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CP's team-by-team look at all 30 NHL teams as training camps open

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The Hockey News
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CP's team-by-team look at all 30 NHL teams as training camps open

The Canadian Press
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Western Conference

Anaheim Ducks: The NHL hasn't had a back-to-back champion in nearly a decade - Detroit last turned the trick in '97 and '98. Which brings us to the Ducks, who have a legitimate shot at pulling it off. Much will depend, of course, on whether Conn Smythe Trophy winner and perennial Norris Trophy contender Scott Niedermayer decides to come back at some point this season. Mathieu Schneider was a nice insurance pickup by GM Brian Burke but in no way comes close to replacing the skill level, minutes played and leadership Niedermayer gives the Ducks. The addition of winger Todd Bertuzzi should mitigate the possible loss of Teemu Selanne, who also hasn't yet decided on whether or not he'll be back. Losing up-and-comer Dustin Penner to Edmonton was a tough blow. Ryan Getzlaf is just scratching the surface of what should be a superb career and the Ducks, led by Chris Pronger and J.S. Giguere, still have a championship core to contend. They'll be top four in the West and threaten to repeat as champs.

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Calgary Flames: Mike Keenan? You are not alone if you fell off your chair when hearing the news that Iron Mike would be behind the Flames bench this season. This is an interesting gamble by GM Darryl Sutter. Signing veteran winger Owen Nolan and trading for defenceman Adrian Aucoin were also gambles. Sutter has done well to lock up star captain Jarome Iginla and top defenceman Robyn Regehr to long-term deals, and will try to do the same with goalie Miikka Kiprusoff. Don't underestimate the loss of blue-liner Roman Hamrlik, third on the Flames with a plus-22 rating last season. The Flames need to shake off their road woes of last season, when they tallied only 13 victories. We smell a big year from Iginla. Playoff-bound again, but not as one of the top seeds.

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Chicago Blackhawks: It's been a long time since the Hawks have opened camp with this kind of giddyness. Things are finally looking up for the Original Six franchise. The exuberance comes largely from the youth movement, led by highly touted youngsters Jonathan Toews and Jack Skille and 2007 first overall pick Patrick Kane. Toews, who could centre the first line, will have the biggest impact and should contend for the Calder Trophy. GM Dale Tallon was busy, also bringing in veteran centres Robert Lang and Yanic Perreault and winger Sergei Samsonov. They join an offence that already has Martin Havlat and Tuomo Ruutu. Let's not get carried away here, the Hawks still have a ways to go, particularly on the blue-line, but there's reason for optimism over the next few years. A playoff spot still seems out of reach in the tough Western Conference, but this team will be much better than last year.

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Colorado Avalanche: The Avs missed the playoffs last season for the first time since moving to Denver in 1995. And they missed out by one point after a fantastic finish - 15-2-2. Avs GM Francois Giguere was among the big winners in the off-season, adding star winger Ryan Smyth and top defenceman Scott Hannan while losing nothing from his core group. Smyth, aka Captain Canada, joins a potent offence that includes Joe Sakic, Andrew Brunette, Paul Stastny, Milan Hejduk, Wojtek Wolski and Marek Svatos. Hannan brings much-needed muscle and physicality to a blue-line that has puck-movers John-Michael Liles, Brett Clark and Jordan Leopold. There remains a question mark in goal - where Peter Budaj and Jose Theodore reside. The latter is in a contract year after doing little to earn the monster deal he signed in Montreal. Perhaps that will bring out a big year. Look for Giguere to make a trade if neither Budaj or Theodore answer the bell. Otherwise, this is a dangerous team that almost certainly will return to the playoffs.

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Columbus Blue Jackets: The top addition in Columbus was in the front office, where Scott Howson took over as GM. It was a savvy hiring. Howson is the right man to turn around this ship. He inherits one of the game's great coaching minds in Ken Hitchcock. Unfortunately, neither Howson nor Hitchcock can stop pucks or play defence. Pascal Leclaire has yet to prove he's a No. 1 goalie and while Fredrik Norrena was a pleasant surprise last season, no one's confusing him with Miikka Kiprusoff. The blue-line could be the weakest in the NHL. Rick Nash, David Vyborny, Fredrik Modin, Michael Peca, Sergei Fedorov and the enigmatic Nikolai Zherdev lead a decent forward group. But keep an eye on Fedorov, an unrestricted free agent at year's end. He could be on the move if things start slowly in Columbus. This team will eventually get better with Howson at the helm but the 2007-08 season won't be too pleasurable.

