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NHL Eastern Conference: Team-by-team outlook





2016-17 record: 42-30-10

Coach: Jon Cooper

Key newcomers: Dan Girardi, Chris Kunitz, Mikhail Sergachev

Key departures: Jonathan Drouin, Jason Garrison, Luke Witkowski

Outlook: Can Steven Stamkos stay healthy? Can Andrei Vasilevskiy blossom into a top goaltender? If the answers are “yes” to those two questions, the Lightning could reach the Eastern Conference finals. Stamkos missed most of last season with still another leg injury, and Vasilevskiy did a solid job after displacing our town’s Ben Bishop. Nikita Kucherov, Victor Hedman, Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson and the cast offer substantial firepower.


2016-17 record: 44-31-7

Coach: Bruce Cassidy

Key newcomers: Paul Postma, Anders Bjork

Key departures: Drew Stafford, Colin Miller, Joe Morrow, Dominic Moore

Outlook: It was time to hit the refresh button. The process started last season when Cassidy replaced Claude Julien as coach and produced an 18-8-1 upturn. Now youngsters like defenseman Charlie McAvoy and forwards Bjork and Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson are pumping fresh blood into the lineup. Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak are elite wingers, Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci offer strength down the middle, and Torey Krug will be one of the league’s top power-play quarterbacks once his broken jaw heals. But can Tuukka Rask regain his elite goaltender status?


2016-17 record: 47-26-9

Coach: Claude Julien

Key newcomers: Jonathan Drouin, Ales Hemsky, Karl Alzner, Mark Streit, David Schlemko, Joe Morrow

Key departures: Alexander Radulov, Andre Markov, Nathan Beaulieu, Alexei Emelin, Steve Ott

Outlook: Adding Drouin was a blockbuster for GM Marc Bergevin, particularly if the emerging forward can fill this team’s scoring-line center void and feed winger Max Pacioretty. Alzner should help tighten up the defensive play in front of all-world goaltender Carey Price, but losing productive veterans Radulov and Markov could take the Habs down a notch. Young forward Alex Galchenyuk remains an enigma, relegated to second- or third-line wing duty by his defensive shortcomings.


2016-17 record: 40-27-15

Coach: Mike Babcock

Key newcomers: Patrick Marleau, Ron Hainsey, Sergey Kalinin, Dominic Moore

Key departures: Matt Hunwick, Roman Polak, Brian Boyle

Outlook: Talented young forwards Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner and William Nylander put on a show last season and earned the adulation of long-suffering Toronto fans. Adding Marleau to a forward corps featuring Nazem Kadri, James van Riemsdyk and Tyler Bozak makes this an offensive juggernaut. Adding Hainsey bolsters the defense, but more construction is needed on the blue line before the Leafs can contend for the Cup.


2016-17 record: 44-28-10

Coach: Guy Boucher

Key newcomers: Johnny Oduya, Nate Thompson

Key departure: Marc Methot

Outlook: The fancy stats suggests the Senators shouldn’t have been great last season, yet they came within one puck bounce of playing for the Stanley Cup. They beat the Boston Bruins and New York Rangers in the playoffs and took Pittsburgh into double overtime of Game 7 of the Eastern Conference finals. Smothering team defense, hot goaltending and the dominance of puck-rusher Erik Karlsson carried them further than anyone imagined. Some regression seems inevitable, particularly if Karlsson misses any time while recovering from foot surgery.


2016-17 record: 33-37-12

Coach: Phil Housley

Key newcomers: Nathan Beaulieu, Marco Scandella, Jason Pominville, Chad Johnson, Benoit Pouliot, Victor Antipin

Key departures: Tyler Ennis, Marcus Foligno, Brian Gionta, Dmitry Kulikov, Anders Nilsson, William Carrier

Outlook: Housley is just the latest former Blue to advance to a prominent post-playing position. He and new general manager Jason Botterill will try to finish the tank-and-rebuild program started by their predecessors. The Sabres will feature an upgraded blue line (thanks to the Scandella and Beaulieu additions) and lots of firepower with forwards Jack Eichel, Ryan O’Reilly, Evander Kane and Sam Reinhart, plus puck-rushing defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen playing a more aggressive style under Housley.


2016-17 record: 35-36-11

Coach: Bob Boughner

Key newcomers: Radim Vrbata, Evgeny Dadonov, Henrik Haapala, Jamie McGinn

Key departures: Jaromir Jagr, Reilly Smith, Jonathan Marchessault, Thomas Vanek, Jussi Jokinen, Jason Demers

Outlook: Dale Tallon has regained control of the hockey operation, which is a good thing. He built a talented young nucleus that remains the team’s core. His new coach, Boughner, is tasked with getting Aleksander Barkov, Jonathan Huberdeau, Aaron Ekblad and Nick Bjugstad to finally reach their potential after suffering assorted injuries and setbacks. Tallon is also counting on production from Vrbata — a 55-point scorer last season in Arizona — and European imports Dadonov and Haapala.


2016-17 record: 33-36-13

Coach: Jeff Blashill

Key newcomers: Trevor Daley, Luke Witkowski, Dylan McIlrath

Key departures: Tomas Nosek

Outlook: Bleak! Their 25-year playoff streak ended with a thud. This team got old, failed to draft worthy replacements for champions Nicklas Lidstrom and Pavel Datsyuk and overspent on mid-level role players. Veterans Henrik Zetterberg and Jimmy Howard exceeded expectations last season, but would-be cornerstones Dylan Larkin and Petr Mrazec went backward. Those two, plus Anthony Mantha, Tyler Bertuzzi and Andreas Anthanasiou (who remained unsigned at the start of camp) must lead the franchise back.



