NHL Eastern Conference Preview Capsules
LAST SEASON: 36-35-11, 83 points. Missed the playoffs by finishing 13th in the Eastern Conference.
COACH: Bill Peters, 1st season with Hurricanes; 1st overall in NHL.
ADDED: C Brad Malone, D Tim Gleason.
LOST: C Manny Malhotra, G Justin Peters, C Brett Sutter.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Eric Staal. The captain is coming off the most disappointing season of his career, with his 21 goals his fewest in an 82-game season since he was a rookie a decade ago. With a salary of $9.25 million, he's one of the highest-paid players in the game but he managed just one power-play goal last season. He had sports hernia surgery during the offseason, and a fresh start with the detail-driven Peters could be just what Staal needs.
OUTLOOK: No team in the current alignment of the Eastern Conference has a longer playoff drought than the Hurricanes, who haven't made the postseason since 2009. How quickly Peters' message of focus and personal accountability gets through to a largely unchanged roster will determine whether that streak finally ends this season.
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
LAST SEASON: 43-32-7, 93 points. Eliminated in first round of playoffs by Pittsburgh in 6 games.
COACH: Todd Richards, fourth season with the Blue Jackets, 85-70-16; 5th overall in NHL.
ADDED: LW Scott Hartnell, RW Jerry D'Amigo, RW Brian Gibbons.
LOST: LW R.J. Umberger, C Derek MacKenzie, RW Jack Skille.
PLAYER TO WATCH: C Brandon Dubinsky. With two of the team's top centers unavailable (Ryan Johansen, holdout; Boone Jenner, broken hand), the fiery 28-year-old's role only grows bigger. He was already the heart and soul of a team that doesn't have an official captain, even though he would seem the likely choice. Coming off a year in which he had 16 goals and 34 assists and continually came up big late in games, he'll be counted on to provide even more points and leadership.
OUTLOOK: If the contract dispute between Johansen and the club isn't resolved soon, and with Jenner and Nathan Horton (bad back) out for the foreseeable future, the Blue Jackets may have to win a lot of 1-0 and 2-1 games in which G Sergei Bobrovsky stands on his head. Also, several young players (most likely Alexander Wennberg and Simon Hjalmarsson) may have to be gangbusters right from the outset to kill time until the club's at full strength.
NEW JERSEY DEVILS
LAST SEASON: 35-29-18, 88 points. Missed the playoffs by finishing 10th in the Eastern Conference.
COACH: Peter DeBoer, 4th season with Devils (102-76-34); 7th overall in NHL (205-183-70).
ADDED: LW Mike Cammalleri, LW Martin Havlat, C Scott Gomez, G Scott Clemmensen.
LOST: G Martin Brodeur, D Anton Volchenkov, D Mark Fayne.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Jaromir Jagr. Led the team in scoring with 24 goals and 43 assists in remarkable season in which he played in all 82. Can he do it again at 42-years-old. If he does, the Devils have a shot at getting back into the playoffs for the first time since reaching NHL Finals in 2011-12.
OUTLOOK: After finishing with fourth fewest goals in the league, the Devils hope free-agent signees Cammalleri (26 goals) and Havlat (12 goals in 48 games) can boost the scoring, along with Adam Henrique, who scored a career-high 25-goals last season. With Broduer not re-signed, Cory Schnedier will get most of the work in goal after posting a 1.97 goals against average in 46 games last season. Defense allowed 208 goals, ninth best in the league.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS
LAST SEASON: 34-37-11, 79 points. Missed the playoffs by finishing eighth in Metropolitan Division and 14th in Eastern Conference.
COACH: Jack Capuano, fifth season with Islanders (118-120-39).
ADDED: G Jaroslav Halak, G Chad Johnson, C Cory Conacher, RW Jack Skille, LW Harry Zolnierczyk, C Mikhail Grabovski, LW Nikolai Kulemin.
LOST: G Evgeni Nabokov, D Radek Martinek.
PLAYER TO WATCH: John Tavares. The 24-year-old star center with the C on his sweater is back after missing New York's final 22 games last season due to a knee injury sustained while playing for Canada in the Olympics. He was second on the team with 66 points — including 24 goals — despite playing in only 59 games. The Islanders have made the playoffs only once (2013) since he was selected with the No. 1 pick in the 2009 draft.
OUTLOOK: This will be a year of nostalgia for the Islanders as they play their final season at the Nassau Coliseum — their home since joining the NHL in 1972 where four straight Stanley Cup champions were built from 1980-83. They will move to Brooklyn's Barclays Center next season. Since 2004, the Islanders have reached the playoffs just twice (2007 and 2013) and were eliminated in the first round both times. The task doesn't get any easier in the eight-team Metropolitan Division with perennial powerhouse Pittsburgh and the rival New York Rangers, who reached the Stanley Cup finals last season. Halak will shoulder a lot of the burden, along with Tavares, as he replaces veteran Evgeni Nabokov in goal.
NEW YORK RANGERS
LAST SEASON: 45-31-6, 96 points. Finished 2nd in Metropolitan Division, 5th in Eastern Conference. Lost to Los Angeles Kings in Stanley Cup finals.
