Leading scorer: Zach Parise, 45-49.
Outlook: Parise had a breakout season but might have difficulty duplicating it if Coach Jacques Lemaire, back on the scene of his 1995 Cup triumph, pulls the reins on his forwards in the name of team defense. Lemaire claims he will give his players some slack, but seeing is believing. Goalie Martin Brodeur sat out 50 games after undergoing surgery on his biceps but bounced back and is likely to be one of Canada's Olympic goalies. Given that extra burden and the fact he's 37 it might not be reasonable for him to play as much as in previous seasons. They're thin at center after Travis Zajac and their once-commanding defense is merely ordinary but Lemaire has the knowledge and experience to make this team better than the sum of its parts.
2008-09 record: 41-32-9=91 points.
Power play: 20.9% (seventh). Penalty killing: 81.8% (14th).
Leading scorer: Derek Roy, 28-42.
Outlook: They have a small-market budget in a conference where the Rangers, Flyers, Penguins and Maple Leafs can spend to the cap limit without thinking twice. But that's not the only factor holding them back. They always have speedy, gritty teams that lack the impact defenseman and elite first line that might take them places. Left wing Thomas Vanek, a 40-goal scorer last season, is a gem but they have no real threats on the right side and very little depth. And if anything happens to U.S. Olympic goaltending candidate Ryan Miller (2.53, .918) they're finished. They work hard and it's easy to root for them but they just seem stuck in the middle of the East pack.
NEW YORK RANGERS
2008-09 record: 43-30-9=95 points.
Power play: 13.9% (29th). Penalty killing: 87.8% (first).
Leading scorer: Nik Antropov, 28-31.
Outlook: The key question is whether Marian Gaborik can avoid injuries after playing more than 65 games only once in the last five seasons. He played 17 games last season for Minnesota after hip surgery and had 23 points; the lone season he escaped harm during that span was 2007-08, when he played 77 games and scored 42 goals. The Rangers will need that kind of performance from him to remain competitive. Goalie Henrik Lundqvist (38 wins, 2.43, .916) will be busy because Coach John Tortorella favors an aggressive offense and the Rangers defense isn't fast or good enough to get back. Oh, and care to guess how many times Sean Avery will run afoul of the NHL's disciplinary deans?
2008-09 record: 41-30-11=93.
Power play: 16.6% (24th). Penalty killing: 82.6% (ninth).
Leading scorer: Stephen Weiss, 14-47.
Outlook: They have decent goaltending, with Tomas Vokoun and Scott Clemmensen. After that . . . well, that's pretty much it. They weren't going to be able to re-sign defenseman Jay Bouwmeester and so traded his negotiating rights to Calgary for Jordan Leopold and a third-round pick. That's not much of a return. Weiss, David Booth (31 goals, 60 points in 72 games) and Nathan Horton (22 goals, 45 points in 67 games) make for a serviceable top line, but the Panthers will struggle to score after that. They haven't made the playoffs since the 1999-2000 season, a streak that's all but sure to continue.
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
2008-09 record: 24-40-18=66 points.
Power play: 17.8% (19th). Penalty killing: 78.0% (26th).