Coach Darryl Sutter wants more from the kids, and wingers Tyler Toffoli and Tanner Pearson look ready to deliver. Sutter also will have a full season of Marian Gaborik, who scored a playoff-leading 14 goals during the Kings' run to a second Stanley Cup in three seasons and clicked with Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown. Defenseman Drew Doughty is poised for a Norris Trophy-winning season. The Kings' biggest obstacle might be fatigue from playing 64 playoff games the last three seasons. They're solid from top to bottom.
Their playoff seeding meant nothing when they lost to the Kings in Game 7 of a second-round series. They're expecting Ryan Kesler, acquired from the Canucks, to divert opponents' attention from Ryan Getzlaf, the NHL's No. 2 scorer with 87 points. The Ducks lost experience when Teemu Selanne and Saku Koivu retired but can compensate with speedy youngsters. Their success will depend on whether goalies Frederik Andersen and John Gibson can turn potential into results.
Management didn't shake things up after the Sharks blew a 3-0 series lead over the Kings. Veteran defensemen Dan Boyle and Brad Stuart left, Joe Thornton lost the captain's "C" and Patrick Marleau lost the alternate captain's "A," but that was it. They're hoping for big things from Tomas Hertl, whose rookie season was interrupted by a knee injury. Brent Burns is back with a defensive corps that's so-so after Marc-Edouard Vlasic. Another thing that hasn't changed — the need for heart and leadership.
2013-14: 36-35-11 (83), 5th (no playoffs).
Addition by subtraction? Firing coach John Tortorella (replaced by Willie Desjardins) could help the Canucks rebound from a terrible season. Signing Ryan Miller should stabilize them in goal. Up front, the Kesler trade gave them Nick Bonino and they signed solid winger Radim Vrbata. Twins Henrik and Daniel Sedin were overused and combined for only 97 points; expect them to bounce back.
Coach Dave Tippett again must get a lot out of a little. He's lucky to have defensemen Keith Yandle and Oliver Ekman-Larsson, who would be superstars in the East. As goalie Mike Smith goes, so will the Coyotes, and his 2.64 goals-against average and .915 save percentage weren't good enough to support a low-scoring team.
2013-14: 29-44-9 (67), 7th (no playoffs).
So many talented forwards, so little structure on defense. After years of collecting prime draft picks, the Oilers should be better than last season's conference-low 67 points and league-worst 270 goals against. Despite their skill, they're weak up the middle after Ryan Nugent-Hopkins. Leon Draisaitl, drafted third in June, might win the No. 2 center spot. Goalies Ben Scrivens and Viktor Fasth will see a lot of rubber; the Oilers won't see the playoffs.
Team goal-scoring leader Michael Cammalleri (26) left as a free agent and won't be easily replaced. Prospect Johnny Gaudreau is electrifying but small at 5-foot-9 and must prove he can absorb hits from big bodies. Mark Giordano and T.J. Brodie are a strong defensive pair, but the quality drops off after that. Goalie Jonas Hiller (2.48 GAA, .911 save percentage with the Ducks last season) can launch their long journey back to respectability.
The Blackhawks' repeat hopes ended with an overtime loss to the Kings in Game 7 of the West finals, so the roster didn't need much tinkering. They addressed the lack of a No. 2 center behind Jonathan Toews by signing Brad Richards, who centered for Patrick Kane and Brandon Saad in exhibition play. Then comes the Patrick Sharp-Toews-Marian Hossa line. Goaltender Corey Crawford (2.26 GAA, .917 save percentage) has proved himself the past two seasons. They're on course for a rematch with the Kings.
2013-14: 52-23-7 (111), 2nd.
The Blues were battered and slumping when the playoffs began and faded during a six-game, first-round loss to the Blackhawks. Adding free-agent center Paul Stastny (25 goals, 60 points with the Avalanche last season) to a strong forward corps was a good move. The defense is rugged and productive, led by Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester and Kevin Shattenkirk. Offseason acquisition Carl Gunnarson, projected for the fourth spot, is recovering from hip surgery. David Backes provides excellent leadership, but the West is unforgiving. The Blues appear just short of Cup-capable.
2013-14: 52-22-8 (112), 1st.
A huge surprise last season, the Avalanche are stocked up front. Start with Gabriel Landeskog (26 goals, 65 points), Matt Duchene (23 goals, 70 points), Ryan O'Reilly (28 goals, 64 points) and rookie of the year Nathan MacKinnon (24 goals, 63 points), then add savvy, still-dangerous 40-year-old winger Jarome Iginla. Goalie Semyon Varlamov will have to duplicate or better last season's 2.41 GAA. Preseason injuries thinned their depth and could lead to a slow start.
2013-14: 40-31-11 (91), 5th (2nd wild card).
Offense figures to be a strength for the Stars, who were led last season by Tyler Seguin (37 goals, 84 points) and left wing Jamie Benn (34 goals, 79 points). They since acquired quality center Jason Spezza from the Senators, and he might thrive out of the spotlight in Canada. However, the defense is thin after 40-year-old Sergei Gonchar, Trevor Daley and Alex Goligoski. Coach Lindy Ruff's team should be exciting, but this is a tough conference. A wild-card team.
2013-14: 43-27-12 (98), 4th (1st wild card).
The low-scoring Wild upset the Avalanche in the first round of the playoffs and pushed the Blackhawks, but their progress could be halted by goaltending woes. Josh Harding is injured, Niklas Backstrom had a poor season and Darcy Kuemper hasn't wowed anyone. Free agent Thomas Vanek should boost the offense and center Mikael Granlund is dazzling. Defenseman Ryan Suter, who averaged a league-leading 29 minutes, 24 seconds of ice time, is a marvel. This group will be a wild-card team.
2013-14: 38-32-12 (88), 6th (no playoffs)
The Predators' biggest change was Peter Laviolette replacing coach Barry Trotz after 15 seasons. Their goaltending should improve with a healthy Pekka Rinne, who missed most of last season because of a post-surgical infection. Winger James Neal, acquired after a 27-goal season with the Penguins, is the scorer they need. Three-time Norris Trophy finalist Shea Weber will lead the defense again, but they're too thin at center to beat the big boys.
2013-14: 37-35-10 (84), 7th (no playoffs).
The Jets have missed the playoffs all three seasons since their relocation. They'll make it four. They have young talent in defenseman Jacob Trouba and forward Mark Scheifele, and winger Blake Wheeler is a scoring threat. But they need better from goalie Ondrej Pavelec than last season's 3.01 GAA and .901 save percentage. They must decide whether to keep or trade Evander Kane, who scored 30 goals in 2011-12 but only 19 in 63 games last season.