After a successful foray to London, England, to open the 2007-08 National Hockey League season, this year's campaign will kick off on a pair of European fronts.
Daniel Alfredsson will return to his native Sweden as the Ottawa Senators face Sidney Crosby and the defending Eastern Conference champion Pittsburgh Penguins at Stockholm's Globe Arena on Oct. 4.
The same day, the New York Rangers and new-look Tampa Bay Lightning will tangle in the first of two games at Sazka Arena in Prague.
The four teams will wrap up the two-game set Oct. 5, with action getting underway in North America on Oct. 9, when the Toronto Maple Leafs are at Detroit and Vancouver hosts the Calgary Flames.
While all 30 teams have dreams of winning the Stanley Cup, only a handful has a legitimate chance of hoisting Lord Stanley's mug.
The Red Wings will attempt to repeat as champions, something no NHL club has accomplished since Detroit in 1998, while Tampa Bay will attempt to make like the 2007-08 Philadelphia Flyers and return to the post-season a year after finishing last in the 30-team league.
Canadian teams in Cup drought
It has been 15 years since the Montreal Canadiens won the Stanley Cup. Since then, no Canadian squad has managed to win the coveted trophy.
Coming off a 104-point season — the Canadiens' most successful since 1993 when they won their 24th Cup — Montreal is considered a favourite to repeat as East champions in the regular season.
Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa are expected to contend for playoff spots, while Vancouver and Toronto could slide further towards the bottom of the NHL standings.
Here's a breakdown of the teams to watch on the road to the Stanley Cup final:
- 2007-08 record: 47-25-10 (104 points, first in Eastern Conference)
- Playoffs: Conference semifinals (lost to Philadelphia in five games)
- New faces: Alex Tanguay (LW); Robert Lang (C); Georges Laraque (LW); Marc Denis (G)
- Departures: Michael Ryder (RW); Mark Streit (D); Bryan Smolinski (C); Mikhail Grabovski (C)
- Outlook: The Canadiens would love to add a Stanley Cup appearance to help celebrate their 100th season, and might have the balance to achieve this goal. The big question is in net, where Carey Price led Montreal to a 12-3-0 record down the stretch. He also posted a .920 save percentage in 41 regular-season games, but was victimized numerous times on the high gloveside in the playoffs. General manager Bob Gainey failed to lure a top-end centre (Mats Sundin) and settled for Lang, who could form a 1-2 punch on the top line with onetime Pittsburgh teammate Alex Kovalev (team-leading 35 goals, 84 points in 2007-08). Addition of Alex Tanguay should be an upgrade over Ryder on the wing, and make a strong forward corps and the NHL's top-ranked power play even more potent. Coach Guy Carbonneau might opt for four-forward power play following loss of blue-liner Streit (seven power-play goals).
- 2007-08 record: 47-27-8 (102 points, second in Eastern Conference)
- Playoffs: Stanley Cup final (lost to Detroit in six games)
- New faces: Miro Satan (RW); Ruslan Fedotenko (LW); Matt Cooke (LW); Eric Godard (RW)
- Departures: Marian Hossa (RW); Ryan Malone (LW); Gary Roberts (LW); Adam Hall (RW); Georges Laraque (RW); Jarkko Ruutu (LW); Ty Conklin (G)
- Outlook: A team that can boast two perennial MVP candidates in Sidney Crosby (72 points in 53 games) and Evgeni Malkin (106) is an obvious Stanley Cup contender. Crosby won't have Hossa on his wing, but could help ex-New York Islander and former 30-goal man Satan benefit from a change of scenery. With the loss of Malone and Roberts to free agency, more will be asked of young star Jordan Staal. He dipped to 28 points in his second full NHL season after a 29-goal, 42-point rookie campaign. Expect goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury to build on solid post-season performance (14 wins, .933 save percentage). Defence will be slightly weakened in the first half with Ryan Whitney (off-season foot surgery) not expected back until mid-November at the earliest, meaning more minutes for Kris Letang and Brooks Orpik.