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Dallas Stars: It was a frustrating off-season for GM Doug Armstrong, who despite a valiant effort wasn't able to acquire the free-agent help he needed to boost the NHL's 22nd-ranked offence. Not a single player reached the 30-goal or 60-point plateau last season. Plus the Stars lost defenceman Darryl Sydor and winger Ladislav Nagy to free agency. There's hope second-year forward Loui Eriksson may blossom. But otherwise, goals will be hard to come by again until Armstrong pulls the trigger on a deal. On the positive side, goalie Marty Turco quieted his critics with a super playoff performance in a seven-game loss to Vancouver. He'll be their backbone again this season. Still, the Stars will be hard-pressed to repeat a 50-win season and likely will be on the playoff bubble.

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Detroit Red Wings: People counting on the salary cap damaging the Wings' chances should stop waiting for that to happen. This organization is a well-oiled machine that hasn't missed a beat two years into the new collective bargaining agreement thanks in large part to one of the game's premier GMs - Ken Holland. He just finds a way to keep his team among the game's elite. After losing Steve Yzerman and Brendan Shanahan last summer the Wings responded by winning the Western Conference with 113 points and giving eventual Cup champion Anaheim all it could handle in the West final. Defenceman Mathieu Schneider and winger Todd Bertuzzi were key losses this off-season but Holland responded by signing top blue-liner Brian Rafalski and gritty veteran forward Dallas Drake. Combined with the continued emergence of younger players such as Jiri Hudler, Valtteri Filppula and Tomas Kopecky (and watch out for rookie Igor Grigorenko) and the clutch scoring of Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, expect another 100-plus point season and a shot at the Cup.

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Edmonton Oilers: It took more than a year but finally GM Kevin Lowe help fix the whopping hole Chris Pronger left on his blue-line after a forced trade in July 2006. Joni Pitkanen and Sheldon Souray are big-time additions - not to mention the unheralded Denis Grebeshkov, who may surprise many this season with his play. The Oilers had an issue moving the puck from their end last season and these guys will change that. Jason Smith will be missed but Edmonton's blue-line is in good shape. The offence? Not so much. Even with the addition of Dustin Penner, goals will be hard to come by. Look for Lowe to work the phones all season long to try and add a forward or two. Losing two-way forward Fernando Pisani indefinitely (ulcerative colitis) is a huge blow as well. As it stands now, this roster doesn't quite look playoff-bound.

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Los Angeles Kings: GM Dean Lombardi added Tom Preissing and Brad Stuart to a blue-line already featuring Rob Blake, Lubomir Visnovsky, Jaroslav Modry and rookie Jack Johnson. Yeah, not bad. Up front, young offensive stars Anze Kopitar, Mike Cammalleri and Alexander Frolov got some help when Lombardi signed Michal Handzus, Ladislav Nagy and Kyle Calder. This is an improved team both at forward and defence. Unfortunately, there are still issues in goal. Lombardi tried to get Tomas Vokoun from Nashville before losing out to Florida, so he decided to wait until the right guy was available. In the meantime, Jason Labarbera, Dan Cloutier and J.S. Aubin will battle it out for starts. Unless the goaltending improves dramatically from last year, it's another year out of the playoffs. But make no mistake, Lombardi and head coach Marc Crawford have this ship going in the right direction.

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Minnesota Wild: Aside from trading away goalie Manny Fernandez it was a fairly quiet off-season for the Wild, who like what they have. The NHL's stingiest team last season made a return to the playoffs. And with Brian Rolston, Marian Gaborik and Pavol Demitra leading the way again this year, there's no reason to think they can't do it again. Just imagine if Gaborik can stay healthy enough to play a full year. He had 30 goals and 57 points in only 48 games last year. If the Wild can find more secondary scoring they'll be more than just first-round fodder. Of interest this season is also how Niklas Backstrom responds after a surprising first NHL season. He was so good - 1.97 GAA and .929 SP - that the Wild felt compelled to deal Fernandez to make room for Backstrom as their undisputed No. 1. Should he falter this season, Josh Harding and Nolan Schaefer wait in the wings.

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Nashville Predators: To consider the damage Craig Leipold's payroll purge caused in Nashville, picture the team's wholesale changes this off-season as one big mega-trade: Tomas Vokoun, Peter Forsberg, Paul Kariya, Kimmo Timonen and Scott Hartnell gone in exchange for Jed Ortmeyer, Radek Bonk, Greg de Vries and Martin Gelinas. Ouch. There's no denying the Preds have an abundance of young talent, led by Alexander Radulov and Shea Weber, and some key players left such as Martin Erat, Jason Arnott and Steve Sullivan (out until December) but this is a club that has fallen from sure-bet Stanley Cup contender to playoff bubble team. Sad.

