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Not a flicker of doubt

Detroit Red Wings

There is still a lot to like in Hockeytown, especially since young star pivot Pavel Datsyuk reversed his decision to return to Russia (coaxed back by about $8 million over the next two seasons). But overall, the Winged Wheels are gray around the edges (Chris Chelios, Steve Yzerman, Brendan Shanahan), and a bit of a question mark in net with co-No. 1s Chris Osgood and Manny Legace. New coach Mike Babcock, formerly of the Mighty Ducks, has never worked with such talent and has taken a much lesser cast to the Cup finals (Ducks in '03). Will he be able to turn these riches into reward?

Arrivals: Fs Kent McDonald, Don MacLean, and Mikael Samuelsson; Ds Andy Delmore and Andreas Lilja; G Chris Osgood.

Departures: Fs Boyd Devereaux, Brett Hull, Darren McCarthy, Steve Thomas, Pater Vandermeer, and Ray Whitney; Ds Mathieu Dandenault, Derian Hatcher, and Jason Wooley; G Dominik Hasek.

Coach: Mike Babcock.

2003-04 record: 48-21-11-2 (first overall).

Postseason: Lost to Calgary in the second round.

Chicago Blackhawks
Well, well, well, who knew the Hawks wanted to rejoin the NHL? Owner Bill Wirtz gave new GM Dave Tallon access to the cash drawer. Tallon went out and hired Nikolai Khabibulin, a Cup-winner in Tampa, to secure the net - closing a hole that has existed since the 1990s departures of Eddie Belfour and Dominik Hasek. Tallon also gave ex-Islander point man Adrian Aucoin $4 million a year to direct the power play. Ex-Bruin Marty Lapointe was added for grit. AHL Rookie of the Year Rene Bourque brings promise to the wing. The City of Broad Shoulders finally can stop shrugging about hockey.

Arrivals: Fs Matthew Barnaby, Rene Bourque, Curtis Brown, Jim Dowd, Mikael Holmqvist and Marty Lapointe; Ds Adrian Aucoin, Jassen Cullimore, Todd Simpson, and Jaroslav Spacek; G Nikolai Khabibulin.

Departures: Fs Igor Korolev, Brett McLean, Travis Moen, Scott Nichol, Eric Nickulas and Ryan VandenBussche; Ds Bryan Berard, Steve McCarthy, Steve Poapst, Deron Quint, Stephane Robidas and Jason Strudwick; Gs Steve Passmore and Jocelyn Thibault.

Coach: Trent Yawney

2003-04 record: 20-43-11-8 (15th overall).

Postseason: Did not qualify.

Nashville Predators
Finally, a little bit of star power came to Guitar City with GM David Poile's surprise acquisition of free agent Paul Kariya over the summer. Quite a catch for a franchise that went decidedly low budget, and with virtual no-names, for its first six seasons, making the playoffs for the first time in 2003-04. Still, Barry Trotz, the team's bench boss from Day 1, will need a committed work approach once again from a lineup that remains very average - perhaps challenged to score 200 goals again even in the NHL's new open-scoring era.

Arrivals: Fs Kris Beech, Paul Kariya, Yannic Perreault; Ds Danny Markov and Ryan Suter.

Departures: Fs Andreas Johansson, Jim McKenzie, and Vladimir Orszagh; Ds Brad Bombadir, Shane Hnidy, Andrew Hutchinson, and Jason York.

Coach: Barry Trotz.

2003-04 record: 38-29-11-4 (eighth overall).

Postseason: Lost to Detroit in the first round.

St. Louis Blues
It wasn't until just before the final weekend of training camp that the Blues allowed power forward Keith Tkachuk into their dressing room. He had been exiled because his weight had ballooned north of 225 pounds. Their own budgetary diet forced them to offload Chris Pronger over the summer, ditching their prized defenseman to Edmonton for younger, cheaper blue liner Eric Brewer. What does all the slimming mean? Likely a slow start for the Blues, and possibly a very long season. The owners want out, and the lineup is in decline, especially now that Hall of Fame defenseman Al MacInnis (retired) has gone home for keeps.

