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2016-17 NHL season preview
The NHL season begins Wednesday.

The NHL season begins Wednesday.

AP/CP photos

Everything you need to know about all 30 NHL teams

Summer is over and the NHL regular season is back, starting Wednesday night.

Will P.K. Subban take Nashville by storm? Will Connor McDavid lead the league in scoring? Can Steven Stamkos take the Lightning back to the Cup final? Will Sidney Crosby's concussion keep him out for long?

Below you'll find a detailed preview of the new NHL season and a breakdown of the big storylines to follow for every team, from the Anaheim Ducks to the Vancouver Canucks

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EASTERN CONFERENCE

Carolina Hurricanes

Young Hurricanes look to take another step forward

A young group of quickly maturing defencemen nearly pushed the Carolina Hurricanes into the playoffs last season. Now they're hoping for a similar boost at the other end of the rink.

The Hurricanes' rebuilding project could take another step forward — perhaps even back to the post-season for the first time since 2009 — if their inexperienced forwards can play older than their ages. Among the young new faces who could play key roles on offence are 19-year-old Sebastian Aho and 22-year-old Teuvo Teravainen.

"If they can kind of jump in like those young (defencemen) jumped in," veteran defenceman Ron Hainsey said, "the sky's the limit."

The storyline of last season was how that group of fresh-faced defencemen — led by Brett Pesce, Jaccob Slavin and Noah Hanifin — stepped up while the team continued its patient rebuild and dealt face-of-the-franchise Eric Staal at the trade deadline.

The Hurricanes earned points in 12 of the first 14 games after the deadline to make a push to end the Eastern Conference's longest active post-season drought, but ultimately finished 10 points behind eighth-seeded Philadelphia.

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Carolina hopes all those young legs translate into playing at a faster pace.

"That's the idea — not only (skating speed) but puck speed," veteran forward Jordan Staal said. "Just moving the puck, finding the right guy, working as a unit on the ice, and doing those things makes the game that much faster."

Some things to know about the 2016-17 Carolina Hurricanes:

WELCOME BACK: The Hurricanes will have a familiar look in goal: Cam Ward is staying with the team he led to the Stanley Cup in 2006 after signing a two-year deal worth a total of $6.6 million, $200,000 less than he made in 2015-16. Carolina also brought back 35-year-old Michael Leighton, who played with the Hurricanes from 2007-10, to join Eddie Lack in what's suddenly a crowded goalie's crease.

OVERTIME WOES: Carolina led the league with 16 losses in either overtime or the shootout last season, and their 2-5 record in shootouts was one of the worst in the league. That only underscores the thin line between making and missing the post-season, Hainsey said, because "if seven of those (OT losses) go your way, you're a playoff team."

START FASTER: A big reason for the Hurricanes' playoff drought has been their slow starts. Carolina won just eight of its first 25 games in 2015-16, and the year before was just 10-23-4 in the first three months. The Hurricanes open the season with six straight road games before the home opener Oct. 28 against the New York Rangers, and can't afford to stumble.

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NO CAPTAIN: The Hurricanes did not select a captain to replace Eric Staal after his trade to the Rangers, and the message has been clear: You don't need to wear a letter to be a leader. Defenceman Justin Faulk and Jordan Staal continued to wear the "A" as alternate captains in Eric's absence, and the team is counting on those two, plus Hainsey, former rookie of the year Jeff Skinner and new addition Lee Stempniak to lead either vocally or by example.

– Joedy McCreary, The Associated Press

Columbus Blue Jackets

'Embarrassed' Blue Jackets want to improve on dismal season

The Columbus Blue Jackets players and bosses don't believe lack of talent was to blame for last year's disappointing — and admittedly embarrassing — season.

Thus, there were no headline-making deals for the Blue Jackets in the off-season, which probably was due partly to their expensive existing contracts. But it also signals that this team has confidence in its young talent and expects success will come soon. How soon is anybody's guess.

Columbus was considered a playoff contender in the pre-season last year but started 0-7, leading to the ouster of coach Todd Richards and the hiring of John Tortorella, who couldn't quite get the train back in the tracks. The Blue Jackets had to win four out of the last five games just to finish 34-40-8.

Only three teams in the NHL were worse. The Blue Jackets missed the playoffs for the 13th time in the team's 15 seasons.

"We're embarrassed, no question about it," team president John Davidson said. "We had expectations, we didn't meet them. We really got into a rut early in the season, for whatever reason. But this is a chance for all of us to get back on the horse and prove that this is a good group of players."

Things to watch for from Columbus this season:

BRIGHT SPOTS: Davidson believes the Blue Jackets have built a good core of talent, starting with a pair of 23-year-old forwards, Brandon Saad and Boone Jenner. Last year Saad scored 31 goals, and Jenner netted 30 — the first time a pair of Blue Jackets players contributed 30 goals in a season. Saad signed a six-year, $36-million contract before last season, and Jenner inked an extension that locks him up through the 2017-18 season.

Veteran forwards Nick Foligno, Brandon Dubinsky, Cam Atkinson and Scott Hartnell are proven scorers. Seth Jones and Ryan Murray, a former No. 2 overall draft pick under contract through next season, are an explosive defensive duo.

"I think that's a good challenge for us right now, to prove ourselves again," Jenner said. "We're ready. I think we're a hungry group."

CAPTAIN, MY CAPTAIN: The Blue Jackets need a much better year from team captain Foligno, one of the highest paid players. A 28-year-old left wing, Foligno had 12 goals and 37 points, a disappointing result after posting 31 goals and 73 points the previous season.

"I did a lot of self-reflecting," Foligno said just before training camp. "I think I didn't play to my characteristics, my attributes, and I think you can probably say that about 95 per cent of our team. I think last year was a huge reflecting point for all of us, to come in this year and know what it's going to take. Because nobody wants to go through what we went through last year."

WHAT'S UP WITH BOB?: The fortunes of the Blue Jackets will turn also on the play of goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, who was hampered by a groin injury last year that limited him to 37 games and just 15 wins. Davidson said Bobrovsky, the team's franchise player, is healthy and is "moving like a cat right now." He showed he's back by playing brilliantly for Russia in the World Cup of Hockey last month. Having him fully healthy will be a huge boost.

YOUNG GUNS READY?: Don't be surprised to see some new, fresh faces on the ice for Columbus. A handful of players from the deep pool of talent that helped the AHL Lake Erie Monsters win the Calder Cup are believed to be ready to contribute in the NHL — including forwards Sonny Milano, Josh Anderson and Oliver Bjorkstrand, and defenceman Zach Weresnki, as well as forward Pierre-Luc Dubois, the No. 3 overall pick in June's draft.

"I'm going to bring up the young guys," Davidson said. "They're going to push. Whether they're going to get there this season or out of camp, I don't know. We'll watch. They're going to push, and that's a good thing."

– Mitch Stacy, The Associated Press

New Jersey Devils

John Hynes has more speed and Taylor Hall for second season

In taking over the New Jersey Devils last season, John Hynes wanted a team that skated fast and played with discipline and intensity.

Play fast, and be hard to play against. It was hockey 101 as taught by the NHL's youngest coach.

The Devils improved six points in Hynes' first season and challenged for a playoff spot for much of the season.

The system was similar to what Mike Sullivan installed when he took over the Pittsburgh Penguins in December and led them to the Stanley Cup. Sullivan had replaced Hynes at the coach Wilkes-Barre/Scranton after he got the Devils' job.

The 42-year-old Hynes more to work with in his second season, both talent and speed.

Thirty-goal scorers Kyle Palmieri and Adam Henrique are back. So is All-Star goaltender Cory Schneider.

The biggest addition is Taylor Hall. The 24-year-old left wing was acquired from Edmonton for defenceman Adam Larsson just before free agency started.

Hall gives the Devils the type of top-notch scorer they have not had since Zach Parise left for Minnesota after the 2011-12 season and Ilya Kovalchuk retired and returned to Russia the following year.

"You see at the pace at which he plays the game is almost at another level," Schneider said of Taylor. "Again, you don't want to put everything squarely on him to kind of create offence. I think he will."

Hynes has seen Hall's offensive skills in every preseason game. He also knows that hockey is a team game.

"We want him to play his game within what we are trying to do," Hynes said. "At the same time it's not all about the pressure for him to score. He needs to have a strong group to play with that can assist."

If the Devils are to get to the playoffs for the first time in five seasons, here are things to watch:

REPLACING LARSSON: To get Hall, the Devils parted with one of their top defenceman. Larsson and captain Andy Greene were the team's top pair and they matched against the opposition's top line whenever possible.

Former Penguin Ben Lovejoy was signed as a free agent and he has a chance to step in with Greene. He can blocks shots and kill penalties. The other option would be Damon Severson.

KYLE AND ADAM: Palmieri and Henrique had careers seasons with 30 goals last season. The question now is can they do it two years in a row. The other unknown in the offensive game is Mike Cammalleri. He had 14 goals in 42 games before being sidelined for the season with injuries to his right wrist and hand. He's 34-year-old now so coming back from injuries will be tougher.

ZACHA: Pavel Zacha was the Devils' top draft pick in 2015. The centre got his first taste of the NHL late in the season and he looked good. He has played well in the preseason but the organization must decide whether to have him play limited minutes in the NHL or to send him to Albany for extensive playing time in the AHL. He is probably good enough to stay.

SURPRISES: The biggest surprise of training camp might be defenceman Yohann Auvita. The 27-year-old Frenchman was signed to a one-year, two-way contract by the Devils in May after playing most of his professional career in Finland. His offensive skills have reminded some of former Devils defenceman Brian Rafalski. He works hard but has to learn how to play in the NHL's smaller rinks.

ANOTHER PENGUIN: Hynes and general manager Ray Shero have had a habit of bringing in former Penguins. Last year is was Bobby Farnham, David Warsofsky and Tyler Kennedy. The former Penguins this year are Lovejoy and Beau Bennett, who were signed as free agents.

– Tom Canavan, The Associated Press

New York Islanders

Islanders look to keep improving after two 100-point seasons

After taking another big step forward with their second straight 100-point season and the franchise's first playoff series win since 1993, the New York Islanders hope to keep up their improved play.

The Islanders overcame injuries down the stretch last season to earn a playoff berth for the second straight year, and third in the past four. New York then advanced to the second round before losing to Tampa Bay in five games.

Now, the Islanders are focused on going further this season.

"We've made the playoffs two years in a row and obviously want to get the third year and do better," defenceman Johnny Boychuk said. "Every time you make the playoffs you have to use it as an experience. Take away from it what you can and learn from it, push forward and try to get better."

That quest will be undertaken by a slightly different group after some off-season changes. Longtime stars Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen and Matt Martin left via free agency and were replaced by newcomers Andrew Ladd and Jason Chimera, and the return of P.A. Parenteau for a second stint with the team.

Ladd, 31, is a two-time Stanley Cup winner has scored at least 46 points in seven of the last eight seasons. Chimera, 37, reached 39 in three of the last five years, and the 33-year-old Parenteau scored fewer than 33 just once in the last six seasons.

Led by star centre John Tavares, the Islanders' returning core has just one player over 30 — the 32-year-old Boychuk. That's something that appealed to Ladd.

"It's a younger group that can be good for a long time," Ladd said. "So that's exciting for me to come in and be involved in that. Now it's our job to take that on-ice product to the next level."

After enduring distractions the last two years with their last season at the Nassau Coliseum and then their adjustment to the Barclays Center a year ago, the Islanders' focus is now simply on playing.

Some other things to know as they head into their second season in Brooklyn:

SETTING UP LINES: Tavares, just joining the team after helping Canada win the World Cup last week, will likely be teamed up with Ladd and Parenteau on the first line. The rest of the lines could be a work in progress through the end of the preseason and into the season. Cal Clutterbuck and Casey Cizikas, who were on the vaunted fourth line with Martin for several seasons, were teamed up with Nikolay Kulemin last week after the Russian joined the team following his play in the World Cup.

WHO'S IN GOAL?: The Islanders go into the season with the strong goaltending duo of Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss. Halak went 38-17-4 with a 2.43 goals-against average for the Islanders in 2014-15, and mostly shared the net with Greiss until he was injured March 8. Greiss then took over from there and was key in the first-round series win against Florida. Halak is healthy now and was brilliant for Europe in its run to the World Cup finals. Capuano liked using the two nearly evenly last year and could go with the same approach again.

TOUGH DIVISION: The Metropolitan Division features defending champion Pittsburgh and Presidents' Trophy-winning Washington, as well as both of the conference's wild-card teams from last season — giving the division five of the East's eight playoff teams. "It's good playing against stiff competition for the 60 per cent of the games that are divisional games," Clutterbuck said. "It gets you prepared for the (playoffs) and that's what you want."

HOME ICE: The Islanders made themselves right at home in Brooklyn last season, going 25-11-5 to get 25 home wins for the second straight year. They'll be looking to keep up that strong play on home ice again, especially with 10 of their first 13 games at Barclays Center. That stretch includes eight games against last season's playoff teams. "We got some big games early on," defenceman Travis Hamonic said. "You want to get off to a good start and just get the ball rolling off the bat."

