54-21-7, 1st in West; won Stanley Cup
G Ty Conklin, F Marian Hossa
G Dominik Hasek
WHEN GOALIE ChrisOsgood was asked during last spring's playoffs whether there was anything histeam did not have, he snappily replied, "A weakness." That answer stillholds for the defending champs, who seem to do everything well, including makelife easy on Osgood; he led the NHL with a 2.09 goals-against average lastseason even though some nights he barely punched his time clock.
The Wings won thePresidents' Trophy with a robust 115 points and were so dominant that they ledthe NHL in most shots taken per game (34.4) and in fewest shots allowed (23.5),outshooting opponents in 71 of 82 games. They skated with skill, backchecked,blocked shots, led the league in face-off percentage (53.3) and played withdiscipline: They took the league's fewest fighting majors (21), did not incur agame misconduct and were called for just two bench minors (all but one otherteam had at least six).
There's nodrop-off in sight. Detroit returns 244 of its 252 goals from last season andadded All-Star winger Marian Hossa, the off-season's most coveted free agent."We have guys on our third line who could be on the first line with mostteams," says veteran forward Kirk Maltby. The team also goes nine deep onthe back line and still has Osgood, who has quietly amassed the highest winningpercentage (.631) of any goalie with at least 350 wins.
Now that DominikHasek is gone (to retirement, again), Osgood has the starting job to himself;free-agent signee Ty Conklin will give him the occasional breather. Theabundance of talent at other positions, however, means that, as captain NicklasLidstrom points out, "We will have a lot of competition for ice time thisseason." With the Red Wings likely to have the weak Central all but wrappedup by Christmas, that may be the club's most compelling competition until theplayoffs.
40-34-8, 10th in West
D Brian Campbell, G Cristobal Huet
C Kevyn Adams, RW Jason Williams
THE BLACKHAWKSwill televise all 82 of their games for the first time this season, and despiteonly one playoff appearance in 10 years, they'll have something to show theirfans. "There is a buzz throughout the city [about us]," says defensemanJames Wisniewski. "A couple of years ago people didn't know there was ahockey team here."
The future is notonly bright—it has arrived. Twenty-year-old center Jonathan Toews (above, 24goals, 30 assists) and 19-year-old right wing Patrick Kane (21, 51) had stellarrookie seasons, and the addition of mobile defenseman Brian Campbellstrengthens Chicago's attack at even strength and on the power play. TheBlackhawks even brought in legendary hockey mind Scotty Bowman, whose son Stanis the team's assistant G.M., as an adviser. "From the start of last yearto now seems like a total 180," says Kane.
Some pieces are inplace for a Stanley Cup run down the road—Chicago last won it in 1961—and avisit to next spring's playoffs would be an important first step.
41-32-9, 8th in West; lost in 1st round to Detroit
RW Patric Hornqvist, LW Ryan Jones
RW Alexander Radulov, D Marek Zidlicky
AFTER REACHING thepostseason for four straight seasons, the Predators have vital concerns thatjeopardize their streak.
1) Can goalie DanEllis, 28, a longtime minor leaguer who impressed as a rookie last year (23wins, 2.34 goals-against average, league-best .924 save percentage) andperformed well in a first-round playoff loss to Detroit, handle a full-timeload? Ellis has played in 45 NHL games; his backup, Pekka Rinne, has appearedin three.
2) Can the teamovercome the stunning departure of 26-goal scorer Alexander Radulov (he skippedout on his Nashville contract for richer paydays back home in Russia) andinjuries to forwards Steve Sullivan (bad back) and Jed Ortmeyer (blood clot),both of whom are out indefinitely? To do so it will need increased scoring fromforwards Jason Arnott (above, 28 goals last year) and J.P. Dumont (29) and asuccessful transition into the league for 21-year-old Patric Hornqvist, whostarred in Sweden.
It's all a bit toomuch to ask. Nashville's playoff streak is nearing an end.
