DUBENDORF, Switzerland - A quick look at the top eight teams competing in the IIHF World Hockey Championship (listed in predicted order of finish):
Last year: Silver.
Notables: Shane Doan, Dany Heatley, Martin St. Louis, Shea Weber.
Lowdown: There's a heightened sense of motivation after last year's loss in the final. Heatley enters with an astounding 32 goals in 43 career world championship games and should again be a big contributor. It will be interesting to see how head coach Lindy Ruff handles his first international assignment and which goaltender - Dwayne Roloson, Chris Mason or Josh Harding - gets the call in the big games.
Last year: Gold.
Notables: Ilya Kovalchuk, Alex Radulov, Alexander Frolov, Ilya Bryzgalov.
Lowdown: After ending a 15-year drought and winning gold last year, the Russians are looking to make it two in a row. Their lineup is largely comprised of players from the Continental Hockey League, although they could get a huge boost if Washington is eliminated from the first round of the NHL playoffs. That would make Alex Ovechkin, Sergei Fedorov and Alexander Semin available.
Last year: Fifth.
Notables: Jaromir Jagr, Ales Hemsky, Tomas Plekanec.
Lowdown: It's been a couple years since the Czechs made the podium but that could change here. Jagr may not be the same player he once was, but his presence should be a major boost to his countrymen. Some questions in goal with Martin Prusek and Jakub Stepanek currently on the roster, but we don't expect that to stop the Czechs from overachieving.
Last year: Bronze.
Notables: Niklas Hagman, Jarkko Ruutu, Pekka Rinne.
Lowdown: The hard-working Finns look poised to take a step back after a couple good years at this event. While their tight-checking style will keep them among the top tier, they probably need more offence to beat the best. It's worth noting that Teemu Selanne, Olli Jokinen and Saku Koivu all played for the team that won bronze last spring and none of those players is here now.
Last year: Fourth.
Notables: Loui Eriksson, Tobias Enstrom, Kenny Jonsson.
Lowdown: The Swedes put on a good showing without several of their stars last year and will be looking to do so again. Most of these Tre Kronor players spent the season in Europe, although Eriksson quietly scored 36 goals for Dallas and Enstrom has been emerging in Atlanta. Even still, a medal might be a tough ask for this group.
Last year: Seventh.
Notables: Mark Streit, Martin Gerber, Ryan Gardner.
Lowdown: The Swiss would love nothing more to reach the semifinals in front of their home fans. Even though that isn't likely to happen, it shouldn't diminish a positive few weeks for the burgeoning hockey nation. Gardner will be an interesting player to watch - the Toronto-born forward recently got his Swiss passport and led the country's domestic league in scoring.
Last year: Sixth.
Notables: Dustin Brown, David Backes, Jason Blake, Zach Bogosian.
Lowdown: This isn't an event where the Americans typically shine - they've managed just two bronze medals in the past 40 years. However, coach Ron Wilson should have some motivated players with less than a year to go before the Olympics. The team's most glaring weakness is the lack of a top-flight goalie ... with all due respect to Robert Esche and Al Montoya.
Last year: 13th.
Notables: Michal Handzus, Ladislav Nagy, Jaroslav Halak.
Lowdown: The former world champions almost faced relegation last year - ouch! Expect the Slovaks to bounce back in Switzerland after that embarrassment. Bet they wish Marcel Hossa's brother Marian wasn't involved in the NHL playoffs with Detroit.
And the others: Belarus, Latvia, Germany, Norway, Denmark, France, Austria and Hungary.