DEFENSIVE DEPTH: Hamonic, Boychuk, Nick Leddy, Thomas Hickey and Calvin de Haan are the established stalwarts on the blue line. Dennis Seidenberg, bought out by Boston in the off-season, was signed to a one-year deal last week. The 35-year-old can play both sides and is reunited with former Bruins teammate Johnny Boychuk. Adding Seidenberg, who was also on Europe's World Cup team, likely results in two of the three between Scott Mayfield, Adam Pelech and Ryan Pulock will start the season in Bridgeport.

– Vin A. Cherwoo, The Associated Press

New York Rangers

After short playoff run, Rangers stick with veteran core

After two deep playoff runs, the New York Rangers'$2 2016 post-season fizzled out quickly.

Eventual champion Pittsburgh dispatched them in five games in the first round, the last two by a combined score of 11-3.

"Now, obviously, there is going to be some changes," coach Alain Vigneault said a few days later. "There are still some very good pieces. We have to decide in which direction we're going to take."

The direction he and general manager Jeff Gorton wound up deciding to take was mostly to give it another go with those good pieces. The changes over the off-season came mostly around the edges of the roster.

The big move was a trade of centres, sending Derick Brassard to Ottawa for Mika Zibanejad, who is quite a bit younger — and cheaper.

Veterans Dan Girardi, Rick Nash and Marc Staal are back after disappointing seasons, and the greatest change in 2016-17 could simply come from any or all of them recapturing their previous form.

Henrik Lundqvist will turn 35 during the season. The Rangers will give their returning core at least one more chance at a title in front of the 2012 Vezina Trophy winner before the window closes.

"The hunger for the game and to compete is, I think, the same," Lundqvist said during the World Cup of Hockey as he thought back to the start of his Rangers career.

Along with Zibanejad, New York's most notable additions were also younger players. Some members of the Rangers' youth movement to watch:

JIMMY VESEY: The Hobey Baker winner as college hockey's top player, Vesey chose to pursue free agency after his senior season at Harvard instead of signing with Nashville, which drafted him 66th overall in 2012.

Vesey picked the Rangers over seven other finalists in August.

"It seemed that they really needed to have me in their lineup," he said at the time.

The 23-year-old forward had 24 goals and 22 assists in 33 games for Harvard last season.

ZIBANEJAD: Zibanejad is also 23 and already has two 20-goal seasons in the NHL. He set career highs with 21 goals and 30 assists in 81 games for the Senators last season.

Brassard, who just turned 29, had a career-high 27 goals last season.

"I think the potential is there for more upside," Gorton said of Zibanejad. "He is just scratching the surface at age 23. There are not a lot of guys who have done what he has done as far as scored 20 before that age."

PAVEL AND PIRRI: Pavel Buchnevich, a 21-year-old Russian left wing who was a 2013 third-round draft pick, is looking to prove he's ready to make an NHL roster. Brandon Pirri, a 25-year-old centre, had a career-high 29 points last season but has already been traded twice in his career. The Rangers signed him to a $1.1 million, one-year deal from Anaheim.

J.T. MILLER: The Rangers also kept one of their own, signing restricted free agent forward J.T. Miller to a $5.5 million, two-year deal. Another 23-year-old, Miller had 22 goals and 21 assists, both career highs, last season.

"I don't want to be satisfied on one pretty good year," he said.

– Rachel Cohen, The Associated Press

Philadelphia Flyers

Flyers would love reason to celebrate in 50th year

The Philadelphia Flyers are ready to celebrate the Big 5-0.

It's a golden anniversary for the orange-and-black and the Flyers plan a yearlong celebration of their history.

Former Flyers stars will play an alumni game against retired rivals from the Pittsburgh Penguins. There's a new book packed with history and promotional nights sprinkled through the schedule honouring Philly's greatest captains, tough guys, goalies and playoff stars.

The Flyers even underwent a cosmetic makeover, producing special 50th anniversary jerseys and hanging new banners commemorating division, conference and Stanley Cup championships in the rafters of the Wells Fargo Center.

But will the Flyers add a new one in the 51st year in honour of this season?

The Flyers made a surprising playoff run in coach Dave Hakstol's first season, who seemed as smooth on the bench of an NHL franchise as he was as one of the great college coaches at North Dakota.

Shayne Gostisbehere emerged as one of the top rookies and Claude Giroux, Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn handled the bulk of the goal scoring. Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth were steady in net. And the Flyers built on their one-and-done postreason run by … doing nothing.

Flyers general manager Ron Hextall had a quiet summer, a sign perhaps, that he expects the team to stay steady simply by having his core roster get better. The Flyers expect Jakub Voracek to bounce back after he tailed off following a breakthrough season; and there's a chance that 19-year-old prized prospects Ivan Provorov (defenceman) and Travis Konecny (forward) could make the opening night roster.

"Those guys have done a good job throughout camp," Hakstol said. "It's not a single night evaluation but every evaluation and every game is important. They along with a lot of others in that room have are doing their job and making decisions difficult."

Also difficult, the Flyers will play their first season without founder and owner Ed Snider. Snider died of cancer in April and his presence had been the one franchise fixture from the expansion years, the Broad Street Bullies era, the Legion of Doom and every run at the Stanley Cup.

Neuvirth had the image of the respected owner painted on his goalie helmet .

"He is pretty special within our locker room and every player is going to pay tribute in their own way," Hakstol said.

The Flyers should be playoff bound but are likely looking at another empty season without a Stanley Cup championship.

Here are some other things to know about this season's Philadelphia Flyers:

THAT DROUGHT: The Stanley Cup drought is one of the longest in the league: The Flyers haven't a championship since back-to-back Cups in 1974 and 1975.

The Flyers were the hit of the NHL in the 1970s thanks to those hard-hitting Broad Street Bullies. Led by Hall of Famers Bobby Clarke and Bill Barber, the Flyers were Stanley Cup regulars and seemed poised to build a dynasty.

The only thing the franchise has a built is a loyal, yet frustrated, fanbase wondering if the orange-and-black will ever celebrate with a championship parade again through the heart of Philadelphia.

The Flyers have been close — real close: Philadelphia lost in the Stanley Cup finals in 1976, 1980, 1985, 1987, 1997 and 2010.

NEW KIDS IN TOWN: Provorov and Konecny hope to turn sensational preseasons into spots on the roster.

Hextall is a patient GM and he won't put them on the roster with the idea of sending them back to the minors in a month. Provorov said he's felt comfortable in camp. Konecny has impressed his veteran teammates by playing like one in preseason games.

"He's not a big guy but he's not afraid to go into the dirty areas," Flyers forward Sean Couturier said. "He wasn't afraid to share his thoughts on the bench of what he could see out there and what he could tell us. He wants to learn and to get better and that's all you can ask from a young guy."

WHO'S NO. 1: Mason was the clear No. 1 entering last season and won 23 games to help the Flyers reach the playoffs.

But he never recovered from the 101-foot goal allowed in a Game 2 playoff loss at Washington that was replayed on an endless loop in Philadelphia.

Neuvirth stepped in and won two straight games, including a whopping a 44-save effort in a Game 5 shutout win. He stopped 103 of 105 shots in only three games.

Both goalies can become unrestricted free agents in July.

GHOST BUSTER OR BOON: Gostisbehere might have won rookie of the year had he played a full season. But 17 goals and 46 points in only 64 games made quite an impression on the Flyers and the rest of the league. He was the Flyers' top defenceman and he set a team rookie record for goals scored by a defenceman. The Flyers were 5-8-3 when he was promoted, and with his "Ghost" nickname name and instant hot streak, he was an immediate fan favourite.

"I didn't think I was going to make such an impact the way I did," he said.

Can he do it again?

– Dan Gelston, The Associated Press

Pittsburgh Penguins

Penguins trying to keep edge in bid for Cup repeat

Matt Cullen is well aware of the Stanley Cup hangover. The longtime NHL forward helped the Carolina Hurricanes raise the trophy in joy in the spring of 2006 and watched from afar after signing with the New York Rangers while his former teammates missed the post-season completely the following season.

The trappings of success — and the considerable emotional and physical toll it takes to get to the top — make sustaining it all the more difficult.

Yet the 39-year-old Cullen is back for another run with the Pittsburgh Penguins anyway, returning for a 19th season in part because he still loves the game and in part because he doesn't see the edge the team carried on its way to the franchise's fourth Cup has dulled in the slightest. The proof came in the form of a three-on-three drill during a training camp practice that Cullen likened to a playoff atmosphere, even with the post-season still more than six months away.

"It would be easy to come in and have a bit of a lackadaisical camp and feel good about what you did last year," Cullen said. "But I think guys have done a good job of turning the page."

Penguins star Sidney Crosby, meanwhile, says he's going to take recovery from his latest concussion "day by day" but isn't concerned about it affecting his health over the long term.

Crosby was diagnosed with a concussion on Saturday after he said he "tangled" with a teammate during practice on Friday. The two-time NHL MVP was back on the ice Tuesday morning, skating with other injured teammates before the rest of the Penguins gathered for a workout.

Crosby, who missed the better part of two seasons while dealing with a concussion sustained in January, 2011, said he woke up with a headache on Saturday morning and then reached out to team trainers. He added he's "comfortable" with the concussion protocol.

The Penguins open the season on Thursday night at home against Washington.

The only notable departures during the off-season were oft-injured forward Beau Bennett and veteran defenceman Ben Lovejoy. Almost all of the free-agent deals they struck were of the two-way variety for players who will be asked to fill when the regulars get banged up. Regardless of who is out there, the task will be the same as it was since the day Sullivan took over: play fast, play aggressive and never stop working.

"I think we have a courageous group," Sullivan said. "For me the best kind of toughness is the type of toughness that doesn't allow your opponents to deter you from your game and what I've admired about our group was the focus of determination to play our game and not somebody else's."

Some things to look for as Pittsburgh tries to become the first team in nearly 20 years to repeat.

GOALTENDING QUANDRY: At some point the Penguins are going to have to decide who their No. 1 goaltender is after rookie Matt Murray played so solidly during the post-season after Marc-Andre Fleury went down with a concussion on the eve of the playoffs. Sullivan as committed to splitting the playing time fairly evenly, though Fleury will get the majority of the reps early as Murray recovers from a broken hand.

Both players insist they're fine with whatever role they're assigned and if they weren't, it's not like general manager Jim Rutherford particularly cares.

"I'm happy we have two good goalies regardless of whether they have injuries or not," Rutherford said.

REUNION TOUR: The "HBK" line of Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino and Phil Kessel was Pittsburgh's most dynamic during the playoffs, combining for 56 points. Kessel led the way (12 goals, 10 assists) to exorcise some of the demons from his tumultuous time in Toronto. In the smooth skating Hagelin and the savvy Bonino, Kessel found ideal running mates. While replicating that level of production will be difficult over the course of an 82-game season, it's a pretty sweet starting point.

YOUNG D: One of the reasons the Penguins let Lovejoy walk is because of a surplus of talent along the blue line, including 22-year-old Derrick Pouliot. The former first-round pick is still trying to put it all together after spending the last two years bouncing between the NHL and the minors. Sullivan has impressed upon Pouliot the importance of making the simple play instead of the hard one, a differentiation that Pouliot has often struggled with. The Penguins have paired him with Trevor Daley at times in the preseason in hopes Daley's intelligent approach will rub off.

– Will Graves, The Associated Press

Washington Capitals

Uncertainty looms as Caps take another shot at Stanley Cup

Barring a complete collapse, nothing the Washington Capitals do from the time the puck drops on the 2016-17 season until April will mean much of anything in the long run.

Over the past nine seasons, there have been plenty of trophies: three for Alex Ovechkin as MVP and six for the most goals, one for Braden Holtby as top goaltender, one each for Bruce Boudreau and Barry Trotz as coach of the year and two Presidents' Trophies for the team having the most points in the regular season. Eight times the Capitals have made the playoffs and eight times they've failed to make it past the second round.

The Stanley Cup is still very much within reach, especially with Ovechkin, Holtby and centres Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov in the prime of their careers. But with key players Karl Alzner, Justin Williams and T.J. Oshie eligible for unrestricted free agency next summer, the salary cap hanging over their heads and the uncertainty that follows, this is arguably the Capitals' last, best chance to win the championship they looked to be building toward for more than a decade.

"When you get older, then the more think about that a little more," Alzner said. "I would love to just win so you can stop worrying about getting that win."

Last spring, after dominating the NHL for 82 games, the Capitals beat the Philadelphia Flyers in the first round before falling in six games to the eventual Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. Ovechkin, who just turned 31 and has led the league in goals for four consecutive seasons, brushed it off as, "Last year is last year," though the sting of that loss stuck with players through the summer.

Back at the rink for training camp, it was hard to deny a desire to fast-forward several months. But another first-in-the-NHL finish guarantees nothing, as the Capitals know all too well.

