1. Detroit Red Wings The defending champions added top winger Marian Hossa to a lineup that already featured superstars Henrik Zetterberg, Pavel Datsyuk and Nicklas Lidstro. The netminder Chris Osgood might not have much cache, but he gets the job done. 2. Chicago Blackhawks After a decade in the wilderness, the Hawks appear poised for a breakthrough. The attack is led by second-year stars Jonathan Toews (the new captain) and Patrick Kane, and also boasts Martin 'Always Injured' Havlat and Patrick 'Suddenly' Sharp. The mobile Brian Campbell joins Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook in defence.
3. Nashville Predators Ownership uncertainty continues to rattle a team that has tried its best to do it right, by building slowly and patiently and developing its own prospects. The pay-off has been defenders Shea Weber and Ryan Suter and Dan Hamhuis. The down side? Nobody wants to come to a team whose future is on shaky ground. 4. Columbus Blue Jackets Still looking for their first-ever play-off berth, the Jackets have at least made some headway since Ken Hitchcock took over as coach two years ago. Power forward Rick Nash got some help in new linemates RJ Umberger and Kristian Huselius, while rookies Derick Brassard and Jakub Voracek will get a chance to shine.
5. St Louis Blues Erik Johnson, the future on the blueline and the No 1 draft pick in 2006, is out for the year after hurting his knee in a mysterious golf cart accident on the eve of the regular season. Bad luck? Stupidity? Whatever. It is the kind of thing that has happened recently to the downtrodden Blues.
1. Edmonton Oilers Edmonton has not won its division since 1987, but the Oilers are riding high. A new billionaire owner (Daryl Katz) brings stability, and Erik Cole and Lubomir Visnovsky improve a young team. 2. Calgary Flames Despite a great goalie (Miikka Kiprusoff), defenseman (Dion Phaneuf) and forward (Jarome Iginla), the Flames have had trouble with consistency. If the secondary talent steps up, the Flames can contend. 3. Minnesota Wild Marian Gaborik is a superior talent, a blazingly fast skater with dazzling offensive skills. But aside from often-injured Mikko Koivu and undersized Pierre-Marc Bouchard, he does not have a whole lot of help. Team defence might get the Wild into the play-offs.
4. Colorado Avalanche Captain Joe Sakic is back for another season at age 39, but the future is in the hands of Paul Stastny, Wojtek Wolski and Marek Svatos. A goaltending tandem of Peter Budaj and Andrew Raycroft does not inspire confidence. 5. Vancouver Canucks Roberto Luongo is perhaps the best goalkeeper in the world. The Sedin twins, playmaker Henrik and sniper Daniel, form two-thirds of a potent top line. But the Canucks need secondary scoring to contend for a playoff spot.
1. San Jose Sharks Here is a brief history of the Sharks: great regular seasons, disappointing post-seasons. Joe Thornton has taken the brunt of the criticism, after consistently piling up points from October to April only to disappear in May. But he has not been the only toothless Shark in the spring. San Jose brought in Dan Boyle and Rob Blake to solidify thier defence. 2. Dallas Stars Brenden Morrow was a force in the play-offs last season, and might be the best power forward this side of Iginla. Goalie Marty Turco's play-off demons are long gone, and the Stars have added Brad Richards and Sean Avery to a support the Morrow and Mike Ribeiro. Former captain Mike Modano is still around, but he is a third-liner now.
3. Anaheim Ducks The 2007 champions do not have as much depth, but still have star power. Goalie J-S Giguere is a proven play-off performer, Chris Pronger and Scott Niedermayer headline the defence, and Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Teemu Selanne lead the offence. With a lot of good health and a little good luck, Anaheim are a good pick to win the West.
4. Phoenix Coyotes Last year's overachievers almost made the play-offs, and then they obtained cenre Olli Jokinen in the off-season. The captain Shane Doan is the team's heart and soul, but the development of youngsters Peter Mueller, Martin Hanzal and Kyle Turris is the key for the Coyotes. 5. Los Angeles Kings Their kingdom for a goalie. In the meantime, they will settle for another low finish in the standings - and a high pick in next year's entry draft. Hello, John Tavares or Victor Hedman.