NHL preview: Eastern Conference breakdown

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News



In predicted order of finish by Red Wing beat Ted Kulfan

Caps goalie Braden Holtby finished with a 48-9-0-7 record and a 2.20 goals against average last year.

Washington Capitals

Coach: Barry Trotz, 3rd season

2015-16: 56-18-8, 120 points (1st)

Leaders: Goals — Alex Ovechkin 50. Assists — Evgeny Kuznetsov 57. Wins — Braden Holtby 48

Losses: LW Jason Chimera, C Mike Richards

Additions: C Lars Eller

Pressure is on — Holtby: On a team with several standout performers, he was a revelation playing in 66 games and performing well in the playoffs.

Rising star — C Evgeny Kuznetsov: He did well his rookie season, but expect a bigger breakthrough.

Outlook: This remains a tough, physical team learning how to win.

Penguins forward Carl Hagelin had 16 points in 24 playoff games for the Stanley Cup champions.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Coach: Mike Sullivan, 2nd season

2015-16: 48-26-8, 104 points (2nd)

Leaders: Goals — Sidney Crosby, 36; Assists — Kris Letang, 51; Wins — Marc-Andre Fleury, 35.

Losses: D Ben Lovejoy, RW Beau Bennett.

Additions: None.

Pressure is on — Fleury: Fleury was outstanding before getting hurt and losing his job to Matt Murray. Can Fleury stay healthy and be an elite No. 1?

Rising star — LW Carl Hagelin: His acquisition helped turn the Penguins into genuine contenders. Hagelin plays at a high-end speed.

Outlook: There’s enough talent to win the Stanley Cup again, but it’s so difficult to repeat. The kids who starred in the playoffs have to show it wasn’t a fluke.

Flyers defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere had 17 goals and 29 assists in 64 games in his rookie NHL season.

Philadelphia Flyers

Coach: Dave Hakstol, 2nd season

2015-16: 41-27-14, 96 points (5th)

Leaders: Goals — Wayne Simmonds, 32; Assists — Claude Giroux, 45. Wins — Steve Mason, 23.

Losses: LW RJ Umberger.

Additions: RW Dale Weise, D T.J. Brennan.

Pressure is on — D Shayne Gostisbehere: Gostisbehere came out of nowhere to be an offensive force and one of the league’s best rookies. Teams will have Gostisbehere on their radar this time around.

Rising star — D Ivan Provorov: The 2015 1st-round pick has the ability to make the Flyers a dangerous contender if he does what Gostisbehere did last season.

Outlook: The Flyers made a tremendous run to make the playoffs last season. They should be in a little more comfortable position this spring.

Islanders forward Brock Nelson has scored 46 goals the last two years in the NHL.

N.Y. Islanders

Coach: Jack Capuano, 7th season

2015-16: 45-27-10, 100 points (4th)

Leaders: Goals — G- John Tavares, 33; Assists — Kyle Okposo, 42; Wins — Thomas Greiss, 23.

Losses: RW Kyle Okposo, C Frans Nielsen, LW Matt Martin.

Additions: LW Andrew Ladd, LW Jason Chimera

Pressure is on — Goaltending: Either Thomas Greiss or Jaroslav Halak must grab hold of the starting job, but there are questions about both.

Rising star — C Brock Nelson: Scored 26 goals last season and fits in nicely as the team’s No. 2 center behind MVP candidate Tavares.

Outlook: The Islanders got older and arguably slightly better with their summer moves. They’ll be in a battle to maintain a playoff spot.

Rangers defenseman Dan Girardi has 215 career points and is plus-46 in 725 career NHL games.

N.Y. Rangers

Coach: Alain Vigneault, 4th season

2015-16: 46-27-9, 101 points (3rd)

Leaders: Goals — G- Derick Brassard, 27; Assists — Keith Yandle, 42; Wins — Henrik Lundqvist, 35.

Losses: D Keith Yandle, C Derick Brassard, C Eric Staal.

Additions: LW Jimmy Vesey, C Mika Zibanejad, RW Michael Grabner.

Pressure is on — Dan Girardi: The Rangers desperately need Girardi to return to form and strengthen a unit that looks awfully average on paper.

Rising star — D Brady Skjei: In limited work Skjei looked as if he’s ready to be a top-notch puck mover – and the Rangers need one.

Outlook: The Rangers were able to turn back Father Time last season but can they do it again? There’s young talent here and they’ll have to star for the Rangers to be a true threat.

Hurricanes forward Jordan Staal has 51 goals in the last four years in Carolina.

Carolina Hurricanes

Coach: Bill Peters, 3rd season

2015-16: 35-31-16, 86 points (6th)

Leaders: Goals — Jeff Skinner, 28; Assists —Jordan Staal and Elias Lindholm 28; Wins — Cam Ward, 23.

Losses: C Riley Nash, LW Nathan Gerbe.

