Central division »
1. St. Louis Blues
Offense: Co-leading scorers David Backes and T.J. Oshie had 54 points last season, tied for 91st in the NHL.
Defense: The Blues allowed only 165 goals, fewest in the league by 14 (Kings) and leaving Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott with sub-2.00 GAAs.
Between the lines: Everything changed for the better when they changed coaches. St. Louis was 43-15-11 under Ken Hitchcock.
Final score: The chore for Hitch will be finding more offense without giving much on defense. If he does, the Blues will challenge in the conference.
2. Chicago Blackhawks
Offense: Patrick Kane’s goal and point totals have dropped in each of the past two seasons. He had 23 goals and 66 points last year but spent much of the season playing center rather than wing.
Defense: Duncan Keith’s production also has dropped since the Blackhaws won the Stanley Cup. The additions of Michal Rozsival and Sheldon Brookbank should help, but goaltending is suspect.
Between the lines: A team with Marian Hossa, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Kane, Keith and Brent Seabrook should not finish 26th on the PP. And the PK was worse.
Final score: If they can get consistent goaltending, they can unleash their offense and challenge any team in the league. It’s a big IF.
3. Detroit Red Wings
Offense: Pavel Datsyuk (67 points) is coming off his least-productive year since 2002-03, and Henrik Zetterberg (69 points) since 2003-04. Signs of age? Could be.
Defense: Life without Nicklas Lidstrom is about to begin, and it’s not going to be any easier. Brad Stuart also is gone.
Between the lines: The Red Wings are in the early stages of a transformation. They could get worse before they get better.
Final score: A short season helps an aging team looking to contend, but everything would need to snap into place for an extended run.
4. Nashville Predators
Offense: Mike Fisher and Patric Hornqvist are their only returning 20-goal scorers, but Martin Erat, David Legwand and Shea Weber each had 19. And yet the PP was first.
Defense: The Preds had to overpay in order to keep Weber after losing Ryan Suter to free agency. Having both leave would have been disastrous.
Between the lines: A team desperately needing offensive punch added backup goalie Chris Mason and defenseman Scott Hannan. Inspiring.
Final score: Pekka Rinne can keep them in most games but not enough to win the division.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Offense: Franchise winger Rick Nash was traded to the Rangers. Jeff Carter ended up winning the Cup after they traded him. It can’t get much worse.
Defense: Actually, it can get worse. Defenseman Ryan Murray, taken second overall in the June draft, is out for the season after shoulder surgery. At least they have Jack Johnson.
Between the lines: John Davidson arrives to oversee operations. It would be a surprise if GM Scott Howson survives the season.
Final score: Last place in the league.
Northwest division »
1. Vancouver Canucks
Offense: Neither Sedin averaged a point per game last year, a first since 2007-08. Ryan Kesler continues to battle injuries after a 49-point season.
Defense: Their top four defensemen are as good as any in the NHL. Cory Schneider takes over in goal while they shop Roberto Luongo.
Between the lines: The longer Luongo stays, the more likely he will become a distraction, not to mention a drag on payroll.
Final score: You can’t always get what you want. In this case, it’s the Cup.
2. Minnesota Wild
Offense: Winger Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter signed identical $98 million contracts, which should lead to more balance and production across the board. For that price, it better.
Defense: Suter can only help peanut-sized defenseman Jared Spurgeon (5-9, 185), who is young and mobile. Goalie Niklas Backstrom is very good when he’s at the top of his game.
Between the lines: There’s no way of knowing how well Parise and Suter will adjust to their teammates, one another and their massive contracts.
Final score: The talent is there for them to get a major return on their investment.
3. Colorado Avalanche
Offense: The Avs have a good young nucleus that starts with Gabriel Landeskog, who was named rookie of the year. They’re solid down the middle with Paul Stastny, Matt Duchene and the unsigned Ryan O’Reilly but need more goals overall.
Defense: Erik Johnson has size and ability, but he still hasn’t justified St. Louis taking him first overall in 2006. Can J-S Giguere steal the goaltending job from Semyon Varlamov?
