Teams are listed in order of predicted finish.
*Denotes playoff pick
Pavel Datsyuk remains probably the best two-way center in the game. Henrik Zetterberg averaged a point per game and scored 10 power play goas last season and remains a terror with the man advantage.Then there's the wondrous Nick Lidstrom, who returns at age 41 to lead the defense after an 82-game, 62-point season. Lidstrom is also coming off the first minus season of his career (-2), however, and Detroit finished 23rd overall in average goals-allowed (2.89) per game.
Last season, the Hawks seemed to coast far too long before they got serious. Expect a more committed, focused group from the opening-night drop of the puck this time. With marquee talent like Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane and Duncan Keith still on hand, the Hawks should play beyond April.
Coach Barry Trotz's team finished 22nd in goals per game (2.60) last season, but allowed just 2.32 and figures to do about the same after failing to add anyone of particular note offensively. Nashville also lost two double-figure goal scorers in Joel Ward and Steve Sullivan. But the defense led by Weber and Suter and Vezina Trophy finalist Rinne -- plus the always resourceful ways of Trotz -- will again make playing Nashville anything but a party.
We've bought into the "young, promising" storyline one too many times to get overly excited, especially when the Blues' big offseason pickups were players who've clearly seen better days, such as Jason Arnott and Jamie Langenbrunner. But we will give them this: they have two of the better young power forwards in the conference in David Backes and Chris Stewart, and Patrik Berglund is a pretty nice second-line center. A return to health and form by the concussed David Perron would be an added bonus.
Carter's acquisition was one of the offseason's biggest stories, one that has at least given bored Jackets fans some reason for excitement. After numerous "can't-miss" draft prospect came and missed in Columbus, management went for players who might cost more, but figure to give more immediate results. With at least 33 goals in his last three seasons, Carter is proven, and one's mouth naturally waters at thoughts of him centering for starry left wing Rick Nash and solid R.J. Umberger. With big money (some say, WAY too much money) given to two-way defender James Wisniewski, Jackets brass signaled that it's through being patient.