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1 Detroit Red Wings -
Despite his age and the year he took off, Hasek has to be given the benefit of the doubt. And there's not much that the lineup in front of him can't do.
2 Ottawa Senators -
They're young, they're fast, they're skilled, and they play a very good system at both ends. More important, they learned what it takes to win.
3 Colorado Avalanche -
Who do you key on, Peter Forsberg's line or Joe Sakic's? The Avs will be the league's most exciting team and might, dare we say, make playing offensive-minded hockey popular again.
4 Vancouver Canucks -
Markus Naslund and Todd Bertuzzi had great seasons but disappointed in the playoffs. They'll have chips on their broad shoulders, which between them are plenty wide enough to lead this team a long way.
5 Dallas Stars -
Derian Hatcher will be missed, but there is still a lot of talent here. And any team with Mike Modano, Jere Lehtinen, Jason Arnott and Sergei Zubov leading the way will be formidable.
6 New Jersey Devils -
Steady as she goes is the motto here. They might not look that exciting on paper, but they have Martin Brodeur and Scott Stevens as their backbone, making the Devils a team to be viewed with trepidation.
7 Anaheim Mighty Ducks -
If you don't move forward, you slip back, and the Mighty Ducks certainly weren't heading in reverse this summer. Fedorov and Vaclav Prospal bring more offense and are better fits in this system than Kariya, and goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere is on top of the world.
8 Philadelphia Flyers -
The goaltending issue might be resolved, or not. That won't become clear until the playoffs, but in the meantime, the defensive-minded Flyers will be tough. They're starting to give their top younger players more responsibility, and the older guys who are guiding them can still play the game.
9 Tampa Bay Lightning -
They seemed to, er, bolt out of nowhere last season, but the reality is Tampa Bay's young talent finally put it together. Expect Vinnie Lecavalier and Co. to be even better this season and become a true force in the East.
10 St. Louis Blues -
Chris Osgood might still prove to be their answer in goal, but the big thing here is the return of Chris Pronger, who rejoins Al MacInnis and Barret Jackman to give St. Louis a tough blue line. And forwards Pavol Demitra, Doug Weight and Keith Tkachuk will keep the offense humming.
11 Toronto Maple Leafs -
Joe Nieuwendyk, Ken Klee and Bryan Marchment don't make them any younger, but they'll take care of some glaring deficiencies the Leafs have. Toronto is still a good team, but one that looks like it is built mainly for a good regular-season run.
12 Los Angeles Kings -
With any reasonable amount of health, this team would have made the playoffs last season. The Kings are upgraded from last year with goalie Roman Cechmanek and forwards Jozef Stumpel, Trent Klatt and Luc Robitaille. But they have to avoid injuries.
13 New York Rangers -
If nothing else, the law of averages says they have to get a return at some point for the ridiculous money they spend. Maybe this year. There's better balance on the forward lines and their blue line should be stronger. If coach Glen Sather can get his big stars to buy in, he has the talent to make some noise.
14 Edmonton Oilers -
This team usually finds a way to get to the playoffs, even if it is forced to lose players because of economic considerations every summer. But the Oilers develop their talent well and generally have players to step in. That will be particularly important this year, since their top two centers from last season -- Mike Comrie and Todd Marchant -- aren't there anymore.
15 Minnesota Wild -
If any team in hockey could deal with the loss of its top two scorers, it's Minnesota. Under coach Jacques Lemaire, it has been all about team since the franchise debuted four years ago. The holdouts of Marian Gaborik and Pascal Dupuis sting, but the system won't change, and neither will the work ethic.
16 New York Islanders -
If Michael Peca and Alexei Yashin bounce back, this team has a great 1-2 punch at center, and the top four along the blue line are superb. But there always seems to other issues surrounding the team and causing problems, most of them off the ice. It should be fun for rookie coach Steve Stirling.
17 Washington Capitals -
Jaromir Jagr was reportedly a man on a mission during preseason, which is good news for Caps fans. This team has loads of offensive firepower, and Olaf Kolzig is still a quality goaltender. But there are some very serious issues around the blue line that could haunt Washington.
18 Boston Bruins -
Felix Potvin and Andrew Raycroft may be the answer to their goaltending puzzle, which will make a big difference here. This team is very good up front with Joe Thornton, Glen Murray and Sergei Samsonov providing loads of offensive sizzle, but they've lost players along the blue line, which wasn't their strong suit anyway last year.
19 Buffalo Sabres -
They don't have to worry about bankruptcy any more, and they've made some nice personnel changes since the trade deadline last March. This team is a lot better than it looked last year, when it often wondered if its next game was the franchise's last.
20 Columbus Blue Jackets -
Their record has paled compared to Minnesota, which entered the league at the same time, but the Jackets seem poised to show their biggest single-season improvement this year. Columbus made several key player changes over the summer and expects big things from sophomore Rick Nash on the heels of a fine rookie season.
21 Carolina Hurricanes -
They'll be tougher along the blue line, and if they stay healthy, they'll score a lot more than they did last year. The Hurricanes won't be confused with the team that went to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2002, but they'll be a lot better than last year.
22 Atlanta Thrashers -
The accident involving Dany Heatley and Dan Snyder will hang over them all season. A much-improved Atlanta team looked poised to make a real charge at a playoff spot under coach Bob Hartley, but if Heatley misses the season as expected, they'll be hard-pressed to get there.
23 Calgary Flames -
Darryl Sutter has added the GM duties to his coaching job and will set out to build the Flames in his own mold. That's a good direction for the organization, but it will take time.
24 Chicago Blackhawks -
Chicago thinks it has drafted well the past few years and it will get a chance to find out this season. Several young players, notably Tuomo Ruutu, will be in the lineup, but this team is thinking about the future, not this year.
25 Montreal Canadiens -
Bob Gainey is back in familiar territory as GM of the Habs, but his task is a lot tougher than defending against the league's top scorers during his great playing days in Montreal.
26 Florida Panthers -
GM Rick Dudley brought together the nucleus of the Lightning during his tenure in Tampa Bay and he's developing the Panthers in similar fashion. There are some very good young players in this organization, both on the big club and in the system, but they're not quite ready to make an impact.
27 Phoenix Coyotes -
A lot is riding on the shoulders of goalie Sean Burke. There's some decent talen, but too many holes and not enough goals. Now, maybe if owner Wayne Gretzky decided to pull a Mario Lemieux ...
28 San Jose Sharks -
They were the biggest disappointment in the league last year, so there aren't many expectations surrounding them this year. Good thing.
29 Nashville Predators -
Tomas Vokoun became one of the league's top goalies when he took over the No. 1 job at midseason. But he can't do it alone. In Nashville, he still has to.
30 Pittsburgh Penguins -
Look on the bright side, Mario -- you'll got to the inside track on the No. 1 draft pick again next year.