NHL preview: Ted Kulfan breaks down Eastern Conference

Ted Kulfan
The Detroit News

The News' Ted Kulfan previews the NHL's Eastern Conference.


Pittsburgh Penguins

Coach: Mike Johnston, 1st season with Penguins.

2013-14 record: 51-24-7, 109 points (1st in Metropolitan Division).

2013-14 leaders: G — Sidney Crosby, 36; A — Sidney Crosby, 68; W — Marc-Andre Fleury, 39.

Key losses: RW James Neal, D Matt Niskanen, D Brooks Orpik, LW Jussi Jokinen.

Key additions: RW Patric Hornqvist, LW Nick Spaling, LW Blake Comeau, C Marcel Goc, D Christian Ehrhoff.

Pressure is on ...: GM Jim Rutherford — The new general manager was aggressive in reshaping the roster and coaching staff. Only winning the Stanley Cup matters for this organization.

Rising star: D Olli Maatta — Won a job last season and showed the type of skill that fits nicely on this roster.

The skinny: The Penguins appeared in need of a shake-up and ownership made the necessary changes. There's a bit more grit, which should help matters.

New York Rangers

Coach: Alain Vigneault, 2nd season with Rangers.

2013-14 record: 45-31-6, 96 points (2nd in Metropolitan Division).

2013-14 leaders: G — Martin St. Louis, 30; A — Mats Zuccarello, Derek Stepan, 40; W — Henrik Lundqvist, 33.

Key losses: C Brad Richards, D Anton Stralman, C Brian Boyle.

Key additions: D Dan Boyle, LW Matt Lombardi, RW Lee Stempniak.

Pressure is on ...: RW Rick Nash — New York fans aren't forgiving, and they won't likely forget the playoff failures of Nash last spring.

Rising star: C J.T. Miller — Someone needs to come in and fortify the fourth line and Miller is arguably the Rangers best prospect.

The skinny: There's a lot of good mojo left over from the spring's playoff run to the Finals, but salary cap problems forced a lot of important veterans out of town.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Coach: Todd Richards, 4th season with Blue Jackets.

2013-14 record: 43-32-7, 93 points (4th in Metropolitan Division).

2013-14 leaders: G — Ryan Johansen, 33; A — James Wisniewski, 44; W — Sergei Bobrovsky, 32.

Key losses: D Nikita Nikitin, LW RJ Umberger, C Derek MacKenzie.

Key additions: LW Scott Hartnell.

Pressure is on ...: C Ryan Johansen — Currently embroiled in a contract dispute, Johansen is asking for a lot of money and his offensive production will have to match it.

Rising star: D Ryan Murray — Very good defensively as a rookie, Murray has to work on his offensive game this season.

The skinny: Injuries and Johansen's contract issue have made a mess of a preseason. But the Blue Jackets will roll in the spring.

Philadelphia Flyers

Coach: Craig Berube, 2nd season with Flyers.

2013-14 record: 42-30-10, 94 points (3rd in Metropolitan Division).

2013-14 leaders: G — Wayne Simmonds, 29; A — Claude Giroux, 58. W — Steve Mason, 33.

Key losses: LW Scott Hartnell, RW Steve Downie.

Key additions: LW R.J. Umberger, D Nick Schultz.

Pressure is on ...: C Vincent Lecavalier — Once a major star, Lecavalier dropped down to the fourth line last season. The Flyers are banking on a big turnaround — and need one.

Rising star: C Sean Couturier — Others get more attention on this team but Couturier is developing into a key two-way player and will only get better.

The skinny: One thing about the Flyers is, you never count them out. They find a way to overcome injuries and roster difficulties, and usually are a dangerous playoff team.

Washington Capitals

Coach: Barry Trotz, 1st season with Capitals.

2013-14 record: 38-30-14 (90 points, 5th in Metropolitan Division)

2013-14 leaders: G — Alex Ovechkin, 51; A — Nicklas Backstrom, 61; W — Jaroslav Halak, 29.

Key losses: C Mikhail Grabovski, G Jaroslav Halak, D Tom Poti.

Key additions: D Brooks Orpik, D Matt Niskanen, G Justin Peters.

Pressure is on ...: RW Alex Ovechkin — He's the face of the organization and Ovechkin hasn't been able to carry this team very far lately.

Rising star: C Evgeny Kuznetsov — The Capitals need offensive depth and his first-round draft choice showed glimpses of star power last season.

The skinny: The addition of Trotz's coaching, and Niskanen and Orpik on defense, could make a positive impact on what was an offense-first team.

New York Islanders

Coach: Jack Capuano, 5th season with Islanders.