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Phoenix Coyotes: The massive rebuilding project is underway with new GM Don Maloney. With a makeshift goalie trio (David Aebischer, Alex Auld, Mikael Tellqvist) and an offence that doesn't have a single household name after Shane Doan, the long-term view is being taken as the Coyotes start anew. The blue-line remains solid - Ed Jovanovski joined by Derek Morris, Keith Ballard, Nick Boynton, Zbynek Michalek and impressive rookie Keith Yandle - but it's going to be a long year in the desert.

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San Jose Sharks: The Sharks did more shedding than adding this summer but remain a big-time Stanley Cup contender. Gone are Scott Hannan, Vesa Toskala, Mark Bell and Bill Guerin with the only notable additions being Alexei Semenov and the aging Jeremy Roenick. Hannan though is the only real loss that will be felt. Toskala's departure simply settles what was becoming an annoying goaltending dilemma and now Evgeni Nabokov is the man without question. Joe Thornton leads an offence that's as good as any team in the NHL. The blue-line is good, especially with the re-signing of Craig Rivet, but not great. GM Doug Wilson probably will look to add another body there before the trade deadline. The Sharks will challenge for the Western Conference title and a Stanley Cup.

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St. Louis Blues: If there's a sleeper team in the West this might just be it. The Blues responded well to new coach Andy Murray last year and added some big pieces in veteran forwards Paul Kariya and Keith Tkachuk this off-season. The blue-line, if it stays healthy, is solid - Eric Brewer, Jay McKee, Christian Backman, Barret Jackman, Bryce Salvador, Jeff Woywitka and 2006 first overall pick, rookie Erik Johnson. Veteran netminder Manny Legace will be pushed by Hannu Toivonen and Jason Bacashihua. Young forwards Lee Stempniak and David Backes took big strides last season. A playoff team this year? A lot of things have to go their way, but they've got a shot.

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Vancouver Canucks: The core remains unchanged from a team that surprised most last year. Superstar goalie Roberto Luongo lived up to the hype and then some. Head coach Alain Vigneault had his team play a tight style of game that delivered results. Still, the Canucks were the lowest-scoring team to make the playoffs in the Western Conference (tied with Dallas) and weren't able to add any real offensive boost in the off-season. Maybe they'll get it from within, such as captain Markus Naslund bouncing back from a subpar, 60-point season. Still, the onus will be on GM Dave Nonis to try and add a quality forward before the trade deadline. A return to the playoffs seems likely.

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Eastern Conference

Atlanta Thrashers: The team took a huge step by making the playoffs for the first time in franchise history last season. Now the Thrashers hope that first-time experience will be key for young players such as winger Ilya Kovalchuk and goalie Kari Lehtonen. Re-signing veteran winger Slava Kolzov was a major move by GM Don Waddell. But this remains a team without a true No. 1 centre. Newcomers Todd White and Eric Perrin join Bobby Holik, Jim Slater and Steve Rucchin up the middle - but none of them are top line material. The blue-line took a hit in losing Andy Sutton to free agency. The Thrashers will be on the playoff bubble, anywhere from seventh to 12th in the East.

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Boston Bruins: GM Peter Chiarelli hopes to have fixed what was an obvious problem for his team last year with the acquisition of netminder Manny Fernandez. The Bruins ranked 29th in goaltending last season and allowed the second-most goals in the NHL. Whether or not Fernandez is the answer, however, remains to be seen. He was inconsistent after being handed the No. 1 job in Minnesota last year and ultimately lost it to Niklas Backstrom. New head coach Claude Julien should help tighten up Boston's game. There were massive changes a year ago that made it difficult for the Bruins to develop any chemistry. A relatively quiet off-season may allow the team to come together. Still, this doesn't quite look like a playoff team right now.

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Buffalo Sabres: Most teams would be written off after the kind of free-agent losses the Sabres suffered on July 1 - star centres Daniel Briere and Chris Drury both jumped ship. But it's a testament to GM Darcy Regier and the way he's built the club that while the losses will surely be felt, they won't be nearly as crippling as people think. The Sabres still have Derek Roy, Tim Connolly, Jochen Hecht, Paul Gaustad and Adam Mair they can pick from to play centre. And plenty of firepower on the wings. Connolly, if he can finally stay healthy, is No. 1 centre material and so is Roy. Are the Sabres still the sure-bet Stanley Cup contender they were the last two seasons? No. But they remain a lock to make the playoffs.

