NEW JERSEY DEVILS
1989-90 RECORD: 37-34-9, second
COACH: John Cunniff (31-28-7)
PLAYERS TO WATCH: LW Kirk Muller (30 goals, 56 assists), RW John MacLean (41-38), C Peter Stastny (29-44), D Alexei Kasatonov (6-15), G Sean Burke (22 wins, 22 losses, 6 ties, 3.60 goals against)
NEW FACES: RW Claude Lemieux (Montreal), C Laurie Boschman (Winnipeg), LW Zdeno Ciger (Czechoslovakia), C Paul Ysebaert (Utica, AHL), D Dave Marcinyshyn (Utica, AHL)
PROJECTION: Stastny, a trading-deadline addition in March, should help a struggling power play, and Boschman and Lemieux will add some needed grinding up front. Big question marks concern Soviet defensemen Kasatonov and Viacheslav Fetisov, who could be dominating if they are not intimidated physically, and Burke, who has great tools, but so far has been inconsistent. Second.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS
1989-90 RECORD: 31-38-11, fourth
COACH: Al Arbour (646-424-208)
PLAYERS TO WATCH: C Pat LaFontaine (54-51), C Brent Sutter (33-35), D Doug Crossman (15-44), D Craig Ludwig (1-15), G Mark Fitzpatrick (19-19-5, 3.39)
NEW FACES: Ludwig (Montreal), D Bill Berg (Springfield, AHL), D Wayne McBean (Springfield, AHL), C Rob DiMaio (Springfield, AHL)
PROJECTION: Ludwig is a Patrick Division defenseman -- big, tough and skilled. He should help the development of good, young defensemen such as McBean, Berg and Jeff Norton. A potential trouble spot is LaFontaine's demand for a huge raise. GM Bill Torrey so far has resisted. Club is strong down middle, weak on wings. Third.
NEW YORK RANGERS
1989-90 RECORD: 36-31-13, first
COACH: Roger Neilson (223-197-87)
PLAYERS TO WATCH: C Bernie Nicholls (39-73), RW Mike Gartner (45-41), LW John Ogrodnick (43-31), D Brian Leetch (11-45), G John Vanbiesbrouck (19-19-7, 3.38)
NEW FACES: RW Ray Sheppard (Buffalo), RW Jody Hull (Hartford), C Rob Zamuner (Flint, IHL), RW Tie Domi (Newmarket, AHL)
PROJECTION: Rangers finished first last year despite an incredible run of injuries. Major second-half trades for Nicholls and Gartner shook up team and both figure to contribute more from the start. Rangers' 103 power-play goals led league and goaltending pair of Vanbiesbrouck and Mike Richter could be NHL's best. First.
1989-90 RECORD: 30-39-11, sixth
COACH: Paul Holmgren (66-75-19)
PLAYERS TO WATCH: RW Rick Tocchet (37-59), RW Tim Kerr (24-24), D Mark Howe (7-21), LW Murray Craven (25-50), G Ron Hextall (4-2-1, 4.15)
NEW FACES: C Mike Ricci (Peterborough, OHL), C Martin Hostak (Czechoslovakia), C Craig Fisher (Miami, Ohio), LW Pat Murray (Miami, Ohio)
PROJECTION: Howe and Kerr each missed half of last season and Hextall hardly played at all. If they can bounce back with familiar numbers, the Flyers can get back into the playoffs. Team must regain some of its onetime domination in Spectrum, where it was 17-19-4 last season. Fourth.
1989-90 RECORD: 32-40-8, fifth
COACH: Bob Johnson (193-155-52)
PLAYERS TO WATCH: C Mario Lemieux (45-78), D Paul Coffey (29-74), RW Joe Mullen (36-33), LW Kevin Stevens (29-41), G Tom Barrasso (7-12-3)
NEW FACES: Mullen (Calgary), C Bryan Trottier (N.Y. Islanders), LW Jaromir Jagr (Czechoslovakia), RW Jamie Leach (Muskegon, IHL), D Jim Paek (Muskegon, IHL)
PROJECTION: The Penguins collapsed after back problems took Lemieux out of the lineup last season. Now they face another long stretch -- if not the entire winter -- without him. Team has added a lot of brainpower in Johnson and Scotty Bowman, the new director of player development. But the Penguins' principal need is some brains on the ice. They think offense at all times, a shortcoming reflected in their 359 goals against, second only to Quebec. Sixth.
