Eastern Conference

Associated PressOctober 7, 2010 

Atlantic Division

New Jersey Devils

Last season: 48-27-2-5, 103 points. Lost to Philadelphia 4-1 in first round.

Coach: John MacLean, first season with Devils; first overall in NHL.

Player to watch: Ilya Kovalchuk. After his 17-year, $102 million contract with the Devils was rejected by the NHL for violating the salary cap, the sides agreed to a reworked 15-year, $100 million deal. He will need to power the offense and prove he is worthy of such a lucrative contract.

Icing: Kovalchuk already cost the Devils a $3 million fine and the loss of a third-round draft pick this year and a first-rounder in one of the next four seasons. New Jersey will also have to avoid a fourth-straight ouster in the first round of the playoffs.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Last season: 47-28-5-2, 101 points. Lost to Montreal 4-3 in conference semifinals.

Coach: Dan Bylsma, third season with Penguins, 65-31-11; third overall in NHL.

Player to watch: Paul Martin. Will be expected to pick up the offensive slack on the blue line created by the departure of power-play specialist and fellow defenseman Sergei Gonchar.

Icing: Penguins will need to make new arena as tough for opponents to play in as old Mellon Arena proved to be.

Philadelphia Flyers

Last season: 41-35-3-3, 88 points. Lost to Chicago 4-2 in Stanley Cup finals.

Coach: Peter Laviolette, second season with Flyers, 28-24-5; ninth overall, 272-208-64 in NHL.

Player to watch: Danny Briere. Flyers will count on the speedy forward to be the offensive force all season that he was in the playoffs when he posted 30 points.

Icing: Already dealing with injury to No. 1 goalie Michael Leighton, the star of last season's improbable run to the Cup finals. Will need Zherdev to fill in on offense and replace the loss of longtime forward Simon Gagne.

New York Rangers

Last season: 38-33-7-4, 87 points. Out of playoffs.

Coach: John Tortorella, fourth season with Rangers, 50-43-14; 11th overall, 289-265-88 in NHL.

Player to watch: Alexander Frolov. The latest free-agent forward to join the Rangers. He could see time on a line with top scorer Marian Gaborik. If so, he will be expected to take some of the scoring load off of Gaborik, who had a team-best 42 goals and 86 points in his first season with New York.

Icing: Rangers will be expected to make return trip to the postseason after missing the playoffs last season, but will be hard-pressed again to crack the top eight.

New York Islanders

Last season: 34-37-5-6, 79 points. Out of playoffs.

Coach: Scott Gordon, third season with Islanders, 60-84-20; third overall in NHL.

Player to watch: Rick DiPietro. The oft-injured goalie with the 15-year contract is back and seemingly healthy. Will be in competition for playing time with last season's No. 1 goalie Dwayne Roloson.

Icing: Already thin on depth, the Islanders start the season without top defenseman Mark Streit and talented young forward Kyle Okposo. Both are expected to be sidelined for several months, meaning long-shot hopes of a playoff berth are probably unrealistic.

Northeast Division

Buffalo Sabres

Last season: 45-27-4-6, 100 points. Lost to Boston 4-2 in first round.

Coach: Lindy Ruff, 13th season with Sabres, 483-361-140; 13th overall in NHL.

Player to watch: Ryan Miller. He showed the world during the NHL season and in the net for the U.S. at the Olympics that he is in the discussion for best goalie in the sport. Will need to produce another year like his Vezina Trophy-winning campaign of last season if the Sabres are going to make much noise in the playoffs.

Icing: Miller's job will likely be more difficult this season without defensemen Toni Lydman and Henrik Tallinder helping out in front. That could prevent a repeat for the Sabres atop the Northeast Division.

Ottawa Senators

Last season: 44-32-1-5, 94 points. Lost to Pittsburgh 4-2 in first round.

Coach: Cory Clouston, third season with Senators, 63-43-10; third overall in NHL.

Player to watch: Jason Spezza. Limited to only 60 games and 23 goals last season, Spezza will need to step up and carry the offense more as longtime star Daniel Alfredsson slows down.

Icing: Gonchar will help the Senators' power play and should give an overall jolt to the offense.