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Carolina Hurricanes: From Stanley Cup champions to bust, the Hurricanes couldn't wait to turn the page on the 2006-07 season. It was a relatively quiet off-season, with the most notable addition more of a return - centre Matt Cullen was reacquired from the New York Rangers. He was a key part of the Cup campaign in 2006. Veteran GM Jim Rutherford isn't going to give up on a core that delivered a championship just two seasons ago. Goalie Cam Ward needs to rebound from a so-so campaign last year. The blue-line is solid and the offence, led by Eric Staal, Justin Williams, Rod Brind'Amour, Ray Whitney and Erik Cole, should also produce more this season if healthy. Expect a rebound year from the '06 champs and a return to the playoffs.

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Florida Panthers: The Panthers atoned for this decade's worst blunder - trading Roberto Luongo - by acquiring Tomas Vokoun in June, one of the NHL's elite netminders. He will steal games for the Panthers this season. This is a team that doesn't get much respect around the league because they've been out of the playoffs six straight seasons. But the reality is that they were right there with Toronto and Montreal last season, just outside the playoffs. Captain Olli Jokinen is one the game's most underrated centres. Nathan Horton and Stephen Weiss could be ready for monster years. The blue-line thins out a bit after Jay Bouwmeester, Mike Van Ryn and Ruslan Salei. But with Vokoun in net, the Panthers could finally be knocking on the playoff door this season. They'll be in that mix of playoff bubble teams from seventh to 12th.

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Montreal Canadiens: GM Bob Gainey can't be accused of not trying. Prized free agents Daniel Briere and Ryan Smyth both admitted the Habs made offers they nearly took before choosing other destinations. It's a nice sentiment but it doesn't do Montreal any good. There were changes this off-season. Gone is star blue-liner Sheldon Souray and his 26 goals, as well as forwards Alexander Perezhogin, Sergei Samsonov, Radek Bonk, and backup goalie David Aebischer. They were replaced by blue-liners Roman Hamrlik and Patrice Brisebois and forwards Bryan Smolinski and Tom Kostopoulos. Hamrlik is the key addition - his plus-22 rating in Calgary last season would have led the Habs by double digits. They will feel the pinch of losing Souray's power-play blast. The Habs may be on the outside looking in again this year. But the wild card here is the continued development of their younger core - Chris Higgins, Andrei Kostitsyn, Guillaume Latendresse, Maxim Lapierre, Tomas Plekanec and Mike Komisarek. If they all take big steps, the Canadiens could surprise. In goal, prized prospect Carey Price is waiting in the wings should Cristobal Huet falter.

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New Jersey Devils: The first day of free agency was a disaster for the Devils, who lost No. 1 centre Scott Gomez and top defenceman Brian Rafalski. But credit veteran GM Lou Lamoriello for rebounding with some solid add-ons - forwards Dainius Zubrus and Arron Asham, and defencemen Karel Rachunek and Vitali Vishnevski. Zubrus and Rachunek, in particular, are underrated players. The blue-line, however, long the hallmark of this franchise, doesn't have the depth it once had. Superstar goalie Martin Brodeur is coming off arguably his best season ever in the NHL, and don't be fooled into thinking he's going to slow down any time soon. A playoff team to be sure, but a Cup contender? We're not convinced.

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New York Islanders: Losing scoring wingers Ryan Smyth and Jason Blake early in free agency was a huge blow but young GM Garth Snow got to work instead of sulking - signing forwards Mike Comrie, Bill Guerin, Jon Sim, Ruslan Fedotenko, Josef Vasicek and defenceman Andy Sutton. Defenceman Bryan Berard was also invited to camp on a tryout. Major, major changes on the Island. Most importantly, overpaid captain Alexei Yashin was bought out after last season - a move welcomed inside the dressing room and by head coach Ted Nolan. So what do the Isles have here? A lot of it depends on how all the new faces come together. The Isles should be among big group of playoff bubble teams fighting for the last two spots.

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New York Rangers: Some of those who witnessed the Rangers-Sabres second-round series last spring argue Buffalo was lucky to beat New York. If that's the case, the Rangers are on the cusp on great things with the flamboyant additions of Chris Drury and Scott Gomez - the creme de la creme of the free-agent crop and a stunning upgrade at centre. That's the good news. What's not so impressive, however, is a blue-line that simply doesn't scare anyone: Michal Rozsival, Marek Malik, Fedor Tyutin, Thomas Pock, Andrew Hutchinson, Paul Mara, Jason Strudwick and Dan Girardi. Look for GM Glen Sather to upgrade his back end before the trade deadline. In the meantime, one of the league's top coaching staffs led by Tom Renney and the excellent goaltending of Henrik Lundqvist will help the Rangers shoot for the Eastern Conference title. If they add a top blue-liner, this is a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.