"It'd be nice to just jump back into June or May and say, 'OK, let's have another crack at it,' but that's not the way it works," right winger Tom Wilson said. "The tough part is the 82-game season: getting yourself into the position to have success, and then when you're there, to have success at the right time."

After the Capitals played their best hockey early and midseason and the Penguins hit their stride for the stretch run and the playoffs, centre Jay Beagle thought a lot about peaking at the right time. If he and his teammates learned any lesson from last season it's that they need to be at their best at playoff time, something that hasn't been the case so far.

"The playoffs is about scoring big goals at big times," said Williams, who won the Cup twice with the Los Angeles Kings. "The margin of error's very small. You don't want to be asking yourself why things didn't go right. … You want to be asking yourself why it went right. We have a chip on our shoulder and we have a point to prove to everybody."

Here are some other things to watch with the Capitals this season:

HOLT-BEAST MODE: Holtby, the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, started 66 games last season and 72 in 2014-15. Expect him to play less and backup Philipp Grubauer more as Trotz, goalie coach Mitch Korn and the Capitals reduce Holtby's workload so he peaks for the playoffs like the New York Rangers did with Henrik Lundqvist a few years ago.

CONSISTENT KUZNETSOV: Even though he led Washington with 77 points and was an All-Star, Kuznetsov had just one goal and 12 assists in his final 31 games, including the playoffs, and must show better endurance over a long season. The 24-year-old Russian is due a big raise as a restricted free agent and can prove he's an elite player.

BLUE LINE DEPTH: Alzner, John Carlson and Matt Niskanen are Washington's top three defencemen and then there's a drop off. Brooks Orpik is 36 and better in a third-pairing role, so the Capitals may count on Dmitry Orlov making the leap and taking on more responsibilities.

NOTHING REGULAR: Backstrom chaffed at Presidents' Trophy talk late last season after winning it in 2009 preceded a first-round exit. After winning it again last year, it's not like the Capitals want to lose more games, but the balance between going hard in the regular season and pacing themselves warrants monitoring to see how it affects their place in the standings.

ELLER, ELLER, ELLER: Acquiring Lars Eller from Montreal gives Washington a solid third-line centre behind Backstrom and Kuznetsov and could make it look more like Pittsburgh's top-nine forward group. The Capitals didn't copycat the Penguins in many ways, but they want to have three scoring lines, and Eller is a big key to that happening.

– Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press

Boston Bruins

Bruins are hoping defence will lead return to playoffs

The Boston Bruins last season failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs for the second straight season, and it was obvious that defence was their weakness.

The Bruins have seven defencemen under NHL contracts who played for them last season, led by captain Zdeno Chara. Only Dennis Seidenberg, who was bought out over the summer, is not back. Without an overhaul of the personnel, the Bruins are hoping a faster pace will help turn things around.

"The game evolves and we're going to evolve with it," said coach Claude Julien, whose team finished fifth in scoring (2.88 goals per game) but ranked 20th in goals allowed (2.78 per game). "So I think we have the ability to make our 'D' corps better this year with our play, and that's where we're going to start."

General manager Don Sweeney said the play is to be aggressive and spend as much time in the other team's end as possible.

"It's a mindset of the players to play that way," he said. "I think the players would like to play that way and dictate, rather than being on sort of a retreat mentality."

Some things to know about the 2016-17 Boston Bruins:

MARCHAND MOMENTUM: Left wing Brad Marchand followed up his career-best 37-goal season last season by lighting up the World Cup of Hockey 2016 in September with a tournament-best five goals in six games. He also scored the game-winning short-handed goal in the final minute of Team Canada's clinching victory in the second game of the best-of-three final against Team Europe.

Marchand signed an eight-year, $49 million contract, which will keep him from testing unrestricted free agency next summer. Eighteen of his 37 goals last season gave the Bruins a lead.

WELCOME BACKES: After 10 seasons with the St. Louis Blues, including five as their captain, David Backes joined the Bruins as an unrestricted free agent by signing a five-year, $30 million contract July 1. Backes has scored more than 20 goals six times in his career, but the Bruins are also hoping he can take some of the defensive load off three-time Selke Trophy winner Patrice Bergeron and provide a vocal leader in the dressing room.

RASK GETS HELP: The Bruins struggled to find a backup for goaltender Tuukka Rask they could trust the past two seasons. The result was Rask playing 134 games the past two seasons, third among all NHL goaltenders in that span. Despite the workload and a tough start last season, Rask produced a respectable 2.56 goals-against average and .915 save percentage.

But the return of the Anton Khudobin, who played for the Bruins 2011-13, should provide Rask with enough rest to be at his best more often in 2016-17.

"I thought he played well for us, did a great job as a second goaltender … and I think he won us some big games," Julien said.

COACHING STAFF SHUFFLE: Sweeney took a little time after the Bruins missed the playoffs last season to decide what to do with his coaching staff. Sweeney and Julien mutually decided Julien should return for a 10th season.

However, the Bruins' winningest coach (393-223-88) has new assistants: Bruce Cassidy, formerly coach of the Providence Bruins of the AHL, and Jay Pandolfo, who moves down from the front office, becoming assistant coaches replace Doug Houda and Doug Jarvis.

PRACTICING IN LUXURY: The start of Bruins training camp marked the opening of the state-of-the-art Warrior Ice Arena, Boston's new practice facility, in the Brighton neighbourhood. The Bruins, who now have a seven-mile commute from TD Garden, trained for more than two decades in the suburb of Wilmington. The new facility provides the Bruins with a larger and more modern workout room, workout equipment, trainer's room and players' lounge - all which the team hopes will make the Bruins a destination and will better foster team camaraderie.

"I would envision that they're probably hanging out a little bit more," Bruins president Cam Neely said.

– Matt Kalman, The Associated Press

Buffalo Sabres

Sabres seek to continue climb toward respectability

Encouraging as it might appear, Sabres general manager Tim Murray isn't overly impressed by the big jump Buffalo made in the standings last year.

Going from rock bottom to respectability isn't considered a mean feat when taking into account Buffalo still finished 23rd despite a 12-win and 27-point improvement. It's not as if the Sabres could have been much worse after finishing last in each of the previous two seasons.

"We should be getting better," Murray told The Associated Press. "When we stop getting better, then we've done something wrong."

The hard part now is for the Sabres to evolve another step and start resembling contenders to end a five-season playoff drought — the longest in franchise history.

"It doesn't happen overnight," Murray said. "We think we're much improved from last season. But we have to prove that on the ice. We'll see."

After spending his first 18 months gutting Buffalo's high-priced, aging roster to rebuild the team from scratch, Murray is placing his faith in the young lineup that began showing signs of promise last season.

Forward Ryan O'Reilly emerged as an on- and off-ice leader in his first season after being acquired in a trade from Colorado. And the Sabres young crop of draft picks made an immediate impact with Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart combining for 47 goals 98 points.

Murray raised expectations by making two significant off-season additions by signing forward Kyle Okposo to a seven-year, $42 million contract, and acquired defenceman Dmitry Kulikov in a trade with Florida.

"That gives you a boost of energy, excitement with some of the high-quality players that we brought in," defenceman Josh Gorges said. "We expect a lot of big things out of our group."

The Sabres' confidence is bolstered by how the team began jelling in the second half last season, its first under coach Dan Bylsma. After opening 19-26-4, Buffalo closed 16-10-7.

Kulikov had no reservations being traded to Buffalo after seeing the team improve last year.

"I feel like all the pieces are in place right now" said Kulikov, who went through a few rebuilding phases during his first seven seasons in Florida. "When you're talking rebuild, I don't think it's about our team. I think our team has already passed that point. And we need to show it and get off to a good start."

A number of things to watch out for as the Sabres prepare to open the season hosting Montreal on Oct. 13:

ROCKIN' ROBIN: Goalie Robin Lehner is ready to establish himself as a bona fide starter now that he's healthy after two injury-shortened seasons. Acquired for a first-round draft pick from Ottawa in June 2015, Lehner's first year in Buffalo was sidetracked 30 minutes into the season opener when he hurt his left ankle.

He went 5-9-5 in 21 games, and his previous season in Ottawa was shortened because of a concussion.

Lehner spent the summer working out and was notably slimmer upon reporting for training camp.

"It doesn't matter how good of a summer I've had, I've got to go out and perform," Lehner said. "I know what I can do. I'm not eager to prove anyone wrong or right."

ENNIS RETURNS: Tyler Ennis is eager to return after missing the final four months of the season sidelined by a concussion. Entering his eighth season in Buffalo, the speedy, diminutive forward is the team's longest serving active player. He's a three-time 20-goal-scorer who is being counted upon to fill a top-six role.

AT AN IMPASSE: Defenceman Rasmus Ristolainen remains unsigned . He's a restricted free agent and coming off a season in which he led Buffalo in averaging more than 25 minutes of ice time, and led the team's defencemen with 41 points (nine goals, 32 assists).

In a sign of good faith, Ristolainen reported to training camp last week after representing Finland at the World Cup of Hockey. Though pleased to have Ristolainen on the ice practicing, Murray doubted his presence in Buffalo would speed up contract talks.

KANE WATCH: Forward Evander Kane is coming off a tumultuous off-season. He faces numerous charges for allegedly grabbing three women by the hair and neck in separate instances during an altercation at a downtown Buffalo bar in June. The 25-year-old is also being sued by a 21-year-old woman claiming he seriously injured her during an attack in his hotel room in December.

ROOMIES: Eichel and Reinhart have decided to move in together after establishing an on- and off-ice bond last year. "We room together on the road as well, so we're pretty familiar with each other," Reinhart said. Eichel spent his rookie season living with forward Matt Moulson and his family.

– John Wawrow, The Associated Press

Detroit Red Wings

Red Wings start season without Datsyuk, new faces

Pavel Datsyuk is not skating with the Detroit Red Wings at the start of a season for the first time since 2000.

With newcomers such as Frans Nielsen, the Red Wings hope they finish well enough to earn a 26th consecutive post-season appearance.

"We do not have a Pavel Datsyuk or Henrik Zetterberg in his prime," general manager Ken Holland said Monday. "We're going to have to generate offence by committee, rolling four lines and getting something out of each one."

The Red Wings are paying Nielsen $31.5 million over six years to play a key part in their plans to recover from the loss of Datsyuk, who left the NHL to return to Russia to continue his career near his family. Datsyuk had $7.5 million and one year left on his contract, but the Red Wings got salary-cap relief by technically trading him to Arizona last summer even though the dazzling centre won't play for the Coyotes.

Nielsen, a 32-year-old centre from Denmark, had 119 goals and 349 points with the New York Islanders since making his debut with them during the 2006-07 season.

"We added the best centre we could last summer," Holland said. "He's a good, two-way player, who historically has been able to chip in about 50 points a season."

Nielsen prides himself on being able to help on defence as much as offence, saying he has patterned his game after Zetterberg.

"I always looked up to a guy like Zetterberg," Nielsen said while playing for Team Europe in the World Cup of Hockey. "But I never had a guy like that on my team."

Here are some other things to watch for from the Red Wings, who begin the regular season Oct. 13 at Tampa Bay:

COMEBACK CHANCE: The Red Wings signed winger Thomas Vanek to a one-year, $2.6 million deal in free agency shortly after the Minnesota Wild bought out the last year of his three-year, $19.5 million deal. Vanek had a career-low 18 goals last season, his second in Minnesota, after scoring 40-plus goals twice and 30-plus goals in two other seasons.

It sounds like the 32-year-old Vanek is very fired up to prove he can still score.

"I'm going to get a chance to go to the front of the net more than I did the past two years," Vanek said.

YOUTH MOVEMENT: Detroit got a much-needed and relatively unexpected boost last season when rookie Dylan Larkin had 23 goals and 22 assists. The franchise needs the 20-year-old to avoid a sophomore slump.

"Last year, he came in with very little expectations and he had 45 points and everybody said he had a great year," coach Jeff Blashill said. "Now the expectations go through the roof and all of a sudden he might have a real similar year and people are disappointed."

The Red Wings also must get production from 24-and-younger players such as Andreas Athanasiou, Anthony Mantha, Riley Sheahan, Alexey Marchenko and Tomas Jurco.

INJURY WATCH: Zetterberg and a fellow Swede, defenceman Niklas Kronwall, chose not to play for their country in the World Cup of Hockey because they're recovering from knee injuries. Both were skating early in the preseason, hoping to slowly but surely get healthy enough to play.

"We'd love to have them both ready for Game 1, but it is an 82-game marathon," Holland said. "Henrik hurt his knee warming up for the World Cup. For Niklas, he has degenerative problem that he's trying to manage."

Jurco is recovering from back surgery and likely will stay out of the lineup until November.

BETWEEN THE PIPES: Petr Mrazek goes into the season as the No. 1 goaltender after beating out Jimmy Howard for the job.

"He was one of the league's top goaltenders until February last year when the wheels came off," Holland said. "We're hoping that experience is beneficial for him."

COACHING CHANGES: Blashill, entering his second season, has a revamped staff. John Torchetti, former interim coach of the Wild, and Doug Houda were hired as assistant coaches. Goaltender coach Jeff Salajko was added to replace Jim Bedard, who had worked for the franchise for 18 seasons.

