COACH Todd McLellan (4th season)
LAST SEASON 48-25-9 (2nd in West); lost in conference finals to Canucks
KEY ADDITIONS D Brent Burns, C Michal Handzus, RW Martin Havlat
KEY LOSSES RW Dany Heatley, RW Devin Setoguchi
DOUG WILSON has never been afraid to make bold moves. In 2005 the Sharks' G.M. traded for All-Star center Joe Thornton; in '09 he dealt for sniper Dany Heatley; and he let longtime goalie Evgeni Nabokov depart for the KHL after the '09--10 season. So after San Jose fell in the conference finals last spring for the second straight year, Wilson went looking for help and found almost everything he needed in Minnesota.
His additions are a big reason that the Sharks will again be one of the top teams in the West. On June 24, Wilson sent speedy winger Devin Setoguchi, along with a prospect and a first-round pick, to the Wild for Brent Burns, a 6'5", 219-pound defenseman coming off a 17-goal, 46-point season. Burns is a big upgrade for a defensive corps that was solid in 2010--11 but not elite. Nine days later Wilson dealt the expensive Heatley—who scored only five goals in 32 playoff games for San Jose—to Minnesota for winger Martin Havlat, one of the league's fastest forwards.
Wilson was content to give up two of his top wingers for one reason: Logan Couture. The 22-year-old center broke out as a rookie last year with 32 goals and 56 points. He also added depth to the Sharks' enviable stable of forwards. "Logan was arguably our best player in all three zones," Wilson says.
Penciled in by coach Todd McLellan to flank Couture on the second line this season will be Ryane Clowe, who has surpassed 50 points in each of the last three seasons, and Havlat, who figures to be more reliable than the inconsistent Setoguchi. Versatile winger Joe Pavelski will move into Heatley's spot on the top line with Patrick Marleau and Thornton.
Questions remain about San Jose's third and fourth lines, but the Sharks' formidable depth along the blue line—Wilson says the team has as many as nine NHL-caliber defensemen heading into camp—should help plug any holes.
COACH Terry Murray (4th season)
LAST SEASON 46-30-6 (7th in West); lost in first round to Sharks
KEY ADDITIONS LW Simon Gagne, C Mike Richards
KEY LOSSES C Michal Handzus, RW Wayne Simmonds, LW Ryan Smyth
The addition of center Mike Richards, a two-time 30-goal scorer and one of hockey's best two-way forwards, and veteran sniper Simmon Gagne boosts a Kings offense that scored only 219 goals in 2010--11, tied for fewest in the West. The expectation is that Richards, the former Flyers captain who came to L.A. last June as part of a four-player trade, and Gagne, a free agent from Tampa Bay, will quickly recapture the chemistry they built as linemates in Philadelphia in 2008--09, when they combined to score 64 goals.
Numbers like that would give the Kings one of the most balanced corps of forwards in the conference, with two viable scoring lines; the other is led by star center Anze Kopitar (below) and winger Dustin Brown. The Kings' defense, which surrendered the third-fewest goals in the West, remains intact—including standout blueliner Drew Doughty, who ended a protracted holdout last Thursday by signing an eight-year, $56-million deal. This is a team with a chance to join the NHL's elite. "We still need to be [better at] five-on-five scoring," says coach Terry Murray. "[But] adding Mike Richards and Simon Gagné ... will help us be a better hockey club right away."
COACH Randy Carlyle (7th season)
LAST SEASON 47-30-5 (4th in West); lost in first round to Predators
KEY ADDITIONS C Andrew Cogliano, D Kurtis Foster
KEY LOSSES G Ray Emery, C Todd Marchant
Teemu Selanne made the Ducks wait, but one day before camp opened, the 41-year-old winger announced he'd return for another season, his 19th in the league. Anaheim's ageless wonder scored 31 goals in 73 games last year, third best on the team behind Hart Trophy winner Corey Perry, who netted a cool 50. Selanne's presence on the power play—where he scored more than half of his goals—ensures that the Ducks' special teams will again be among the NHL's best.
The return of Selanne, who skates on the second line with Saku Koivu and Jason Blake, also means coach Randy Carlyle can keep his number 1 line together. Over the last three seasons, Perry, Bobby Ryan and center Ryan Getzlaf have scored a whopping 38% of Anaheim's goals, and they led last season's late playoff charge by scoring 28 goals as the Ducks won 15 of their final 20 games. "They're big men," Carlyle says. "They can control the puck, and they have a sixth sense for each other."