1989-90 RECORD: 36-38-6, third
COACH: Terry Murray (18-14-2)
PLAYERS TO WATCH: RW Dino Ciccarelli (41-38), C Mike Ridley (30-43), C Peter Zezel (25-47), RW John Druce (8-3), G Mike Liut (19-16-1, 2.53)
NEW FACES: Zezel (St. Louis), D Mike Lalor (St. Louis), LW Dave Tippett (Hartford), RW Peter Bondra (Czechoslovakia), D Mark Ferner (Baltimore, AHL)
PROJECTION: Holdouts by D Kevin Hatcher and G Don Beaupre disrupted preparations for season. Team is short of scoring punch, especially on left wing, and power play seems even worse than in the past. If Druce could maintain playoff scoring touch (14-3), it would help. But loss of D Scott Stevens to free agency may have been mortal blow to team that was slipping anyway. Fifth.
1989-90 RECORD: 46-25-9, first
COACH: Mike Milbury (46-25-9)
PLAYERS TO WATCH: RW Cam Neely (55-37), D Ray Bourque (19-65), C Craig Janney (24-38), D Garry Galley (8-27), G Andy Moog (24-10-7, 2.89)
NEW FACES: RW Chris Nilan (N.Y. Rangers), C John Byce (U. of Wisconsin), C Wes Walz (Lethbridge, WHL), RW Shayne Stevenson (Kitchener, OHL)
PROJECTION: Bruins led NHL in points last year with 101, but beat out improving Buffalo by only three. Club must work 60 minutes every night to be effective and it will be interesting to see if fat new contracts have any effect on workaholics Neely and Bourque. Special teams remain a key -- Bruins ranked second in both power play and penalty killing. Nilan should add some muscle, but team does not need a lot of silly penalties. Second.
1989-90 RECORD: 45-27-8, second
COACH: Rick Dudley (45-27-8)
PLAYERS TO WATCH: C Pierre Turgeon (40-66), LW Dave Andreychuk (40-42), C Dale Hawerchuk (26-55), D Mike Ramsey (4-21), G Daren Puppa (31-16-6, 2.89)
NEW FACES: Hawerchuk (Winnipeg), D Bill Houlder (Washington), RW Mikko Makela (Los Angeles), C John Tucker (Washington), D Greg Brown (Boston College)
PROJECTION: Hawerchuk should get a second wind after years of carrying the Jets on his back. He figures to take some of the pressure off Turgeon, a budding superstar who led Adams Division scorers despite tight checking he faced. Team had fewest penalty minutes and best penalty killing in NHL, a winning combination. First.
1989-90 RECORD: 38-33-9, fourth
COACH: Rick Ley (38-33-9)
PLAYERS TO WATCH: C Ron Francis (32-69), RW Pat Verbeek (44-45), RW Kevin Dineen (25-41), D Ulf Samuelsson (2-11), G Peter Sidorkiewicz (19-19-7, 3.57)
NEW FACES: C Robert Holik (Czechoslovakia), C Carey Wilson (N.Y. Rangers), LW Paul Cyr (N.Y. Rangers), D Brian Chapman (Binghamton, AHL)
PROJECTION: Whalers matched Rangers in points last season and battled Boston to seven games before losing divisional final. They are good enough to win Patrick title, but must once again be considered Adams also-rans. GM Eddie Johnston is looking for more size to help in corners, where Whalers have been outplayed by Adams rivals. Fourth.
1989-90 RECORD: 41-28-11, third
COACH: Pat Burns (94-46-20)
PLAYERS TO WATCH: RW Stephane Richer (51-40), C Denis Savard (27-53), LW Shayne Corson (31-44), C Guy Carbonneau (19-36), G Patrick Roy (31-16-5, 2.53)
NEW FACES: Savard (Chicago), D Gerald Diduck (N.Y. Islanders), LW Sylvain Turgeon (New Jersey), LW Mark Pederson (Sherbrooke, AHL), C Andrew Cassels (Sherbrooke, AHL)
PROJECTION: Although big winners on the scoreboard, the Canadiens have been boring their fans for years. Addition of Savard should open up offense and put some life in NHL's worst power play. But departure of top defenders Chris Chelios and Craig Ludwig will add to pressure on Roy, probably best goalie in NHL. Third.