– Larry Lage, The Associated Press

Florida Panthers

In Florida, there's an expectation to win big, finally

Here's an example of how far Florida has come: At a game late last season, the Panthers were penalized twice because their home fans were overly exuberant.

That wasn't possible a couple years ago.

The Panthers were one of the NHL's surprises last year, winning the Atlantic Division — only two years after finishing a staggering 51 points back in the division race — and putting together the best regular season in franchise history. Now they have the look of a full-fledged contender, with expectations higher than they've been in two decades.

"We achieved a lot of goals," Panthers forward Reilly Smith said. "Making the playoffs was a big goal for us. Finishing first in our division was another big goal. There's still that big one at the end of the tunnel that we didn't come close enough to, but we'd like to get back there and we definitely have enough skill in our dressing room to get us back to that point."

The Panthers expect to have a lot of that skill in Florida colours for years to come.

Florida has no fewer than 10 players under contract for at least the next four seasons, including its young core — Aleksander Barkov, Aaron Ekblad, Jonathan Huberdeau, Nick Bjugstad, Vincent Trocheck and Smith. The Panthers also added defenceman Keith Yandle in the off-season, part of some big changes on the blue line, and got goaltender Roberto Luongo a very strong backup in James Reimer.

And of course, the Panthers still have Jaromir Jagr.

He led the team in scoring last season, at the age of 44. He enters this season 20 points away from passing Mark Messier for No. 2 on the NHL's all-time list — behind only Wayne Gretzky, who is still about 1,000 points ahead of anyone else.

Jagr thinks it was a very positive sign for the Panthers to keep their core intact, and thinks the chemistry in Florida's dressing room is a big reason why success should be expected this season.

"It's not about three forwards and two defence," Jagr said. "It's about five guys just working together. Forwards have to play defence, defence has to play forward. That's just the style of hockey now. Everyone has to know how to play everything. Defence has to help the forwards and the other way around."

Here's some things to know about the Panthers going into this season:

STREAKY CATS: The Panthers were streaky last season, both good and bad. Florida had a 12-game winning streak, two five-game win streaks and one other stretch of four wins in a row. There also were losing streaks of four and five games. The roller-coaster ride worked out, though the Panthers believe there's too much talent for a reprise of any long droughts this season.

CATS ARE COMING: There were two games in November last year when Florida failed to draw even 11,000 people into its building, a common problem over the last couple decades. But as the playoffs neared, the Panthers were a big ticket — their last eight regular-season games all drew more than 15,000, with four of those getting crowds of over 18,000. And the game against New Jersey on March 31 was the one where Florida fans got their team penalized twice by throwing toy rats onto the ice in the third period.

PLAYOFF STING: Trocheck got tripped with 68 seconds left in Game 6 of Florida's first-round series with the New York Islanders, on a play where he had an empty net and a golden chance of wrapping up a trip to a Game 7 at home. Instead, the Islanders tied the game seconds later, then prevailed in double overtime to end Florida's season. "Still hurts," Smith said.

SPECIAL TEAMS: An area where Florida can improve this season is special teams. Florida's power play ranked 23rd in the 30-team NHL last season, and its penalty kill unit was 24th.

ODDS WATCH: Three years ago, sportsbooks in Las Vegas listed the Panthers as a 150-1 shot to win the Stanley Cup — by far the longest in the league at that time. Entering this season, they're listed at 20-1.

– Tim Reynolds, The Associated Press

Montreal Canadiens

Canadiens counting on Weber, Price to return to playoffs

After making the trade that shook the hockey world over the summer, the Montreal Canadiens are glad to have rock-solid defenceman Shea Weber and goaltender Carey Price as they try to get back to the playoffs.

In June, the Canadiens traded flashy, risk-reward defenceman P.K. Subban to the Nashville Predators straight up for Weber, a steady presence on the blue line who could fit better with coach Michel Therrien's conservative style. Montreal is counting on Weber bringing his size, physicality, heavy shot and stability to bear in front of Price, arguably the best goalie in the world who's back after missing almost all of last season with a knee injury.

General manager Marc Bergevin said having the 6-foot-4, 236-pound Weber around makes a difference on and off the ice.

"He's a player that is very tough to play against — he's responsible and makes the opposing forwards' lives very difficult," Bergevin said. "A team that brings in a player of Shea Weber's calibre, with his leadership, his presence and the way he is a real pro, your young players are going to benefit from his presence."

No one benefits more from Weber's presence than Price, who won the Hart Trophy as MVP and Vezina Trophy as top goaltender in 2014-15 but injured his right knee Nov. 25 and hasn't played an NHL game since. While they were on the way to winning the World Cup of Hockey together for Canada, Price said of Weber: "He's a big body and definitely makes it easier on me to see the puck. It's always good to have a man mountain in front of you."

Weber was a "man mountain" in Nashville for 11 seasons, serving as captain for the past six. If anyone knows how much Price will enjoy Weber playing in front of him it's Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne, who thinks every GM would want someone like the 31-year-old defenceman on his team.

"There's not a similar player in the league who's as physical, as good of a shot, a big guy who can skate," Rinne said. "I'm 100 per cent sure that Carey's going to like to play behind Weber. He's a modern defenceman who's extremely tough in front of your net but also offensively he can do some damage."

Weber and Subban are two drastically different players but had the same number of points last season. The key for Montreal is getting enough offence from captain Max Pacioretty, centre Tomas Plekanec and others without sacrificing the solid play around Price that led to trips to the playoffs in 2013, 2014 and 2015.

Here are some other things to watch with the Canadiens this season:

PATCHING THINGS UP: If there was any kind of rift in the locker room between players last season when Subban was around or between Pacioretty and Therrien, now is the time to fix it. Pacioretty has the "C," with Weber brought in as an alternate to help out, and this is his team to lead.

"I've spoken to players on the team and we're all on the same page," Pacioretty said. "We're going to show this year that we're all on the same page — coaches, management, players."

RADULOV FACTOR: The Canadiens took a risk in signing Alexander Radulov to a $5.75 million, one-year deal in the hopes the Russian winger can recapture past scoring prowess after the last four-plus seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League. This isn't like signing Alexander Semin for cheap a year ago, as Montreal needs Radulov to produce with that kind of salary-cap hit.

SANDPAPER SHAW: At the draft Montreal traded centre Lars Eller to Washington and acquired versatile agitating forward Andrew Shaw from Chicago. Shaw is a pest who can hit, defend and also put up points, but most importantly he plays with the kind of edge the Canadiens have lacked in recent years.

THERRIEN'S WARM SEAT: Bergevin has doubled down on Therrien, even though his coaching style is old-school and counter to the NHL's trend of going smaller, faster and more offensive. Therrien can feel safe in his job unless the Canadiens miss the playoffs again.

BLUE LINE BLUES: After Weber, Montreal's blue line includes Jeff Petry, Nathan Beaulieu, Alexei Emelin, Andrei Markov and a handful of unheralded defencemen. Petry has the potential to get even better after an injury ended last season, but Montreal also needs more from Beaulieu and Emelin.

– Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press

Ottawa Senators


New era in Ottawa, but same mandate: Make the playoffs

A new era has begun in Ottawa, though the mandate remains the same: The Senators believe they are a playoff team after another off-season of shuffling.

Former general manager Bryan Murray is now Ottawa's senior hockey adviser and coach Dave Cameron is gone (fired) as is centre Mika Zibanejad (traded). New GM Pierre Dorion and coach Guy Boucher are in charge now, and Derick Brassard is among the new arrivals.

"I still feel very confident that this is a playoff team," Dorion told TSN 1200 prior to the start of training camp. "I don't want to speak too bluntly, but we feel good about what we're doing and we feel good about the coaching staff we put in."

Indeed, there are player personnel pieces in place for the Senators and their fans to feel good about, beginning with Norris Trophy finalist Erik Karlsson. Karlsson, 26, is coming off a 2015-16 campaign in which he was a point a game player (82 points in 82 games) while averaging 28:58 of ice time. The rest of the defence includes Marc Methot, Dion Phaneuf, Cody Ceci and a host of interchangeable blue liners.

Up front, the Senators have skilled forwards in Brassard, Mark Stone, Mike Hoffman, Bobby Ryan, Kyle Turris and Jean-Gabriel Pageau.

The question is whether the organizational reconstruction will lead the Senators back to the playoffs. It is likely that Florida and Tampa Bay will have the top two spots in the Atlantic Division in some order, so that leaves the third and final divisional playoff spot up for grabs, along with the two wild card slots.

For the Senators a playoff berth, some things to watch this season:

WHO'S IN NET?: Matt O'Connor is the goaltender of the future. The present is made up of Craig Anderson (31-23-5, 2.78 goals against average, .916 save percentage, four shutouts) and Andrew Hammond (7-11-4, 2.65, .914, one shutout). Can O'Connor beat one or both for a NHL job?

WILL MACARTHUR RETURN?: Top-six winger Clarke MacArthur only played in four games last season due to post-concussion symptoms. He sustained another concussion when he was hit by teammate Patrick Sieloff during training camp.

"We know his history," Boucher told reporters the following day. "It's about health first, person first. Because of the history, we're obviously going to be very cautious with the protocol."

POWER FAILURE: Despite the presence of Karlsson, who recorded 26 of his 82 points on the power play last season, the man advantage was a disadvantage for the Senators in 2015-16. The power play was tied for 26th in the league with a 15.8 per cent success rate. Enter Boucher.

"I made my name with the power play," Boucher told The Ottawa Sun. "I certainly don't want to change my strengths and that's why I was hired. I want to improve the power play. That fits me."

MAN DOWN. WAY DOWN: As bad as the power play was for the Senators in 2015-16, the penalty kill was worse. Ottawa's man down units ranked 29th in the NHL with a 75.8 per cent success rate. That, in part, was why Boucher hired former NHL head coach Marc Crawford to be his associate coach.

"I wanted to get Marc Crawford to improve the penalty killing" Boucher told The Sun. "To focus on his strengths."

DEFENSIVE DEPTH: The Feb. 9 nine-player blockbuster that brought Dion Phaneuf to the Canadian capital gave the Senators a left-handed shooting defenceman who can play against top competition. That's likely still the organizational thought process, even though Phaneuf only played 20 games with the Senators last season before being shut down with a hairline fracture in his right foot and injured oblique. In 71 combined games with Toronto and Ottawa last season, Phaneuf averaged 22:20 of ice time, including 2:51 on the power play and 1:50 shorthanded.

– Denis P. Gorman, The Associated Press

Tampa Bay Lightning

Talented Lightning poised to make run at Stanley Cup final

The Tampa Bay Lightning aren't in a hurry to anoint themselves championship contenders.

They expect to be in the hunt for the NHL title after reaching the Stanley Cup final two years ago and coming within one victory of a return trip last spring, however they're not taking anything for granted.

"We've accomplished a lot and we've done a lot, but at the same time that doesn't really matter. This time of year every team starts 0-0 and it doesn't matter that we won a conference title two years ago," forward Tyler Johnson said.

"Whether we're picked first or last we're thinking we're a team that's going to win," Johnson added. "Obviously we're happy people have faith in us and want us to do well and think we have a chance to do well. But at the same time we have our own expectations, and that's to win."

General manager Steve Yzerman enhanced the chances for another deep run in the playoffs by keeping a talented nucleus intact, beginning with re-signing captain Steven Stamkos to an eight-year, $68 million contract.

Defenceman Victor Hedman received an eight-year, $63 million deal. Backup goaltender Andrei Vasilevskiy got a new deal worth about $3.5 million per season after filling in admirably for an injured Ben Bishop during the playoffs.

"I don't really talk about the Stanley Cup today because it's so far off and so much needs to happen between now and then," Yzerman said.

"Our focus is to make the playoffs, and we go through the steps to get there," the GM added. "Last year, our record wasn't great. I thought we played reasonably well, but we didn't score goals. We lost a lot of games and points because we didn't score enough."

The Lightning lost to the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2015 Stanley Cup Final. They made it back to the Eastern Conference finals last season, falling to the Pittsburgh Penguins in seven games.

"I think last year was good practice for this year," Bishop said. "Going into last year we had a big target on our backs and that hasn't changed this year. I think you look around our division and you see every team added a lot."

JOHNSON'S JOURNEY: Center Tyler Johnson feels "rejuvenated" and is looking for a bounce-back year after a wrist injury affected his production last season. He said the wrist didn't feel like it did pre-injury until July. After scoring 13 times in the playoffs two years ago, Johnson had just 14 goals during the 2015-16 regular season.

WHERE'S THE JUICE?: Surprisingly, the usually potent Lightning offence struggled last season on the power play. Tampa Bay finished tied for 26th in the NHL, converting 15.8 per cent of its chances. The team was last in road power play at 10.1 per cent.

"Our power play wasn't effective, but in general we didn't score enough goals," Yzerman said.

