Will the Vancouver Canucks win the franchise's first Stanley Cup… (Darryl Dyck / Associated…)
1. Can the Vancouver Canucks repeat as conference champions?
Losing to Boston in the seventh game of the Stanley Cup finals last season was emotionally and physically draining. Center Ryan Kesler, the team's soul, will sit out the start of the season while recovering from hip surgery. They will miss departed free-agent defenseman Christian Ehrhoff, who averaged nearly 24 minutes a game and was a key element on their NHL-best power play. Defense could be a vulnerable spot.
2. Is this finally the San Jose Sharks' year?
This question comes up every season and the answer inevitably is no. But maybe Brent Burns, acquired from Minnesota, has the talent and stability they have sought on defense. And maybe trading Dany Heatley and Devin Setoguchi to Minnesota for Martin Havlat will shake things up enough to … nah.
3. Can the Blackhawks rebound from their post-Cup hangover?
Salary-cap considerations forced them to break up their 2009-10 championship team before the confetti from the parade was swept up, and they never developed much cohesion. But with more rest this summer for core players Jonathan Toews, Patrick Kane, Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, they could make a long playoff run.
4. Is it time to crown the Kings?
By signing free-agent winger Simon Gagne, taking on Mike Richards' contract in a trade with the Flyers and securing defenseman Drew Doughty for $56 million over eight years, they spent more than $114 million, or about $1 million more than the franchise sold for in 1995. Richards and Anze Kopitar should be a formidable 1-2 center punch, and Gagne brings much-needed speed. They're a little slow on defense but have a balance of offense and stay-at-home types. They're built for a playoff push. An early exit would be a huge failure.
5. Are the Detroit Red Wings too old?
Another perennial inquiry, but they continue to defy the calendar. As long as magnificent defenseman Nicklas Lidstrom doesn't care that he's past 40, it doesn't matter. They have tons of skill and grit, though they will miss retired defenseman Brian Rafalski. The Red Wings should be a force again.