The puck drops on the ice Oct. 1, as NHL’s 2009-2010 campaign kicks into high gear when the Detroit Red Wings and St. Louis Blues take to their skates at Ericsson Globe in Stockholm, Sweden. With the Red Wings hoping to rebound from last spring’s stunning loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, several teams have made moves to challenge for Lord Stanley’s Cup, while others have made moves to ensure their doom for years to come.

This year’s playoffs look promising, with the second round of the Western Conference providing the greatest potential for high drama and some very historic match-ups. If Chicago and Anaheim should meet in the playoffs, expect it to be one of the most epic playoff series of the decade.

If Boston, Pittsburgh, Detroit and Chicago can all meet in the conference finals, the NHL may have the greatest Final Four showdown in all sports in recent memory. Will Pittsburgh and Detroit find a way to meet in the Stanley Cup for the third straight year? Can Boston and Chicago have breakout seasons? Can Anaheim maintain itself as a Top 5 team? How will the league recover from the recent resignation of Wayne Gretzky? As each team embarks on its 82-game schedule, below is a quick breakdown of how each team will fare this season.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Sid the Kid out to prove Cup victory was no fluke.

Detroit Red Wings: Motor City is odds-on favorite to win second Cup in three years.

Boston Bruins: Defense is much improved; should give Pens big challenge.

Chicago Blackhawks: Deepest and most talented team in NHL.

San Jose Sharks: Acquired Dany Heatley to end playoff jinx.

Anaheim Ducks: If healthy, Ducks will push Sharks, Wings to limit.

Philadelphia Flyers: Team hopes Chris Pronger is still an effective leader.

Washington Capitals: All is on Alexander Ovechkin to get this team over the top.

Vancouver Canucks: Can Ryan Kesler and Alexandre Burrows make the Canucks competitive?

Calgary Flames: Addition of Jay Bouwmeester makes Flames very tough to beat.

Carolina Hurricanes: Stéphane Yelle and Aaron Ward hope to bring back magic of 2004.

New York Rangers: A healthy Marian Gaborik means a playoff appearance, solid run.

St. Louis Blues: Paul Kariya, Erik Johnson can ensure second-straight playoff berth.

New Jersey Devils: Losses of Madden, Gionta, Clemmensen and Rupp will sting.

Columbus Blue Jackets: Made no off-season moves, but is this team good enough as is?

Montreal Canadiens: Three big signings (Gomez, Cammalleri, Gionta) means more offense.

Buffalo Sabres: Several key off-season moves may give fans hope for this season.

Los Angeles Kings: Offense is young and talented. Goalkeeping is key to playoff berth.

Minnesota Wild: Newly acquired Martin Havlat needs to stay healthy to be effective.

Edmonton Oilers: Team is very young and talented; one or two seasons away from playoffs.

Dallas Stars: New coaches, return of Brenden Morrow will help team rebuild quickly.

Ottawa Senators: No problem on offense. But shaky defense, goalkeeping are red flags.

Nashville Predators: Team lacks depth, offense.

Tampa Bay Lightning: Weak defense will make it hard for Lightning to win games.

Toronto Maple Leafs: Signing of Jonas Gustavsson will excite fans despite lost season.

Atlanta Thrashers: Nik Antropov and Pavel Kubina signings are key for rebuilding.

Florida Panthers: Loss of Bouwmeester will be a huge blow to already weak team.

New York Islanders: Top-pick John Tavares will be a huge asset.

Colorado Avalanche: Re-building is in full gear, but new coach Joe Sacco a nice move.

Florida Panthers: Resignation of Wayne Gretzky just the beginning of nightmare season.


First Round: West: Detroit def. Columbus, Chicago def. St. Louis, Calgary def. San Jose, Anaheim def. Vancouver; East: Pittsburgh def. Montreal, Boston def. New Jersey, N.Y. Rangers def. Philadelphia, Carolina def. Washington

Second Round: West: Detroit def. Calgary, Chicago def. Anaheim; East: Pittsburgh def. N.Y Rangers, Boston def. Carolina

Conference Finals: West: Chicago def. Detroit; East: Boston def. Pittsburgh

Stanley Cup Finals: Boston def. Chicago