Last season: Ninth in the Eastern Conference, missed playoffs.
How they’ve changed: The Canes said goodbye to Erik Cole, which hurts their offensive production, and to defenceman Joe Corvo. They added much-needed size up front in wingers Chris Stewart and Alexei Ponikarovsky but both players need to show they can score more consistently. Signing Tomas Kaberle will replace the offence Corvo brought to the defence and it should help the Canes’ mediocre power play. But they are still a team with a good goalie in Cam Ward and a suspect defence.
Training camp decision: Forward Zac Dalpe, 21, bucked the odds and appears to have made the team. The second-round pick in 2008 may also see time on the top line with Eric Staal.
Last season: 15th in the East, missed playoffs.
How they’ve changed: General manager Dale Tallon’s summer spending spree to reach the salary-cap minimum brought in a lot of new faces but it’s tempting to say they’re still the same old Panthers, a perennially mediocre team. This is a high-stakes gamble, though, as an 11th consecutive season out of the playoffs and little fan support could prompt yet another ownership change. Tallon will have exciting rookies Erik Gudbranson and Jonathan Huberdeau but it is veteran newcomers such as defencemen Brian Campbell and Ed Jovanovski, goaltender Jose Theodore and forwards Kris Versteeg, Tomas Fleischman and Sean Bergenheim who will make the difference.
Training camp decision: Can Theodore be a No. 1 goalie after years of so-so work? He must because the loss of the excellent Tomas Vokoun left a big hole in the lineup.
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING
Last season: Fifth in the East, lost conference final to the Boston Bruins.
How they’ve changed: The team that came together quickly last season because of smart moves by GM Steve Yzerman has not changed much. Forwards Simon Gagné and Sean Bergenheim are gone, which may hurt the offence but Teddy Purcell, 26, had a breakthrough season with 51 points and more is expected this season. Winger Steve Downie is also expected to build on the scoring he showed in the playoffs and finally shed his bad-boy image. Steven Stamkos is now the team’s big star, ahead of Vincent Lecavalier but Martin St. Louis remains the heart and soul of the team.
Training camp decision: Backup goalie Mathieu Garon, a relative youngster at 33, has to be sharp because the ageless Dwayne Roloson will soon be 42, and who knows how long he can be the Bolts’ final line of defence.
Last season: First in the East, lost in second round of playoffs.
How they’ve changed: The pundits named GM George McPhee as the executive having the best off-season and now the results need to back that up to prevent the Caps from becoming an Eastern version of the San Jose Sharks, perennial postseason flops. McPhee’s best move was getting goaltender Tomas Vokoun for a modest salary to take the pressure off youngster Michal Neuvirth. The Caps showed a big improvement defensively last season and the additions of forwards Joel Ward and Jeff Halpern will keep them sound in that department. But Alexander Ovechkin has to increase his scoring.
Training camp decision: Former Caps winger Matt Bradley caused a stir by blasting winger Alexander Semin as a slacker. Semin was one of several Caps said to have reported to training camp in excellent condition. The Caps need Semin to prove Bradley wrong.
Last season: 12th in the East as Atlanta Thrashers, missed playoffs.
How they’ve changed: Aside from the obvious, a 2,500-kilometre move north to a full building and a change in management, the Jets are not much different than the Thrashers. No star free agents were signed and the team is looking to several veterans to be more consistent to avoid last season’s collapse from a promising start, although this honeymoon with Winnipeg fans will be a long one. While defence was the big reason for that collapse, the Jets’ problem this season looks to be scoring. Andrew Ladd was their top scorer last season with 59 points, which means Evander Kane, Blake Wheeler and Bryan Little need to offer more support. Someone in that group has to move toward 100 points.
Training camp decision: It must be tempting to keep this year’s first-round pick, forward Mark Scheifele, rather than send him back to junior but the Jets need to look past the preseason scoring and do what is best for his development.