 1999-00, which can only help their confidence.
Final score: Improvement is needed in all areas for them to reach the playoffs, let alone win the division.
5. Winnipeg Jets
Offense: Evander Kane is coming off a career year (30 goals, 57 points) and has the potential to become a star. He needs to mature and justify the contract extension.
Defense: Dustin Byfuglien brings offense from the blue line but is lacking defensively. Zach Bogosian is coming off wrist surgery.
Between the lines: The NHL returned with the same alignment, which means the Jets will be jetting across the continent while playing their all-Eastern Conference schedule.
Final score: They’re young and talented, but the growing pains will continue.