Breaking Down the State of Every NHL Team

Brad Kurtzberg@@sealshockeyContributor IOctober 8, 2012

Breaking Down the State of Every NHL Team

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    While everybody's talking about CBA negotiations, I figured this would be a good time to concentrate a little bit more on what we all love about hockey: the game on the ice.

    Here is a team-by-team look at the NHL right now, breaking down the state of each team and where they'll stand when games actually start up again, which we all hope is sooner rather than later.

    Feel free to chime in with your opinions, what you feel I may have missed or overlooked or to add your comments about your favorite (or least favorite) team.

    I hope this can help tide us all over until the games begin again.

Anaheim Ducks

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    Strengths: A great top line and the veteran leadership of Teemu Selanne. When healthy, goalie Jonas Hiller is capable of carrying the team.

    Question marks: Defensive depth is a question, although the defensive corps did get bigger this summer with the addition of Sheldon Souray and Bryan Allen. The biggest question is scoring depth. Some players besides Ryan, Getzlaf, Perry and Selanne need to to contribute some consistent scoring.

    Keys: In addition to secondary scoring, the play of young defensemen like Cam Fowler and Luca Sbisa, who will be getting additional ice time and responsibility, will be important for the Ducks to be successful.

Boston Bruins

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    Strengths: Scoring balance—few teams can roll four quality lines like the Bruins do, and they should be getting Nathan Horton back and healthy and a better season from David Krejci. The top four defensemen are also among the best in the league.

    Question marks: Goaltending is the closest thing the Bruins have to a major question mark, although new starter Tuukka Rask has been a successful starter before. He seemed to wear down a bit as the season went on, and now he won't have Tim Thomas around as a safety net.

    Keys: How well does Rask do? What kind of output do they get from Horton? Does Tyler Seguin continue to show dramatic improvement in year three? If the goaltending is good, the Bruins should be contenders once the season gets under way.

Buffalo Sabres

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    Strengths: Goaltender Ryan Miller is capable of stealing a game for his team any night he's in the lineup, and the Sabres have a quality backup in Jhonas Enroth. Wingers Thomas Vanek, Jason Pominville and Drew Stafford all have 30-goal potential.

    Question marks: Team toughness and cohesiveness were problems for the Sabres last year. Miller was bowled over in November, and nobody came to his aid. The hockey community couldn't believe the lack of response from his teammates. The addition of Steve Ott and John Scott are meant to address that problem. 

    Keys: Is Cody Hodgson ready to be a first-line center? Can Ville Leino bounce back from a horrible season? Can Tyler Myers and Christian Erhoff stay healthy and produce like they did two years ago? Are the new additions enough to make this team bigger and tougher? If the answers to these questions are yes, the Sabres could very well revisit the playoffs.

Calgary Flames

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    Strengths: Miikka Kiprusoff remains a very good goaltender, and although he's probably starting to slip a bit, Jarome Iginla is still a very good offensive talent and a true leader.

    Question marks: Do the Flames have enough defensive-minded defensemen? Other than Corey Sarich, they mostly have offensive-minded blueliners, which fits into new Coach Bob Hartley's system, but may hang Kipper out to dry. Also, does Calgary have enough offensive firepower?

    Keys: The Flames have added a lot of new pieces in an attempt to boost their offense. Will Mike Cammalleri produce more this year? How NHL-ready is Roman Cervenka? Can Jiri Hudler put up more points as a top six forward in Calgary? How much offense will Dennis Wideman contribute?

    The Flames need almost all of these "what-ifs" to be answered affirmatively to make a serious run at a playoff race in the very competitive Western Conference.

Carolina Hurricanes

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    Strengths: Cam Ward is a solid goaltender, and with the additions of Jordan Staal and Alexander Semin, the Hurricanes should have more scoring ability than they've had in quiet sometime.

