The NHL season starts this week, which means all 30 teams have a clean slate, and fans of those teams can dream of a successful season. And so in that spirit, here's a reason to be optimistic about every team in the league. And since 29 of those teams ultimately won't win at all, here's something to worry about for each of them, as well. Just for the heck of it, these are in predicted order of finish. Today, the Eastern Conference.
Where They Finished Last Season: First in East; lost in conference finals to Boston.
Biggest Off-Season Move: Does not firing Dan Bylsma count? Because there was speculation that they might -- right up until they signed him to a two-year extension.
Reason to Be Optimistic: The prospect of a full season of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, on a team that scored plenty the past few years despite assorted injury issues for both.
Reason to Worry: Even if they do once again march to the conference's best record -- and there's a good chance they will -- there's the question of how Marc-André Fleury will perform once the playoffs begin. It's only September, but after the past couple of postseasons, it's never too early to be concerned about that.
New York Rangers
Where They Finished Last Season: Sixth in East; lost in the conference semifinals to Boston.
Biggest Off-Season Move: Firing John Tortorella and hiring Alain Vigneault.
Reason to Be Optimistic: The Rangers' biggest problem last season was scoring, and Vigneault -- a more offensive-minded coach than Tortorella -- has talent to work with.
Reason to Worry: Brad Richards was a buyout candidate last summer, and considering how much he's owed (and the way his stats are trending downward), he could still be bought out after the season. And so the Rangers are taking a risk if they are indeed considering buying him out, because injured players can't be bought out. In other words, they need Richards to stay healthy, for more than the usual reasons.
New York Islanders
Where They Finished Last Season: Eighth in East; lost in conference quarterfinals to Pittsburgh.
Biggest Off-Season Move: Signing Cal Clutterbuck to a four-year deal after acquiring his rights in exchange for Nino Niederreiter in a draft-day trade with Minnesota.
Reason to Be Optimistic: There aren't many players in the league you'd rather build your franchise around than John Tavares. But even beyond their captain, the Isles should once again be fun to watch thanks to a handful of talented young forwards.
Reason to Worry: The Islanders' defense was improved last year, but it's still not a strength, especially after losing Mark Streit to Philadelphia. Similarly, Evgeni Nabokov wasn't terrible last season, but goaltending isn't a strength either.
Where They Finished Last Season: Third in East; lost in conference quarterfinals to the Rangers.
Biggest Off-Season Move: Signing Mikhail Grabovski, who finally joined the team in mid-September after his visa issues were resolved.
Reason to Be Optimistic: The Caps' playoff failures have been well-documented, but they're largely bringing back a roster that finished the 2013 regular season red-hot. In other words, they have the talent to at least win a lot of regular-season games.
Reason to Worry: For years, the Capitals beat up on a weak Southeast Division, but that changes this year when they move into the more competitive Metropolitan Division, where points should be harder to come by.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Where They Finished Last Season: Ninth in West; missed playoffs.
Biggest Off-Season Move: Signing free agent Nathan Horton.
Reason to Be Optimistic: Where to begin? John Davidson is inching the franchise toward respectability, and they came oh-so-close to a playoff berth in 2013. They get a full season out of Marian Gaborik in 2013-14, and he and Horton should help improve an offense that finished 25th in the league in goals per game.
Reason to Worry: Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky played out of his mind last year as the Blue Jackets battled for a playoff spot; had they earned a berth, he'd have gotten consideration for the Hart Trophy. But he's also just a year removed from an unspectacular 2011-12 season as a backup in Philadelphia, so he'll need to prove he can play at a high level consistently.
Where They Finished Last Season: Tenth in East; missed playoffs.
Biggest Off-Season Move: Signing former Lightning captain Vincent Lecavalier. (Also noteworthy: adding Mark Streit, buying out Ilya Bryzgalov, and signing Ray Emery, who excelled last season while splitting duties with Corey Crawford in Chicago.)
Reason to Be Optimistic: With Emery and Steve Mason, the Flyers -- a franchise perpetually looking for a reliable netminder -- may be okay in goal this year.
Reason to Worry: They still haven't really replaced Chris Pronger on the blue line. (Shea Weber would have been the man to do it two summers ago, but alas.)
New Jersey Devils
Where They Finished Last Season: Eleventh in East; missed playoffs.
Biggest Off-Season Move: Acquiring goalie Cory Schneider from Vancouver for the 9th overall pick in the 2013 Draft.
Reason to Be Optimistic: Even if the Devils aren't competitive this year, they're now prepared (as best they can be, at least) for the post-Brodeur era. For what it's worth, Schneider was dominant during the pre-season, though he won't be the Opening Night starter.
Reason to Worry: The Devils struggled to score last year... and that was before their most dynamic offensive player, Ilya Kovalchuk, retired from the NHL to play in Russia.