2013-14 record: 34-37-11, 79 points (8th in Metropolitan Division).

2013-14 leaders: G — Kyle Okposo, 27; A — Kyle Okposo, John Tavares, 42; W — Evgeni Nabokov, 15.

Key losses: G Evgeni Nabokov.

Key additions: G Jaroslav Halak, C Mikhail Grabovski.

Pressure is on ...: GM Garth Snow — With the team moving from Long Island to Brooklyn in 2015, ownership wants to see this organization make the playoffs.

Rising star: Okposo — Coming off a breakout season, Okposo is being counted on to go beyond 30 goals and form a dynamic duo with Tavares.

The skinny: The Islanders took a step back but should return to playoff contending status this season.

New Jersey Devils

Coach: Peter DeBoer, 4th season with Devils.

2013-14 record: 35-29-18, 88 points (6th in Metropolitan Division).

2013-14 leaders: G — Adam Henrique, 25; A — Jaromir Jagr, 43; W — Martin Brodeur, 19.

Key losses: G Martin Brodeur, D Mark Fayne.

Key additions: LW Mike Cammalleri, RW Martin Havlat.

Pressure is on ...: G Cory Schneider — Not playing second fiddle to either Roberto Luongo or Martin Brodeur anymore, it's now Schneider's job alone.

Rising star: D Jon Merrill — His rookie season was rocky, but Merrill should be much more comfortable this time around.

The skinny: The Devils will look weird without Brodeur on their roster. This is an older team, but capable of surprising folks if they can stay healthy.

Carolina Hurricanes

Coach: Bill Peters, 1st season with Hurricanes.

2013-14 record: 36-35-11, (83 points, 7th in Metropolitan Division)

2013-14 leaders: G — Jeff Skinner, 33; A — Eric Staal, 40; W — Anton Khudobin 19.

Key losses: C Manny Malhotra, G Justin Peters.

Key additions: C Jay McClement, LW Brad Malone, D Ron Hainsey.

Pressure is on ...: C Eric Staal — The pressure is beginning to build on Staal, who hasn't been able to lead the Hurricanes over the hump in recent years. The cast around him remains average, at best.

Rising star: D Hayden Fleury — Top defensive prospect, Fleury is going to help but likely a year or two away.

The skinny: Peters, the former Red Wings assistant, has a mediocre roster that likely isn't capable of contending.


Boston Bruins

Coach: Claude Julien, 8th season with Bruins.

2013-14 record: 54-19-9, 117 points (1st in Atlantic Division).

2013-14 leaders: G — Patrice Bergeron, Jarome Iginla, 30; A — David Krejci, 50; W — Tuukka Rask, 36.

Key losses: RW Jarome Iginla, RW Shawn Thornton.

Key additions: None.

Pressure is on ...: RW Reilly Smith — Without Iginla, young players such as Smith need to increase their production.

Rising star: D Dougie Hamilton — The former first-round pick is developing into one of the better defenders in the league. A fine fit for this system.

The skinny: Losing Iginla was a blow but this roster remains as deep as any in the NHL. But they'll have serious salary cap issues after this season.

Tampa Bay Lightning

Coach: Jon Cooper, 2nd season with Lightning.

2013-14 record: 46-27-9, 101 points (2nd in Atlantic Division)

2013-14 leaders: G — Valtteri Filppula, Steven Stamkos, 25; A — Victor Hedman, 42; W — Ben Bishop, 37.

Key losses: C Nate Thompson, D Mike Kostka, G Anders Lindback.

Key additions: C Brian Boyle, LW Brendan Morrow, D Jason Garrison, D Anton Stralman, G Evgeni Nabokov.

Pressure is on ...: LW Ryan Callahan — Traded for the popular Martin St. Louis at the deadline, Callahan must provide similar leadership on a blossoming roster.

Rising star: LW Jonathan Drouin — The junior scoring star hasn't been able to stay healthy in training camp. The Lightning need his offense.

The skinny: GM Steve Yzerman has assembled a roster that should contend for the Stanley Cup.

Montreal Canadiens

Coach: Michel Therrien, 3rd season with Canadiens.

2013-14 record: 46-28-8, 100 points (3rd in Atlantic Division).

2013-14 leaders: G — Max Pacioretty, 39; A — P.K. Subban, 43; W — Carey Price, 34.

Key losses: LW Thomas Vanek, D Josh Gorges, RW Brian Gionta, D Daniel Briere.

Key additions: C Manny Malhotra, RW PA Parenteau, D Tom Gilbert.

