There are many teams in the NHL that could be headed either way this season (once the lockout ends).
This applies to contenders:
Are the Chicago Blackhawks still hurting from the post-championship cap casualties, or have they stabilized a strong enough roster at this point to be considered contenders?
Have the San Jose Sharks blown their window to win a Stanley Cup, or are they going to be knocking on the doorstep again this season?
Same goes for the Vancouver Canucks. Did they miss their opportunity by losing Game 7 two years ago, or is this team coming back stronger next season?
It also applies to teams on the playoff bubble:
Are the players the Buffalo Sabres picked up a year ago finally going to produce at the level they should, or are they going to remain stagnant?
Did the Tampa Bay Lightning have one fluke season when they battled the Boston Bruins for the Eastern Conference championship, or is this team going to make a splash this season?
And what about the Ottawa Senators? Are they going to make a playoff run after challenging the New York Rangers in the first round of the playoffs last season, or are they due for an overhaul?
There are questions about every team in the league. This slideshow is intended to offer some clarification.
It’s hard to see a team with so many high-end players like Teemu Selanne, Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Bobby Ryan and Cam Fowler moving backwards this season.
The question is whether young guys like Devante Smith-Pelly, Kyle Palmieri, Emerson Etem and Co. will provide enough depth to turn the Ducks into a playoff team.
After a devastating loss to the Capitals in the playoffs last season, the Bruins have enough motivation—and talent on their roster—to be a force to be reckoned with this season.
Should the Sabres’ big-money free agents, namely Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino, live up to expectations this season, the Sabres should be a playoff team.
The Flames have a core that’s been there forever and consists of proven difference-makers in the NHL, and they've recently added guys like Michael Cammalleri, Dennis Wideman and Roman Cervenka to the mix.
The question is whether or not this team has done enough to be a playoff squad.
This team is headed in the right direction.
By adding Jordan Staal and retaining guys like Jeff Skinner, Tuomo Ruutu and Tim Gleason, the Hurricanes should be playoff-bound this year.
The Blackhawks have enough talent on their roster to make a Cup run this season.
The question is whether or not they can win their division (St. Louis looks pretty tough) and how they compare to Western Conference foes like the Vancouver Canucks, Los Angeles Kings and San Jose Sharks.
Colorado really has enough talent on its roster to be a playoff team.
The question in Denver is whether the team will continue to underachieve. A lot is riding on players that are under 25—Matt Duchene, Erik Johnson, Gabriel Landeskog, Semyon Varlamov, Ryan O’Reilly, et cetera.
Or really…they’re just not moving forwards.
The Jackets may pick up a couple more wins this season, but they aren’t going anywhere in the division and need a lot to happen before they become a consistent playoff team.
Should this season be played, the Stars have added two quality veterans—Ray Whitney and Jaromir Jagr—to a strong core that includes Brenden Morrow, Loui Eriksson and Co.
This would probably be the year they get over that playoff hump.
This franchise is moving backwards only because the bar has been set so high.
The Red Wings are still a playoff team, but they are likely a No. 3 or even No. 4 (if Nashville plays well this season) in their division and will have to play as a late seed with aging players.
With all the young talent in Edmonton, this team will not be moving backwards.
The question is if those diaper dandies are ready for training pants (you know, the playoffs).
After winning their division last year and giving New Jersey a little scare in the playoffs, the Panthers have a lot to live up to this year.
Asking a lot of younger players (and players that are well past their prime) to try to win their division and make a playoff run is a tall order.
They backed into both the division victory and playoff berth last season.
I guess they can’t really move forward because they are the defending champs, but the Kings certainly are not moving backwards.
This is a solid young core that probably has another championship (or two) in store.
One word: PariseSuter.
The addition of both Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to a core that now contains three former Sharks—Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi and Torrey Mitchell—along with mainstay Mikko Koivu and a lot of talent in the system means things are looking good for the Wild.
This team is moving forward only because they can’t really go backwards.
If the Habs want to be a playoff team, they are really going to have to squeeze a lot out of Erik Cole, Tomas Plekanec and Max Pacioretty and a defensive corps smaller than the Smurfs.
The Ryan Suter loss means a step backwards for the Preds.
Fortunately, they didn’t lose Shea Weber and usually have a lot of young talent in the bank.
After a Stanley Cup appearance last season, the Devils have come to the realization that Martin Brodeur, Patrik Elias and Petr Sykora are aging and Zach Parise is gone.
This puts a lot of pressure on the young Adams, Henrique and Larsson, and big-time free-agent pickups like Ilya Kovalchuk and Anton Volchenkov.
With potential superstars in John Tavares, Kyle Okposo and Nino Niederreiter on the roster, the Islanders have good things in store for the future.
It’s hard to see them going anywhere this season, however.
Add Rick Nash, Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik to an outstanding homegrown core and you’ve got a contender in New York for the first time since, well, two lockouts ago.
After a solid postseason appearance last year, the Sens may be taking a step backwards this season.
Daniel Alfredsson, Chris Neil and Chris Phillips are all on the wrong side of 30.
This team is relying a lot of Jason Spezza, who is in his prime, and a lot of other young players to get the job done this season.
Ironically, this team may be benefiting most from Lockout Part III.
While the players and owners bicker and squabble, the Philly D is convalescing.
This is a solid team and should they start the season healthy, they will be difficult to handle for many squads across the league.
Last season is going to be hard to replicate for the Coyotes.
A division win and a march to the Western Conference Finals was a thrill for hockey fans in the desert, but it’s hard to see this team doing that again with their current roster.
When healthy, the Penguins are as good as any team in the league.
If Sidney Crosby and Co. can stay on the ice throughout the season, Pittsburgh will be in the running for another championship.
For years, the Sharks could be counted on to dominate the regular season, win the Pacific Division and then peter out in the postseason.
With the Kings on the rise, a Pacific Division title is no longer a “given” and San Jose may be relegated to a team on the playoff bubble.
A sweep at the hands of the Kings hurts, but St. Louis has a strong core of young players who have the opportunity next season to establish themselves as the team to beat in the Central Division.
After a downer of a season last year, Tampa Bay head coach Guy Boucher has gone back to the ol’ drawing board and should have something up his sleeve this season.
With a roster full of talent and an unstable division, the sky is the limit for the Bolts this season.
The James van Riemsdyk trade should work out for them, and players acquired over the years like Dion Phaneuf and Phil Kessel should provide enough high-end talent to win.
Then again, every year this team seems to have high-end talent and fails to produce enough wins to make the playoffs.
This team is moving backwards only because they have been contenders for so long and staples like the Sedin twins are aging.
Don’t read into this too much—this team can still contend for the Cup this season—but their window is closing.
At one time, the Capitals were the class of the Washington market.
Now, Alex Ovechkin’s numbers are down like the economy and the rest of the Southeast is rising.
That’s a bad formula for hockey fans in DC.