Part 1 of 6: A look at the five teams and how they have changed in the off-season:
New Jersey Devils
Last year: First in division, lost conference quarter-final to Philadelphia.
How they've changed: Prodded by his owner, GM Lou Lamoriello won the Ilya Kovalchuk sweepstakes, so the Devils will have the flashy scorer for the next decade. But at what price? New coach John MacLean has prodigal son Jason Arnott back to go with Kovalchuk plus defence additions Henrik Tallinder and Anton Volchenkov, but Lamoriello has to send some players packing to get under the cap by Oct. 6.
New York Islanders
Last year: Fifth in division, missed playoffs.
How they've changed: Not a bit in one respect. The Islanders are still the NHL's gulag thanks to their ownership situation. They have lost their best defenceman, Mark Streit, and young forward Kyle Okposo to shoulder injuries. GM Garth Snow has made some decent additions like defencemen James Wisniewski and Mark Eaton to go with budding star John Tavares. Goaltender Rick DiPietro might finally be healthy, so the Isles could be less awful.
New York Rangers
Last year: Fourth in division, missed playoffs.
How they've changed: GM Glen Sather had to acknowledge that Wade Redden was the worst free-agent signing in NHL history when he waived the veteran defenceman and sent him to the minors. When that is your most significant off-season move, you know your team is spinning its wheels. The defence is young and talented but the forwards are so-so.
Last year: Third in division, lost Stanley Cup final.
How they've changed: Two costly injuries shortly before the season starts mean goaltender Michael Leighton (back) and forward Ian Laperrière (concussion) are lost for at least a month. For some reason, chronic underachiever Nikolai Zherdev was signed and installed as the third-line right winger.
Last year: Second in division, lost conference semi-final to Montreal.
How they've changed: Sergei Gonchar, the power-play quarterback, is gone, although GM Ray Shero recovered nicely by adding a couple of good two-way defencemen, Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek. Up front, the most significant addition is Mike Comrie, but this cast can easily shake off last spring's playoff upset and get back in the Stanley Cup final.