Last season: Third in the East, won Stanley Cup.
How they’ve changed: In many ways, the champs haven’t. Mark Recchi retired, Tomas Kaberle and Michael Ryder left via free agency, but the Bruins are essentially the same team they were when they won it all last June. The lone newcomers are former Montreal Canadiens forward Benoît Pouliot and offence-first defenceman Joe Corvo who, along with more contributions from the youngsters, should help keep Boston among the contenders.
Training camp decision: How big of a role is sophomore Tyler Seguin ready for after being sheltered as a rookie? At some point, he’ll have a major breakthrough.
Last season: Seventh in the East, lost in first round of playoffs.
How they’ve changed: There’s big money in Buffalo. Buoyed by new ownership, Sabres general manager Darcy Regier became a significant spender in the summer, adding Christian Ehrhoff and Ville Leino on bloated, multiyear deals, and Robyn Regehr via trade. They provide a decent upgrade over Tim Connolly, Steve Montador and Chris Butler, making Buffalo one of the teams to watch in the East.
Training camp decision: The biggest one was how to get under the salary cap, something Regier accomplished this week when he sent more than $5-million (U.S.) in salary (Ales Kotalik and Shaone Morrisonn) to the minors in a first for the organization.
Last season: Sixth in the East, lost in first round.
How they’ve changed: Out are Roman Hamrlik, James Wisniewski, Brent Sopel and Paul Mara on the back end. In are a hopefully healthy Andrei Markov, Josh Gorges and recently signed free agent Chris Campoli. Up front, newcomer Erik Cole adds some size, muscle and the ability to pot 25 goals, but the rest of the improvement will have to come from within.
Training camp decision: How much can they count on Markov? Alarm bells went up when the team brought in Campoli last Monday, and it appears unlikely Markov will be able to play opening night because of continued problems with his surgically repaired right knee. They need him to contend.
Last season: Thirteenth in the East, missed playoffs.
How they’ve changed: The rebuild is definitely in full force. Ottawa’s youth movement is going to make for some painful nights this season, as the only off-season signings of note were tough guy Zenon Konopka and backup goalie Alex Auld. There’s a gaping hole down the middle that’s likely going to be filled by a rookie, making centre ice the biggest of several wild cards this season.
Training camp decision: Who’s ready for the NHL? The Sens have an awful lot of interesting young talent, but who among Mika Zibanejad, Stéphane Da Costa, Bobby Butler and Nikita Filatov can fill a scoring-line role? And can Swedish defenceman David Rundblad be a regular?
Toronto Maple Leafs
Last season: Tenth in the East, missed playoffs.
How they’ve changed: GM Brian Burke was relatively busy in the off-season, adding Tim Connolly, John-Michael Liles, Cody Franson and Matt Lombardi in a bid to finally get his team into the postseason for the first time since 2004. Forward depth is where they should be the most improved, as Tyler Bozak shouldn’t spend many games as Phil Kessel’s centre.
Training camp decision: Where does Nazem Kadri fit in? It won’t be on the top two lines, so can he work as a third-line winger or does someone like last year’s National Collegiate Athletic Association scoring leader Matt Frattin make more sense?