Between the lines: Joe Sacco remains the head coach, but it’s still not clear if he’s the right man to lead this group.
Final score: This could be the year in which Colorado, which has missed the playoffs three times in four years, wins its first playoff series since 2008.
4. Edmonton Oilers
Offense: Nail Yakupov is the third player selected first overall in three years to land with the Oilers, joining Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Taylor Hall.
Defense: The names have changed, but the results have been the same. Devyn Dubnyk should challenge Nikolai Khabibulin for No. 1 job in goal.
Between the lines: Patience is required while the Kiddie Corps grows up. When it does, the Oilers will be rewarded.
Final score: Edmonton needs to show progress. If it can reach the postseason in the process, all the better.
5. Calgary Flames
Offense: Jarome Iginla has 11 straight 30-goal seasons, but look for that streak to end this year. Jiri Hudler should help after arriving from Detroit.
Defense: Former Sabres pick Dennis Wideman arrives for his eighth NHL season. Jay Bouwmeester has not worked out and could need a change.
Between the lines: New coach Bob Hartley brings a fresh, intelligent voice while working under his close friend, GM Jay Feaster.
Final score: They could surprise some people, but their lack of depth will likely push them toward the bottom.
Pacific division »
1. Los Angeles Kings
Offense: The Stanley Cup winners have almost everybody back. Dustin Brown averaged a point per game in the playoffs.
Defense: Keeping center Jarret Stoll was huge. Jonathan Quick emerged as the top goaltender in the league. Drew Doughty gives them 25 quality minutes a night.
Between the lines: The Cup hangover is real, but the lockout provided them with plenty of time to heal and rest.
Final score: After struggling last season, they figured out how to win. Expect more of the same.
2. San Jose Sharks
Offense: They had three 30-goal scorers in diehard Bills fan Logan Couture, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski, but nobody else netted more than 18.
Defense: Dan Boyle is one of the smartest players in the league and still chugging along at age 36. Marc-Edouard “Pickles” Vlasic is grossly underrated.
Between the lines: No matter how many times they get into position to contend for a Cup, something obstructs them from getting there. Joe Thornton? Perhaps.
Final score: It’s a matter of pushing through in the playoffs.
Prediction: Second-round knockout.
3. Anaheim Ducks
Offense: Bobby Ryan, Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf started slowly before recovering in the second half of last season. It was too late but the talent remains.
Defense: Individual talent was there with the likes of Lubomir Visnovsky and Francois Beauchimin, but team defense was poor and goaltending was worse.
Between the lines: A 16-3-4 stretch through the middle part of the season suggested they bought into new coach Bruce Boudreau. Now, they start the season with him.
Final score: They’re not in the same class with the top teams, but they can compete in a difficult division and make the playoffs.
4. Dallas Stars
Offense: Jaromir Jagr, Ray Whitney and Derek Roy seems like a strange combination, but they should help Jamie Benn, Loui Eriksson and Michael Ryder.
Defense: Alex Goligoski was their best player along a blue line that’s more talented than it is tough. It’s also lacking in size.
Between the lines: GM Joe Nieuwendyk didn’t like what he saw last season, so he was aggressive in making changes. They will miss their glue guy, Steve Ott.
Final score: The finish will be determined by their depth. They don’t have enough in the organization if they run into too many injuries.
5. Phoenix Coyotes
Offense: Leading scorer Ray Whitney left for Dallas. Radim Vrbata scoring 35 goals again seems highly unlikely. Shane Doan accepted a hometown discount to stay in the desert.
Defense: Goalie Mike Smith carried them last season with a 2.21 GAA and .930 save percentage. It’s difficult to sustain over two seasons.
Between the lines: Dave Tippett is a terrific coach who finds ways to win. He should not be overlooked, but coaching can only take a team so far.
Final score: The Coyotes deserve plenty of credit for playing well under difficult circumstances, but first to worst seems more likely than a playoff run.