Arrivals: Fs Aaron Downey, Dean McAmmond, Trent Whitfield, and Scott Young; Ds Eric Brewer, Doug Lynch, and Jeff Woywitka; G Patrick Lalime.

Departures: Fs Pavol Demitra, Scott Mellanby, and Brian Savage; Ds Murray Baron, Jeff Finley, Alex Khavanov, Al MacInnis, and Chris Pronger.

Coach: Mike Kitchen.

2003-04 record: 39-30-11-2 (seventh overall).

Postseason: Lost to San Jose in the first round.

Columbus Blue Jackets
A bad case of the flu all but decimated the Blue Jackets late in training camp, leading to a 9-0 exhibition shellacking by the Red Wings. Flu or no flu, the Jax could be in for a few of those nights the next six months. Ex-Avalanche stalwart Adam Foote will help shape up a needy defense, and power left winger Rick Nash (Joe Thornton's running buddy in Davos) appears on the verge of superstardom. But it remains a lineup in serious need. Had it not been for a lottery, Columbus would have been awarded the No. 1 draft pick (Sidney Crosby), based on the poorest performance over four seasons. Tough bounce of the ping-pong ball.

Arrivals: F Jan Hrdina and Ben Simon; Ds Bryan Berard, Adam Foote, Jeff MacMillan, and Radoslav Suchy; G Martin Prusek.

Departures: Fs Andrew Cassels and Brain Holzinger; Ds Anders Eriksson, Scott Lachance, and Jaroslav Spacek; G Fred Brathwaite.

Coach: Gerard Gallant

2003-04 record: 25-45-8-4 (14th overall).

Postseason: Did not qualify.

Calgary Flames
Every reason to believe the Flames, Cup finalists in '04, will challenge again to represent the West when the puck keeps bouncing in June. GM/head coach Darryl Sutter secured phenom/captain Jarome Iginla for the next three years at $7 million per, and also spruced up the lineup with the additions of Tony Amonte, Darren McCarthy, and Roman Hamrlik. Some wise, impressive spending for a franchise that made noises about possibly having to move late in the pre-cap era. Some still wonder if goalie Miikka Kiprusoff is the real deal. Oh, to have such worries.

Arrivals: Fs Tony Amonte, Daymond Langkow, Darren McCarthy, Brantt Myhres, and Jeff Wiemer; D Roman Hamrlik; G Phillipe Sauve.

Departures: Fs Chris Clark, Craig Conroy, Martin Gelinas, Dean McAmmond, and Ville Nieminen; D Mike Commodore; Gs Dany Sabourin and Roman Turek.

Coach: Darryl Sutter.

2003-04 record: 42-30-7-3 (sixth overall).

Postseason: Lost to Tampa Bay in Stanley Cup final.

Vancouver Canucks
Not a lot has changed here, for reasons good and bad. For the good: the Canucks will have Todd Bertuzzi out of exile (suspension for clobbering Steve Moore lifted). For the bad: once beyond the top trio of Brendan Morrison-Markus Naslund-Bertuzzi, the offense all but falls into Victoria Bay. They've also got high-end defensemen in Mattias Ohlund and Ed Jovanovski, but again, too much of a falloff from there. Canucks only advanced from Round 1 once in last four seasons. Until depth is truly addressed, they appear destined to repeat.

Arrivals: Fs Anson Carter, Ryan Kesler, Richard Park; Gs Alex Auld and Brent Johnson.

Departures: Fs Magnus Arvedson, Mike Keane, Brad May, Martin Rucinsky, and Geoff Sanderson; Ds Marc Bergevin, Marek Malik, and Brent Sopel; G Johan Hedberg.

Coach: Marc Crawford.

2003-04 record: 43-24-10-5 (third overall).

Postseason: Lost to Calgary in first round.

Colorado Avalanche
GM Pierre Lacroix really said that Pierre Turgeon ''has the skills to fill the holes created by Peter Forsberg.'' We repeat ..... no, we don't, hearing that once was enough. Lacroix made some brilliant moves in the old-cap era, including hiring away Ray Bourque from the Bruins for the Avalanche's last Cup. But now, where he had Forsberg, he has Turgeon - a buyout in Dallas. And where he had Adam Foote, he now has Patrice Brisebois, whom the Canadiens were delighted to see go. And in Patrick Roy's place, there stands David Aebischer. Denver fans only believed they had hockey's version of the Celtics. Now they know it.

