In the mix: The Bruins went to the Stanley Cup final last season but then parted ways with two stars: forwards Nathan Horton (free agent) and Tyler Seguin (traded to the Stars). But they remain loaded, especially after adding power forward Jarome Iginla (free agent). The Red Wings make the jump to the East and add veteran forwards Daniel Alfredsson and Stephen Weiss to an already experienced team. The Senators were banged up last season, so the return of their stars, as well as picking up perennial 30-goal scorer Bobby Ryan in a trade with Anaheim, should have them in the hunt.
In the middle: Let's see if the young-and-rising Maple Leafs can recover from their heartbreaking playoff loss to Boston. The Canadiens seem to go whichever way goalie Carey Price goes. They might be good enough to make the postseason but not good enough to do damage there.
In the rear: I wish I had higher hopes for the Lightning, and there's lots to like with any team that has Marty St. Louis and Steven Stamkos. But goaltending, defense and Ryan Malone's health remain up in the air. The Panthers have added veteran goalie Tim Thomas, but he's a couple of years removed from performing miracles in Boston, and the Panthers need miracles because they don't score. The Sabres have two decent players, goalie Ryan Miller and forward Thomas Vanek, and it will be interesting if they trade both before the season is over.
In the mix: The Penguins needed to either fire coach Dan Bylsma or get rid of goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. They kept both, which makes me think they are doomed to repeat recent history of playing sensationally in the regular season and getting knocked out in the playoffs by an inferior team. The Rangers might be more relaxed now that they're playing for coach Alain Vigneault instead of madman John Tortorella. Any team that has goalie Henrik Lundqvist has a chance to win it all, although Lundqvist's reputation might be better than his resume. I like the way the Capitals played under coach Adam Oates at the end of last season, and Alex Ovechkin bounced back to show he remains on many nights the most complete player in the world. But the Caps aren't deep on defense, though Braden Holtby is a solid goalie.
In the middle: The Islanders and Blue Jackets are up-and-comers. The Islanders, with star forward John Tavares, made the playoffs last season, and the Blue Jackets, with skilled forwards Marion Gaborik and Nathan Horton, might finally crack the playoffs, especially with 2013 Vezina Trophy-winning goalie Sergei Bobrovsky. The Flyers will turn to Ray Emery in goal, and they have firepower up front, but something is missing with this team.
In the rear: The Devils still have ageless Marty Brodeur in goal but will have a tough time overcoming the loss of forwards Ilya Kovalchuk (playing in Russia) and David Clarkson (left in free agency for the Leafs). Carolina hasn't made the postseason in four years, and other than forward Jeff Skinner, there isn't much there.
In the mix: The Blackhawks won the Cup last season. They have All-Star forwards Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, a great defense and good goaltending. They have an outstanding shot at being the first repeat Cup winner since the 1997-98 Red Wings. Under coach Ken Hitchcock, the Blues play suffocating defense. It isn't fun to watch, but it wins games.
In the middle: With forward Zach Parise and defenseman Ryan Suter, the Wild is good enough to win its share of regular-season games. Just don't look for a lot of postseason victories. Same in Nashville. The Predators chose defenseman Seth Jones fourth overall in this year's draft. A nice pick, an interesting pick. But didn't they need a scorer? The Jets move back to where they belong, in the West, and have some nice young pieces. But they need to percolate a little more.
In the rear: A couple of new coaches will try to jump-start a couple of once-proud franchise that have fallen on hard times. Lindy Ruff takes over the Stars, who gambled by acquiring young star forward Tyler Seguin from the Bruins. Former Avalanche great Patrick Roy is now behind the bench of his old team, which is a very young team. It sure could use a Patrick Roy in goal.
In the mix: The Kings have a big-time goalie in Jonathan Quick, balanced scoring up front and a deep defense. They have another Cup run in store. The Sharks are ultimate underachievers, and unless they figure out how to score more (they were among the worst in the league in five-on-five play last year), look for another early playoff exit. Vancouver adds coach John Tortorella, who might bring a much-needed jolt to this stagnant team, but I have a feeling he will have run-ins with forwards Henrik and Daniel Sedin. The Ducks' amazing start last season (22-3-4) would have gotten more attention if not for Chicago's 24-game unbeaten streak to start the season. But Anaheim was stunned in the first round of the playoffs. It has added a nice piece in forward Dustin Penner.
In the middle: The Oilers are young but improving, loaded with first-round draft picks, including three No. 1 overalls (forwards Taylor Hall, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and Nail Yakopov). They can skate and score, but they need to play better defense. The Coyotes are boring but can play button-down defense.
In the rear: With Jarome Iginla gone and the surprising retirement of goalie Miikka Kiprusoff, the Flames are in full rebuilding mode.
Hart Trophy (MVP): Sidney Crosby, Penguins
Norris Trophy (top defenseman): P.K. Subban, Canadiens
Vezina Trophy (top goalie): Henrik Lundqvist, Rangers
Calder Trophy (top rookie): Seth Jones, Predators
Jack Adams (top coach): Mike Babcock, Red Wings
Playoff teams (East): Bruins, Red Wings, Penguins, Rangers, Capitals, Senators, Leafs, Blue Jackets
Playoff teams (West): Blackhawks, Kings, Sharks, Canucks, Blues, Wild, Ducks, Predators.
Stanley Cup: Bruins over Kings