    Question marks: Do the Hurricanes have a good enough defense? Justin Faulk is up and coming, but Joni Pitkanen has been a bit of a disappointment. Veteran Joe Corvo is back for a third tour of duty with the franchise and should see third-pairing minutes.

    Keys: What will the Hurricanes get from Semin? It may be too much to expect 40 goals, but 30 is not unreasonable. Can Jeff Skinner bounce back from a sub-par sophomore season? Will Jordan Staal be productive playing top-six minutes? Can Joni Pitkanen finally meet expectations?

    The Hurricanes should be in the thick of the fight for a playoff berth and should reach the postseason if they get more positive responses to these questions than negative ones.

Chicago Blackhawks

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    Strengths: Any team in the NHL would love to have the Blackhawks forward corps. Names like Marian Hossa, Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp and Patrick Kane should produce plenty of firepower. Chicago also has plenty of talent and depth on defense.

    Question marks: How good is the goaltending? Two years ago, Corey Crawford seemed to be good enough to get the job done; last year, he wasn't even close.

    Keys: If the Blackhawks stay healthy, they should be very successful. The key is, will they get good enough goaltending? Crawford has to be consistent and very good, but not superb, to get this team far into the playoffs. If he isn't the answer, GM Stan Bowman has to acquire a goalie before the playoffs start to help his team be true contenders.

Colorado Avalanche

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    Strengths: There's a lot of young talent up front for the Avs. Names like Matt Duchene, Gabriel Landeskog, Paul Stastny and Ryan O'Reilly provide plenty of potential.

    Question marks: Despite all that young talent, the Avalanche were only tied for 24th in the league last year in goals scored. Goalie Semyon Varlamov had a rough start to the season but rallied late.

    Keys: Varlamov must be the same goalie he was in the second half of the season, not the first, and the young offensive players must start to show more than just potential. Adding setup man P.A. Parenteau should help. If Erik Johnson takes the next step in his development, that will upgrade the blueline. If all that falls into place, the Avs could sneak into the playoffs.

Columbus Blue Jackets

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    Strengths: Jack Johnson has provided leadership for the Blue Jackets, and that showed even late last season when he was acquired from the Kings. The Blue Jackets have more depth up front after the Rick Nash trade, even if they lack a proven goal scorer.

    Question marks: Besides the lack of a sniper, the Jackets can't be sure about the goaltending duo of Sergei Bobrovsky and Steve Mason. A little more defensive depth wouldn't hurt either.

    Keys: Perhaps the biggest key in Columbus is to show clear progress. It needs one of the goalies to establish themselves as a reliable starter and some of the players acquired from the Rangers in the Nash deal to develop into reliable top six forwards at the very least. When you're last in the league standings, there's nowhere to go but up.

Dallas Stars

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    Strengths: The addition of Ray Whitney, Derek Roy and Jaromir Jagr makes the Stars more skilled and experienced than they have been in recent seasons. Add them to Loui Eriksson and Jamie Benn, and you have a very strong set of top-six forwards. Goalie Kari Lehtonen is a steady performer in net.

    Question marks: Does the Stars defense have enough muscle? There's plenty of skill, but is there enough toughness? With the loss of forwards Adam Burish and Steve Ott, the forwards may need a little more grit as well.

    Keys: Both Whitney and Jagr are over 40, and they need to continue being productive for the Stars offense to be productive enough. Lehtonen needs to have another solid year, and he needs to stay healthy. The team needs to prove it has enough sandpaper to protect leads and frustrate opponents.

Detroit Red Wings

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    Strengths: The Red Wings have an established goalie in Jimmy Howard and a deep and solid group of forwards that finished seventh in the NHL in goals scored last year.

    Question marks: With the trade of Brad Stuart and the retirement of Nicklas Lidstrom, there are questions about the defense. There are younger but unproven players like Brendan Smith and Jakub Kindl who are going to get increased playing time at the NHL level and have big shoes to fill. Adding Carlo Colaiacovo will help a bit.

