1. Montreal Canadiens The most successful franchise in NHL history are trying to win their 25th Stanley Cup in their 100th season. The enigmatic but highly-skilled veteran Alexei Kovalev leads the attack, supported by several young scorers (Tomas Plekanec, Chris Higgins, brothers Andrei and Sergei Kostitsyn). The defence is solid, if not particularly deep, and features the well-rounded Andrei Markov and strength of Mike Komisarek. The big question is in goal, where Carey Price, 21, has been handed the job.
2. Ottawa Senators Assuming last year's dismal finish was an aberration, the Senators can skate with anyone in the East. If it was not- or if Martin Gerber falters in goal - it could be a long season for star forwards Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley. 3. Buffalo Sabres Aside from the netminder Ryan Miller, the Sabres don't boast a lot of star power. But Thomas Vanek, Derek Roy and Jason Pominville are capable producers with breakout potential, and there is depth and two-way talent all over the roster.
4. Toronto Maple Leafs For the first time in 15 years, the Leafs are without centre Mats Sundin, and Darcy Tucker (Colorado) and Bryan McCabe (Florida) are also gone. New arrivals included defenders Jeff Finger, Mike Van Ryn and Jonas Frogren and forwards Niklas Hagman, Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin. With Vesa Toskala in goal, the post-season is a possibility, albeit an outside one. 5. Boston Bruins The Bruins surprised by making the play-offs last year despite the season-long absence of centre Patrice Bergeron (concussion). Bergeron is back, along with the gifted Marc Savard, but that will not be enough to get Boston back in the play-offs.
1. Philadelphia Flyers The Flyers made a big jump last season after finishing last overall two years ago. The roster is bursting with young talent and Philadelphia has legitimate title hopes. The captain Mike Richards leads from the front, and he is joined by the gifted Daniel Briere, Simon Gagne, Jeff Carter. Philadelphia are vying with Montreal and Pittsburgh to be the best in the East.
2. Pittsburgh Penguins Sidney Crosby. Evgeni Malkin. Jordan Staal. That's a 1-2-3 centre combination that should keep Pittsburgh in Stanley Cup contention until 2020. And after losing to Detroit in the final last June, the Pens will be hungry to return. 3. New Jersey Devils As always, Martin Brodeur is in the goal, so the Devils cannot be dismissed. The veteran has more help than last year, so the Devils should make the play-offs and have the potential to pull off an upset.
4. New York Rangers With Jaromir Jagr gone, Chris Drury and Scott Gomez are the new attacking lynchpins. The former Ottawa Senator Wade Redden joins Michal Rozsival on the blueline, and Marc Staal should step up in his second year. The Rangers should be back in the post-season. 5. New York Islanders Better buy goaltender Rick DiPietro some body armour. He is going to need it in the Isles' net.
1. Washington Capitals Alexander Ovechkin dominated the league last season, potting 65 goals and 112 points to claim MVP honours. And he just turned 23. 'Ovie' has a better team around him this year, too, with more improvement expected from young stars Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Semin and Mike Green. The boom-or-bust move was the decision to bring in netminder Jose Theodore, whose form has been inconsistent over the past few seasons.
2. Carolina Hurricanes Centres Eric Staal and Rod Brind'Amour will carry the Canes into the play-offs. From there anything can happen, as was shown by Carolina's Cup win in 2006. But goalie Cam Ward will need to show that his career did not peak two years ago. 3. Tampa Bay Lightning No team was busier in the off-season. The Bolts changed their ownership, GM and coach, and signed a host of new forwards to support Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St Louis. Ryan Malone gives them a much-needed presence up front, while the veteran Gary Roberts adds leadership. The new coach Barry Melrose is back behind the bench after a 13-year stint as a TV analyst. Strangely, they did not do much to their defence. Average score in Tampa this year? 8-6 for the other team.
4. Florida Panthers One year after trading away franchise goalie Roberto Luongo, the Panthers did it again by sending franchise forward Olli Jokinen to Phoenix in June. Odd moves for a team that has not made the play-offs since 2000. 5. Atlanta Thrashers Ilya Kovalchuk is the second-best Russian goalscorer in the league. But he's getting frustrated by the lack of support - and play-off appearances - in Atlanta.