Detroit Red Wings:
- 2007-08 record: 54-21-7 (115 points, first in Western Conference)
- Playoffs: Stanley Cup final (defeated Pittsburgh in six games)
- New faces: Marian Hossa (RW); Ty Conklin (G)
- Departures: Dominik Hasek (G); Dallas Drake (RW)
- Outlook: Defending Stanley Cup champions were probably the team to beat even before they added former 100-point right-winger Hossa, who will jump from one star centre (Sidney Crosby) to another (Henrik Zetterberg or Pavel Datsyuk). Detroit's puck-possession style should suit Hossa, who will be fed crisp passes from all-stars Nicklas Lidstrom and Brian Rafalski along with up-and-comer Niklas Kronwall. Only other notable addition is goaltender Conklin, who replaces the aging Hasek as Chris Osgood's backup. Conklin, who toiled in minors for much of six seasons, finally established himself in Pittsburgh a year ago. He practically saved the Penguins' season, flourishing as their No. 1 netminder in place of the injured Marc-Andre Fleury, posting a 18-8-5 record, 2.53 goals-against average and .923 save percentage. Standouts Johan Franzen and Valtteri Filppula are a year older up front, while the promising Jonathan Ericsson and Derek Meech give Wings great depth on defence.
San Jose Sharks:
- 2007-08 record: 49-23-10 (108 points, second in Western Conference)
- Playoffs: Conference semifinals (lost to Dallas in six games)
- New faces: Rob Blake (D); Dan Boyle (D); Brad Lukowich (D); Todd McLellan (head coach)
- Departures: Curtis Brown (C); Patrick Rissmiller (LW); Brian Campbell (D); Matt Carle (D); Craig Rivet (D); Ron Wilson (head coach)
- Outlook: Ousted in Round 2 of the playoffs for three straight years, the Sharks opted for a new-look defence and rookie head coach. Blake, Boyle and Lukowich are the newcomers on the blue-line, and each owns a Stanley Cup ring. Boyle is expected to team with Blake to further bolster a power play that ranked 10th in the 30-team league. But the biggest challenge for McLellan, coming off a Cup win in Detroit as an assistant, will be getting more production from a skilled offence that managed only 216 goals in 82 games. Patrick Marleau had seasons of 34 goals and 32 goals under Ron Wilson before mustering just 19 in 78 games last year, while Jonathan Cheechoo has never regained his form of 2005-06 (56 goals, 93 points). Capable of repeating as Pacific Division champions if centre Joe Thornton and goalie Evgeni Nabokov stay healthy.
ON THE RISE
- 2007-08 record: 43-31-8 (94 points, sixth in Eastern Conference)
- Playoffs: Conference quarter-finals (lost to Philadelphia in seven games)
- New faces: José Théodore (G)
- Departures: Matt Cooke (LW); Steve Eminger (D); Cristobal Huet (G); Olaf Kolzig (G); Frederic Cassivi (G);
- Outlook: How do you bet against Alexander Ovechkin and Bruce Boudreau, the reigning NHL coach of the year? At age 22, Ovechkin led the Capitals to the playoffs for the first time in four years after leading the league in goals (65) and points (112). Forwards Alexander Semin and Nicklas Backstrom, and defenceman Mike Green are three of the game's brightest young stars, while veterans Sergei Fedorov and Michael Nylander lead a strong supporting cast. Boudreau turned around the team, posting a 37-17-7 regular-season record behind the bench after apprenticing for years in the American Hockey League. Where the Capitals finish in the standings could depend largely on what Théodore shows in goal. He wrested away No. 1 job from Peter Budaj in Colorado last January, and won 28 games with a 2.44 goals- against average after being relegated to backup duty the previous season.
- 2007-08 record: 40-34-8 (88 points, 10th in Western Conference)
- Playoffs: Did not qualify
- New faces: Brian Campbell (D); Cristobal Huet (G)
- Departures: Robert Lang (C); Rene Bourque (LW); Kevyn Adams (C); Yanic Perreault; Jason Williams (C); Andrei Zyuzin (D); Patrick Lalime (G)
- Outlook: A filled United Center and televised home games? Things are definitely looking up for the Blackhawks. On the ice, Chicago is a team to watch after years of futility. Young guns Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, the NHL's top rookie in 2007-08, will keep opposing defences on their heels, while general manager Dale Tallon spent the off-season making significant improvements on the back end. Campbell, coming off a career-best 62 points with San Jose and Buffalo, gives the Blackhawks a legitimate threat on the point, while further growth is expected from talented youngsters Duncan Keith, Brent Seabrook and Cam Barker. The addition of free-agent goalie Huet (32 wins, 2.32 GAA in 52 games with Washington and Montreal) could push Nikolai Khabibulin out the door. A playoff berth might just occur before an injury-free season from winger Martin Havlat.