2016-17 record: 50-21-11

Coach: Mike Sullivan

Key newcomers: Antti Niemi, Ryan Reaves, Matt Hunwick

Key departures: Marc-Andre Fleury, Trevor Daley, Nick Bonino, Ron Hainsey, Chris Kunitz, Matt Cullen, Mark Streit

Outlook: Ian Cole won a couple of Stanley Cups after leaving the Blues. Now Reaves hopes to join that parade. The Penguins will stay in contention as long as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are healthy and in their prime. But the key to this franchise’s enduring success is its graduation of youngsters like Matt Murray, Jake Guentzel and Conor Sheary into key roles on entry-level contracts. That allows the Penguins to remain powerful while still salary-cap compliant.


2016-17 record: 55-19-8

Coach: Barry Trotz

Key newcomer: Devante Smith-Pelly

Key departures: Kevin Shattenkirk, Marcus Johansson, Justin Williams, Karl Alzner

Outlook: Last season was their time to finally win the Stanley Cup. They rolled over the Eastern Conference all season. Ah, but the Penguins bounced them in Game 7 of their second-round playoff series to extend the franchise’s frustration. Now the Capitals must regroup after losing two key defensemen and two top forwards. Can former Blues heartthrob T.J. Oshie score 30 goals again? Can Andre Burakovsky become a primary weapon? Can potential scoring-line winger Jakub Vrana stick this season?


2016-17 record: 50-24-8

Coach: John Tortorella

Key newcomers: Artemi Panarin, Tyler Motte

Key departures: Brandon Saad, Scott Hartnell, Sam Gagner, William Karlsson, Anton Forsberg

Outlook: Former Blues conditioning coach Nelson Ayotte helped Sergei Bobrovsky solve his chronic groin muscle issues. A healthy Bob was a dominant Bob — 41-17-5 with a .932 save percentage and 2.06 goals-against average. He is unlikely to match those ratios, but this talented team should get even stronger with the addition of Panarin and potential rise of forward prospects Pierre Luc-Dubois and Oliver Bjorkstrand.


2016-17 record: 48-28-6

Coach: Alain Vigneault

Key newcomers: Kevin Shattenkirk, Anthony DeAngelo, Ondrej Pavelec, David Desharnais

Key departures: Derek Stepan, Antti Raanta, Dan Girardi, Kevin Klein, Adam Clendening, Oscar Lindberg, Brandon Pirri

Outlook: The Rangers are transitioning toward a younger team everywhere but in goal, where King Henrik Lundqvist still reigns at age 35. Coming off a subpar season (2.74 goals-against average, .910 save percentage), he will need a big rebound season to keep the Rangers competitive in a tough division. Shattenkirk arrives as a free agent to quarterback the power play, but the Rangers appear weaker down the middle after trading away Stepan.


2016-17 record: 41-29-12

Coach: Doug Weight

Key newcomers: Jordan Eberle, Kristers Gudlevskis

Key departures: Travis Hamonic, Ryan Strome, J-F Berube, Carter Verhaeghe, Mikhail Grabovski

Outlook: Weight, a former Blues center, did a stellar job after replacing Jack Capuano as coach last season. He rescued former Blues goaltender Jaroslav Halak from his AHL purgatory and rode his late streak to a strong finish. Now Weight will look to boost the Islanders’ offense with Eberle taking a top six role up front and rookie defenseman Ryan Pulock looking to add his big slap shot to the power play.

CAROLINA hurricanes

2016-17 record: 36-31-15

Coach: Bill Peters

Key newcomers: Scott Darling, Justin Williams, Marcus Kruger, Trevor van Riemsdyk, Josh Jooris

Key departures: Eddie Lack, Bryan Bickell, Ryan Murphy, Andrej Nestrasil

Outlook: GM Ron Francis is building a strong possession team, so it’s not surprising he dipped into the Blackhawks well again and again for players. Darling will fortify this team in goal, Kruger should anchor the checking line, and van Riemsdyk adds depth to an already strong blue line. Forwards Sebastian Aho, Victor Rask, Teuvo Teravainen and Elias Lindholm could all take a big step forward and vault the Canes into the playoff bracket.


2016-17 record: 39-33-10

Coach: Dave Hakstol

Key newcomers: Nolan Patrick, Brian Elliott, Jori Lehtera

Key departures: Brayden Schenn, Steve Mason, Michael Del Zotto, Nick Cousins, Nick Schultz, Pierre-Edouard Bellemare

Outlook: A youth movement is underway with Patrick, the No. 2 overall draft pick this summer, joining young defensemen Shayne Gostisbehere, Ivan Provorov and Travis Sanheim and promising winger Oskar Lindblom in Philly’s next wave of talent. Elliott gets a fresh start in goal after an up-and-down year in Calgary. Can the former Blue hold the fort? And can Claude Giroux stall his years-long pattern of decline? Hakstol experimented with Giroux on the wing during preseason play.


2016-17 record: 28-40-14

Coach: John Hynes

Key newcomers: Nico Hischier, Marcus Johansson, Mirco Mueller, Will Butcher, Drew Stafford, Brian Boyle

Key departures: Mike Cammalleri, John Merrill, Devante Smith-Pelly, Beau Bennett, Yohann Auvitu, Sergei Kalinin

Outlook: This low-scoring team could ill-afford to lose top center Travis Zajac for half the season with a training injury. Hischier, the top overall draft pick this summer, will try to offset that loss. Johansson was a great add from the Capitals, particularly if he can fill in at center. Forward Pavel Zacha could also take a big step forward in the second year of his career. Butcher could jump into the defensive top four as a rookie after signing as a collegiate free agent. This franchise took a big step in the right direction this summer, but it would take a miraculous bounce-back season from goaltender Corey Schneider to get into the playoffs.

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Jeff Gordon is an online sports columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

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