Anaheim's defensive corps enters 2011--12 essentially unchanged, which presents a problem since the unit struggled with consistency—nine of the club's 12 blueliners finished the season with a negative plus-minus rating. But if All-Star goalie Jonas Hiller can stay healthy, the Ducks' bustling offense should ensure a postseason return.
COACH Dave Tippett (3rd season)
LAST SEASON 43-26-13 (6th in West); lost in first round to Red Wings
KEY ADDITIONS C Daymond Langkow, G Mike Smith, LW Raffi Torres
KEY LOSSES G Ilya Bryzgalov, D Ed Jovanovski, RW Lee Stempniak
THE TURNOVER RATE is high in Phoenix where, not coincidentally, the payroll remains low. General manager Don Maloney was being fiscally responsible when he dealt elite goalie Ilya Bryzgalov, an unrestricted free agent, to the Flyers in June. Maloney invested instead in All-Star defenseman Keith Yandle, whose 59 points last season ranked third among NHL blueliners. "He has that imagination and creativity that you can't teach," Maloney says. "He can create something out of nothing. That's the strength of his game."
For the cash-strapped Coyotes, the price for re-signing Yandle, 25, was steep (five years, $26.5 million), but it was cheaper than the nine-year $51 million contract Bryzgalov signed with Philly. Maloney likes Yandle's upside. "[Two years ago] he [wanted] to create a Rembrandt every time he touched the puck," Maloney says. "But a lot of times the simple play is the best play. That's where I see maturity."
But Yandle's presence alone won't be enough to get Phoenix back to the playoffs this season. New goalie Mike Smith is a journeymen, and the Coyotes need much more than that.
COACH Glen Gulutzan (1st season)
LAST SEASON 42-29-11 (9th in West)
KEY ADDITIONS C Vernon Fiddler RW Michael Ryder, D Sheldon Souray
KEY LOSSES RW Jamie Langenbrunner, C Brad Richards
To make up for the debilitating scoring hit of losing free-agent center Brad Richards, the Stars will be counting on a nucleus of young talent. Winger Jamie Benn, 22, scored 32 goals in the final 30 games of the season, and puck-moving defenseman Alex Goligoski, 26, scored 15 points in 23 games for Dallas after being acquired in a trade with the Penguins. Winger Michael Ryder, fresh off winning a Cup with Boston, could pay dividends if the playmaking veteran can re-create the chemistry he shared with center Mike Ribeiro when the pair combined for 91 goals over two seasons with the Canadiens."I think offensively we have a lot of guys who are gifted and who can do some things," says G.M. Joe Nieuwendyk. "I just think the overall structure of our team has to be better."
When the offense struggles, Dallas will again look to goalie Kari Lehtonen (above). The 27-year-old Finn must improve on his middling numbers from last season (.914 save percentage, 2.55 GAA).
ON THE VERGE
The Coyotes rushed the winger into the lineup in 2008. He spent the next two years in the minors, which should pay off now. Boedker, 21, has impressive speed and a hard shot.
THE HOT SEAT
Gulutzan is only a rookie, but Stars G.M. Joe Nieuwendyk doesn't have great patience with coaches; he's fired two in two seasons. With Dallas having filed for bankruptcy last month and new ownership on the horizon, nobody's job will be safe—especially if the losses pile up.
The Ducks' blueliner led the West at +32 last season, an impressive feat on a team that was outscored at even strength. A stalwart penalty-killer, Lydman, 34, also gives partner Lubomir Visnovsky (18 goals, 50 assists last season) the freedom to join the attack.
IN THE CREASE
The Ducks' pick-up of speedy center Andrew Cogliano makes them better. Cogliano's production fell with the undermanned Oilers, but he should bounce back playing with Anaheim's talented corps of forwards... . Coyotes coach Dave Tippett can perform only so many miracles. His disciplined style has gotten Phoenix to the playoffs the past two seasons. But unless his young players step up, it won't matter who's behind the bench... The Stars' lineup includes two of the league's handiest—and most annoying—forwards, Steve Ott and Vernon Fiddler. Both Fiddler, who came to Dallas as a free agent, and Ott wear opponents out and that should help open up the ice for Stars' forwards Mike Ribeiro and Brenden Morrow.
ROSS D. FRANKLIN/AP (COUTURE)
ALWAYS IN FASHION Couture was impeccable as a rookie, scoring 32 goals, chipping in 24 assists and playing reliable defense.
ROBERT BECK (KOPITAR)
JAMIE SABAU/NHLI/GETTY IMAGES (BOEDKER)
JEROME MIRON/US PRESSWIRE (LEHTONEN)
DAVID E. KLUTHO (OTT)