Life in the O.C. got even sunnier in July when superstar defenseman Chris Pronger was acquired in a trade with Edmonton that unites him with another Norris Trophy winner, Scott Niedermayer. By adding Pronger to his current team, GM Brian Burke now has everything in place for the Ducks to win the Cup.
After a disheartening loss to the Oilers in last season's playoffs, San Jose brought in free-agent center Curtis Brown and winger Mike Grier, a defensive specialist, to take critical face-offs and to help kill penalties. They join a club that has great depth on defense -- and very high expectations.
Jim Playfair is more tactful than Darryl Sutter, who frequently offered subtle criticisms of Jarome Iginla after losses. But don't expect the new coach to stray from Sutter's defense-first strategy, not even with Alex Tanguay in the fold.
After owner Craig Leipold opened his checkbook this summer and increased the Predators' payroll by about 30 percent over last season's, Nashville is finally poised to pass Detroit and lay claim to being the strongboy in the NHL's weakest division.
The last time the Red Wings started a season without Steve Yzerman was 1983-84. While the Red Wings will rely on experience to keep opponents from scoring, they'll count on fresher legs to put the puck in the net at the other end. This is a powerful team, and the win-at-all-costs attitude embodied by Yzerman remains.
Goalie Marty Turco's disappointing performance in the playoffs -- the heavily favored Stars were knocked out by the Avalanche in the first round in each of the last two seasons -- has exhausted the patience of coach Dave Tippett. "I put trust in a lot of [veterans], and the results haven't been there," says Tippett. "When that happens, you make sure things get done without relying on those players."
In one dizzying summer the Wild went from spendthrifts to big spenders. Now there is great optimism heading into the season. But like division rival Calgary, Minnesota is not about to become a freewheeling offensive club. "If we don't buy into the team concept," GM Doug Risebrough says, "we'll never win."
No other team has a bigger question mark than the Oilers do in goaltender Dwayne Roloson. Sure, other goalies have had breakout playoff runs that surpassed anything they'd done that regular season. Was Roloson's masterly postseason performance an anomaly? With All-Star defenseman Chris Pronger now in Anaheim, Edmonton will quickly find out.
When he took over as G.M. of the Sharks before the 1996-97 season, Dean Lombardi needed just three years to turn them into a playoff threat, but he'll be lucky to get that much time to transform the long-suffering Kings.
Hoping to avoid a third straight last-place finish, coach Wayne Gretzky and G.M. Mike Barnett set out to improve the defense and to add a physical presence up front, but the Coyotes have too many problems -- a shortage of scorers, a poor power play -- to finish anywhere near the top of the Pacific.
Memo to Alain Vigneault: Name tags might help. After failing to make the playoffs for the first time since 2000, the Canucks brought in 14 players, hired a new coaching staff and changed the team's defensive philosophy.
Though the Blue Jackets were a surprising 23-16-2 in the second half of last season, they were not as formidable as that record suggests and will have a hard time picking up where they left off. Beyond left wing Rick Nash, 22, Columbus is thin offensively.
Look around the NHL at the talent the Avalanche have given up: Peter Forsberg, Adam Foote, Paul Kariya, Rob Blake, and Alex Tanguay. Also on the way out is the franchise's 11-season streak of reaching the playoffs.
They won't break their trend of missing the playoffs (seven of the last eight seasons), but the Blackhawks could be more fun to watch. "I'm hopeful we're better," says second-year GM Dale Tallon, "but you never know until we play."
The Blues' answer to putting up the worst record in the NHL last season and missing the playoffs for the first time since 1979: hiring longtime NHL broadcaster (and former St. Louis goalie) John Davidson to be team president.
STANLEY CUP FINALS: Anaheim Ducks over Buffalo Sabres