Helene Elliott's NHL team-by-team preview
Outlook: They have a new coach in Todd Richards, most recently an assistant in San Jose, and new general manager in Chuck Fletcher, whose resume includes assistant GM roles in Pittsburgh and Anaheim. They lost Marian Gaborik to free agency but uncharacteristically made a major free-agent move by signing Havlat for $30 million over six years. Niklas Backstrom (2.33, .923) had an impressive season, but he might not match those numbers if Richards keeps his word about opening the game up offensively.


2008-09 record: 32-45-5=69 points.

Power play: 15.7% (tie 25th). Penalty killing: 79.9% (21st).

Leading scorer: Milan Hejduk, 27-32.

Outlook: The mighty have fallen, and hard. The Avalanche was last in the conference by 10 points last season, and deservedly so. Joe Sakic ended his brilliant career by retiring after the season and Ryan Smyth accepted a trade to the Kings, so this team will be ruled by kids. Center Paul Stastny (36 points in 46 games) will center their top line. Matt Duchene, drafted No. 3 in June, might center the second line, a lot to ask an 18-year-old. This is the early stages of a slow rebuild and it won't be much prettier this season.


2008-09 record: 36-39-7=79 points.

Power play: 14.5% (28th). Penalty killing: 76.8% (28th).

Leading scorer: Shane Doan, 31-42.

Outlook: This will be a lost season in every sense. They do have some talent, but the overriding story will be the imminent sale out of bankruptcy and whether the franchise will be moved to Hamilton, Canada, under the ownership of Jim Balsillie. The ungraceful exit of Wayne Gretzky as coach didn't help settle things. Dave Tippett, fired by Dallas after last season and hired to coach during the last days of training camp, is smart and a good teacher. He will have his hands full.



2008-09 record: 50-24-8=108 points.

Power play: 25.2% (second). Penalty killing: 80.6% (17th).

Leading scorer: Alexander Ovechkin, 56-54.

Outlook: Ovechkin, last season's MVP, scoring champion and goal-scoring leader, is the most dazzling player in the NHL and his post-goal celebrations are exactly what the league needs: a show of individuality that fans love. He's going for his third straight 50-goal season, not accomplished since the Flyers' John LeClair did it more than a decade ago. The Capitals have talent beyond the Russian left wing. Mike Green led NHL defensemen in scoring with 31 goals and 73 points, center Nicklas Backstrom had 22 goals and 88 points, and left wing Alexander Semin contributed 34 goals and 79 points. Their signing of right wing Mike Knuble (27 goals with the Flyers last season) wasn't heralded but could prove crucial. This is a team on the brink of very good things.


2008-09 record: 44-27-11=99 points.

Power play: 22.5% (sixth). Penalty killing: 83.0% (sixth).