Gary Bettman will tell you otherwise, but the Winter Games in Vancouver -- not the Stanley Cup Final -- rate as the most anticipated event on this season's schedule. Team Canada, led by Sidney Crosby, will have to overcome staggering pressure, and excellent squads from Russia and Sweden, to win the gold on home ice. A young American team has a chance to surprise with Tim Thomas or Ryan Miller in net.
2 of 9Rebecca Taylor/MSG Photos/Getty Images
Will Marian Gaborik break down?
The offensively inept New York Rangers landed free agent winger Marian Gaborik with a shocking five-year, $37.5 million contract. The question now is: what exactly will they get for that money? Will it be the dynamic sniper who scored a career-high 42 goals in 2007-08, or the press box fixture whose wonky hips limited him to just 17 games last season?
3 of 9Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
Are the Capitals Cup-worthy?
Despite blowing a 3-1 second-round playoff lead to the Penguins, great things are expected of the Washington Capitals. But are those expectations premature? Led by Alexander Ovechkin -- who is quickly building his case as one of the all-time greats -- the Caps have plenty of firepower. Unfortunately, a lack of defensive zone commitment and a significant question mark in net suggest they may need another year or two to be ranked as realistic contenders.
4 of 9Scott Cunningham/NHLI via Getty Images
Whither Ilya Kovalchuk?
With Roberto Luongo the latest to sign one of those cap-busting decade-plus megacontracts, all eyes turn to Ilya Kovalchuk as the season's most compelling UFA-to-be. The Thrashers say they're serious about keeping him, but you have to wonder if he'll sense that commitment when he's being fed passes by the likes of Todd White, Rich Peverley and Marty Reasoner.
5 of 9Phillip MacCallum(2), Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images
The retooled Canadiens
Trying to put their disastrous centennial season behind him, Montreal GM Bob Gainey embarked on an ambitious roster overhaul that saw the torch passed from Alexei Kovalev, Saku Koivu and Alex Tanguay to (left to right) Scott Gomez, Mike Cammalleri and Brian Gionta, among others. As an experiment in forced chemistry, the changes are being met with low expectations. The Habs could surprise.
6 of 9Abelimages/Getty Images, AP
Toronto's Maple Goons
New GM Brian Burke wasted no time retro-fitting the Maple Leafs in his own image. Adding ruffians like Mike Komisarek (left) and Garnet Exelby (right) ensures Toronto will ice a more entertaining squad. But will these Bay Street Bullies be any good? Free agent goalie Jonas "The Monster" Gustavsson could play a large role in their return to legitimacy, as could offensive addition Phil Kessel.
7 of 9Christian Petersen/Getty Images
The forgotten Coyotes
Truth is there's no magic that the young Coyotes can create on the ice to adequately address the beatdown of this summer's lingering ownership struggle and the resignation of coach Wayne Gretzky. That the team is going to load up the vans at some point now seems inevitable. The only questions are when, where...and how many of the Phoenix faithful will be bothered to mourn them?
8 of 9Bruce Bennett/Getty Images
The Calder Trophy race
The rebuild's been underway on Long Island since the lockout -- the 1994-95 lockout -- but the arrival of 2009 first overall pick John Tavares might finally steer it in the right direction. Blessed with the best hands the team has seen since Mike Bossy, Tavares looks to be one of several 2009 draftees (Victor Hedman, Matt Duchene) in a contentious race for the Calder Trophy.
9 of 9Don Smith/NHLI via Getty Images
Dany Heatley and the Sharks
His contract dispute with Ottawa and summer of silence painted him as a me-first guy -- the ultimate sin in hockey. Now he's a Shark, a talented sniper of questionable character on a talented team of questionable character. It's safe to say he'll have a big regular season, but next spring looms large in San Jose where hopes have been dashed with alarming regularity and Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and GM Doug Wilson are just about out of time and excuses.
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