ON A SLIDE
Toronto Maple Leafs
- 2007-08 record: 36-35-11 (83 points, 11th in Eastern Conference)
- Playoffs: Did not qualify
- New faces: Jamal Mayers (RW); Niklas Hagman (LW); Mikhail Grabovski (C); Ryan Hollweg (C); Nikolai Kulemin (RW); Jeff Finger (D); Mike Van Ryn (D); Jonas Frogren (D); Curtis Joseph (G); Ron Wilson (head coach)
- Departures: Mats Sundin (C); Darcy Tucker (RW); Kyle Wellwood (C); John Pohl (C); Bryan McCabe (D); Jay Harrison (D); Andrew Raycroft (G); Scott Clemmensen (G); Paul Maurice (head coach)
- Outlook: Different than a year ago when coach Paul Maurice announced the Maple Leafs would make the playoffs and compete for a Stanley Cup. His successor, Wilson, will only say Toronto will be a hard-working squad. The rebuilding Leafs could have as many as 10 players 25 or under on the roster to start the season. With top point-getter Sundin still undecided on playing, Wilson will employ a defence-first approach. Centre/winger Nik Antropov is the only forward on the projected roster to reach 55 points last season. Wingers Alex Steen and Jason Blake scored 15 goals apiece last season but are capable of more. Beyond Tomas Kaberle and Pavel Kubina, the defence is inexperienced at the NHL level, but Sweden's Frogren could surprise. The strength of the team will be in goal, where fan favourite Joseph returns to back up Vesa Toskala.
- 2007-08 record: 44-31-7 (95 points, sixth in Western Conference)
- Playoffs: Conference semifinals (lost to Detroit in four games)
- New faces: Darcy Tucker (RW); Brian Willsie (RW); Andrew Raycroft (G); Tony Granato (head coach);
- Departures: Peter Forsberg (C); Andrew Brunette (LW); Jeff Finger (D); Kurt Sauer (D); Jeff Jillson (D); José Théodore (G); Joel Quenneville (head coach)
- Outlook: General manager Francois Giguere's most notable off-season signings included a pair of Maple Leafs castoffs, winger Tucker and goalie Raycroft. Ouch. New coach Granato will have to win with defence. The blue-line crew, led by John-Michael Liles, Scott Hannan and veteran Adam Foote, is strong. Behind them is the inconsistent Peter Budaj, who faces a tonne of pressure in net after losing the starting job to the departed Théodore halfway through last season. Up front, Colorado can't wait for oft-injured forward Forsberg to decide if/when he'll play this season, while the loss of Brunette will hurt a power play that already ranked 28th in the 30-team league. The good news is captain Joe Sakic put off retirement for another season while fellow forwards Paul Stastny, Milan Hejduk, Ryan Smyth, Wojtek Wolski and Tucker are decent but not the scariest bunch.
BACK IN PLAYOFF MIX
Tampa Bay Lightning
- 2007-08 record: 31-42-9 (71 points, 15th in Eastern Conference)
- Playoffs: Did not qualify
- New faces: Mark Recchi (RW); Gary Roberts (LW); Ryan Malone (LW); Vaclav Prospal (LW); Radim Vrbata (RW); Brandon Bochenski (RW); Andrej Meszaros (D); Matt Carle (D); Steven Stamkos (C); Olaf Kolzig (G); Barry Melrose (head coach); owners Oren Koules and Len Barrie
- Departures: Brian Rolston (LW); Andre Roy (LW); Tim Taylor (C); Andreas Karlsson (C); Dan Boyle (D); Filip Kuba (D); John Tortorella (head coach)
- Outlook: Last in the 30-team NHL last season, the Lightning made like the 2007 Philadelphia Flyers and loaded up in the summer with no less than nine notable player acquisitions. After scoring 223 goals last season, Tampa Bay is sure to surpass that total with an offence that includes Vincent Lecavalier, Martin St. Louis and newcomers Malone, Prospal and Roberts. Lecavalier should be plenty motivated after signing an 11-year, $85-million US extension that kicks in next season. Then there's former Ontario Hockey League standout Stamkos, the No. 1 overall draft pick in June, who is expected to crack the opening-night lineup as a forward. Former San Jose Sharks defenceman Carle joins a unit that is young, inexperienced and may take some time to gel under first-year coach Melrose. Veteran Kolzig was signed to push goalie-of-the-future Mike Smith, who has yet to prove he's capable of handling a starter's workload.