Boston Bruins

Last season: 39-30-4-9, 91 points. Lost to Philadelphia 4-3 in conference semifinals.

Coach: Claude Julien, fourth season with Bruins, 133-78-44; eighth overall, 252-164-77 in NHL.

Player to watch: Nathan Horton. The newcomer from Florida will be thrown right into the fray as he will be counted on to fill the gap on offense created by the absence of playmaking center Marc Savard, who is sidelined by post-concussion problems.

Icing: Will need to prove they really have shaken off the shock of blowing a 3-0 series lead to Philadelphia and a 3-0 edge in Game 7 at home. If they haven't, the hangover could prove costly throughout the season.

Montreal Canadiens

Last season: 39-33-5-5, 88 points. Lost to Philadelphia 4-1 in conference finals.

Coach: Jacques Martin, second season with Canadiens, 39-33-10; 16th overall, 556-439-185 in NHL.

Player to watch: Carey Price. The 22-year-old goalie now owns the No. 1 job following the trade of Jaroslav Halak to St. Louis.

Icing: If Price doesn't live up to the high promise created when he was chosen No. 5 in the 2005 draft, not only won't the Canadiens make a return to trip to the conference finals, they might not even qualify for the playoffs.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Last season: 30-38-10-4, 74 points. Out of playoffs.

Coach: Ron Wilson, third season with Maple Leafs, 64-73-27; 17th overall, 582-499-174 in NHL.

Player to watch: Dion Phaneuf. Now in his first full season with Toronto, the rugged defenseman has the added pressure of being captain of the Maple Leafs, who have failed to reach the playoffs in five straight seasons.

Icing: The Maple Leafs are on their longest streak of missing the playoffs in team history. There aren't many signs that the skid will end soon.

Southeast Division

Washington Capitals

Last season: 54-15-7-6, 121 points. Lost to Montreal 4-3 in first round.

Coach: Bruce Boudreau, fourth season with Capitals, 141-56-28; fourth overall in NHL.

Player to watch: Nicklas Backstrom. The 22-year-old star center, who along with Alex Ovechkin are the NHL's top scoring teammate duo, will look to continue the growth that earned him a 10-year, $67 million deal during the offseason.

Icing: The Capitals have shown they can score in bunches and dominate in the regular season. Now it's time for Washington to strengthen its defensive game in the playoffs.

Atlanta Thrashers

Last season: 35-34-7-6, 83 points. Out of playoffs.

Coach: Craig Ramsay, first season with Thrashers; third overall, 16-27-6 in NHL.

Player to watch: Dustin Byfuglien. Coming off a breakout performance in which he scored five game-winning playoff goals for Stanley Cup champion Chicago, Byfuglien will likely shift from forward to defenseman and try to bring a winning culture to the struggling Thrashers.

Icing: The veteran coach Ramsay is the latest who will try to change Atlanta's fortunes and find a way to make the Thrashers winners.

Carolina Hurricanes

Last season: 35-37-5-5, 80 points. Out of playoffs.

Coach: Paul Maurice, 12th season with Hurricanes/Whalers franchise, 336-347-130 (including 1995-2004); 14th overall, 412-413-152 in NHL.

Player to watch: Eric Staal. Now in his first full season as captain, following the retirement of Rod Brind'Amour, Staal is the unquestioned leader on and off the ice.

Icing: The Hurricanes need to avoid the brutal start of last season and play as they did in the second half if they hope to contend for a playoff spot.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Last season: 34-36-5-7, 80 points. Out of playoffs.

Coach: Guy Boucher, first season with Lightning; first overall.

Player to watch: Steven Stamkos. Out to prove last season's 51-goal outburst that tied Sidney Crosby for the NHL lead is the norm and not a fluke.

Icing: With Stamkos, Vincent Lecavalier and Martin St. Louis pacing the offense and hulking young defenseman Victor Hedman anchoring the defense, the Lightning could be more dangerous than expected.

Florida Panthers

Last season: 32-37-3-10, 77 points. Out of playoffs.

Coach: Peter DeBoer, third season with Panthers, 73-67-24; third overall in NHL.

Player to watch: Stephen Weiss. Led the Panthers last season with 28 goals and 60 points.

Icing: It looks as if it could be another long year for the struggling Panthers.

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