Outlook: Steven Stamkos, last year's No. 1 draft pick, struggled to adjust from junior hockey to the pros but gradually improved and finished with 23 goals and 46 points. The Lightning had the No. 2 pick this year and used it on 6-6, 220-pound Swedish defenseman Victor Hedman, who has been paired with compatriot Mattias Ohlund. Signing Ohlund as a free agent provides a mentor for Hedman and makes for a decent defense. With St. Louis, Vincent Lecavalier (a disappointing 29 goals and 67 points), free-agent signee Alex Tanguay (16 goals and 41 points in 50 games with Montreal) and Ryan Malone (26 goals, 45 points) they're not bad up front. Goalie Mike Smith, who sat out the second half of last season because of post-concussion syndrome, played well in the preseason and is supposed to be ready. If he's on, the Lightning could make the playoffs.
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS
2008-09 record: 34-35-13=81 points.
Power play: 18.8% (16th). Penalty killing: 74.7% (30th).
Leading scorer: Jason Blake, 25-38.
Outlook: There's a lot of bluster to General Manager Brian Burke, but the man does know how to get his way at the negotiating table. He pried restricted free agent and 36-goal scorer Phil Kessel away from the Bruins for a bunch of prime draft picks, instantly giving his offense credibility. Signing defenseman Francois Beauchemin as a free agent was a shrewd move because the former Duck can hit and has a booming shot that should help the power play. Burke's signing of Swedish goalie Jonas "The Monster" Gustavsson created competition for Vesa Toskala, who last season was part of the NHL's worst defensive team (a 3.43 team goals-against average). Coach Ron Wilson said Toskala will start the team's opener but he might not keep the job long. This is a better team than last season's 12th-ranked mishmash, but the playoffs are a distant vision.
2008-09 record: 41-30-11=93 points.
Power play: 19.3% (13th). Penalty killing: 82.4% (11th).
Leading scorer: Alex Kovalev, 26-39.
Outlook: The Canadiens are going smaller this season. They added Michael Cammalleri, Scott Gomez and Brian Gionta, all well short of 6 feet, and while the forwards will be faster, they'll also be easier to push around. General Manager Bob Gainey also signed defensemen Hal Gill, Paul Mara and Jaroslav Spacek, making the defense bigger but no speedier. The roster overhaul was taken to another level with a coaching change -- and not for the better. Dour Jacques Martin likes to smother creativity in the name of playing stifling defense, and crowds at the Molson Centre won't like it.
2008-09 record: 36-35-11=83 points.
Power play: 19.5% (10th). Penalty killing: 81.5% (15th).
Leading scorer: Daniel Alfredsson, 24-50.
Outlook: They've endured a steep decline since their 2007 Stanley Cup finals loss to the Ducks. First, their excuse was Ray Emery's inconsistency. Last season -- their first out of the playoffs after 11 straight appearances -- the problem was the chill between Dany Heatley and Coach Cory Clouston, which led Heatley to request a trade. He got his wish, going to San Jose for top-six forward Milan Michalek (23 goals, 57 points) and winger Jonathan Cheechoo, who had only 12 goals in 66 games last season. Goalie Pascal Leclaire, apparently recovered from ankle surgery, needs a big season. Free-agent winger Alex Kovalev, who had 26 goals and 69 points for Montreal last season, should help the second line.
2008-09 record: 35-41-6=76 points.
Power play: 19.3% (10th). Penalty killing: 76.0% (29th).
Leading scorer: Ilya Kovalchuk, 43-48.
Outlook: The Thrashers had a strong finish last season and they've upgraded since then by signing free agents Nik Antropov (28 goals, 59 points with the Rangers last season) and Maxim Afinogenov, a two-time Russian Olympian. Antropov is expected to play right wing opposite the dynamic Kovalchuk, with Todd White centering for them. The Thrashers' biggest problem will be in goal because Kari Lehtonen had back surgery during the summer and wasn't expected to return until the season is a few weeks old.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS
2008-09 record: 26-47-9=61 points.
Power play: 16.9% (23rd). Penalty killing: 79.8% (22nd).
Leading scorer: Mark Streit, 16-40.
Outlook: No. 1 overall pick John Tavares had chemistry with former King Matt Moulson in preseason play, giving fans of this too-long downtrodden franchise something to look forward to. There won't be much else. Rick DiPietro (knee) won't be ready to start the season, so the Islanders signed Dwayne Roloson and Martin Biron as insurance at a cost of $6.4 million. DiPietro, who played only five games last season and won one game, is in the early years of a 15-year, $67.5-million contract. A lot to spend on goalies who will play behind a porous defense whose only legitimate standout is Swiss-born Streit.