1989-90 RECORD: 12-61-7, fifth
COACH: Dave Chambers (first year)
PLAYERS TO WATCH: C Joe Sakic (39-63), RW Guy Lafleur (12-22), D Michel Petit (12-24), C Mats Sundin (Sweden)
NEW FACES: Sundin, D Randy Velischek (New Jersey), LW Wayne Van Dorp (Chicago), D Shawn Anderson (Buffalo), C Aaron Broten (Minnesota), D Stephane Guerard (Halifax, AHL) RW Owen Nolan (Cornwall, OHL), C Kip Miller (Michigan State)
PROJECTION: No doubt Quebec will be the most improved team in the NHL. It still will finish far enough back to gain the draft rights to Eric Lindros, the next hockey superstar. Eventually, all these top draft picks (D Bryan Fogarty, Sundin, Nolan, etc.) will make the Nordiques a force in the league, but not yet. Fifth.
1989-90 RECORD: 41-33-6, first
COACH: Mike Keenan (258-176-46)
PLAYERS TO WATCH: RW Steve Larmer (31-59), D Doug Wilson (23-50), LW Steve Thomas (40-30), D Chris Chelios (9-22), C Jeremy Roenick (26-40)
NEW FACES: Chelios (Montreal), G Dominek Hasek (Czechoslovakia), G Jimmy Waite (Indianapolis, IHL)
PROJECTION: If Chicago can get solid goaltending, it has enough talent to win the Stanley Cup. Chelios immeasurably strengthens the other weak spot, on defense. Boasting a number of hard-working forwards that forecheck relentlessly and can score, the Blackhawks do not figure to lose much production with the departure of Savard. But they must trim league-leading penalty total. First.
DETROIT RED WINGS
1989-90 RECORD: 28-38-14, fifth
COACH: Bryan Murray (343-246-83)
PLAYERS TO WATCH: C Steve Yzerman (62-65), LW Gerard Gallant (36-44), C Jimmy Carson (21-18), LW Bob Probert (3-0), G Tim Cheveldae (10-9-8, 3.79)
NEW FACES: D Brad McCrimmon (Calgary), D Rick Green (Montreal), C Sergei Fedorov (Soviet Union), C Keith Primeau (Niagara Falls, OHL)
PROJECTION: With Murray in total control, the Red Wings should regain their focus and resume their winning ways. But they have a long way to go to challenge Chicago and St. Louis. Probert reported is badly overweight at 235, so there is some question about the seriousness of his comeback. Third.
MINNESOTA NORTH STARS
1989-90 RECORD: 36-40-4
COACH: Bob Gainey (first year)
PLAYERS TO WATCH: LW Brian Bellows (55-44), C Neal Broten (23-62), C Dave Gagner (40-38), C Mike Modano (29-46), G Jon Casey (31-22-4, 3.22)
NEW FACES: C Bobby Smith (Montreal), LW Brian Propp (Boston), RW Ilkka Sinisalo (Philadelphia), D Peter Taglianetti (Winnipeg), D Link Gaetz (Kalamazoo, IHL)
PROJECTION: Next to Quebec, the North Stars were the NHL's worst road team (10-28-2). This was in large part because of strange special-teams statistics: power play, third at home and 17th on the road; penalty killing, first at home and 16th on the road. Presumably, Gainey will get some of the passengers producing, but his task and that of new GM Bob Clarke is multiplied by the distractions resulting from the San Jose expansion deal, which has many young North Stars due to head west at season's end. Fifth.
ST. LOUIS BLUES
1989-90 RECORD: 37-34-9, second
COACH: Brian Sutter (70-69-21)
PLAYERS TO WATCH: RW Brett Hull (72-41), C Adam Oates (23-79), LW Geoff Courtnall (35-39), D Scott Stevens (11-29), D Paul Cavallini (8-39)
NEW FACES: Courtnall (Washington), Stevens (Washington), D Mario Marois (Quebec), C Bob Bassen (Chicago), C Michel Mongeau (Peoria, IHL)
PROJECTION: Management took a big gamble by prying Stevens away from Washington. He could move the Blues' defense from good to excellent, though, and if the goaltending holds up, St. Louis could be ready for a serious Stanley Cup challenge. This should be the Blues' best finish since they rolled up 107 points in 1980-81. Second.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
1989-90 RECORD: 38-38-4, third
COACH: Doug Carpenter (138-204-28)
PLAYERS TO WATCH: RW Gary Leeman (51-44), LW Vincent Damphousse (33-61), C Ed Olczyk (32-56), RW Dan Marois (39-37), D Al Iafrate (21-42)
NEW FACES: RW Kevin Maguire (Philadelphia), RW Greg Johnston (N.Y. Rangers), G Peter Ing (Newmarket, AHL)
PROJECTION: Toronto ranked third in scoring last year, but gave up 21 more goals than it scored to stand third from the bottom in defense. There have been no roster changes that figure to alter the situation. The Leafs did not help themselves by drawing more penalties than any team except Chicago. Still, there is a positive note. With irascible Harold Ballard gone, the team is being operated rationally. Fourth.