    Keys: The young defensemen need to step up to their new roles, and the offense may need to score a few more goals to compensate for the loss of a Hall of Fame defenseman like Lidstrom and an underrated minute muncher like Stuart. The Wings should still make the playoffs, but they aren't a lock like they were a few years ago.

Edmonton Oilers

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    Strengths: The Oilers have some great young talent after picking high in so many recent drafts. Add Na'il Yakupov to a list that already includes Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, Taylor Hall, Jordan Eberle and Sam Gagner, and you've got young players with offensive upside that would be the envy of almost any NHL GM.

    Question marks: Even with the signing of college free agent Justin Schultz, the Oilers defensive corps is full of question marks. Is Justin Schultz ready for play top-four minutes in the NHL? Can Ryan Whitney stay healthy? Is there enough grit on the blueline to make it tough enough for opponents to get quality scoring chances? Also, is Devan Dubnyk a bona-fide NHL starter?

    Keys: Obviously, the young forwards have to continue their development, and at least one or two of them have to take a big step forward. So does Dubnyk, who has shown flashes of ability, but not the consistency needed to establish himself as a starter. He's 26, which means the time to show he can do it is now.

    Defensively, this team either needs an upgrade, or it needs guys like Justin Schultz, Ryan Whitney, Nick Schultz, Jeff Petry and Ladislav Smid to all meet or exceed expectations. If most of these pieces fall into place, the Oilers will battle for a playoff spot, but it's likely they're still a year away.

Florida Panthers

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    Strengths: The Panthers have a good top line and a deep defensive corps. Even with the departure of Jason Garrison, there is talent here on the blueline, led by Brian Campbell. Adding Filip Kuba helps fill Garrison's void. Dmitry Kulikov is talented, and a third pair of Erik Gudbranson and veteran Ed Jovanovski is solid as well.

    Question marks: Florida is relying on a group with question marks to fill its second line on offense. Jonathan Huberdeau is a rookie and, while very talented, needs to show that he is ready for full-time NHL duty. Most scouts say he has the ability to be a very good scoring forward in this league. New acquisition Peter Mueller needs to stay healthy, while Scott Upshall needs to stay healthy and play well.

    Keys: Which Jose Theodore will the Panthers get? Theodore has been very inconsistent over the course of his career.  Last year was a good year for Theodore, but unless he puts together another solid campaign, it may spell trouble in Florida. The Panthers also need their second line to provide enough offense in order for this team to return to the postseason.

Los Angeles Kings

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    Strengths: There are plenty but lets start with Jonathan Quick, arguably the league's best goalie. Add a deep and talented group of forwards who stopped underachieving in the playoffs and a well-stocked group of defensemen who each know their roles and play them well, and you've got a recipe for the Kings' first Stanley Cup title in the franchise's 45-year history.

    Question marks: What affect will the lockout have on the Kings' title defense? Will they suffer from Stanley Cup hangover? If the season is shortened by too many games, will they have enough time to overcome it? Will the Kings revert to their pre-trade deadline offensive struggles?

    Keys: Coach Darryl Sutter needs to make sure this group keeps its balance and doesn't get a swell head. Players need to know their roles and stick to them. The addition of Jeff Carter made a big difference offensively for this team, but it needs to maintain the proper attitude and work ethic. If it does, it should contend again this season.

Minnesota Wild

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    Strengths: The addition of Zach Parise and Ryan Suter gives the Wild some offensive firepower they haven't had since the loss of Marian Gaborik, and when you add talent like Mikko Koivu, Dany Heatley, Devin Setoguchi and rookie Mikael Granlund, Minnesota should have more firepower than it's had sine the franchise joined the NHL. Nicklas Backstrom remains a very good NHL goalie.

    Question marks: After Suter and Tom Gilbert, do the Wild have enough depth on the blueline? Young players like Marco Scandella and Jared Spurgeon need to step up and play solid defense in order to keep opposing teams from getting too many quality chances on Backstrom.