COACH: Alain Vigneault, 2nd season with Rangers (45-31-6); 13th overall in NHL (467-319-102).
ADDED: D Dan Boyle, D Mike Kostka, D Matt Hunwick, C Chris Mueller, LW Tanner Glass, G Cedrick Desjardins, C Matthew Lombardi, RW Lee Stempniak, LW Ryan Malone.
LOST: C Brad Richards, RW Derek Dorsett, C Brian Boyle, D Anton Stralman, LW Benoit Pouliot, D Justin Falk, RW Arron Asham, LW Daniel Carcillo, D Raphael Diaz, C Darroll Powe.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Rick Nash. The top forward will be looking to bounce back from a disappointing postseason in which the 2002 No. 1 draft notched only three goals and 10 points in 25 games and heard boos from the crowd. The 30-year-old left wing has come to training camp looking thinner and fitter as he heads into his third season with the Rangers. Nash has four seasons left for big money on his current contract, so there is plenty of time for him to win over the Madison Square Garden faithful.
OUTLOOK: The Rangers will go as far as goalie Henrik Lundqvist, "The King," will take them. The team has undergone major changes since the run to the finals, but with the strong core of returning veterans such as Nash, Martin St. Louis, and defensemen Dan Girardi and Ryan McDonagh, fortified by newcomers Dan Boyle, Lee Stempniak and Ryan Malone, New York could again be a tough out in the playoffs. A new captain is expected to be announced at the start of the season to replace the trio of alternate captains that took leadership roles after former captain Ryan Callahan was traded to Tampa Bay late last season for St. Louis.
LAST SEASON: 42-30-10, 94 points. Finished 3rd in Metropolitan Division. Sixth in Eastern Conference. Lost to New York Rangers in first round of playoffs.
COACH: Craig Berube, 2nd season with Flyers (42-27-10); 2nd overall in NHL.
ADDED: C R.J. Umberger, LW Pierre-Edouard Bellemare, D Michael Del Zotto
LOST: LW Scott Hartnell, RW Steve Downie, LW Tye McGinn, C Kris Newbury, D Erik Gustafsson, D Bruno Gervais
PLAYER TO WATCH: Flyers center Claude Giroux. Back earlier than expected from an unspecified lower-body injury, Giroux needs to be in top form if the Flyers expect to play deep into the postseason. Giroux was selected last season as a Hart Trophy finalist, the league's MVP award. He matched a career high with 28 goals and finished third in the NHL scoring race (86 points).
OUTLOOK: The Flyers need Steve Mason to play again like a true No. 1 goalie and for Giroux to play like an MVP candidate for the Flyers to have a shot at ending their Stanley Cup drought. The Flyers are 0 for the Cup since they won consecutive Cups in 1974 and 1975 and seemed poised to build a dynasty. Only the Toronto Maple Leafs (1966-67) have suffered longer than any other team that was won at least one Stanley Cup.
LAST SEASON: 51-24-7, 109 points. Won Metropolitan Division. Lost to New York Rangers in Eastern Conference semifinals.
COACH: Mike Johnston (first season, first NHL season).
ADDED: D Christian Ehrhoff, F Patric Hornqvist, C Nick Spaling, F Blake Comeau, G Thomas Greiss.
LOST: F James Neal, D Brooks Orpik, D Matt Niskanen.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Sidney Crosby. Sid "the Kid" isn't so young anymore. It's been nearly a decade since he arrived in Pittsburgh and helped rescue a floundering franchise. He rolled to his second MVP Award in 2013-14 after racking 36 goals and 68 assists for a league-leading 146 points. A wrist injury slowed him in the postseason. He scored just once in 13 playoff games.
OUTLOOK: New coach, new general manager but same old expectations in Pittsburgh. It's been more than five years since they lifted the Stanley Cup, a drought that cost former coach Dan Bylsma his job. Johnston brings in a more structured philosophy. There may be growing pains early, but if Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are healthy, the Penguins will again be a threat to make a deep playoff run.
LAST SEASON: 38-30-14, 90 points. Missed the playoffs by finishing ninth in the Eastern Conference.
COACH: Barry Trotz, 1st season with Capitals; 16th overall in NHL, 557-479-60-100.
ADDED: Trotz, GM Brian MacLellan, D Brooks Orpik, D Matt Niskanen, G Justin Peters.
LOST: Coach Adam Oates, GM George McPhee, C Mikhail Grabovski, LW Dustin Penner, G Jaroslav Halak.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Alex Ovechkin, as always. The three-time league MVP led the NHL with 51 goals last season, but his plus-minus of minus-35 was third-worst in the league. Trotz plans to move Ovechkin back to left wing and also hopes to cajole more of a team game from the Russian forward.
OUTLOOK: It was deflating enough for the talented Capitals to lose in the early rounds of the playoffs every year, but last season they didn't make the postseason at all, a failure that cost Oates and McPhee their jobs. Orpik and Niskanen should stabilize the blue line, but nothing is more crucial in Washington than the relationship between Ovechkin and the coach du jour. Trotz is Ovechkin's first NHL head coach with prior head coaching experience elsewhere in the league, giving him the cachet to make demands of his players — and to expect them to be met.