BISHOP'S RETURN: Bishop got an early start on his comeback from an ankle and shin injury that sidelined the last six games of the Eastern Conference final against Pittsburgh, taking part in last month's World Cup of Hockey. "I feel good," the goalie said, adding he faced "some pretty intense practices up there against some really good shooters. Definitely kind of a step in the right direction."

HOME ICE: The Lightning saw a dip in their home record last season, going 25-13-3. Tampa Bay had a 32-8-1 record en route to the Eastern Conference championship two years ago.

"Our team plays hard, these guys are very competitive, they are very professional," Yzerman said.

"I think going through the start of last season it was a grind coming back after making the finals. They will be better prepared for the grind this year," the GM added. "But talking about who's the favourite for the Stanley Cup and what not, that's too far off."

– Fred Goodall, The Associated Press

Toronto Maple Leafs


Just over two months after Brendan Shanahan was hired to lead the Toronto Maple Leafs, the club used its top draft pick on small but skilled Swedish teenager William Nylander.

The selection back in 2014 quickly established the direction of the club under Shanahan, which will be evident this season when a group of speedy, talented young players join the Leafs.

Nylander could be one of six rookies on the opening day roster (all but one acquired under Shanahan) and one of 11 players aged 24 and younger. Two teenagers are in that mix: Auston Matthews, the first player picked No. 1 overall by the club in 31 years, and Mitch Marner, a shifty first-round pick from 2015.

Just how quickly that youth acclimates to the NHL will likely define the trajectory of Toronto’s season.

“I think as the year goes on, with how many young guys we have, I think we’re just going to get exponentially better than just your average team just because we have so much youth,” said James van Riemsdyk, a veteran at 26. “Guys that are just going to get that experience and get better when they get that kind of experience.”

Leafs head coach Mike Babcock expressed caution about the flood of youth during training camp, wondering aloud about the effects of that many young players in the same lineup at once. The Edmonton Oilers remain the NHL’s cautionary tale of that approach, going too young too fast (with limited defence and goaltending) to the point of dysfunction.

Babcock said his youngest players needed to learn how to play and compete, that chasing points and ferreting around the puck for fun wouldn’t work in the NHL.

“That’s something that everyone kind of struggles with when you’re younger,” said forward Nazem Kadri.

Nylander seems aware of challenges the NHL presents.

“There’s more skilled guys, smarter guys,” he said. “They try to beat you more than players down in other leagues. They’ll always try to beat you in any way they can.”

Former Blues defenceman Roman Polak recalled how 40-goal-scorer Vladimir Tarasenko needed a year or two to figure out the league. Polak said the young Leafs weren’t going to be home run hitters right away. It would be a process and, as van Riemsdyk pointed out, maintaining a high level of consistency for 82 games is a real challenge, especially in those first NHL seasons.

Babcock is the right coach to lead the group. He almost instantly instilled structure and discipline in his first season as Leafs coach as Toronto ranked 17th in puck possession (a good indicator of quality coaching) despite having the NHL’s weakest pool of talent.

The Leafs are all but certain to eclipse last season’s NHL-worst 69 points with a significantly more entertaining product.

Jonas Siegel, The Canadian Press


WESTERN CONFERENCE

Chicago Blackhawks

Young forwards could be key for Chicago Blackhawks

There are plenty of nice pieces, beginning with NHL MVP Patrick Kane, star centre Jonathan Toews and Calder Trophy winner Artemi Panarin.

How they fit together is the big question for Chicago coach Joel Quenneville.

The Blackhawks traded Andrew Shaw and Teuvo Teravainen and lost Andrew Ladd in free agency over the summer, leaving three big holes. Dale Weise and Tomas Fleischmann also left in free agency, and Marian Hossa, long one of Chicago's most consistent forwards, is coming off a down year.

The result is an unsettled situation for the Blackhawks' four lines that Quenneville might need some time to sort out.

"That unpredictability sometimes can be healthy in a lot of ways, knowing that guys are pushing and decisions — when we have tough decisions — we feel we're a better team and a better organization when it comes down to that type of situation," Quenneville said Tuesday.

Kane, Panarin and centre Artem Anisimov combined for one of the NHL's most productive lines last season. Kane was the league's top scorer with 106 points, and Panarin had 30 goals and 47 assists in an impressive rookie season. Anisimov finished with 20 goals and 22 assists in his first year in Chicago.

But Kane and Panarin are the Blackhawks' best playmakers, and Quenneville could break up their second line to create more balance. Hossa, who turns 38 in January, could play on any one of Chicago's top three lines depending on how it shakes out.

"Regardless of who I'm playing with, it's up to me to make sure that I'm trying to enable those other two guys to be the best they can be as well," Toews said.

The play of Chicago's top forward prospects also will affect the look of the Blackhawks' lines. Tyler Motte, a former University of Michigan star, and speedy Vincent Hinostroza, a Chicago-area native who played college hockey at Notre Dame, each looked great in camp. Nick Schmaltz, a first-round pick in the 2014 draft, also is in the mix.

The Blackhawks look pretty settled on defence. Brian Campbell, who led NHL defencemen with a plus-31 plus-minus rating last season with Florida, signed a one-year deal in July, returning to Chicago after helping the Blackhawks win the Stanley Cup in 2010.

The addition of Campbell gives the Blackhawks one of the best defensive lineups in the league, topped by two-time Norris Trophy winner Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Niklas Hjalmarsson. Michal Kempny, who signed with Chicago on May 24 and played for Czech Republic in the World Cup, also is an intriguing prospect for the third pairing.

"This is probably the deepest d-corps group we've had since I've been in this organization," said Hjalmarsson, who made his NHL debut with the Blackhawks in 2008.

Here are a couple more things to watch as Chicago tries for its fourth Stanley Cup title since 2010:

SWEET, SWEET REST: The Blackhawks lost to St. Louis in seven games in the first round of the playoffs in April. It was their shortest stay in the post-season since they lost to the Coyotes in the first round in 2012.

The amount of top-level games, including the Olympics, had stacked up for some of Chicago's biggest stars, and the longer-than-usual off-season might help this year.

"Sometimes when you go far and deep in the playoffs you're still mentally tired and not as excited to tie the skates on every morning," Hjalmarsson said. "But that's not an issue at all now. So I think everybody is just excited to get the regular season going."

CO-REY! CO-REY!: Blackhawks goaltender Corey Crawford is coming off one of his best seasons in the NHL. He set career highs with 35 wins, 58 starts and NHL-best seven shutouts.

Crawford tuned up for this year by helping Canada win the World Cup. With an improved defence in front of him, the 31-year-old Crawford could contend for the Vezina Trophy awarded to the NHL's top goaltender after finishing fifth in the voting last season.

CONSIDERING KRUGER: Center Marcus Kruger agreed to a $9.25 million, three-year contract extension in March, locking up the versatile penalty killer through the 2018-19 season. But Kruger had no goals and four assists in 41 games last season, and the Blackhawks need more production from the Swede with their losses at forward, especially if he plays on the third line.

REPLACING SHAW: Shaw was a valuable net-front presence for Chicago, finishing with 14 goals and 20 assists. He also is one of the league's top agitators, excelling at getting under an opponent's skin. Brandon Mashinter, who had a career-best four goals in 41 games last season, Jordin Tootoo and Ryan Hartman could get a chance to fill Shaw's shoes.

– Jay Cohen, The Associated Press

Colorado Avalanche

Behind new coach, Avalanche look to get back on track

Patrick Roy's time and tirades on the Colorado Avalanche bench are simply a memory.

There was no choice for the team but to turn the page on the Hall of Fame goaltender turned coach who surprisingly stepped away two months ago over disagreements within the organization.

In steps Jared Bednar, a career minor-league player who's getting his first NHL chance as a head coach.

It hasn't taken Bednar long to earn the respect of the players with his even-keel demeanour and firm belief in a system that focuses on speed, organization, defence and more speed, which seems ideal for a crew that includes Nathan MacKinnon, Matt Duchene and captain Gabriel Landeskog.

"We're going to play faster," said MacKinnon, the 21-year-old forward who signed a seven-year, $44.1 million deal in the off-season. "It will be a faster, quicker game, which is how you win nowadays."

Roy's departure definitely caught the team off guard. They tied a franchise mark with 52 wins in Roy's first season before losing in the first round of the post-season. Really, though, who can forget Roy pushing through a glass partition to get to then-Anaheim coach Bruce Boudreau in his debut.

The team faltered the last two years, missing the playoffs, and Roy resigned as coach and vice-president of hockey operations on Aug. 11. Roy had split control with executive vice-president and general manager Joe Sakic, a former teammate.

"Everybody was surprised, for sure, just with the timing of it," defenceman Tyson Barrie said.

Bednar definitely knows his hockey, even if this is his first NHL coaching gig. He led the Lake Erie Monsters, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Columbus Blue Jackets, to the 2016 Calder Cup title. He also guided the South Carolina Stingrays of the ECHL to the 2009 Kelly Cup.

"There's a lot of excitement among us guys to have him at the helm," said Joe Colborne, a free agent acquisition who had 19 goals for Calgary last season.

Bednar has plenty to work with — speedy forwards, veteran leadership (Francois Beauchemin, Jarome Iginla), a blue line that includes Erik Johnson and Barrie, along with the talented goalie tandem of Semyon Varlamov and Calvin Pickard.

MacKinnon appears primed for a big season under Bednar as he entered camp 15 pounds lighter and a whole lot more confident after helping Team North America to a good showing at the World Cup of Hockey. He's adjusting well to his new coach.

"He came from the bottom of pro hockey up to the NHL. That's pretty cool," MacKinnon said.

Things to know before Colorado begins the season Oct. 15 by hosting Dallas:

BETTER STARTS: Colorado put an emphasis on the preseason. That's right, the preseason. The Avs have struggled in exhibition games the last two years and it's spilled over into the regular season. They're trying to guard against that happening again.

"Our starts have been pretty average-to-bad," said Barrie, who signed a four-year, $22 million deal in the off-season. "That's going to be a huge focus for us and I think the coaches know that."

GOALTENDERS: Varlamov will be the starter, but Pickard should receive quite a bit of work, too. Varlamov is looking to bounce back from a season in which he went 27-25-3 with a 2.81 goals-against average.

QUICK HEALER: Duchene banged up his shoulder in practice while helping Team Canada to a gold medal at the World Cup of Hockey. He had two goals and two assists for Canada.

"It's going to linger for a bit, but it's feeling good," Duchene told reporters after his return to town.

MILE HIGH RETURN: Colborne and some of his new teammates have quickly bonded by attending a Denver Broncos game and a few Colorado Rockies contests.

"I already feel like I've been here for a long time on this team," said Colborne, who played college hockey down the road at the University of Denver.

JUST A NUMBER: At 39, Iginla feels better than ever. He played in all 82 games last season and reached the 20-goal plateau for a 17th time in his career. This season, he's vowing to be even more physical.

"I've always been a power forward with a little bit of finesse," Iginla said. "But I don't think I was enough power on the power forward side."

– Pat Graham, The Associated Press

Dallas Stars

Benn, Stars try to build on captain's 1st playoff series win

Jamie Benn will open a season coming off a playoff series victory for the first time in the Dallas captain's career, while Patrick Sharp hardly knows any other way.

Together, they're trying to take the Stars beyond the second-round exit of last season, which ended with a humbling Game 7 loss to St. Louis.

If Tyler Seguin can stay healthy alongside Benn, his fellow high-scoring All-Star forward, and Dallas can find a way to make a two-goalie system with Kari Lehtonen and Antti Niemi work a little better, the Stars should be in contention.

"It was fun last year," Sharp said of his first season in Dallas after spending 10 years with Chicago and winning three Stanley Cup titles. "I think we broke through in a lot of areas and proved to ourselves and the league that we can be a top team. If everybody improves a little bit and we commit to what we did last year, good things can happen."

Benn didn't make the playoffs his first four seasons before Dallas lost in the first round to Anaheim in 2014. He won the league scoring title a year later when the Stars missed the playoffs.

Dallas finally broke through with a Western Conference-leading 109 points (50-23-9) last season and a six-game victory over Central Division rival Minnesota to start the post-season.

"Just needed to get out of the first and you didn't make it through the second, so we know how hard it is," said Benn, who signed an eight-year, $76 million contract extension in the off-season. "I think we go into this year with that mentality of a playoff team and play like a playoff team and just try to build and keep getting better."

Things to consider as the Stars go after their first extended post-season run since 2008, when they lost to Detroit in the West finals:

EARLY INJURIES: Seguin has been out in the preseason with a hairline fracture of a heel sustained while getting ready for the World Cup. That's after missing all but one playoff game last season because of an Achilles injury. He's expected to be ready for the opener Oct. 13.

Another centre, Cody Eakin, will miss at least the few weeks of the regular season after injuring a knee in a camp practice, and promising forward Mattias Janmark could miss the season after surgery for a joint disorder in a knee. Radek Faksa, another young forward, is dealing with a concussion.

"It's better to get those out of the way now," said Benn, who was eased into preseason work after abdominal surgery in the off-season.