    Keys: How well will Parise and Suter fit in? Parise is a natural leader, and you have to figure in time, his contributions will be worth more than just goals and assists. Will the young defensemen step up and do well enough? Is Granlund ready to be a solid second-line center in the NHL?

    If enough of these questions are answered in the affirmative, the Wild can qualify for the playoffs.

Montreal Canadiens

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    Stregnths: The line of Max Pacioretty, Erik Cole and David Desharnais shined last year, and Carey Price is one of the league's elite goalies. P.K. Subban has a lot of talent, and if he matures, he can be a top NHL defenseman.

    Question marks: The Canadiens need a complete and productive season from oft-injured defenseman Andrei Markov. Without him in the lineup, the team is not the same. The Habs also need more goal scoring from their depth defensemen, more maturity and more maturity from Subban. While the additions of Brandon Prust and Colby Armstrong help, it's still not clear if this team has enough size and grit in its lineup.

    Keys: Keeping Markov healthy and getting a little more firepower from the rest of their lineup are keys. Markov will help on the power play, which was 28th in the league a year ago and must improve. The Habs also need to play with more sandpaper so opponents feel like they've been in a battle after they face the Canadiens. This team is heading in the right direction and can fight for a playoff berth if it stays healthy and gets all of these questions answered.

Nashville Predators

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    Strengths: The Predators still have one of the league's elite defensemen in Shea Weber and top five goalies in Pekka Rinne. They also boast a balanced group of forwards that can wear down opponents and provide goals throughout the lineup.

    Question marks: How do you replace Ryan Suter? Will they be able to replace the minutes Suter provided the team and how will Suter's absence effect Weber's play? Are younger defensemen like Ryan Ellis, Roman Josi and Mattias Ekholm ready to step up? While players like Patric Hornqvist and Martin Erat are reliable goal scorers, Nashville lacks anything even resembling a sniper.

    Keys: Can the Predators maintain their defense without Suter? How will the loss of Suter's leadership hurt the Preds? Will the team's work ethic and grinding style continue to compensate for their lack of a sniper? Nashville still should be a playoff team, but it doesn't seem like a top-tier contender anymore. Still, the duo of GM David Poile and Coach Barry Trotz always seem to find a way to stay competitive.

New Jersey Devils

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    Strengths: The Devils still have what should be a productive top line in Travis Zajac, Ilya Kovalchuk and Dainius Zubrus and a solid second line. Kovalchuk remains one of the game's best pure goal scorers and proved he could be more than just a sniper last season. Even at age 40, Martin Brodeur is still a good NHL starter.

    Question marks: How much will the loss of captain Zach Parise hurt this team? Can a goaltending duo of a 40-year-old (Brodeur) and a 39-year-old (backup Johan Hedberg) stay healthy for an entire season? Will the Devils get the red-hot playoff Bryce Salvador or the average regular season version? How much improvement will New Jersey get from youngsters like Adam Larsson and Adam Henrique?

    Keys: The goalies have to stay healthy, and players like Salvador, Marek Zidlicky and Andy Greene have to continue to play closer to their playoff selves than the regular season versions of a year ago or the blueline may become an issue. The intangible leadership that Parise offered must be compensated for as well. If all of these things go right, the Devils should be a playoff team again.

New York Islanders

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    Strengths: Evgeni Nabokov remains a quality NHL starter at the age of 37, and John Tavares and Matt Moulson are established NHL goal scorers. Frans Nielsen is an underrated two-way center. There is young talent across this lineup, particularly up front. 

    Question marks: Scoring depth remains an issue after Tavares and Moulson. Can Brad Boyes bounce back? Will youngsters like Kyle Okposo, Josh Bailey, Nino Niederreiter and Michael Grabner become consistent NHL scorers? The defensemen lack size and grit, although Matt Carkner could help a bit in those areas.