34-36-12, 13th in West
D Mike Commodore, LW Kristian Huselius, D Fedor Tyutin, C R.J. Umberger
C Gilbert Brule, D Ron Hainsey, RW Nikolai Zherdev
NO TEAM was asweak up the middle as the Blue Jackets last season: Manny Malhotra led theircenters with 11 goals. That explains why Columbus traded for 6'2",215-pound R.J. Umberger, who scored 10 times in 17 playoff games for the Flyerslast spring. Nor were many teams more tepid on overall offense than the BlueJackets, whose 190 goals were last in the conference. That explains the signingof free-agent winger Kristian Huselius, a five-time 20-goal scorer who averaged30 over the past two seasons in Calgary.
That pair, alongwith ever dangerous forward Rick Nash (above)—he scored 38 goals while playing2,286 shifts last season, most among NHL forwards—give Columbus some punch. Theteam lacks depth, though, as well as a strong point man for its power play.Goalie Pascal Leclaire, who had nine shutouts and went all season withoutallowing a shorthanded goal, should again steal more than his share of games.But this eight-year-old franchise has never made the postseason, and it doesn'tlook like a club that's about to start now.
33-36-13, 14th in West
C Patrik Berglund, G Chris Mason, D Alex Pietrangelo
D Christian Backman, LW Martin Rucinsky, D Bryce Salvador
THE STRAIN causedby the Blues' anemic offense—26th in the NHL with 202 goals, last in the powerplay at 14.1%—took its toll on goalie Manny Legace (below) in 2007--08. When hefaded down the stretch, the team's playoff hopes went with him. The addition ofbackup Chris Mason will lighten Legace's load (he played 28 straight games atone point in the second half), but the offense is no better.
Perhaps left wingPaul Kariya, 33, can rebound after a dreadful 16-goal season in which he was a--10. St. Louis, however, can't expect winger Brad Boyes to duplicate hiscareer season of 43 goals.
While rookieforwards Patrik Berglund and T.J. Oshie, first-round draft picks in 2006 and'05, respectively, should have an impact this season, that upbeat note palesnext to this downer: Core young defenseman Erik Johnson tore ligaments in hisright knee at a golf outing last month and most likely will miss the season.After a strong start last year (16-9-1) the Blues have fallen. And for now,they can't get up.
"Why shouldn't we be the team that everybody elsewants to be?"
—KEN HOLLAND, Detroit G.M.
The Detroit defenseman is an amazing +378 in his career, including +40 lastseason when he won his sixth Norris Trophy. The team captain is essential onoffense (70 points in 2007--08) and on defense; the Red Wings were 2-3-1 whenhe was out of the lineup.
On the Spot
The Chicago winger played only 35 games last season because of shoulder andgroin injuries, and he hasn't appeared in more than 65 games in a season since2003--04. Havlat must be healthy, and at his point-a-game best, to take heatoff the team's young guns.
On the Verge
He's reunited in Columbus with coach Ken Hitchcock, for whom he had acareer-best 20 goals as a Flyers rookie in 2005--06. Stuck on Philly's thirdline last year, the 26-year-old center should get lots of ice time and easilyexceed that career high.
PIERRE McGUIRE'S IN THE CREASE
As if the Red Wings weren't loaded enough, young energyplayers Darren Helm and Tomas Kopecky have just begun to come into theirown.... The glue guy on Chicago is forward Patrick Sharp, who scores (36 goalslast season), kills penalties and plays responsible defense.... Columbusforward Fredrik Modin, coming off an injury-wrecked season (six goals in 23games), still has one of the heaviest shots in hockey.... Nashville hasunderrated young defenders, led by Shea Weber, the Dion Phaneuf of thesouth.... With Erik Johnson out, Eric Brewer must carry St. Louis's backline.
DAVID E. KLUTHO (OSGOOD)
WINNING LOOK In 14 seasons Osgood, a three-time Cup champ, has never had a losing record.
WARREN WIMMER/ICON SMI (TOEWS)
JOHN RUSSELL/NHLI/GETTY IMAGES (ARNOTT)
JAY LAPRETE/AP (NASH)
DAVID E. KLUTHO (LEGACE)
DAVID E. KLUTHO (LIDSTROM)
BILL SMITH/NHLI/GETTY IMAGE (HAVLAT)
JAMIE SABAU/COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS (UMBERGER)