1. New coach, general manager in Pittsburgh — new direction?
Another early playoff exit cost Coach Dan Bylsma and General Manager Ray Shero their jobs, taken by Mike Johnston and Jim Rutherford, respectively. They must resolve defensive chaos, a lack of clutch goaltending, and injuries. Sidney Crosby’s preseason action was limited; Evgeni Malkin was expected to miss the entire exhibition schedule. Time for this talented group to prove itself.
2. Can the Columbus Blue Jackets build on a solid season?
They were on an upswing and pushed the Penguins to six games in the playoffs, but they’ve been unable to re-sign franchise center Ryan Johansen and will suffer if he’s absent long. Projected first-line left wing Boone Jenner (broken hand) will miss the first few weeks. They’re scrappy but lack depth.
3. How far can Tampa Bay go with a healthy Steven Stamkos?
The East final, maybe, if the dynamic Stamkos and goalie Ben Bishop avoid injuries. Junior scoring phenom Jonathan Drouin might stick, joining an exceptional young group that includes rookie-of-the-year finalists Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat.
4. Can the New York Rangers duplicate their Stanley Cup Final run?
It could be tough. They’ll start without first-line center Derek Stepan (broken leg), and that’s after losing valued defenseman Anton Stralman to free agency. But they’ll have a full season of prolific right wing Martin St. Louis, and goalie Henrik Lundqvist remains their backbone.
5. Will the Detroit Red Wings’ 23-year playoff streak end?
An annual question but relevant because the magical Pavel Datsyuk (separated right shoulder) is likely to miss a month. Moving to the East last season helped them, but they need to help themselves and upgrade on defense. Playoffs are likely, but no lock.