TWO GOALIES AGAIN: Lehtonen and Niemi split time in the regular season and the playoffs, and coach Lindy Ruff doesn't think the approach will be much different. That includes using both to manage the busier parts of the schedule. While the system helped boost Dallas to the top seed in the West, it failed them in the playoff finale when Lehtonen gave up five goals in the first two periods of a 6-1 loss to the Blues.

"I think it took us a long time to kind of learn when you're not playing and when you are playing last year," Lehtonen said. "But now we know what to expect so I think that's going to be easier. Still never know how it's going to go."

SETTLING IN: Sharp, a forward, and defenceman Johnny Oduya were getting used to a new home a year ago after winning a Stanley Cup with the Blackhawks. If Jason Spezza is any indication, they'll be more productive. Spezza struggled his first season in Dallas two years ago after 11 seasons in Ottawa, then almost doubled his goals last season.

"Much more comfortable, much more feel at home," Sharp said. "The guys were very welcoming last year, but being 10 years in one spot, it's tough to move."

YOUNG D: Ruff's biggest concern is the consistency of a young group of defencemen highlighted by budding stars John Klingberg and Stephen Johns. The Stars believe in their youth at the blue line enough that they traded the rights to nine-year veteran Alex Goligoski to Arizona. Dallas gave Oduya a fellow veteran in the group by adding Dan Hamhuis in free agency.

"We've got the platform to build off as long as we can get our young defencemen in the right place," said Ruff, going into his 19th season after spending his first 15 as a coach in Buffalo. "By no means do I think it's going to be easy."

– Schuyler Dixon, The Associated Press

Minnesota Wild

With Boudreau behind the bench, Wild embark on new era

Not much has changed with the Minnesota Wild roster.

The biggest difference is the man now in charge on the bench, Bruce Boudreau, who's been tasked with squeezing more success out of a team that's been stuck in the early rounds of the playoffs for the last four years.

"Bruce has that ability to convince the players, to get the players, to encourage the players, to prod the players to execute on a consistent basis," general manager Chuck Fletcher said the day Boudreau was introduced in May. "If we do that, we're a good hockey team and can even become very good."

Boudreau has mostly experienced early exits from the post-season, too, with Washington and Anaheim. Without them, though, the 61-year-old likely wouldn't have been available to Fletcher and the Wild in the search for the franchise's fifth head coach and fourth in six years. They're banking on Boudreau, with his remarkable regular season success of eight division titles in nine years, as the catalyst that this a group of players has been missing at critical times.

"You come to realize why he's had success. Everything he says makes a lot of sense," right wing Jason Pominville said. "He kind of goes out of his way to make sure that we understand it and explains to us why we're doing it and what can happen if we do it and do it right, so it's nice to have that voice."

With his roly-poly build and mischievous gap-toothed grin, Boudreau doesn't look the part of a taskmaster. Make no mistake, though, that his practices have been demanding during the get-to-know-each-other phase during training camp.

"They are intense, a lot of skating, and you can tell there's a purpose to all the drills we're doing," left wing Zach Parise said, noting the emphasis on teaching concepts and creating game-like situations. "It kind of forces us to play at a faster pace in practices, and hopefully that translates into games."

The Wild start the season at division rival St. Louis on Oct. 13. Their home opener is two days later against Winnipeg.

Here are some of the top storylines for 2016-17 in Boudreau's first year with Minnesota:

PARISE RETURNS: Parise missed the playoff series last spring, a six-game loss to division champion Dallas, with a back injury that bothered him down the stretch and robbed the Wild of their best forward. Healthy enough to play for the U.S. team in the World Cup of Hockey, Parise will be counted on to be the emotional engine of a first line featuring centre Marc Staal, one of the few notable off-season additions, and Charlie Coyle on the right wing.

"They're part of our top six, and we expect them to score," Boudreau said. "And I expect them to be able to defend. It's not a one-way street."

CONVERTED CENTER: Coyle has gone back and forth between centre and the wing, but the plan for now is to keep him and his 6-foot-3, 218-pound frame on the wing. Coyle had a career-high 21 goals and 42 points in 2015-16, but he was still prone to long stretches without scoring.

"So far we haven't seen the peak of him," Boudreau said. "I think he'll be better and when he's better it makes all of us better."

CONVERTED CENTER, PART TWO: Since making his debut as a 20-year-old in 2012-13, Mikael Granlund hasn't matched the hype surrounding his talent with the same production. Granlund began to thrive on the wing during the post-season, and he'll likely stay there on a line centred by captain Mikko Koivu and rounded out by Chris Stewart, the other significant free-agent acquisition.

"If I'm a winger, I'm a winger," Granlund said. "I'm excited both ways. So it doesn't matter to me."

DefenceMEN DEMANDS: Boudreau hired Hall of Fame defenceman Scott Stevens for his staff, bringing a hard-nosed guide for the blue-line group led by Parise's pal, Ryan Suter. Stevens, who spent three years on New Jersey's staff, was itching to get back on the bench after working for NHL Network last season.

– Dave Campbell, The Associated Press

Nashville Predators

Predators look to build on franchise's deepest playoff run

The Nashville Predators remember well the electricity that flowed through Music City last spring when they made the longest playoff run in franchise history.

Now they want to go even deeper with the Stanley Cup Finals the target.

"Absolutely," captain Mike Fisher said. "We feel like we're a team that's very, very good, and we're going to contend. We have a lot of confidence in who we are as a team and how we want to play and how we want to be successful. It's going to take a lot of work."

The Predators beat Anaheim in seven games before pushing San Jose to seven more in the Western Conference semifinals. Then general manager David Poile made a move that stunned the NHL on June 29, sending team captain Shea Weber to Montreal for P.K. Subban in a swap of standout defencemen.

Poile also traded defenceman Seth Jones for centre Ryan Johansen on Jan. 6, then saw a chance to give coach Peter Laviolette more speed in the lineup with the deal for Subban. Now Laviolette has to make the moves work to stretch the Predators' playoff streak to a third straight season.

Subban isn't shying away from the big expectations in Nashville as he works to become familiar with his new teammates.

"I've never been shy to say I want to win a Stanley Cup and the first thing I said when I got traded is I want to win a Stanley Cup here," Subban said. "Montreal was interesting. We had the opportunity to bring back the 25th Stanley Cup. But we have an opportunity to bring back a first here, and that's pretty special, too. I'm looking forward to that opportunity."

Some things to watch out of the Predators this season starting Oct. 14 when they open at home against Chicago:

FIGURE OUT OVERTIME: The Predators have only themselves to blame for landing in the first wild card and making back-to-back trips to California over the first two rounds of the playoffs. Only Carolina (16) had more than Nashville's overtime losses last season as the Predators posted a meagre 2-14 record. Nashville did go 4-2 in shootouts.

REPLACING WEBER: Yes, the Predators still have a Weber on the roster in defenceman Yannick Weber. But they have to find someone to replace their captain, particularly on the power play where Shea Weber had 14 of his 20 goals. Subban matched Weber's 51 points in 78 games last season despite playing 10 fewer games, though Subban had only two goals on the power play. Defenceman Roman Josi is the next best option to step up after having eight power play goals last season for a unit that ranked 10th in the NHL.

SUBBAN'S PARTNER: Slotting Subban into Weber's spot with Josi may not be that easy. Subban opened the preseason playing with Mattias Ekholm, with Josi wrapping up his duties at the World Cup of Hockey. Josi is a pretty offensive-minded defenceman himself, with 61 points last season. Laviolette may split up Josi and Subban to create more offence through his defensive pairs.

GROWING UP: The Predators have a handful of young players they hope develop further this season. Filip Forsberg, who led the Predators with a career-best 33 goals and 64 points, got a new contract in June. So did forward Calle Jarnkrok. Johansen just turned 24 and had 26 points in 34 games after joining Nashville in January.

Nashville's biggest boost could come from Colin Wilson depending on which forward shows up. He had just 24 points in 64 games last season, yet "Playoff Colin Wilson" had 13 points in 14 games.

RINNE'S REVIVAL: Goaltender Pekka Rinne was not at his best last season with a 2.48 goals-allowed average and a .908 save percentage over 66 games. In the playoffs he ranked fourth in time on ice yet had a goals-against average of 2.63. The Predators did their best to help Rinne last year, allowing the fewest shots on goal (27.3) per game. Rinne played in the World Cup of Hockey for Finland to work himself into shape for the regular season.

– Teresa M. Walker, The Associated Press

St. Louis Blues

New-look Blues open final season for coach Ken Hitchcock

The St. Louis Blues have won at least 49 games in each of the past three seasons and advanced to the Western Conference finals last spring.

Doing it again this season will require effort from a bunch of new players.

David Backes, who spent 10 years in St. Louis, is now in Boston. Goalie Brian Elliott was traded to Calgary. Troy Brouwer, the Blues' second-leading goal scorer in the playoffs last spring, signed with Calgary. Steve Ott, after two-plus seasons with the Blues, is now in Detroit.

"There's no time to be sad about somebody," Blues right winger Vladimir Tarasenko said. "They were great players and they're still good players, but they play for other teams, so we're going to play against them now. It seems like we have a really good team right now and I'm just looking forward for our season to start."

Before the 2015-16 season, the Blues traded T.J. Oshie to Washington for Brouwer and opted not to re-sign defenceman Barrett Jackman. St. Louis went 49-24-9 with 107 points, just two points less than in 2014-15.

The Blues' core group has changed slightly over the years but Ken Hitchcock's squad remains one of the most talented groups in the NHL.

Tarasenko set career highs in goals (40) and points (74) last season, ranking fourth in the league in goals and 12th in points, after signing an eight-year contract extension. Alexander Steen (52 points), Paul Stastny (49) and Kevin Shattenkirk (44) ranked second, third and fifth among the Blues in scoring and are all back. Robby Fabbri accounted for 18 goals and 37 points as a rookie last season.

The defensive group, led by Alex Pietrangelo, Jay Bouwmeester, Shattenkirk and youngster Colton Parayko, is among the best in the NHL.

The biggest change for the Blues is in net, where St. Louis broke up its successful tandem of Elliott and Jake Allen, who went 26-15-3 with a 2.35 goals-against average and .920 save percentage last season. After sending Elliott to Calgary for a second-round draft pick, St. Louis signed Allen to a four-year contract extension that kicks in for the 2017-18 season.

"I think I have a great opportunity in front of me, I'm very fortunate for that, and it's been a long road," Allen said. "It's been four years in the minors, some stints up and down here, a couple seasons here. It's been quite the grind to get to this point but I feel like the process is finally paying off."

Some things to watch this year with the Blues:

FAREWELL HITCH: Hitchcock announced this off-season that this would be his final season, which led to a shakeup among his assistant coaches and with former Minnesota Wild coach Mike Yeo coming in as an assistant and the designated coach in waiting.

MIND THE NET: Can Jake Allen carry the load? The Blues are counting on Allen to be their No. 1 netminder after trading Brian Elliott to Calgary. Allen has looked the part in a part-time roll, with a 2.34 goals-against average and .915 save percentage in 99 career regular-season games, but St. Louis needs him to carry the load this season.

LEADERSHIP QUESTIONS: The Blues lost veteran forwards in captain David Backes, Troy Brouwer and Steve Ott in free agency. Alex Pietrangelo, a 26-year-old defenceman, became the 21st captain in the organization's history.

TWENTYSOMETHINGS: One of the surprises this off-season was the signing of 28-year-old forward David Perron, who spent his first six seasons with St. Louis before the Blues traded him to Edmonton. He's scored 20 or more goals in three of his nine seasons and the Blues will need him to produce. The Blues also re-signed Schwartz, 24, to a five-year deal. He had 28 goals and 63 points in 2014-15 but was limited to just 33 games a year ago because of an ankle injury and is now out for at least a month after hurting his left elbow.

– Nate Latsch, The Associated Press

Winnipeg Jets

Winnipeg Jets set to soar with young Finn Patrik Laine

Last season was a mixed bag for Winnipeg Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff.

Yes, the Jets were able to draft Patrik Laine with the second overall pick in June, landing a potential franchise-changing player. But it was a miserable ride to get there.

"The end result of the year to draft a player like that is exciting," Cheveldayoff said. "The process of getting there is certainly agonizing. We're very fortunate to have won the draft lottery, to have the opportunity to pick second. When you have an opportunity like we did, to pick a Patrik Laine in the spot we did, those are things that help accelerate the process (for) an organization."

The 18-year-old Laine is coming off of a year in which he scored 17 goals and 33 points in 46 games for Tappara of the Finnish League. A right winger, he has drawn comparisons to Alex Ovechkin of the Washington Capitals and he held his own just fine for Finland at the World Cup of Hockey.

Unlike Ovechkin, who was essentially a one-man team in his rookie year of 2005-06, Laine joins a Jets squad with Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler, Dustin Byfuglien, Bryan Little and Mathieu Perreault — players who should allow Laine time to develop without having the responsibility of carrying the Jets on a nightly basis.

"There's a lot of value to that," Cheveldayoff said. "The different paths the players had. A guy like Blake Wheeler, who was a high draft pick and (had) a lot of expectations. Now he's at the pinnacle of his career with what he accomplished last year from an offensive perspective and, obviously, from a leadership perspective."