    Keys: The Isles need a lot of thing to break right to qualify for the playoffs. Nabokov needs to stay healthy and productive. Secondary scoring needs to be found, and quickly, so guys like Boyes, Okposo, Bailey, Grabner and Niederreiter need to step up and be counted. Young defensemen like Travis Hamonic, Andrew MacDonald and Calvin de Haan also need to continue to develop. There are a lot of pieces that need to come together in order for this team to reach the playoffs this season.

New York Rangers

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    Strengths: The Rangers have one of the top three goalies in the league in Henrik Lundqvist and two pure goal scorers in Marian Gaborik and Rick Nash and a talented setup man in Brad Richards. The top four defensemen are also top-notch and still young, and there is depth up front as well.

    Question marks: How productive will Nash be and will he fit into John Tortorella's system? He did well under Ken Hitchcock in Columbus, so he has shown the willingness to play defense. Will younger players like Chris Kreider, Carl Hagelin and Derek Stepan continue to develop. What can the Rangers do to fill in their third defensive pairing, a group that hurt them in their playoff loss to New Jersey last spring?

    Keys: Lundqvist must stay healthy and Gaborik must be healthy and ready to go by the time the playoffs start. The Rangers must also continue to buy into Tortorella's system and not burn out from the sacrifices it requires. Finding some more depth on the blueline will be important, but GM Glen Sather has until the trade deadline to figure that out. The Rangers should be Cup contenders and could win it all if a few things break right for them.

Ottawa Senators

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    Strengths: The Senators can put points on the scoreboard and finished fourth in the league in scoring. Offensively, the top line features veterans Daniel Alfredsson, Jason Spezza and Milan Michalek and is as good as any top three in the league. Erik Karlsson has great speed and offensive ability, and Sergei Gonchar adds experience and scoring ability as well. Craig Anderson is an underrated goalie who was a big factor in the Senators surprise entry into the playoffs last season.

    Question marks: Can Karlsson's defense improve enough to help the club on both ends of the ice? Will younger players like Jacob Silfverberg and Mark Stone step up and provide more offense? Can Anderson have another stellar year in net, or will he be pushed for playing time by big Ben Bishop? Is Mark Methot the answer for the departed Filip Kuba?

    Keys: Alfredsson continues to be the unquestioned heart and soul of the club, and at 40, he can't start to slow down. The goaltending must continue to shine regardless of who starts, and some of the younger players have to step in and play bigger roles. If Karlsson plays better defense, the team will be better off.

Philadelphia Flyers

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    Strengths: The Flyers are deep and talented up front with proven offensive talents like Claude Giroux, Daniel Briere, Matt Read, Sean Couturier and Scott Hartnell to provide plenty of firepower. There is plenty of grit up front as well with Max Talbot and Ruslan Fedotenko. Kimmo Timonen is a good defenseman, but he'll be called on to have a stellar season.

    Question marks: With Chris Pronger's career in jeopardy, the departure of Pavel Kubina and Matt Carle and injuries to Andrej Meszaros and Andreas Lilja, the blueline appears to be awfully thin. Goalie Ilya Bryzgalov needs to be more consistent. He is capable of stealing some games but also allows too many ill-timed soft goals that cost his team key games.

    Keys: Bryzgalov needs to be more consistent or all bets are off. Luke Schenn will help on the blueline, but more reinforcements are needed if the Flyers hope to be a true contender in the tough Atlantic Division. Young talented forwards need to continue to be productive.

Phoenix Coyotes

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    Strengths: Mike Smith shined in net for the Coyotes last year. The Coyotes have a deep and solid group of defensemen led by Zbynek Michalek, Keith Yandle and the young and talented Oliver Ekman-Larsson. Radim Vrbata scored 35 goals last year, a career high. The forwards are all required to be responsible defensively in Dave Tippett's system. Shane Doan's return provides leadership.