Additions: LW Teuvo Teravainen, LW Bryan Bickell, RW Lee Stempniak.

Pressure is on — C Jordan Staal: Big brother Eric is gone, so the younger Staal must play like a No. 1 center, which he’s never had to do.

Rising star — Teravainen: Acquiring this young talent from the salary cap-strapped Blackhawks appears to be a genuine steal.

Outlook: Former Red Wings assistant Peters is doing a wonderful job molding this talent. The Hurricanes should be on the cusp of playoff contention.

Devils forward Taylor Hall had 328 points in 381 career games with the Oilers.

New Jersey Devils

Coach: John Hynes, 2nd season

2015-16: 38-36-8, 84 points (7th)

Leaders: Goals — Kyle Palmieri, Adam Henrique, 30; Assists — Travis Zajac, 28; Wins — Cory Schneider, 27.

Losses: D Adam Larsson, RW Jordin Tootoo.

Additions: LW Taylor Hall, LW Vernon Fiddler, D Kyle Quincey, D Ben Lovejoy.

Pressure is on — Hall: Acquired in the big trade for Larsson, Hall has yet to score more than 30 goals in a season.

Rising star — C Pavel Zacha: The 6th overall pick in 2015, the Devils need Zacha to make an impact rather quickly.

Outlook: Hynes did an impressive job in his rookie season, and with some young talent maturing and on the way, the future looks promising.

Blue Jackets defenseman Seth Jones had 20 points in 41 games after he was acquired by Columbus from Nashville.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Coach: John Tortorella, 2nd season

2015-16: 34-40-8, 76 points (8th)

Leaders: Goals — Brandon Saad, 31; Assists — Alexander Wennberg, 32; Wins — Joonas Korpisalo, 16.

Losses: D Fedor Tyutin, RW Jared Boll.

Additions: None.

Pressure is on — Sergei Bobrovsky: Possibly the Blue Jackets most important player, Bobrovsky had a dismal season and never got on track. He must be better for Columbus to have a chance.

Rising star — D Seth Jones: Trading C Ryan Johansen was a risky move, but the Blue Jackets acquired a legitimate cornerstone in Jones.

Outlook: Tortorella has his work cut out for him, a largely overpaid and underproducing roster that lacks quality depth.

Playoff teams: Washington, Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, New York Islanders.

Lightning forward Jonathan Drouin scored five goals in the playoffs, one more goal than he had in the regular season.

Atlantic Division

Tampa Bay Lightning

Coach: Jon Cooper, 5th season

2015-16: 46-31-5, 97 points (2nd)

Leaders: Goals — Steven Stamkos, 36; Assists — Victor Hedman, 37; Wins — Ben Bishop, 35.

Losses: D Matt Carle.

Additions: None.

Pressure is on — Cooper: This roster has been close for two seasons and this might be the last go around before the salary cap takes a bite. Cooper has to get this roster one step further.

Rising star — RW Jonathan Drouin: Drouin showed the dazzling offensive ability many felt he had during the playoffs.

Outlook: Injuries have curtailed the Lightning the last two springs. With financial limitations ahead, this core will be motivated to win an elusive Stanley Cup.

Panthers defenseman Aaron Ekblad has 75 points and is plus-30 in his first two years in the NHL.

Florida Panthers

Coach: Gerard Gallant, 3rd season

2015-16: 47-26-9, 103 points (1st)

Leaders: Goals — Alek Barkov, 28; Assists — Jussi Jokinen, 42; Wins — Roberto Luongo, 35.

Losses: D Brian Campbell, D Erik Gudbranson, G Alex Montoya.

Additions: D Keith Yandle, D Jason Demers, C Jared McCann, G James Reimer.

Pressure is on — Alek Barkov: Armed with a shiny, big-money contract, Barkov needs to take another big step into stardom territory.

Rising star — D Aaron Ekblad: It will not be long before Barkov is under consideration for the Norris Trophy.

Outlook: The Panthers made a few more moves than you’d expect a youthful contender to make. But this roster remains easily among the best in the East.

Canadiens defenseman Nathan Beaulieu had 19 points in 64 games with Montreal last year.

Montreal Canadiens

Coach: Michel Therrien, 5th season

2015-16: 38-38-6, 82 points (6th)

Leaders: Goals — Max Pacioretty, Alex Galchenyuk 30; Assists — P.K. Subban, 45; Wins — Mike Condon, 21.

Losses: D P.K. Subban, C Lars Eller, D Tom Gilbert.

Additions: D Shea Weber, G Al Montoya, RW Alex Radulov, LW Andrew Shaw.

Pressure is on — Weber: The trade for Subban will be analyzed endlessly, particularly in Montreal. Weber will be able to handle it.

Rising star — D Nathan Beaulieu: He’s not a star, but Beaulieu showed last season he can adequately take the load off some of Montreal’s aging defensemen.

