NHL preview The West may be best, but the quantity of good teams in the NHL's toughest conference may prove to be more of a burden than benefit.
Hungry Penguins can hold on to the Stanley Cup
The West may be best, but the quantity of good teams in the NHL's toughest conference may prove to be more of a burden than benefit in 2009/10. The San Jose Sharks and Detroit Red Wings, as usual, boast top-notch teams. The Chicago Blackhawks, Anaheim Ducks, Vancouver Canucks and Calgary Flames all have legitimate Stanley Cup aspirations. The Columbus Blue Jackets, St Louis Blues and Dallas Stars believe better days are ahead, while the Nashville Predators, Minnesota Wild and Los Angeles Kings are also poised to move up. Add it all up, and you have a dozen confident teams fighting for eight play-off spots.
This is not to say the Eastern Conference is a pushover, but the top teams (Boston Bruins, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals) might get an easier play-off opponent for a round or two. And the ability to show up in the cup final reasonably healthy and somewhat rested has been a big advantage in recent years. That is why Pittsburgh have a great chance to be the first team to make it to three consecutive finals since Edmonton (1983-85).
Boston Bruins Last season's best goalie (Tim Thomas) and defenceman (Zdeno Chara) are back, but they will miss Phil Kessel's goals. Montreal Canadiens Can the new and undersized forwards Scott Gomez and Mike Cammalleri deliver? Netminder Carey Price needs to bounce back from a poor year. Buffalo Sabres Their fortunes are tied to the quality of play they get from goalie Ryan Miller and sniper Thomas Vanek. Ottawa Senators Replacing Dany Heatley with Milan Michalek and Jonathan Cheechoo, plus the addition of Alexei Kovalev, means they have legitimate second tier scoring. Toronto Maple Leafs Adding Mike Komisarek, Francois Beauchemin and Garnet Exelby on defence makes them tough, but who will score? They are hoping that Kessel can repeat the form he showed in Boston, but the Leafs do not have a top-quality centre for him to play with.
Philadelphia Flyers A run at the cup could be a possibility with the addition of Chris Pronger on defence. But once again choosing to go the cheap route in goal, by signing Ray Emery, could backfire. Pittsburgh Penguins All the key elements remain for a strong defence of the cup and, with the team so young, hunger should not be an issue. New Jersey Devils This perpetual play-off team are now a mid-level contender and Martin Brodeur is not quite the goalie he once was. New York Rangers Relying on winger Marian Gaborik's health is a huge gamble, but if the Slovak stays healthy then the Rangers will have a decent year. New York Islanders The summer's No 1 entry draft pick John Tavares will not be able to do it all by himself.
Washington Capitals With Alex Ovechkin on your team, goals are never going to be hard to come by, but the Capitals need to get at least one more decent defenceman if they are to mount a Stanley Cup charge.
Carolina Hurricanes Always a team ready to step in and contend when some of the favourites falter. Last year's run to the Eastern Conference final will be hard to repeat, though. Florida Panthers They have not made the play-offs since 2000, but youngsters like David Booth, Michael Frolik and Nathan Horton could see them finally return. Tampa Bay Lightning They finally have an NHL-calibre blueline, and rookie Victor Hedman will get expert tuition from fellow Swede Mattias Ohlund. Atlanta Thrashers Russian sniper Ilya Kovalchuk will once again be surrounded by a bits-and-pieces supporting cast.
Detroit Red Wings They will miss the goals of Marian Hossa and Mikael Samuelsson, but the Wings always figure out a way to win. Chicago Blackhawks The development of young forwards Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews, plus signing Hossa as a free agent, could shift the balance of power in the division.
Columbus Blue Jackets After making the play-offs for the first time, sniper Rick Nash and goalie Steve Mason will ensure they are back. St Louis Blues Eric Johnson's return to the blueline will boost an already precocious line-up. Nashville Predators Someone has to finish last in the league's toughest division, and it will probably be the league's hardest-working team.
Vancouver Canucks Signing the Sedin twins and goalie Roberto Luongo means these guys must now dominate in the play-offs. Calgary Flames Signed Jay Bouwmeester to bolster an already deep defence. Edmonton Oilers More reliance on youth after failing to attract big names. Minnesota Wild Might take a step back in first year with a new coach and a new GM - and without Gaborik. Colorado Avalanche Another year in the basement beckons after Joe Sakic's retirement.
San Jose Sharks Heatley must help them translate regular season success into play-off wins, otherwise the team will be dismantled. Anaheim Ducks Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Bobby Ryan are the NHL's most dynamic forward line. Dallas Stars They will do better than 12th place in captain Mike Modano's final season.
Los Angeles Kings A team loaded with potential will take at least another 12 months to realise how good they can be. Phoenix Coyotes Too bad about the squabbles over ownership because they do have some good young talent. firstname.lastname@example.org