The East | The West

Listed in predicted order of finish (records are from last season)

No. 1

Washington Capitals

50-24-8, second
Alex Ovechkin and his teammates fell short of reaching their full potential last season because of two deficiencies: consistent goaltending and a net-crashing forward. But if rookie goaltender Semyon Varlamov performs the way he did in the playoffs and gritty winger Mike Knuble can bang in Ovechkin's rebounds, this could be Washington's year.
No. 2

Pittsburgh Penguins

45-28-9, fourth
With one of the league's most formidable lineups from top to bottom, the core of last season's Stanley Cup winner is back for more. What's unclear is the effect consecutive trips to the finals -- and the short summers that go hand-in-hand with long runs in the spring -- will have on Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin et al.
No. 3

Boston Bruins

53-19-10, first
Unable to come to terms with Phil Kessel on an extension, GM Peter Chiarelli dealt the disgruntled forward to Toronto. Good for the long haul, not so good for a team with Stanley Cup aspirations. Kessel was the Bruins' leading goal-scorer (36) and ranked third in points (60) last season.
No. 4

Philadelphia Flyers

44-27-11, fifth
The Broad Street Bullies are back with the addition of big-hitting defenseman Chris Pronger to what was already the league's toughest lineup. The last two times Pronger changed addresses, he led his new team to the Stanley Cup finals. The franchise's questions in goal won't go away after the acquisition of Ray Emery.
No. 5

New York Rangers

43-30-9, seventh
John Tortorella is one of the game's top coaches, as he proved yet again by turning around the Rangers after replacing Tom Renney at midseason. He also has one of the world's top goalies in Henrik Lundqvist. But a ton of turnover, including the trade of Scott Gomez and the risky addition of oft-injured sniper Marian Gaborik, leaves many questions.
No. 6

New Jersey Devils

51-27-4, third
New Coach Jacques Lemaire's playing style might bore fans to sleep, but he's a mastermind tactician. And with future Hall of Fame goaltender Martin Brodeur in net and Zach Parise (94 points) patrolling the wing, the Devils probably will prove the skeptics wrong. Again.
No. 7

Carolina Hurricanes

45-30-7, sixth
The Eric Staal-led Hurricanes were one of the biggest surprises of last season when the 2006 Stanley Cup winner bounced back from consecutive non-playoff years to reach the conference finals. Goaltender Cam Ward returned to his former Conn Smythe-winning form after a midseason coaching change and should be a force again this season.
No. 8

Montreal Canadiens

41-30-11, eighth
After a season filled with off-ice distractions and on-ice disappointments, GM Bob Gainey got to work. He brought in a new coach (Jacques Martin), three new forwards (Mike Cammalleri, Brian Gionta and Scott Gomez) and three new defensemen (Hal Gill, Jaroslav Spacek and Paul Mara). Chemistry, obviously, could become an issue.

Not ready for prime time: Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs, Ottawa Senators, Buffalo Sabres, Florida Panthers, Atlanta Thrashers and New York Islanders.

-- Analysis by Gene Wang

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