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Ottawa Senators: This is a pivotal year in the window this team has to capture a Stanley Cup. Slated for unrestricted free agency after the season is 50-goal man Dany Heatley, clutch two-way centre Mike Fisher and defenceman Wade Redden. No. 1 centre Jason Spezza will be a restricted free agent. It's largely the same team coming back that reached the Cup final last June, with the biggest change behind the bench where John Paddock takes over after Bryan Murray was promoted to GM. Look for Murray to try and add a top-line forward. This remains undoubtedly a powerhouse, one that is keen to get back to the dance and finish the job. The Sens will win the Northeast Division and have another real shot at the Cup.

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Philadelphia Flyers: There's no way to go but up after a 30th-place finish last season. And up the Flyers will go after a massive overhaul from GM Paul Holmgren. Enter star centre Daniel Briere, top defenceman Kimmo Timonen, forward Scott Hartnell, veteran defenceman Jason Smith and winger Joffrey Lupul. A young core led by Mike Richards, Jeff Carter, Scottie Upshall and R.J. Umberger gives Flyers fans hope that their team has turned the corner. Martin Biron is out to prove he is a No. 1 goalie. The Flyers will be one the most improved teams in the NHL this season. But will it be enough to make the playoffs? We don't think so.

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Pittsburgh Penguins: The look on Sidney Crosby's face moments after his team was knocked out by the Senators in the first round of the playoffs last spring seemed to suggest: "I'll be back, and next time, I'm going to win." We don't doubt him. Only Buffalo and Ottawa scored more goals than the Penguins last season - which isn't surprising with Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Jordan Staal leading the way. GM Ray Shero addressed a pressing need this summer when he added veteran defenceman Darryl Sydor to a blue-line that needed some boosting. The key to whether the Penguins are ready to challenge the big boys atop the Eastern Conference is in goal. Marc-Andre Fleury did win 40 games last season - third-best in the NHL - but ranked 27th among all goalies with a 2.83 GAA and 24th with a .906 save percentage and certainly looked overwhelmed at times in his first-ever playoff experience. The Penguins have put all their faith in him (Dany Sabourin is the backup) so Fleury must step up this season if Pittsburgh hopes to go deep into the playoffs.

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Tampa Bay Lightning: Let's cut to the chase. Yet again, it's about goaltending for the Lightning. Marc Denis was supposed to be the answer last year but come playoff time he was in street clothes as John Holmqvist started and Karri Ramo backed him up. GM Jay Feaster wasn't able to find any takers for Denis - who has $5.8 million left on the next two years of his deal. Whether it's Holmqvist, Denis or Ramo, the Lightning enter the season with the worst goaltending in the conference. The goaltending issues overshadows what is otherwise a terrific core, with the Big Three of Vincent Lecavalier, Brad Richards and Martin St. Louis well complemented by the vastly undderated Dan Boyle on defence. Unless Denis or Holmqvist surprise this season or Feaster acquires another goalie, the Lightning may struggle to make the playoffs.

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Toronto Maple Leafs: Mats Sundin has a finisher on his wing this season, which was long overdue. GM John Ferguson reeled in 40-goal man Jason Blake, a much-needed addition for the team's top centre and captain. Aside from Sundin, no other Leaf forward cracked 50 points last season, although Darcy Tucker would have easily done so if not for an injury. And that was a big part of the story last season - the Leafs lead the NHL with 335 man-games lost. No one likes a whiner, but very few teams could be hit that hard by the injury bug and still make the playoffs and the Leafs missed by one point. Tomas Kaberle, Bryan McCabe, Pavel Kubina, Hall Gill, Carlo Colaiacovo and Ian White form a solid blue-line corps, with more depth waiting in the wings at the AHL level. Goalie Vesa Toskala was highly sought-after and with good reason, many scouts believing he's got the goods to be a top-notch starter. With the additions of Toskala and Blake and the hope for healthier season, we project the Leafs not only to make the playoffs but perhaps challenge for as high as fourth or fifth in the conference.

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Washington Capitals: After three years of rebuilding and three years near the bottom of the standings, the Caps believe they've got a team on the rise. The additions of top centre Michael Nylander, defenceman Tom Poti and forward Viktor Kozlov via free agency plus the arrival of highly touted rookie forward Nicklas Backstrom bolsters a Caps team with a young and emerging core led by Alexander Ovechkin, Alexander Semin and Steve Eminger. And of course one of the league's top netminders Olaf Kolzig covers the back end. We see the sleeper team of the conference here. A playoff spot is not out of the question.

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CP's team-by-team look at all 30 NHL teams as training camps open