Arrivals: Fs Andrew Brunette, Antii Laaksonen, Ian Laperriere, Brad May, and Pierre Turgeon; Ds Patrice Brisebois.

Departures: Fs Matthew Barnaby, Jim Cummins, Peter Forsberg, Chris Gratton, Darby Hendrickson, Paul Kariya, Steve Moore, Andrei Nikolishin, Temmu Selanne, and Peter Worrell; D Adam Foote; Gs Tommy Salo and Phillipe Sauve.

Coach: Joel Quenneville.

2003-04 record: 40-22-13-7 (fourth overall).

Postseason: Lost to San Jose in second round.

Edmonton Oilers
GM Kevin Lowe didn't make a lot of moves once the Season of Darkness came to an end, but he was extremely effective. Lowe's top get was swinging the trade with St. Louis that brought in the big-banging Chris Pronger, a franchise defenseman, for Eric Brewer. Lowe also flipped Mike York to the Islanders for heady pivot/leader Michael Peca. Two big issues remain: 1. Can either Ty Conklin or Jussi Markkanen be a No. 1 goalile; 2. Will some young forwards step up to create a viable, threatening offense? After landing Peca and Pronger, those almost look easy.

Arrivals: Fs Michael Peca and Brad Winchester; D Chris Pronger.

Departures: Fs Brad Isbister and Mike York; Ds Eric Brewer and Jeff Woywitka.

Coach: Craig MacTavish.

2003-04 record: 36-29-12-5 (ninth overall).

Postseason: Did not qualify.

Minnesota Wild
These could be troubled times for Friar Jacques Lemaire's Trappist Wild Wonks. No longer can an NHL club take a vow of offensive celibacy, try to thrive on the sweet, intoxifying nectar of interference and obstruction. Fine, we exaggerate. But really, the Wild had only one player crack 50 points in 2003-04, and that was renaissance man Alexandre Daigle (51 points). Lemaire has no choice but to open up, but he doesn't have the size or strength in the lineup to be effective. The one hope is speed, or perhaps an endless string of shutouts from Manny Fernandez and Dwayne Roloson.

Arrivals: Fs Andrei Nazarov, Brian Rolston, and Todd White; Ds Scott Ferguson, Kurtis Foster, and Daniel Tjarnqvist.

Departures: F: Andrew Brunette, Eric Chouinard, Matt Johnson, Antti Laaksonen, Richard Park, and Jason Wiemer.

Coach: Jacques Lemaire

2003-04 record: 30-29-20-3 (10th overall).

Postseason: Did not qualify.

San Jose Sharks

Yeah, that's what it says - Arrivals: None. The Sharks put up an impressive 104 points in 2003-04, and GM Doug Wilson held a pat hand once the lockout ended, deciding to let kids take over for some offloaded vets - the likes of Vinny Damphouse, Mike Ricci, and Mike Rathje. It's certainly a cap-friendly approach, one that prudent drafting and solid player-personnel evaluation allows. A trip to the '04 conference finals also validates it. Now, do the kids -including promising pivot Marcel Goc - meet the challenge? If not, Wilson still has more than $10 million in cap room to make a fix or two.

Arrivals: None.

Departures: Fs Curtis Brown, Vincent Damphousse, Todd Harvey, Alexander Korolyuk, and Mike Ricci; Ds Jason Marshall and Mike Rathje.

Coach: Ron Wilson.

2003-04 record: 43-21-12-6 (second overall).

Postseason: Lost to Calgary in conference finals.