Some things to watch for this season from Winnipeg:

IN TROUBA: One of the hallmarks of Cheveldayoff's tenure as GM has been his stockpiling of young players. Now, he is faced with parting with one. Through his agent, defenceman Jacob Trouba publicly requested a trade during training camp. Trouba, 22, had six goals and 15 assists in 81 games last season, although the right-handed shooter was often put on the left side in his pairing.

GOAL DRIVEN: Ondrej Pavelec, Connor Hellebuyck and Michael Hutchinson all saw significant time in goal for the Jets last season. Pavelec compiled a 2.78 goals-against average and .904 save percentage in 33 games. Hellebuyck recorded 2.34 GAA and .918 save percentage in 26 games, while Hutchinson had a 2.84 GAA and a .907 save percentage. So is the No. 1 job up for grabs? Cheveldayoff said he is looking for someone to step up.

SPECIAL TEAMS: One of the reasons the Jets dropped 21 points in the standings last season was the poor play of their specialty units. Winnipeg had the league's worst power play and the 25th ranked penalty kill. Were the problems schematic or execution?

"If you ask (head coach) Paul (Maurice) how his summer was, I'm sure a lot of it was spent in the computer looking at different things with regards to those type of situations," Cheveldayoff said.

MAKING HIS MARK: One of the bright spots for the Jets in 2015-16 was the play of Mark Scheifele. The seventh overall pick in the 2011 draft played in 71 games and finished with 29 goals and 32 assists for 61 points. The Jets possess a formidable top line with Scheifele in the middle and Wheeler on right wing.

WHEELING AND DEALING: Wheeler, the 6-foot-5, 225-pound right wing for the Jets, finished last season with 26 goals and 78 points in 82 games, which helped the 30-year-old make Team USA for the World Cup of Hockey. While the U.S. bowed out meekly with three straight losses in the preliminary round, Cheveldayoff believes playing in the international tournament could benefit Wheeler.

"You're going to grow from it," Cheveldayoff said. "Ultimately Team USA didn't have the success they wanted but it's an honour to be part of those groups, and it's an experience you can always bank on."

– Denis P. Gorman, The Associated Press

Anaheim Ducks

Carlyle returns for another push with underachieving Ducks

Eleven years after Randy Carlyle first took over the Anaheim Ducks, and nearly five years after they fired him, he's right back where he started his head coaching career.

His job description hasn't changed: Get a veteran-laden team over its mental hurdles to win the Stanley Cup.

Carlyle already accomplished this job once, and he thinks he can do it again.

"Coming back into this building has been pretty seamless," Carlyle said. "I think the jitters and nerves have gone. I don't think I was as nervous as I was the first time in 2005 coming in here, that's for sure, with the familiarity with the personnel, both on-ice and off-ice. What we're here to do is prepare this hockey club."

The Ducks are going backward in an attempt to go forward after their fourth straight outstanding regular season ended short of a title. General manager Bob Murray fired Bruce Boudreau and re-hired the 60-year-old Carlyle, who led Anaheim to its only title in 2007.

Carlyle's return was met with skepticism by fans who had grown weary of his style when he was replaced by Boudreau in late 2011. The Ducks have been one of the NHL's best teams since, but Boudreau's four-time defending Pacific Division champions won only three playoff rounds during that stretch, capped by a first-round upset loss to Nashville last spring.

Carlyle hasn't won a playoff round since 2009, coaching three non-playoff teams and two first-round losers in Anaheim and Toronto. After moving back to California a year ago, he studied the Ducks and their AHL affiliate in San Diego while preparing for a coaching comeback — and he thinks he learned plenty to help him in Anaheim.

"You have kind of a pulse on what's going on with the hockey club," Carlyle said. "Once you're back in and you're on the clock again when you're hired, you do even more research and more work."

Murray publicly blamed his core players more than Boudreau for their first-round flop, yet essentially all of those skaters are still here: Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry, Ryan Kesler, Kevin Bieksa and the supporting cast including Andrew Cogliano, Cam Fowler and several young contributors.

The Ducks return with only half of their Jennings Trophy-winning goalie tandem after trading Frederik Andersen to Toronto in the off-season. John Gibson is their new No. 1 netminder, and nobody doubts his ability to handle the workload.

Carlyle's job is to get a new post-season result out of the same people before the Ducks' championship window closes.

Here are more things to know about the Ducks:

MISSING SWEDES: The Ducks seem likely to begin the season without their two best young players. Defenceman Hampus Lindholm has remained at home while his agent, Claude Lemieux, attempts to complete a long-term contract extension. The sides appear to be far apart. The Ducks also don't have a contract with forward Rickard Rakell, who hasn't begun training after an appendectomy. The Swedes' long-term absence could be crippling to Anaheim, and a trade could happen if Murray loses patience. "I can guarantee every member of the organization would love to see resolution, but as a coach, you can't coach players who aren't here," Carlyle said. "We're counting on them being here."

AFTER FREDDIE: Andersen was an unflappable presence in the Ducks' net, but the Dane was due for a major pay raise one year before an NHL expansion draft, when the Ducks could have lost Andersen or Gibson for nothing. Murray also acquired Andersen's replacement from Toronto, bringing Jonathan Bernier back to Southern California. The former Kings first-round pick is a capable NHL goalie who should keep the Ducks' net play among the league's best.

BIG SAM: The Ducks inked a long-term deal with defenceman Sami Vatanen, the puck-moving Finn who has grown up alongside Lindholm to become the backbone of the Anaheim defence. Carlyle would love to see a 50-point season from Vatanen, who will have every opportunity to take charge of the Ducks' power play and offensive attack.

PLAYOFF HERO: The Ducks' operational budget and well-paid veteran core prevent them from splashing on big free agents, so their biggest off-season addition was Antoine Vermette. The post-season-tested centre has a Stanley Cup ring from the 2015 Chicago Blackhawks, who beat the Ducks in seven games in an epic Western Conference final.

– Greg Beacham, The Associated Press

Arizona Coyotes

Coyotes ready to take next step forward

The Arizona Coyotes, like every other NHL team, went into the 2015-16 season filled with optimism.

Realistically, they — and nearly everyone else — knew it would be a rebuilding year, even after the team got off to a fast start.

The Coyotes again have that optimistic slant heading into this season. This time, with a core of talented young players and some veteran additions, they expect to live up to it.

"Just walking in the rink, you feel it," Coyotes goalie Mike Smith said. "You feel a different vibe. You feel like this team can do some damage."

Arizona's talented core remains intact, headlined by All-Star defenceman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, with forwards Max Domi, Anthony Duclair and Tobias Rieder. Captain Shane Doan returns for his 21st season and goalie Mike Smith is back after being sidelined with an abdominal injury most of last season.

The Coyotes also were active during the off-season under first-year general manager John Chayka, adding defencemen Alex Goligoski, Anthony DeAngelo and Luke Schenn, along with forwards Jamie McGinn, Radim Vrbata and Ryan White.

Whether the group can end a four-year playoff-less run remains to be seen, but there's no reason to think the Coyotes won't improve upon their 35-win 2015-16 season.

"You've got to be careful with optimism because there's 29 other teams that have a lot of optimism, too, but I think ours is genuine," Chayka said. "I told the guys the other day we're not looking to be a mediocre team. We're trying to be the best and we certainly feel we have the skilled players to get there, but it's going to take some time to get there."

A few more things to look for from the Arizona Coyotes in the 2016-17 season:

DOMI AND DUCLAIR: Arizona's two young forwards burst upon the scene last season, giving the franchise the jolt of youth and speed it had been missing. Domi, son of former NHL tough guy Tie, was second on the Coyotes with 52 points and had 18 goals. Duclair, who arrived in a trade with the New York Rangers prior to last season, added 20 goals and 24 assists. Both players are 21 and work well together, so there's no reason to think they won't get better after that dynamic first season together.

DOANER RETURNS: Doan took part of the summer to decide whether to return for another season in the desert. It didn't seem like much of a decision after the season he had in 2015-16. Coming off a couple of disappointing, injury-plagued seasons, Arizona's captain was at the top of his game a year ago. Doan seemed to be rejuvenated by the influx of young players on Arizona's roster, leading the Coyotes with 28 goals while chipping in 19 assists. Doan turns 40 next week, but he still has game and is one of top captains in the NHL.

SMITH'S RETURN: Smith was the key to Arizona's run to the 2012 Western Conference finals, often stealing games for the Coyotes with his stellar play. The past few seasons have been filled with injuries and inconsistency. Smith was limited to 34 games in 2012-13 due to injury and played 32 last season due to abdominal surgery. If he can stay healthy and play well, the Coyotes could make a strong playoff push.

OEL RISES: Ekman-Larsson was considered one of the NHL's top up-and-coming defencemen his first few years in the league and has lived up to that hype the past few. The 25-year-old from Sweden has been an All-Star each of the past four seasons and last year led the Coyotes with 55 points, including 21 goals. If the Coyotes make the playoffs, expect him to be a strong contender for the Norris Trophy.

IN THE SYSTEM: Chayka, who took over after Don Maloney was fired after last season, has been praised for building up Arizona's minor league system, turning it into one of the best in the NHL. The Coyotes are loaded with top prospects, including centres Dylan Strome, the No. 3 overall pick in the 2015 draft, and Christian Dvorak, who had 121 points for London of the OHL last season. The talent pool is deep in Arizona, setting up the Coyotes to be good for a while once they turn the corner.

– John Marshall, The Associated Press

Calgary Flames

Flames beginning new era under coach Glen Gulutzan

The Glen Gulutzan era has begun in Calgary.

And to hear his boss speak, things are going relatively well.

"I think it's been good," Calgary general manager Brad Treliving said during training camp. "There's a lot of teaching right now. There's some different nuances in how he wants to play, so . you're going through that; the structure piece, there's a lot of that. But it's been good. It's all been positive. In talking to him, the guys are grasping it."

Coming off of a year in which Calgary finished sixth in the Pacific—and 26th overall—with a 35-40-7 record, that the Flames are understanding a new system can only be a positive. Under the since-fired Bob Hartley, the Flames had the league's worst goals against average (3.13), the league's worst penalty kill (75.5 per cent success rate) and the 22nd-ranked power play (17 per cent success rate) in 2015-16.

The poor power play was particularly jarring, given a roster that includes Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Mark Giordano and Dougie Hamilton.

"Goals against and both sides of special teams have got to improve," said Treliving, who noted Gulutzan "definitely wants to do some different things."

"You're not going to have any success in the league when you're giving up three-plus goals a game, and you're sitting in the bottom of the league in both of your special teams. That's just not a recipe for success," Treliving said. "They've spent a lot of time on it in the preseason and will continue to do it, in how we defend as a unit. Our special teams is a critical area for us this year."

Here are some other things to watch with the Flames this season:

JOHNNY GAU-DOUGH: Restricted free agent left winger Johnny Gaudreau is a foundational piece for the Flames. In 160 games spanning three seasons in Calgary, Gaudreau has 55 goals and 88 assists for 143 points. The Flames cannot afford to have his contract status become a season-long talking point.

WORLD TRAVELS: Due to the World Cup of Hockey, not every member of the Flames was available for the start of Gulutzan's first camp. Gaudreau (Team North America), Michael Frolik (Czech Republic), Jyrki Jokipakka (Finland) and Mikael Backlund (Sweden) played in the best-on-best tournament.

NET GAIN: This season, the goaltender tandem will be Brian Elliott—acquired from St. Louis in a trade before the draft—and free agent signee Chad Johnson. "We're excited about having Brian and Chad here," Treliving said.

TROY IN TOWN: Treliving added right winger Troy Brouwer in free agency. He is coming off a year in which he compiled 18 goals and 39 points in St. Louis. Still, Brouwer is 31 years old, though Treliving isn't concerned about his age.

"I think sometimes we get to this stage where we see 30 and everybody starts shaking in their boots a little bit," Treliving said. "Troy's got a lot of good hockey ahead of him."

ON-ICE LEADERSHIP: Brouwer was also brought in to mentor Calgary's younger forwards. "Experienced guy, won a Stanley Cup," Treliving said. "The vocal leader. He does things the right way (and) he expects teammates to do the same. He looks after himself. He's a great example for young players."

– Denis P. Gorman, The Associated Press

Edmonton Oilers

McDavid leads Edmonton Oilers into new era with new arena

The Edmonton Oilers have gone 10 seasons without a playoff appearance, employed seven head coaches, won the draft lottery four times and lost 488 of 704 games.

Yet the only number that matters now is 97.

That's the number on the sweater of generational talent Connor McDavid, who's going into his second NHL season and leading the Oilers into a new era in their new arena. Edmonton will play the first regular-season game at sparkling Rogers Place against the rival Calgary Flames on Oct. 12, raising the curtain on a fresh start for an organization in need of one.

Rogers Place isn't the arena McDavid built, though it should be the scene for the 19-year-old's rapid ascent as one of hockey's brightest stars.