1989-90 RECORD: 42-23-15, first
COACH: Doug Risebrough (first year)
PLAYERS TO WATCH: C Joe Nieuwendyk (45-50), C Doug Gilmour (24-67), D Al MacInnis (28-62), D Gary Suter (16-60), G Mike Vernon (23-14-9, 3.13)
NEW FACES: C Robert Reichel (Czechoslovakia), D Brian Glynn (Salt Lake City, IHL), D Ken Sabourin (Salt Lake City, IHL), C Marc Bureau (Salt Lake City, IHL)
PROJECTION: The Flames were a surly lot under Terry Crisp last season, but they still managed 99 points. With Risebrough moving behind the bench, they could come close to the 117 points and Stanley Cup title of the year before. Two question marks are Vernon's back, a problem last season, and the long-term effect of the severe knee injury Nieuwendyk suffered in the world championships. First.
1989-90 RECORD: 38-28-14, second
COACH: John Muckler (44-51-20)
PLAYERS TO WATCH: C Mark Messier (45-84), RW Glenn Anderson (34-38), LW Esa Tikkanen (30-33), D Kevin Lowe (7-26), G Bill Ranford (24-16-9, 3.19)
NEW FACES: D Chris Joseph (Cape Breton, AHL), LW Anatoli Semenov (Soviet Union), C Ken Linseman (Philadelphia)
PROJECTION: The Oilers survived the departures of Paul Coffey and Wayne Gretzky and won the Stanley Cup last year despite G Grant Fuhr's problems. This year, though, they will be without RW Jari Kurri, probably the best two-way forward in hockey, who returned to Finland. None of the team's good, young forwards comes close to filling that huge hole. Fuhr's suspension for substance abuse won't help. Third.
LOS ANGELES KINGS
1989-90 RECORD: 34-39-7, fourth
COACH: Tom Webster (34-37-9)
PLAYERS TO WATCH: C Wayne Gretzky (40-102), LW Luc Robitaille (52-49), RW Tomas Sandstrom (32-39), D Steve Duchesne (20-42), G Kelly Hrudey (22-21-6, 4.07)
NEW FACES: G Daniel Berthiaume (Winnipeg), D Rod Buskas (Pittsburgh), D Rob Blake (Bowling Green)
PROJECTION: Kings ranked second in scoring last season, but were fourth-worst defensively. Proof that situation hasn't changed was decision to take journeyman Buskas in waiver draft. If Gretzky has further back problems, team figures to be in deep trouble. Webster must stay healthy too. He lost first coaching job with Rangers because of inner-ear problems and missed 14 games last year. Fourth.
1989-90 RECORD: 25-41-14, fifth
COACH: Bob McCammon (202-194-62)
PLAYERS TO WATCH: C Dan Quinn (25-38), RW Trevor Linden (21-30), LW Greg Adams (30-20), C Igor Larionov (17-27), G Kirk McLean (21-30-10, 3.47)
NEW FACES: LW Robert Kron (Czechoslovakia), D Jim Agnew (Milwaukee, IHL), RW Jay Mazur (Milwaukee, IHL), LW Dave Mackey (Minnesota), C Petr Nedved (Seattle, WHL), D Jiri Slegr (Czechoslovakia), G Bob Mason (Baltimore, AHL)
PROJECTION: Most fans have forgotten club's last winning season in 1975-76. Excitement generated by seven-game series against Calgary in 1989 and arrival of Soviets Larionov and Vladimir Krutov last fall has disappeared. Fifth.
1989-90 RECORD: 37-32-11, third
COACH: Bob Murdoch (67-73-20)
PLAYERS TO WATCH: D Phil Housley (21-60), RW Pat Elynuik (32-42), C Thomas Steen (18-48), D Fredrik Olausson (9-46), G Bob Essensa (18-9-5, 3.15)
NEW FACES: Housley (Buffalo), LW Scott Arniel (Buffalo), C Jeff Parker (Buffalo), LW Craig Duncanson (Los Angeles).
PROJECTION: Jets led Edmonton, three games to one, in playoffs before running out of steam. They have habit of following a good year with a bad one, but Housley should lift them one slot higher. Departure of C Dale Hawerchuk leaves a big scoring void, but overall team effort should be better. Second.