Anaheim Mighty Ducks
New GM Brian Burke coaxed the slick Scott Niedermayer out of New Jersey (please, hold all one-liners) and instantly gave the Quacks one of the best, most mobile back-loaded attacks in the biz. Niedermayer will work with fellow wizard Sandis Ozolinsh much of the time. The net's in great shape, too, with Jean-Sebastien Giguere, who backed the Ducks to the Cup final (vs. Niedermayer and the Devils) in '03. Now, what to do with a lackluster bunch of forwards? That will be Burke's focus for months to come. Niedermayer will create chances to die for, but the forwards could kill 'em.

Arrivals: Fs Todd Fedoruk, Travis Moen, and Teemu Selanne; Ds Jason Marshall and Scott Niedermayer.

Departures: Fs Stanislav Chistov, Michael Holmqvist, Jason Krog, Vaclav Prospal, Steve Rucchin, and Peter Schastlivy; Ds Niclas Havelid, Martin Skoula, and Lance Ward; G Martin Gerber.

Coach: Randy Carlyle.

2003-04 record: 29-35-10-8 (12th).

Postseason: Did not qualify.

Los Angeles Kings
The Flyers threw the Kings a freebie in Jeremy Roenick when they decided Peter Forsberg would be an upgrade at No. 1 center. JR's still got game, and his ever-ready dialogue will bring the Kings some needed media play in La-La Land. Overall, though, it's a much lesser cast than surrounded Roenick in Philly, and without much beef on the wings, the former Thayer star could take a beating, in open ice and around the net. Heavy losses up front in walkaways Ziggy Palffy and Martin Straka. The Kings will be entertaining, as long as JR is playing, but aren't built to go far.

Arrivals: Fs Valeri Bure, Craig Conroy, Pavol Demitra, and Jeremy Roenick; D Brad Fast; Gs Jason LaBarbera and Mathieu Garon.

Departures: Fs Jason Allison, Scott Barney, Trent Klatt, Ian Laperriere, Ziggy Palffy, Martin Straka, and Jozef Stumpel; Gs Roman Cechmanek and Cristobal Huet.

Coach: Andy Murray.

2003-04 record: 28-29-16-9.

Postseason: Did not qualify.

Dallas Stars
Something had to stop owner Tom Hicks from spending, and in the end, it was the contracted handcuffs of the new CBA. Precious little is left of the Stars roster that won the Cup in '99. But they were able to keep Mike Modano from running off to the Bruins as a free agent, maintaining their first-line anchor, and they've got an elite goalie in Marty Turco, along with a power-play force in Sergei Zubov. Not bad underpinnings, really, but the key to a successful season will have to be a rejuvenated Modano, who put up a mere, sluggish 44 points in 2003-04. If that's all he has left, they're done.

Arrivals: F Garrett Barnett; Ds Stephane Robidas, Martin Skoula, and Jaroslav Svoboda; G Johan Hedberg.

Departures: Fs Valeri Bure, Shayne Corson, Rob DiMaio, Aaron Downey, Pierre Turgeon, and Scott Young; Ds Teppo Numminen, Don Sweeney, and Chris Therien; G Ron Tugnutt.

Coach: Dave Tippett.

2003-04 record: 41-26-13-2 (fifth round).

Postseason: Lost to Colorado in first round.

Phoenix Coyotes
The Coyotes needed something, someone, to capture the fan base's imagination, and that led to Wayne Gretzky's debut behind the bench. Think he knows now that he's not in Edmonton anymore, folks? The Great One was once the pinnacle of the game's most awesome offensive force. Now he has to wring what he can out of the likes of Petr Nedved, Mike Comrie, and Mike Ricci, not to mention an aged Brett Hull. And you can bet he'll try, and keep trying - first because new rules won't allow a defensive-only approach, and above all because Gretzky grew up on goals. Oh, this has gotta hurt.

Arrivals: Fs Boyd Devereaux, Brett Hull, Petr Nedved, Mike Ricci, and Oleg Saprykin; Ds Denis Gauthier and Sean O'Donnell; G Steve Passmore.

Departures: Fs Dan Cleary, Daymond Langkow, Andrei Nazarov, and Brian Savage; D Radoslav Suchy; Gs Brent Johnson and Jean-Marc Pelletier.

Coach: Wayne Gretzky.

2003-04 record: 22-36-18-6 (13th overall).

Postseason: Did not qualify.

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