    Question marks: The Coyotes tend to get goals from many different players. Can Vrbata reproduce his 35 goals? Will Steve Sullivan pick up the slack from the departed Ryan Whitney, who led the team in scoring? Players like Sullivan, David Moss and Mikkel Boedker will need to step up offensively as well. How will Raffi Torres do after serving his lengthy suspension?

    Keys: The Coyotes power play was 29th in the NHL, and they need to improve this area, which won't be easy without Whitney. Younger players need to step in and provide goal scoring. At least Doan is back.

    Will the team's ongoing ownership issues continue to cause problems for this franchise or will a new owner finally take over the reins from the league? If it gets goal scoring and Smith continues to play well, a return to the playoffs is possible.

Pittsburgh Penguins

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    Strengths: With Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins have two of the top centers in the game. Chris Kunitz, James Neal and Pascal Dupuis also add offensive punch. Marc-Andre Fleury gives the Pens a Stanley Cup-winning goalie.

    Question marks: Defensive depth becomes an issue for the Pens, especially with the departure of Zbynek Michalek. Paul Martin had a bad season last year and needs to bounce back. Pittsburgh has young and talented defensive prospects, but are any of them ready to step up and play in the NHL this year?

    Keys: The team just did not play good defense in the playoffs last year and hung Fleury out to dry. Unless they play better team defense, the Pens will have trouble against better teams. Can Crosby stay healthy and play a full season or close to it? Did Fleury's confidence suffer as a result of his horrible playoff series against Philadelphia?

    There is plenty of talent in Pittsburgh, and the Pens should be contenders again, but they need to straighten a few things out in order to continue to be considered serious Cup contenders.

St. Louis Blues

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    Strengths: The goaltending duo of Jaroslav Halak and Brian Elliott set records last year, and the Blues play a hard-working, defense-first style of play. The blueline corps is talented and deep and still has the potential to get even better. There are young and talented forwards on this team as well, and nobody outworks the Blues.

    Question marks: St. Louis was 21st in goal scoring last season and needs to upgrade its goal scoring just a bit to take some of the pressure off its goalies. Winning 2-1 all the time adds a lot of stress over the course of 82 games. Can players like Chris Stewart or rookies Jaden Schwartz, Vladimir Tarasenko or Ty Rattie provide some of that offense?

    Will Ken Hitchcock wear out his welcome in St. Louis? His system requires a lot of sacrifice and hard work, and it does wear thin after a while, especially if a team is not winning.

    Keys: Somebody has to step up and provide a little more scoring. The Blues lack a sniper, but score by committee which is often tougher to maintain. If the team continues to buy in to Hitchcock's system and gets solid goaltending, the Blues should again be a top team in the West and be Stanley Cup contenders.

San Jose Sharks

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    Strengths: The Sharks still have some quality goal scorers and playmakers like Joe Thornton, Patrick Marleau and Joe Pavelski and a second scoring line that features the up-and-coming Logan Couture, Ryan Clowe and Martin Havlat. The addition of Brad Stuart adds depth to a very capable group of defensemen.

    Question marks: Can Havlat stay healthy and productive? Does Dan Boyle have another elite year left in him at the age of 36? Do the Sharks have enough grit throughout their lineup? Or is it heart that this team is missing? Goalie Antti Niemi needs to be more consistent.

    Keys: There is plenty of talent in San Jose, but does this team have enough leadership and heart to win when it counts? GM Doug Wilson may have to get another player like Adam Burish to make San Jose tougher to play against. Niemi has to bounce back, and the Sharks need to score more goals at even strength to be true contenders.

Tampa Bay Lightning

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    Strengths: Any team with Steven Stamkos, Martin St. Louis, Vinny Lecavalier and Ryan Malone won't lack for firepower, and Teddy Purcell is an up-and-coming forward as well. Adding Matt Carle and Sami Salo should help the blueline, which struggled last season.

