- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 29, 2009

EASTERN CONFERENCE

In order of projected finish

1. Washington Capitals | 50-24-8 (108 pts in 2008-09)

Reason for hope: Another year of Alex Ovechkin, possibly a full year from Semyon Varlamov and the addition of Mike Knuble to give the Caps a guy who stands in front of the net, deflecting goals.

Reason for despair: High expectations? The lineup has only gotten better since last season, with a group of young players coming back after getting another taste of the playoffs. The pressure is on.

2. Philadelphia Flyers | 44-27-11 (99 points)

Reason for hope: The big guy on the blue line with the mean streak and the Stanley Cup ring, Chris Pronger, has the Flyers’ hopes on his broad shoulders.

Reason for despair: It’s the goaltending situation. Will Ray Emery be able to keep from imploding and recapture some of the form that helped the Senators reach the Cup finals in 2007?

3. Boston Bruins | 53-19-10 (116 points)

Reason for hope: This is basically the same team that finished first in the Eastern Conference last season, with Zdeno Chara and goalie Tim Thomas back for a shot at the Cup.

Reason for despair: Phil Kessel was obviously not the sole reason for the Bruins’ success last season, but his departure coincides with the loss of 36 goals and 24 assists.

4. Pittsburgh Penguins | 45-28-9 (99 points)

Reason for hope: See that big shiny trophy? Awesome playoff goaltending from Marc-Andre Fleury and the usual contributions of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin will make the Penguins a serious contender for years to come.

Reason for despair: They have lost a lot of defense, looking to young players like Alex Goligoski and veterans like Jay McKee to make up for the departure of a lot of toughness on the blue line.

5. New York Rangers | 43-30-9 (95 points)

Reason for hope: Henrik Lundqvist can be a star in goal, even though his playoff track record isn’t the best (Caps fans know this).

Reason for despair: The departures of Scott Gomez, Nikolai Zherdev and Markus Naslund mean a loss of 63 goals — calling on Marian Gaborik.

6. Buffalo Sabres | 41-32-9 (91 points)

Reason for hope: Solid role players, the consistent goaltending of Ryan Miller and an infusion of youth should help Buffalo challenge for a playoff spot.

Reason for despair: The mass exodus of talent has had a major impact, as there is no Chris Drury or Danny Briere to help lighten the offensive load on sharpshooter Thomas Vanek.

7. New Jersey Devils | 51-27-4 (106 points)

Reason for hope: Martin Brodeur is back after missing most of last season with an elbow injury, and anytime the best goaltender in the world is on top of his game the Devils are dangerous.

Reason for despair: This is more despair for fans of entertaining hockey; Jacques Lemaire is back behind the bench — which means the return of the infamous trap and patented, boring Devils games.

8. Tampa Bay Lightning | 24-40-18 (66 points)

Reason for hope: A nice young core built around Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis now includes No. 2 pick Victor Hedman

Reason for despair: Mike Smith will need to step up and show he’s a quality No. 1 goalie.

9. Carolina Hurricanes | 45-30-7 (97 points)

Reason for hope: There are plenty of veterans left from the team that won the 2006 Stanley Cup, including stud goalie Cam Ward.

Reason for despair: That sweep to exit the playoffs last season wasn’t exactly graceful — Ward suddenly couldn’t stop pucks (see Penguins 7, Hurricanes 4 as example A).

10. Montreal Canadiens | 41-30-11 (93 points)

Reason for hope: It’s a whole new team. A disappointing end to the Canadiens’ centennial season led to an overhaul built around Scott Gomez, acquired from the Rangers.

Reason for despair: It’s a whole new team — with the same goaltending issue, as Carey Price has yet to find his groove.

11. Toronto Maple Leafs | 34-35-13 (81 points)

Reason for hope: General manager Brian Burke is a winner, and he has jump-started the rebuilding project in Toronto by getting Phil Kessel.

Reason for despair: Goalie Vesa Toskala has struggled, but the main question is: Who’s going to score?

12. Ottawa Senators | 36-35-11 (83 points)

Reason for hope: The Dany Heatley saga generated headlines all summer, and the Senators can now try to move on after dealing the disgruntled forward to San Jose.

Reason for despair: Replacing Heatley is a gargantuan task for a team that became excellent at underachieving last year.

13. Florida Panthers | 41-30-11 (93 points)

Reason for hope: There’s a lot of under-the-radar offense on this team, including David Booth, Nathan Horton and Michael Frolik.

Reason for despair: The Panthers gambled on Jay Bouwmeester helping them make the playoffs and/or re-signing, but they had to deal away his rights at the last moment.

14. Atlanta Thrashers | 35-41-6 (76 points)

Reason for hope: Few players in this league can put the puck in the net better than Ilya Kovalchuk, who for all his shortcomings might become one of the best forwards in the game.

Reason for despair: Just about everything else. This is still a young team with a questionable goaltending situation.

15. New York Islanders | 26-47-9 (61 points)

Reason for hope: Top pick John Tavares will be great eventually — after an adjustment period.

