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The addition of Andrew Brunette and several other key off-season signings are a reason why the Chicago Blackhawks are Central Division favourites this season. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images


Last season: Eighth in the West, lost in first round.

How they've changed: While the Blackhawks may not look quite like when they won the Cup in 2010, their revamped roster should be one of the best in the West this season. General manager Stan Bowman found a taker for Brian Campbell's massive contract in Florida, allowing him to add plenty of grit in newcomers Steve Montador, Sean O'Donnell, Andrew Brunette, Dan Carcillo and Jamal Mayers.

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Training camp decision: Who's the backup behind Corey Crawford? Ray Emery received a training camp tryout, but he hasn't been particularly good in preseason and may lose out to Czech prospect Alexander Salak.


Last season: Thirteenth in the West, missed playoffs.

How they've changed: Desperate to get back into the postseason for only the second time in franchise history, the Blue Jackets loaded up with two big additions in centre Jeff Carter (via trade with Philadelphia) and free agent defenceman James Wisniewski (who got a massive six-year, $33-million [all currency U.S.]deal). In all, Columbus increased its payroll $8-million from last season in the sixth biggest spending increase in the league.

Training camp decision: How many rookies is too many? It appears Columbus will have four in its opening-night lineup with Ryan Johansen, Maksim Mayorov, Cam Atkinson and David Savard surviving the cuts.


Last season: Third in the West, lost in second round.

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How they've changed: For the first time since the lockout, the Red Wings are well under the salary cap, as they opted not to spend big in free agency. Expect GM Ken Holland to use that extra $6-million at some point during the season. For now, the only newcomers of note are defenceman Ian White and backup Ty Conklin. The losses all came via retirements, with Kris Draper, Mike Modano, Brian Rafalski and Chris Osgood hanging them up.

Training camp decision: Should they keep camp invitee Fabian Brunnstrom? The Swede had three goals for the Wings in preseason and has probably earned a two-way deal.


Last season: Fifth in the West, lost in second round.

How they've changed: The Predators will be younger yet again this season, as they lost Cody Franson, Joel Ward, Matt Lombardi, Marcel Goc, Shane O'Brien, Steve Sullivan and Jean-Pierre Dumont in the summer and added only Niclas Bergfors and Jack Hillen as replacements. The good news is they have some serious prospect depth, with Jonathon Blum and Colin Wilson ready for big roles.

Training camp decision: What to do with Canadian world junior star Ryan Ellis? After a 100-point season in the OHL and CHL player-of-the-year honours last season, he'll either play a starring role in the minors or win a job as a depth defender in Nashville.

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Last season: Eleventh in the West, missed playoffs.

How they've changed: After spending last season near the salary floor, the Blues have spent another $7.5-million this time around in the hopes of finally taking a big leap forward. The new additions are all veteran forwards in Jason Arnott, Jamie Langenbrunner and Scott Nichol, who add some depth and character more than scoring punch. The good news is they haven't lost anyone of consequence and remain a young crew.

Training camp decision: The Blues settled on Brian Elliott as their backup goalie, leaving only the final forward spots as question marks. Russian youngster Evgeny Grachev has been a surprise in preseason, earning the spot left open after B.J. Crombeen broke his shoulder blade in Saturday's game.

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Hockey Reporter

James joined The Globe as an editor and reporter in the sports department in 2005 and now covers the NHL and the Toronto Maple Leafs. More

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