    Question marks: Dwayne Roloson lost it in a hurry last year, and the Lightning finished dead last in the league in goals allowed. They acquired Anders Lindback from Nashville to compete with Mathieu Garon for the starting job. One of them needs to establish themselves as a quality NHL starter.

    Keys: Will a top goalie emerge? Can Lecavalier stay healthy and productive for a full season? Martin St. Louis is 37, and the Bolts hope he doesn't start slowing down soon. This team should score plenty of goals, but can the new defensemen and goalie help stop the bleeding in their own end? If they do, the Lightning should return to the playoffs.

Toronto Maple Leafs

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    Strengths: The Maple Leafs have some proven goal scorers, including Phil Kessel, who finished in the top 10 in the league and Joffrey Lupul when he's healthy and in the lineup. The addition of James van Riemsdyk gives Toronto another dangerous weapon. The Leafs also have defensemen who are mobile and can contribute points.

    Question marks: Toronto was 29th in the league in goals allowed, and there is plenty of blame to go around. While the blueline corps is mobile, they lack a physical element and don't play well in their own zone. Goaltending remains a serious question, with James Reimer remaining the team's best hope.

    Keys: Whether it's Reimer or Ben Scrivens or someone else that GM Brian Burke brings in, the Maple Leafs need to find a very good and consistent starting goalie. The team needs to also play better defense in front of that goalie and compensate for the loss of Luke Schenn. If they do all that and Lupul can stay healthy, Toronto may find a way to sneak into the playoffs.

Vancouver Canucks

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    Strengths: The Canucks remain an elite team with two solid scoring lines, including the Sedin twins, who remain among the games best offensive players. The addition of Jason Garrison adds firepower to an already strong and deep group of defensemen.

    Question marks: Cory Schneider takes over as the starting goalie. While he has always played well when called upon, he hasn't shown he can play 60 or more games in an NHL season just yet. Ryan Kesler won't be available until at least December, and Manny Malhotra needs to stay healthy and productive on the third line as well.

    Keys: Schneider needs to step up and establish himself as a starter in this league. On a team as good as the Canucks, he doesn't need to carry the team; just be reliable. If Kesler returns in good form and David Booth can regain his scoring touch, the Canucks should be primed to make another run at their elusive first Stanley Cup win.

Washington Capitals

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    Strengths: Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin are a one-two punch that any GM in the league would be happy to be "stuck" with, and Mike Ribeiro gives Washington a quality second-line center. The defense corps has plenty of talent with Mike Green and John Carlson at the top, and both of them can move the puck well. Washington has two talented young goalies.

    Question marks: Does Roman Hamlik have enough left in the tank at age 38? Can Mike Green stay healthy? Will Braden Holtby or Michal Neuvirth take control in goal? Can Ovechkin rebound and regain his 50-goal form? A healthy season from Backstrom would help.

    Keys: How the team adapts to new coach Adam Oates and his system will be important. If Ovechkin is happy under Oates, it may go a long way towards easing the leadership crisis this team has had ever since Bruce Boudreau decided to play stronger on defense. The Caps have a lot of talent throughout this roster. They are capable of great things, or they could really crash and burn.

Winnipeg Jets

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    Strengths: The Jets have a solid group of young and talented defensemen like Dustin Byfuglien, Tobias Enstrom and Zach Bogosian. Evander Kane is talented and still has not yet reached his potential. No team enjoys a home-ice advantage quite like the Jets.

    Question marks: Can Ondrej Pavelec be a bit more consistent, or more importantly, can the Jets play better team defense in front of him? Olli Jokinen provides steady play at center, but he is not a top-notch first-line player and rarely reaches the postseason. The penalty kill must also improve.

    Keys: The Jets are counting on the continued development of young players, but many of their prospects are a year away. A bounce-back year from players like Nik Antropov would add a little more scoring. If the Jets improve their team defense and their road record, they have a chance to compete for a playoff berth, but they are most likely a year or two away.