New York Rangers' Ryan Callahan skates during workout. (Seth Wenig / Associated…)
TEAMS LISTED IN PREDICTED ORDER OF FINISH
The New Jersey Devils hope history repeats itself on two fronts. They won the Stanley Cup in 1995, after the NHL's first lockout-shortened, 48-game schedule, and they won the East last season as the No. 6-seeded team. But if Pittsburgh Penguins center Sidney Crosby is healthy and Rick Nash scores the goals the New York Rangers couldn't manufacture last season, the Devils might not even make the playoffs. A look at how the conference shapes up:
1. NEW YORK RANGERS
2011-12 finish: 51-24-7 (109 points); 1st in East.
Acquiring burly winger Nash from Columbus should give the Rangers the scoring they lacked last season. He's a two-time 40-goal scorer and can be a presence physically. The Rangers will need another big season from Henrik Lundqvist (1.97 goals-against average, .930 save percentage), who won the Vezina Trophy as the NHL's top goalie.
2011-12 finish: 42-32-8 (92 points); 7th in East.
Alexander Ovechkin hasn't been the high-scoring Ovie of old, which was widely blamed on clashes with coaches Bruce Boudreau and Dale Hunter. Boudreau was fired, Hunter went back to the junior ranks and Adam Oates was hired to coach this underachieving team. Oates was a generous and smart player. If he carries that over to coaching, the Capitals should be fine.
2011-12 finish: 49-29-4 (102 points); 2nd in East.
The Bruins have depth and scoring power up front and size and mobility on defense. Young center Tyler Seguin (29 goals, 67 points) was smart to play in Switzerland during the lockout and stay active. Right wing Nathan Horton, hampered by head injuries the last two seasons, appears ready to play for the first time in nearly a year. His return would improve the balance of their four lines.
2011-12 finish: 51-25-6 (108 points); 4th in East.
MVP and scoring champion Evgeni Malkin (50 goals, 109 points) played in Russia during the lockout and should be sharp. Crosby didn't go to Europe but worked out regularly and has said he feels fine. The Penguins traded Jordan Staal but got some promising defense prospects for him. Signing veteran goalie Tomas Vokoun will allow Coach Dan Bylsma to avoid overworking Marc-Andre Fleury.
2011-12 finish: 47-26-9 (103 points); 5th in East.
Claude Giroux (28 goals, 93 points) and Scott Hartnell (37 goals, 67 points) were the heart of this team and should continue in those roles. The Flyers' defense is solid enough to withstand the loss of Chris Pronger, who was limited to 13 games last season and might not play again because of concussion-related woes. The key to their success will be goalie Ilya Bryzgalov's ability to bounce back from a wildly erratic season and show some focus and consistency. Good luck with that.
2011-12 finish: 41-31-10 (92 points); 8th in East.
Coach Paul MacLean did an impressive job last season with a team that wasn't expected to do much. Veteran forward Daniel Alfredsson is back, and Norris Trophy winner Erik Karlsson established himself as someone to watch, but their goaltending is underwhelming. Prospect Robin Lehner might eventually emerge over Craig Anderson and Ben Bishop.
2011-12 finish: 33-33-16 (82 points); 12th in East.
The Hurricanes always look better on paper than they turn out to be on the ice, but adding Jordan Staal in a trade with Pittsburgh gives them an exceptional No. 1 center and makes for a happy reunion with his brother, Eric (24 goals, 70 points). General Manager Jim Rutherford took a big gamble by signing winger Alexander Semin to a one-year,
$7-million contract after a 21-goal, 54-point season with Washington. The Hurricanes have a mobile defense and should be able to grab a playoff spot.
2011-12 finish: 38-26-18 (94 points); 3rd in East.
The Panthers were a surprise division winner last season, benefiting to an extent from Washington's inconsistency. They lost defenseman Jason Garrison (16 goals, 33 points) to free agency but should be able to compensate. Watch for speedy, skillful 19-year-old winger Jonathan Huberdeau, a star in the making.
9. NEW JERSEY
2011-12 finish: 48-28-6 (102 points); 6th in East.
Losing 31-goal scorer Zach Parise to free agency will hurt beyond compensating for his 31 goals and 69 points. He was a clutch player, but the Devils couldn't match Minnesota's 13-year, $98-million free-agent deal. They have a solid defense corps and a budding star in center Adam Henrique, a finalist for rookie-of-the-year honors. Winger Ilya Kovalchuk (37 goals, 83 points) did well in Russia during the lockout and should be primed for another big season.
2011-12 finish: 39-32-11 (89 points); 9th in East.