(In projected order of finish)
ST. LOUIS BLUES
2018-19 record: 45-28-9
Coach: Craig Berube
Key newcomers: Justin Faulk, Klim Kostin
Key departures: Joel Edmundson, Pat Maroon, Chris Butler, Jordan Schmaltz, Michael Del Zotto, Chris Thorburn
Outlook: The reigning Stanley Cup champions return most of their championship lineup except for Maroon and Edmundson. Justin Faulk is a blue-line scorer (11 G, 24 A last year) and was an alternate captain for Carolina. Kostin, an elite power forward prospect, could replace Maroon's muscle up front. Berube is counting on further development from young forwards Sammy Blais, Zach Sanford, Robby Fabbri and Jordan Kyrou to keep things fresh. And look for forwards Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz to produce bigger regular seasons.
2018-19 record: 47-29-6
Coach: Peter Laviolette
Key newcomers: Matt Duchene, Steven Santini
Key departures: P.K. Subban, Wayne Simmonds, Brian Boyle, Zac Rinaldo
Outlook: The Preds essentially swapped Subban for Duchene, clearing salary cap space from their defensive strength to fill the void at center. Duchene creates a second scoring line and should add more juice to a power play that somehow ranked last in the NHL last season with a 12.9 percent conversion rate. If Duchene and new assistant coach Dan Lambert can fix that, this could be Nashville's year.
2018-19 record: 43-32-7
Coach: Jim Montgomery
Key newcomers: Jim Pavelski, Corey Perry, Andrej Sekera
Key departures: Mats Zuccarello, Jason Spezza, Valeri Nichushkin, Marc Methot
Outlook: The Stars came within a inch here or there from knocking off the Blues in the playoffs last spring, and they should be tougher this season. Miro Heiskanen is an emerging superstar on defense. Pavelski should anchor an effective No. 2 scoring line and bolster the power play. But Dallas needs more from its bottom six forwards and third defensive pairing to make a Cup run.
2018-19 record: 38-30-14
Coach: Jared Bednar
Key newcomers: Nazem Kadri, Andre Burakovsky, Joonas Donskoi, Bowen Byram, Pierre-Eduoard Bellemare, Kevin Connauton
Key departures: Tyson Barrie, Semyon Varlamov, Alexander Kerfoot, Carl Soderburg, Derick Brassard
Outlook: Soon the 'Lanche will have a strong defensive foundation as top prospects Byram, Cale Makar and Sam Girard mature. But they may suffer growing pains in the meantime in front of Philipp Grubauer, who finally gets his chance to be a No. 1 goaltender. The acquisition of Kadri, Burakovsky and Donskoi gives Colorado badly needed scoring depth behind the explosive top line of Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen.
2018-19 record: 47-30-5
Coach: Paul Maurice
Key newcomers: Neal Pionk, Mark Letestu
Key departures: Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers, Kevin Hayes, Ben Chiarot, Brandon Tanev, Marko Dano
Outlook: In this hypercompetitive conference the once-powerful Jets will have to fight to stay in the playoff hunt. They suffered big losses on defense, losing Trouba, Myers and Chiarot. Blue-line bulwark Dustin Byfuglien took a personal leave to ponder retirement. Restricted free agents Kyle Connor and Patrik Laine missed time during preseason play while negotiating new deals. Maurice had a trying training camp.
2018-19 record: 36-34-12
Coach: Jeremy Colliton
Key newcomers: Robin Lehner, Olli Maatta, Andrew Shaw, Alexander Nylander, Zack Smith, Calvin de Haan, Ryan Carpenter
Key departures: Artem Anisimov, Dominik Kahun, Henri Jokiharju, Cam Ward, Chris Kunitz, Marcus Kruger
Outlook: The Blackhawks were highly entertaining after Colliton replaced long-time coach Joel Quenneville and turned Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Alex Debrincat and Co. loose. But they lost their defensive structure, and the goaltending was awful. Netminder Corey Crawford seems past his concussion woes, for now, and he forms a strong tandem with Lehner — who starred for the Islanders last season.
2018-19 record: 37-36-9
Coach: Bruce Boudreau
Key newcomers: Mats Zuccarello, Ryan Hartman
Key departures: Eric Fehr, Nate Prosser, Pontus Aberg
Outlook: New general manager Bill Guerin, the former Blue, is cleaning up after the disastrous Paul Fenton regime. He needs to rebuild with youth around defenseman Matt Dumba, but the franchise has massive long-term dollars committed to Zuccarello, Zach Parise and Ryan Suter. A bounce-back year from goaltender Devan Dubnyk and a full year of Mikko Koivu could keep the Wild viable while Guerin plots his long-term course.
VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS
2018-19 record: 43-32-7
Coach: Gerard Gallant
Key newcomer: Cody Glass
Key departures: Erik Haula, Pierre-Eduoard Bellemare, Ryan Carpenter
Outlook: Adding newcomer Mark Stone to the Paul Stastny/Max Pacioretty line made the Golden Knights dangerous in the playoffs. But for a bad call and an explosive Sharks power play, Vegas would have reached the Final Four. This historically successful expansion team is in "win now" mode behind goaltender Marc-Andrew Fleury and is a serious Cup threat again.
2018-19 record: 50-25-7
Coach: Bill Peters
Key newcomers: Milan Lucic, Cam Talbot
Key departures: James Neal, Mike Smith, Garnet Hathaway, Curtis Lazar
Outlook: Our town's Matthew Tkachuk helped the Flames lord over this division last season. It took him no time to become one of the league's best (and most hated) power forwards, just like dad. But do they have Cup-caliber goaltending with David Rittich and Talbot? And will top guns Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Elias Lindholm suffer regression this season as peak performances last season?
SAN JOSE SHARKS
2018-19 record: 46-27-9
Coach: Peter DeBoer
Key newcomers: None
Key departures: Joe Pavelski, Joonas Donskoi, Gustav Nyquist, Justin Braun
Outlook: Last season they had a maximum amount of talent under their salary cap. This season the Sharks don't have that sort of depth. Losing their captain, Pavelski, to free agency was especially hurtful. But if defenseman Erik Karlsson can stay healthy and forwards Timo Meier and Tomas Hertl reach their full potential, the Sharks could make another deep run.
2018-19 record: 35-36-11
Coach: Travis Green
Key newcomers: J.T. Miller, Tyler Myers, Michael Ferland, Jordie Benn
Key departures: Ben Hutton, Luke Schenn, Markus Granlund
Outlook: Finally the Canucks are heading in the right direction. Playmaker Elias Pettersson is a generational talent. He combines with excellent two-way center Bo Horvat to give Vancouver uncommon strength down the middle. Winger Brock Boeser and defenseman Quinn Hughes are budding stars, so the long-term nucleus is in place. As this group matures and the supporting cast improves, look out.
2018-19 record: 39-35-8
Coach: Rick Tocchet
Key newcomers: Phil Kessel, Carl Soderberg
Key departures: Alexander Galchenyuk, Kevin Connauton, Richard Panik
Outlook: This is another emerging team. Our town's Clayton Keller along with Nick Schmaltz, Jakob Chychrun, Christian Dvorak and Vinnie Hinostroza form the youthful foundation. If Tocchet can motivate Kessel — who wore out his welcome in Pittsburgh — this team could slip into the playoff bracket. Getting goaltender Antti Raanta back to top form after an injury-ruined season would help.
2018-19 record: 35-37-10
Coach: Dallas Eakins
Key newcomer: Michael Del Zotto
Key departures: Corey Perry, Ryan Kesler, Chad Johnson
Outlook: It's time to hit the reset button. General manager Bob Murray took over as coach last season and saw that firsthand. Fortunately the Ducks have an army of good young forwards coming, led by Sam Steel, Troy Terry, Max Comtois and Max Jones. Forwards Rickard Rakell, Ondrej Kase and Jakob Silfverberg all have more to give, too, and John Gibson might be the NHL's best goaltender. But about that defense ...
2018-19 record: 35-38-9
Coach: Dave Tippett
Key newcomers: James Neal, Mike Smith, Markus Granlund
Key departures: Milan Lucic, Jesse Puljujarvi
Outlook: Epic mismanagement left this team with a top-heavy roster. Connor McDavid is the NHL's brightest star. Forward Leon Draisaitl is an elite scorer. Forward Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and defensemen Darnell Nurse and Oscar Klefbom are nice assets, too. But the rest of the skaters have little to offer, and the goaltending tandem of Mikko Koskinen and Smith is iffy. How is it possible to stay this bad this long?
LOS ANGELES KINGS
2018-19 record: 31-42-9
Coach: Todd McLellan
Key newcomers: Ben Hutton, Martin Frk
Key departure: Brendal Leipsic
Outlook: This team got old in a hurry, so investing millions in yesteryear sniper Ilya Kovalchuk last summer wasn't a bright move. He joins Anze Kopitar, Dustin Brown, Jeff Carter, Jonathan Quick and Drew Doughty in the fading veteran core group. All those seasons of trading picks and prospects to stay in the Cup chase took a toll. Rebuilding this team will take many years.