- 2007-08 record: 41-35-6 (88 points, ninth in Western Conference)
- Playoffs: Did not qualify
- New faces: Erik Cole (RW); Gilbert Brule [C]; Lubomir Visnovsky (D); Jason Strudwick (D)
- Departures: Jarret Stoll (C); Raffi Torres (LW); Marty Reasoner (LW); Geoff Sanderson (LW); Curtis Glencross (LW); Joni Pitkanen (D); Matt Greene (D)
- Outlook: If the Oilers could threaten for a playoff spot without their captain (Ethan Moreau), first-line centre (Shawn Horcoff), highest-paid defenceman (Sheldon Souray) and a host of other veterans as they did in 2007-08, they must be considered a shoo-in this season, right? Perhaps, but a lot will have to go right. First and foremost, the Kid Line of Sam Gagner, Andrew Cogliano and Robert Nilsson must at least match last year's output (combined 135 points). Former Carolina Hurricanes forward Cole is hoping a change of scenery will improve his point totals as the oft-injured winger saw his goal production dip from 30 in 2005-06 to 22 last year. Is this the year right-winger Ales Hemsky breaks out with a 30-goal, 85-point season? The chances are greater if linemates Shawn Horcoff and Cole remain healthy. The mobile Visnovsky takes over from the timid Joni Pitkanen on the blue-line.
- 2007-08 record: 43-33-6 (92 points, ninth in Eastern Conference)
- Playoffs: Did not qualify
- New faces: Joni Pitkanen (D); Josef Melichar (D)
- Departures: Erik Cole (RW); Trevor Letowski (C); Jeff Hamilton (C); Glen Wesley (D); Bret Hedican (D); David Tanabe (D); John Grahame (G)
- Outlook: It could be a slow start to the season for the 2006 Stanley Cup champions as captain Rod Brind'Amour will need time to get into game shape following knee surgery. Also, fellow forward Justin Williams will be lost four to six months with a torn right Achilles tendon. Pitkanen is the biggest addition to a defence that is younger than last year's unit. At $4 million per season, the mistake-prone Finn is the highest-paid Hurricanes defenceman. Former Chicago Blackhawks first-rounder Anton Babchuk, 24, is part of the youth movement and is coming off a 2007-08 season in which he finished fifth in scoring among defencemen in the Russian Super League. Behind him is goaltender Cam Ward, who rebounded from a humbling 2006-07 campaign with 37 wins and a 2.75 goals-against average. He'll need to be more consistent for Carolina to get back into the playoffs.
- 2007-08 record: 38-37-7 (12th in Western Conference)
- Playoffs: Did not qualify
- New faces: Olli Jokinen (C); Todd Fedoruk (RW); Brian McGrattan (RW); David Hale (D); Kurt Sauer (D)
- Departures: Radim Vrbata (RW); Niko Kapanen (C); Marcel Hossa (LW); Keith Ballard (D); Nick Boynton (D)
- Outlook: The P-word is being bandied about in NHL circles regarding the Coyotes and we're not talking about pathetic. Phoenix is actually being mentioned as potential playoff contenders after five consecutive losing seasons. The Coyotes instantly became a more powerful offensive team when general manager Don Maloney went out and acquired centre Jokinen (71 points in 2007-08) for defencemen Ballard and Boynton. He'll play alongside Captain Coyote, Shane Doan, and gives Phoenix decent scoring with young forwards Peter Mueller, Martin Hanzal and Daniel Carcillo returning. Highly touted centre Kyle Turris, who starred for Team Canada at last year's world junior championship, is expected to stick and be brought along slowly. The defence is thin, but at least the Coyotes will have Ilya Bryzgalov in goal from the start of the season. Claimed off waivers from Anaheim last November, he keyed the team's 83-point season with a 21-12-4 run up until February.