LAST SEASON: 34-37-7, 79 points. Missed the playoffs by finishing 14th in the Eastern Conference.
COACH: Jack Capuano, 3rd season with Islanders, 60-66-21; 3rd overall in NHL.
PLAYER TO WATCH: John Tavares. Fresh off his first 30-goal season in the NHL, the 22-year-old center is already establishing himself as a star heading into his fourth year with the Islanders. Tavares has increased his goal and point totals each season, topping out at 31 goals and 81 points in 2011-12 while playing in all 82 games.
OUTLOOK: With veteran goalie Evgeni Nabokov behind them, the Islanders could surprise some people in a short season. With young talent up front, led by Tavares, the up-and-coming club could hang around and perhaps sneak into a playoff spot in the sprint to the finish.
LAST SEASON: 51-24-7, 109 points. Lost to New Jersey 4-2 in Eastern Conference finals.
COACH: John Tortorella, 6th season with Rangers, 145-100-26; 14th overall, 384-322-100 in NHL.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Nash. The big power forward has finally emerged from relative obscurity and landed on the big stage. The 28-year-old Nash, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2002 draft by Columbus, played in only four playoff games in nine seasons with the Blue Jackets. His size and scoring ability will both be major factors for the Rangers' offense, which now boasts three premier forwards in Nash, Marian Gaborik and Brad Richards.
OUTLOOK: With reigning Vezina Trophy winner Henrik Lundqvist in net, and Nash teaming up with Gaborik and Richards up front, the Rangers have every reason to believe they can again top the Eastern Conference in the regular season and carry that through the playoffs, as well.
LAST SEASON: 48-28-6, 102 points. Lost to Los Angeles Kings, 4-2 in Stanley Cup final.
COACH: Peter DeBoer, 2nd season with Devils, 48-28-6; 5th overall, 151-135-42 in NHL.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Ilya Kovalchuk. With Parise playing for the Wild and the Devils' decision not to re-sign Sykora, Kovalchuk (37 goals) has to produce more to make up for the loss of 52 goals.
OUTLOOK: Despite losing Parise, their captain, the Devils return most of the players that came up two wins shy of a Stanley Cup. Martin Brodeur remains one of the league's top goaltenders at 40, and this veteran team has the potential to improve playing a second season under Peter DeBoer.
LAST SEASON:47-26-9,103 points. Lost to New Jersey Devils 4-1 in second round.
COACH: Peter Laviolette, 4th season with Flyers, 122-73-26; 11th season overall, 366-257-25-60 in NHL.
PLAYER TO WATCH: G Ilya Bryzgalov. Bryzgalov made few fans in his first season in Philadelphia with his quirky personality and erratic play. He had his moments of proving he was worth the $51 million, nine-year deal he signed, but he'll need more of them in the playoffs to win a Stanley Cup.
OUTLOOK: The Flyers have one of the best players in the game in team captain Claude Giroux, but the thin defense needs improvement and Bryzgalov has to improve if Philadelphia is going win its first Stanley Cup since 1975.
LAST SEASON: 51-25-6, 108 points. Lost to Philadelphia 4-2 in first round.
COACH: Dan Bylsma, 5th season with Penguins, 165-81-25.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Sidney Crosby. The 25-year-old superstar appears to be fully recovered from concussion-like symptoms that limited him to just 22 games last season. He should be back in his comfort zone with linemates Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz along for the ride. If healthy, he's the game's greatest playmaker.
OUTLOOK: With Crosby and reigning league MVP Evgeni Malkin in their primes, anything less than a Stanley Cup will be considered a disappointment.
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