Pressure is on ...: Subban — The defenseman signed a massive contract in the summer and will have to limit some of his head-scratching gambles on the ice.

Rising star: LW Alex Galchenyuk — Still hasn't achieved the level of offensive production expected of him, but a move to center could help.

The skinny: GM Marc Bergevin let some character veterans leave, but this is still a dangerous and explosive roster.

Detroit Red Wings

Coach: Mike Babcock, 10th season with Wings.

2013-14 record: 39-28-15 (93 points, 4th in Atlantic Division)

2013-14 leaders: G — Gustav Nyquist, 28; A — Niklas Kronwall, 41; W — Jimmy Howard, 21.

Key losses: C David Legwand.

Key additions: None.

Pressure is on ...: C Stephen Weiss — After a disastrous first season with the Red Wings, much more will be expected from the 2013 free-agent acquisition.

Rising star: RW Gustav Nyquist — Opponents likely will be more aware of the 28-goal scorer, who looks like an elite sniper.

The skinny: If they can stay healthy, the Red Wings should squeeze into the playoffs. But the margin for error is extremely small. A 24th consecutive playoff berth isn't a lock at all.

Toronto Maple Leafs

Coach: Randy Carlyle, 4th season with Maple Leafs.

2013-14 record: 38-36-8, 84 points (6th in Atlantic Division).

2013-14 leaders: G — Phil Kessel, 37; A — Phil Kessel, 43; W — Jonathan Bernier, 26.

Key losses: C Dave Bolland, D Tim Gleason, C Jay McClement, LW Mason Raymond.

Key additions: C Leo Komarov, RW Matt Frattin, D Stephane Robidas, D Roman Polak.

Pressure is on ...: F David Clarkson — Can he rebound from looking like a major free-agent bust last season? Five goals isn't nearly enough.

Rising star: C William Nylander — June's first-round draft pick looks like an impact player in the near future.

The skinny: Team president Brendan Shanahan has made changes on and off the ice, but it's debatable whether the Maple Leafs have the look of a playoff team.

Florida Panthers

Coach: Gerard Gallant, 1st season with Panthers.

2013-14 record: 29-45-8, 66 points (7th in Atlantic Division).

2013-14 leaders: G — Brad Boyes, 21; A — Brian Campbell, 30; W — Roberto Luongo, 25.

Key losses: D Tom Gilbert, G Scott Clemmensen.

Key additions: C Dave Bolland, LW Jussi Jokinen, RW Shawn Thornton, D Willie Mitchell.

Pressure is on ...: G Roberto Luongo — Away from the pressure and fishbowl of Vancouver, Luongo must carry a less experienced and less talented Panthers team.

Rising star: D Aaron Ekblad — June's first-round draft pick strengthens what was an average defense.

The skinny: You can make an argument this could be a surprise team capable of making the playoffs — or being a disaster area. The veteran free agents in July have to be impact players.

Ottawa Senators

Coach: Paul MacLean, 4th season with Senators.

2013-14 record: 37-31-14, 88 points (5th in Atlantic Division).

2013-14 leaders: G — Kyle Turris, 26; A — Erik Karlsson, 54; W — Craig Anderson, 25.

Key losses: C Jason Spezza, RW Ales Hemsky.

Key additions: RW Alex Chiasson, C David Legwand.

Pressure is on ...: RW Bobby Ryan –— Signing a big-money contract just days ago, Ryan suddenly becomes one of the faces of the franchise. Can he handle the spotlight in this market?

Rising star: D Jared Cowen — A contract squabble in training camp set Cowen back and he never recovered. He should be much better this season (or at least Ottawa hopes).

The skinny: For a variety of reasons the Senators took a step back last season. There's an interesting mix of veterans and youth here, and if G Craig Anderson returns to form, Ottawa could surprise.

Buffalo Sabres

Coach: Ted Nolan, 2nd season with Sabres.

2013-14 record: 21-51-10, 52 points (8th in Atlantic Division).

2013-14 leaders: G — Tyler Ennis, 21; A — Cody Hodgson, 24; W — Ryan Miller, 15.

Key losses: D Christian Ehrhoff, LW Ville Leino.

Key additions: LW Matt Moulson, RW Brian Gionta, D Josh Gorges.

Pressure is on ...: Nolan — To coach this team into a somewhat competitive state, but still be bad enough to draft Connor McDavid No. 1 overall in June.

Rising star: C Sam Reinhart — The Sabres' first-round pick in 2014, Reinhart is a two-way center who will be a cornerstone piece for this organization.

The skinny: They'll be bad, probably bad enough to land McDavid with the first overall pick. There's a serious shortage of overall talent on this roster.