"He kind of adds another level of excitement," centre Ryan Nugent-Hopkins said. "It's pretty cool with the new building and everything. It's all kind of coming together at the right time, so now we've just got to go out there and perform, obviously. It's exciting the direction that we're heading. Connor is going to be a big part of that. It's going to be fun."

Winning the 2015 draft lottery to get McDavid set into motion big changes for the Oilers organization, including the hiring of Peter Chiarelli as general manager. This off-season, Chiarelli signed big power forward Milan Lucic, traded Taylor Hall for defenceman Adam Larsson and drafted Finnish winger Jesse Puljujarvi to complement McDavid, Nugent-Hopkins, winger Jordan Eberle, centre Leon Draisaitl and defenceman Darnell Nurse — all first-round picks.

A broken collarbone limited McDavid to 45 games in his rookie season, though he still incredibly put up 48 points and was a finalist for the Calder Trophy. He may have a big, new linemate in the 6-foot-3, 235-pound Lucic, who signed a $42 million, seven-year deal to score goals, dish out assists and hits, and serve as something of McDavid's bodyguard for some of his prime seasons.

"The first thing that stands out about him is just how big he is," McDavid said of Lucic. "I didn't know he was that big. He's a great skater and can really shoot the puck. I think he's definitely going to be a great asset for us."

Pencil Lucic in on McDavid's left wing and put it in ink that the pride of Newmarket, Ontario, will be the youngest captain in NHL history at 19 years, 273 days old when he wears the "C" for the first time.

Here are some other things to watch with the Oilers this season:

LIGHTS, CAM, TALBOT: Goaltender Cam Talbot enters the first season of his $12.5 million, three-year deal needing to prove he deserves to be a franchise goaltender. After a rough start last season, the former New York Rangers backup had a 2.37 goals-against average and .922 save percentage in his final 40 games. Edmonton would like Talbot to put up those kinds of performances behind a work-in-progress defence and steal some games along the way.

THE BIG GERMAN: Leon Draisaitl could be a matchup nightmare for opponents as the third-line centre behind McDavid and Nugent-Hopkins. Stanley Cup-caliber teams are built down the middle and on the back end, and the Oilers are well on their way if the slick, big 20-year-old German continues to adjust to the NHL.

MCLELLAN MAGIC: The Todd McLellan-coached, star-studded 23-and-under Team North America dazzled at the World Cup with the kind of fast, exciting hockey that had fans drooling about the future of the sport. He has McDavid and Nugent-Hopkins in Edmonton, too, but knows he can't play that kind of up-and-down, blistering pace for 82 NHL games.

"We'll continue to coach with the same concepts," McLellan said. "The team that we have in Edmonton is a really good team but not at the same talent level, and that's natural."

UNDER CONSTRUCTION: Chiarelli has worked to remake the Oilers' blue line by acquiring Larsson and signing Andrej Sekera in the summer of 2015, but it's still not at a playoff level. The development of Nurse and 23-year-old Oscar Klebom is essential to that, and it could take another off-season of moves.

REPLACING HALL: Getting Larsson from the New Jersey Devils cost Edmonton its leading scorer in Hall, who had 26 goals and 65 points last season. The Oilers may be better in the long run after dealing Hall, but they'll have to make up for his production somewhere. Hint: Keep McDavid healthy.

– Stephen Whyno, The Associated Press

Los Angeles Kings

LA Kings are determined to reclaim their championship form

Those two Stanley Cup title banners in the Staples Center rafters don't have dust on them just yet.

The Los Angeles Kings think they're too good to go without a playoff series victory over the last two years, and they're determined to find new ways to have the same success that made them champions.

After blowing the Pacific Division title in their final game of their 102-point regular season and then getting routed in the first round by San Jose, the Kings went back to work this fall with a new captain and a renewed belief they can contend for NHL titles with essentially the same core that won it all in 2012 and 2014.

Training camp has been lively in Los Angeles, where coach Darryl Sutter has returned with the same deliberate mentality about building a championship team around a tough two-way style of play. It's not an easy way to play, but their 2012 playoff rampage is the only thing the Kings ever made look easy.

"I don't think it's any secret that the theme is competition," veteran defenceman Rob Scuderi said. "This team has had tremendous success in the past. Missing the playoffs (in 2015), and then having a first-round exit and maybe not playing the way we would have liked to, I think it's a fresh start. You've got to earn your spot. No matter what your position was or what you hope it to be, you've got to earn your time."

Anze Kopitar is the Kings' new captain after the club stripped the "C" from underachieving forward Dustin Brown, who didn't exactly like the way it was all handled. Brown's meagre production and massive contract have kept him tethered to Los Angeles, but general manager Dean Lombardi hopes fewer responsibilities will rekindle Brown's skills.

The Kings will be led by Kopitar and Drew Doughty, who added his first Norris Trophy to his overflowing awards case this summer. After long stretches at the World Cup of Hockey, Kopitar and Doughty are expected to play in preseason games this week in Las Vegas, and they'll be ready to roll for the season opener in San Jose next week.

Here are more things to know about the Kings:

GABORIK DOWN: Oft-injured forward Marian Gaborik will be out until late November with a broken foot suffered at the World Cup, depriving the goal-hungry Kings of another offensive playmaker after Milan Lucic left for Edmonton as a free agent. At least the 34-year-old will be fresh when he returns to the lineup. Until then, the Kings hope Jeff Carter, Tyler Toffoli — who is heading into a contract year — and others will pick up the pace in an already top-heavy lineup.

MUZZIN'S MOVE: Sure, Jake Muzzin watched most of the World Cup from the press box. Just making Canada's roster was an honour for the late-blooming Kings defenceman who averaged 40 points over the past two seasons. He could be ready to take another step forward in prominence on the Kings' defensive corps, which still hasn't fully recovered from Slava Voynov's NHL flameout and Robyn Regehr's retirement. Muzzin will likely have to anchor a defensive pairing with newcomer Tom Gilbert or the winner of a camp competition for a final roster spot.

AIN'T THAT A QUICK IN THE HEAD: Jonathan Quick returned from his World Cup stint with Team USA to post a shutout in his Kings preseason debut. He finished third in the Vezina Trophy voting last season, and the unorthodox veteran appears ready for another year of heavy workload. Few teams' success is as tied to its goalie as the Kings with Quick — and few goalies create as many conflicting opinions as the Conn Smythe Trophy winner.

TEDDY THERE: The cap-strapped Kings' closest thing to an impact addition is Teddy Purcell, the 31-year-old left wing who played 91 games for the Kings over three seasons more than a half-decade ago. He scored a career-high 43 points last season between Edmonton and Florida, and he could fit in nicely on Kopitar's left wing with Brown on the other side.

TANNER'S TURN: The Kings would desperately love a step forward by Tanner Pearson, the 24-year-old forward who has appeared ready for stardom at times. He scored 36 points in 79 games last season, but didn't score a goal in January during an inconsistent campaign. With few blue-chip prospects ready to help the Kings, it's a good time for Pearson to reach his potential.

– Greg Beacham, The Associated Press

San Jose Sharks

Runner-up Sharks hope to take one more step this season

The San Jose Sharks never were closer to that elusive Stanley Cup title than they were last season when a long playoff run ended two wins short of a championship.

Even with the core of that team back for another shot at the Cup, the Sharks know they have a long road ahead if they want to take that next step.

"The tough part is you don't get to start where you ended last year," coach Peter DeBoer said. "You have to start right at the bottom of the mountain again and start climbing."

No team in the past eight seasons has made it back to the final after losing the previous season. But at least the Sharks return all of the players who carried the team last season.

High-scoring captain Joe Pavelski and playmaking centre Joe Thornton will once again anchor the top line, do-everything centre Logan Couture should be healthier after missing 30 games last season and shutdown defender Marc-Edouard Vlasic anchors a strong blue line with the dangerous Brent Burns.

Thrown in goalie Martin Jones, who was stellar in his first full season as a starter, and the experience gained from that long playoff run and the Sharks are confident heading into the season.

"We've been there, we didn't get what we wanted," forward Patrick Marleau said. "We have a better understanding of what it takes to get there and how much more you'll have to give to get that ultimate goal."

Here are some things to watch for with the Sharks this season:

HERTL'S HOME: Tomas Hertl's game took off last season when he was moved to a wing on the top line with Thornton and Pavelski. Hertl struggled to produce points when he centred his own line but could get another shot this year. If Hertl can play third-line centre, the Sharks will have some of the best depth down the middle of any team with Thornton, Couture and Chris Tierney also at centre. That will provide a boost against other top teams and help avoid the mismatches that hurt San Jose against the deeper Penguins in the final.

DEFENSIVE DEPTH: The Sharks have top defensive pairs in the defensive-minded Vlasic and Justin Braun and the more offensively inclined Burns and Paul Martin. It was the third defensive pair of Brenden Dillon and Roman Polak that was exposed at times in the post-season, especially in the final. The signing of David Schlemko to replace Polak gives the Sharks a better puck mover on that pairing and could help Dillon boost his production.

"He fits where the game is at and where it's going," general manager Doug Wilson said. "The ability to get the puck up the ice, get it up to the hands of our forwards is important and we feel like Schlemko certainly helps in that area."

FAMILIARITY: The Sharks took a few months to find their stride in DeBoer's first year as coach and were near the bottom of the Western Conference in January. But they were one of the top teams after that and hope that can carry over for a faster start this season because of their familiarity with the system.

"You can just go out there and kind of react as opposed to last year you're learning and learning new bodies into systems, a new foundation," forward Joel Ward said. "So hopefully the foundation is there from last year."

YOUTH BE SERVED: The Sharks are hoping for a spark from a few young players fighting to crack the lineup at forward. Barclay Goodrow, Nikolay Goldobin and Kevin Labanc are among the players who could get a look early. Timo Meier, a first-round pick in 2015, was expected to make the biggest impact but will miss the start of the season after getting mononucleosis during training camp.

BACKUP GOALIE: While Martin Jones proved he could carry the load in his first season as an NHL starter, the Sharks would like to find a capable backup to ease Jones' workload. He thrived late in the season after James Reimer was acquired at the trade deadline. Aaron Dell, who spent last year in the AHL, will get the first shot as Jones' backup this season.

– Josh Dubow, The Associated Press

Vancouver Canucks

Canucks look to compete for playoffs while adding kids

The Vancouver Canucks enter the season with two goals.

The first is to qualify for the playoffs. The other is to incorporate youth into the lineup.

If balancing competitiveness and development sounds like a tricky proposition, Canucks general manager Jim Benning isn't concerned.

"I don't think it has to be mutually exclusive," Benning said. "We want our young players to develop in a winning environment so they learn to play the right way."

To that end, Benning traded for former Panthers defenceman Erik Gudbranson and Bruins right winger Loui Eriksson. Benning hopes that the duo, along with Henrik and Daniel Sedin, Alex Edler and some of the other veterans can mentor the youngsters, including Sven Baertschi, Bo Horvat and Jake Virtanen.

"When you acquire players with experience, they can help our young players, hold them accountable the right way," Benning said. "I think you can do a balancing act of trying to draft well, develop your players well and still try to compete and try to make the playoffs."

Vancouver has missed the playoffs two out of the last three seasons and the challenge won't be any easier this season in a division with San Jose, Los Angeles and Anaheim.

Here are some areas to keep an eye on over the course of the season:

OFFENSIVE UPGRADE

Vancouver's 2.27 goals per game ranked 29th in last season. Enter Eriksson, who had a 30-goal campaign with Boston in 2015-16.

"When we kind of digested what happened with the team over the course of the year," said Benning, "we thought adding a skilled player like Loui would help our group."

SWEET SWEDES: Eriksson is Swedish. So, too, are Daniel and Henrik Sedin. Is it fait accompli that the trio will be a line for the entirety of the season?

"No," Benning said. "We acquired Loui because he's a good hockey player. He's versatile. He can play left wing or right wing. He can play on your first power play, he can kill penalties. He's a guy that whatever line he's on, he makes that line better. He's also a guy that you could move to another line and get that line going."

MUSCULAR 'D': The trend in the NHL is to emphasize speed and skill over size and power. Yet in trading for Gudbranson, the Canucks brought in a defenceman known for his brawn. Why? "I just felt on our back end last year maybe we weren't hard enough to play against," Benning said. "He brings a hardness and a steadiness to our group back there."

YOUTH MOVEMENT: The Sedins and Eriksson are known offensive commodities. But if the Canucks are to qualify for the playoffs, Benning is hoping for production from Baertschi, Horvat, Virtanen and Brandon Sutter. Baertschi finished with 28 points in 69 games. Horvat recorded 40 points in 82 games. Virtanen had 13 points in 55 games, while Sutter was limited to nine points in 20 games.

MILLER TIME: Should the Canucks find themselves out of the playoff race at the trade deadline, Benning might have a trade chip in goaltender Ryan Miller. Miller, 36, is in the third and final year of a three-year, $18 million contract. He is coming off a season in which he posted a 2.70 goals against average and .916 save percentage in 51 games.

– Denis P. Gorman, The Associated Press

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