Outlook: Goalie Carey Price had an injury at the end of November that ruined Montreal’s 2015-16 season. As long as he’s healthy, the Canadiens will make the playoffs.

Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara has 575 career points and is plus-200 in 1,275 NHL games.

Boston Bruins

Coach: Claude Julien, 10th season

2015-16: 42-31-9, 93 points (4th)

Leaders: Goals — Brad Marchand, 37; Assists — David Krejci, 46; Wins — Tuukka Rask, 31.

Losses: LW Loui Eriksson, RW Lee Stempniak, G Jonas Gustavsson, D Dennis Seidenberg

Additions: RW David Backes.

Pressure is on — Zdeno Chara: Chara, 39, needs to somehow turn back the time machine because the rest of the defense is rather ordinary.

Rising star — RW David Pastrnak: The Bruins have been waiting for Pastrnak, 20, to blossom and he’s likely to exceed his 15 goals last season.

Outlook: The core of this team remains formidable although beginning to show its age. The Red Wings edged them for the playoffs by a hair last season. Boston returns the favor this spring.

Wings forward Gustav Nyquist scored 17 goals and was minus-2 in 82 games last year.

Detroit Red Wings

Coach: Jeff Blashill, 2nd season

2015-16: 41-30-11, 93 points (3rd)

Leaders: Goals — Dylan Larkin, 23; Assists — Henrik Zetterberg, 37; Wins — Petr Mrazek, 27.

Losses: C Pavel Datsyuk, C Brad Richards, D Kyle Quincey.

Additions: LW Thomas Vanek, C Frans Nielsen, RW Steve Ott.

Pressure is on — Gustav Nyquist: Nyquist and fellow RW Tomas Tatar both need to get back to their offensive levels of two seasons ago. They weren’t good enough a season ago.

Rising star — C Dylan Larkin: As good as Larkin was last season, there’s likely more there for this exciting young player.

Outlook: Datsyuk was getting old and his production was declining, but he will be missed on and off the ice. The defense looks beatable, too. They’ll miss the playoffs by a whisker.

Ottawa defenseman Cody Ceci had 10 goals and 16 assists in 75 games with the Senators last year.

Ottawa Senators

Coach: Guy Boucher, 1st season

2015-16: 38-35-9, 85 points (5th)

Leaders: Goals — Mike Hoffman, 29; Assists — Erik Karlsson, 66; Wins — Craig Anderson, 31.

Losses: C Mika Zibanejad, D Patrick Wiercioch.

Additions: C Derick Brassard, C Chris Kelly.

Pressure is on — Brassard: Acquired in a trade for Zibanejad, Brassard has the ability to be the point-producing No. 1 center this team needs.

Rising star — D Cody Ceci: An offensive force who is still learning at the NHL level, Ceci could thrive paired with Dion Phaneuf.

Outlook: There’s pressure from ownership to make the playoffs but injuries have taken a toll and the Senators don’t have much depth.

Sabres defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen had nine goals and 32 assists in his rookie season in Buffalo last year.

Buffalo Sabres

Coach: Dan Bylsma, 2nd season

2015-16: 35-36-11, 81 points (7th)

Leaders: Goals — Jack Eichel, 24; Assists — Ryan O’Reilly, 39; Wins — Chad Johnson, 22.

Losses: G Chad Johnson.

Additions: RW Kyle Okposo, D Dmitry Kulikov.

Pressure is on — Robin Lehner: If Lehner is as good as the Sabres think he is, this team could threaten for a playoff spot.

Rising star — D Rasmus Ristolainen: C Jack Eichel is a given. But fewer folks know about Ristolainen, who is developing into a quality all-around defenseman.

Outlook: Okposo was a shrewd signing, someone who should fit nicely onto this budding roster. If Lehner and the defense play well, the Sabres could be dangerous.

Leafs center Auston Matthews had two assists in Saturday's 4-3 loss to the Red Wings at Joe Louis Arena.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Coach: Mike Babcock, 2nd season

2015-16: 29-42-11, 69 points (8th)

Leaders: Goals — PA Parenteau, 20; Assists — Nazem Kadri, 28; Wins — Jonathan Bernier, 12.

Losses: G Jonathan Bernier, RW PA Parenteau.

Additions: C Auston Matthews, LW Matt Martin, G Frederik Andersen.

Pressure is on — Matthews: The hype machine for June’s No. 1 overall pick has been going overdrive. But from all indications, Matthews could become a franchise-defining player.

Rising star — LW William Nylander: Take your pick, there are several elite offensive talents, but let’s go with Nylander, a slick passer who’ll finally get his first extended opportunity.

Outlook: If some of this elite young talent is as good as advertised, the Leafs could take a significant step forward. But the defense and goaltending remain question marks.

Playoff teams: Tampa, Florida, Montreal, Boston.

East champion: Tampa.