Worth the Weight

ROBIN BROWNLEE -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 9:35 AM ET

WINNERS

ON THE WAY UP

The teams that will make the most significant points gains over last year's totals.

WEST

1. St. Louis Blues (57). There's no place to go but up for the Bluenotes, who'll vacate the basement with the return of Doug Weight and the addition of former Oiler running-buddy Bill Guerin. Could and should be better by 20 points.

2. Minnesota Wild (84). Jacques Lemaire's stifling defence-first philosophy won't change completely, but the additions of forwards Pavol Demitra and Mark Parrish give the Wild two solid offensive lines.

3. Phoenix Coyotes (81). Wayne Gretzky has higher expectations in his second season behind the bench. Not sold on a 39-year-old Curtis Joseph, but landing free agent Ed Jovanovski is a big step.

EAST

1. Atlanta Thrashers (90). In this era of offence, Marian Hossa and Ilya Kovalchuk give the Thrashers two of the most talented players in the game. What they need is a centre. This is a bit of a flyer, but if Kari Lehtonen is ready to carry the load in goal, there's potential here.

2. Boston Bruins (74). With the signings of free agents Zdeno Chara and Marc Savard and the arrival of rookie Phil Kessel, the Bruins have some pieces they were lacking. Is Hannu Toivonen ready?

3. Pittsburgh Penguins (58). Nobody expects a worst-to-first miracle or even a playoff spot in Steeltown, but sophomore Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin give the Pens something to build around.

LOSERS

On the way down. Teams that have no chance of matching their points totals of last season.

WEST

1. Detroit Red Wings (124). Nobody's saying the Red Wings will fall off the map, but there's more questions in Hockeytown than there's been in many seasons. Wings will be a 100-point team in the weak Central Division, but no way they approach 124.

2. Colorado Avalanche (95). The seemingly endless stockpile of young talent the Avs had five years ago is gone. The loss of Rob Blake this summer and of Adam Foote to free agency a year ago leaves the blueline as vulnerable as its been in a long time.

3. Dallas Stars (112). When Eric Lindros is your second-line centre at this point in his career, how much depth do you have up front? Big E is going to find life in the West a grind. Heads up big boy.

EAST

1. Buffalo Sabres (110). The Sabres lost scoring in J.P Dumont and grit with the departure of Mike Grier. Better than most people thought last season, they might not be as good as many people think this time.

2. Carolina Hurricanes (112). They'll start without Cory Stillman and Frank Kaberle, both coming off injuries. Even with Eric Staal, proven veteran Rod Brind'Amour and the addition of Scott Walker, there'll be an adjustment period with the loss of Doug Weight and Mark Recchi.

3. Montreal Canadiens (93). It's just a gut feeling, but I don't see free agent Sergei Samsonov as a big upgrade on Richard Zednik. The rest of the forwards, outside of Saku Koivu, don't do much for me.

EATING CROW

WORST 2005-06 PROGNOSTICATIONS:

EAST: Picking Carolina to finish 13th. "Lame Attack. Questions in goal. Feeble power play. Yuck!" Guess again, smart guy.

WEST: Picking Anaheim to finish 13th. "The do-over begins for GM Brian Burke. Where to start?" Pure genius.


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