Reason for despair: GM Garth Snow keeps stockpiling goalies, but he has little to no scoring.

Stephen Whyno

WESTERN CONFERENCE

In order of projected finish

1. San Jose Sharks | 53-18-11 (117 pts in 2008-09)

Reason for hope: With the addition of Dany Heatley, the Sharks boast the most talented roster in the NHL, which is a good thing… right?

Reason for despair: Playoff success isn’t exactly a long-standing tradition at the Shark Tank. Adding Heatley doesn’t change that.

2. Detroit Red Wings | 51-21-10 (122 points)

Reason for hope: The Red Wings don’t rebuild, they just reload (hello Justin Abdelkader and Ville Leino) and keep winning more than preseason prognosticators expect.

Reason for despair: The Red Wings aren’t as deep after losing Jiri Hudler and Mikael Samuelsson and have played more than 200 games in the past two seasons.

3. Vancouver Canucks | 45-27-10 (100 points)

Reason for hope: More scoring punch and a better goaltender than Calgary, with emerging young stars Ryan Kesler and Mason Raymond and maybe super-prospect Cody Hodgson supplementing the Sedin twins.

Reason for despair: Roberto Luongo still hasn’t performed in the postseason like the “best goalie in the world,” which a lot of people believe is a title he deserves.

4. Calgary Flames | 46-30-6 (98 points)

Reason for hope: Calgary has the best 1-2-3 punch on the blue line in the NHL and a top-five forward in Jarome Iginla.

Reason for despair: Guys like Rene Bourque, David Moss and Dustin Boyd are going to need another bump in production to help replace Mike Cammalleri, and is Miikka Kiprusoff ever going to play like a Vezina candidate again?

5. Chicago Blackhawks | 46-24-12 (104 points

Reason for hope: They are deeper and younger than the Red Wings, which could be a big deal in May.

Reason for despair: The offseason couldn’t have gone much worse, Marian Hossa won’t be ready to start the season and Cristobal Huet is now the go-to goalie.

6. Anaheim Ducks | 42-33-7 (91 points)

Reason for hope: The Bobby Ryan-Ryan Getzlaf-Corey Perry line could be the best in the league, and the Ducks could have two top-15 goaltenders.

Reason for despair: The defense is going to be significantly worse, and rationing the goaltending duties between Jean-Sebastien Giguere and Jonas Hiller could be an issue.

7. Columbus Blue Jackets | 41-31-10 (92 points)

Reason for hope: They have gathered a Washington/Chicago-esque collection of young talent, only there is a proven goaltender in the group with Steve Mason.

Reason for despair: The defense is still light and lacks a true power-play quarterback.

8. St. Louis Blues | 41-31-10 (92 points)

Reason for hope: This team is full of emerging stars up front, and Erik Johnson could transform the defensive corps with a monster bounce-back season.

Reason for despair: They are counting on a lot of young players who have done it only once and guys coming back from injuries.

9. Los Angeles Kings | 34-37-11 (79 points)

Reason for hope: Great young talent is ready to blow up, and the additions could be just the jolt of veteran moxie the club needs to make the leap into playoff contention.

Reason for despair: Those young guys still need to actually make the improvements, and the goaltending situation could still be in flux.

10. Minnesota Wild | 40-33-9 (89 points)

Reason for hope: A new coach and a new system could breathe more life into the offense, and Niklas Backstrom remains an elite goaltender.

Reason for despair: They swapped out one injury-prone elite scorer for another, and they are still probably a quality offensive player or two short.

11. Dallas Stars | 36-35-11 (83 points)

Reason for hope: Getting captain Brenden Morrow back and being further away from the Sean Avery debacle should make for a better start to the season.

Reason for despair: Is Marty Turco going to bounce back, and can Loui Eriksson prove he’s not a one-hit wonder?

12. Nashville Predators | 40-34-8 (88 points)

Reason for hope: The best bushel of young defensemen in hockey and a great coach/management team that always seems to squeeze more wins out of the roster than it should.

Reason for despair: The offense still doesn’t measure up with the other Western powers, and Pekka Rinne has to prove he wasn’t just last year’s Dan Ellis.

13 Edmonton Oilers | 38-35-9 (85 points)

Reason for hope: They still have plenty of talent up front, and some of the kids are too good not to rebound, while Nikolai Khabibulin is a slight upgrade in net.

Reason for despair: The defense could be acceptable, but it could also be a problem. Guys like Dustin Penner and Patrick O’Sullivan might just be destined to tantalize but never fulfill their potential.

14. Colorado Avalanche | 32-45-5 (69 points)

Reason for hope: It looks like the Avalanche have finally committed to restocking the cupboard with youth after years of neglect.

Reason for despair: It would actually be a bad thing if this team surprised enough to be respectable but not enough to make the postseason.

15. Phoenix Coyotes | 36-39-7 (79 points)

Reason for hope: On paper, there is more talent here than some outside observers think, and Ilya Bryzgalov can keep them competitive.

Reason for despair: The off-ice shenanigans are going to have to be a negative influence at some point.

- Corey Masisak

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