Where They Finished Last Season: Thirteenth in East; missed playoffs.
Biggest Off-Season Move: Um, trading for Andrej Sekera? Or maybe signing Mike Komisarek?
Reason to Be Optimistic: They've got some talent in the top six forwards, including Eric and Jordan Staal, Alexander Semin (who signed a five-year extension in March), and Jeff Skinner. They were in the middle of the pack last year in goals per game, and didn't have much roster turnover, but offense isn't really their problem.
Reason to Worry: Carolina allowed 3.31 goals per game last year, ahead of only Florida. Cam Ward, a reliable goalie if he's healthy, can only do so much.
Where They Finished Last Season: Fourth in East; lost to Chicago in the Stanley Cup Finals.
Biggest Off-Season Move: Acquired Loui Eriksson and three others from Dallas in exchange for Tyler Seguin, Rich Peverley, and Ryan Button.
Reason to Be Optimistic: When you finish the season as strong as Boston did -- thoroughly dominating Pittsburgh in the Conference Final before giving Chicago a hell of a series in the Stanley Cup Finals -- it's easy to feel good about your chances entering the next one. And while the Bruins hardly lacked a veteran presence in the locker room, they now have Jarome Iginla (for real this time).
Reason to Worry: Boston is going to miss Nathan Horton, and not just in the intangible, "he's a good guy in the dressing room" sense. Horton tallied 19 points in 21 games during Boston's run to the Final last spring.
Detroit Red Wings
Where They Finished Last Year: Seventh in West; lost to Chicago in conference semifinals.
Biggest Off-Season Move: Added long-time Senator Daniel Alfredsson, as well as former Panther Stephen Weiss.
Reason to Be Optimistic: The Red Wings -- finally -- will play in the Eastern Conference this year, cutting down on their travel time (to say nothing of the local start times of their road games). Also, if there were a cable channel that just showed Pavel Datsyuk highlights all day, it'd be the only thing I watched.
Reason to Worry: The Wings aren't a young team, which could mean not just diminishing returns from certain players (like Alfredsson), but an increased potential for injury.
Where They Finished Last Season: Seventh in East; lost to Pittsburgh in conference semifinals.
Biggest Off-Season Move: Trading for Bobby Ryan.
Reason to Be Optimistic: The Sens were devastated by injuries last year, yet still had a very respectable season. If they stay healthy, they could be dangerous, particularly as their young roster matures. Adding Ryan softens the blow of losing beloved captain Daniel Alfredsson.
Reason to Worry: Ottawa's played the role of underdog the past couple of seasons, but no one will be underestimating the Sens this year.
Where They Finished Last Season: Second in East; lost to Ottawa in conference quarterfinals
Biggest Off-Season Move: Signing Danny Briere.
Reason to Be Optimistic: Montreal, which last year beat out eventual Conference champion Boston for the Northeast Division title, has a roster stocked with talented young players. Even if they can't win another division title, they're a team on the rise.
Reason to Worry: Carey Price -- who, for what it's worth, Sidney Crosby calls the best goalie in hockey -- was awful down the stretch last year. And his struggles continued into the postseason, where the Habs were upset by the seventh-seed Senators. Montreal needs consistency out of Price.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Where They Finished Last Season: Fifth in East; lost (in excruciating fashion) to Boston in the conference quarterfinals.
Biggest Off-Season Move: Signing David Clarkson away from the Devils. (Other notable additions: Stanley Cup hero Dave Bolland and goalie Jonathan Bernier.)
Reason to Be Optimistic: It wasn't that long ago that Toronto's goaltending situation was shaky at best. Now, they could have multiple No. 1 options, though that depends on Bernier proving he's good enough to serve as a starter. (His acquisition wasn't totally necessary; James Reimer proved capable in net last year.)
Reason to Worry: Leafs fans don't need specific to reasons to worry at this point, do they?
Tampa Bay Lightning
Where They Finished Last Season: Fourteenth in East; missed playoffs.
Biggest Off-Season Move: Drafting Jonathan Drouin with the No. 3 overall pick.
Reason to Be Optimistic: Over the long term, Drouin could be a big part of this team, but the 18-year-old was sent back to his junior club by general manager Steve Yzerman. But even right now, at the beginning of the post-Lecavalier era, Tampa has two of the most talented players in hockey: Martin St. Louis (the Art Ross winner last year) and Steven Stamkos (a two-time Richard Trophy winner).
Reason to Worry: Realignment wasn't kind to Tampa Bay, who will essentially join the old Northeast Division along with their fellow Floridians, the Panthers.
Where They Finished Last Season: Twelfth in East; missed playoffs.
Biggest Off-Season Move: That hilarious prank where they told everyone they were going to wear this hideous jersey in games. Well executed, guys! (What's that? It wasn't a prank? Oh. Well in that case, adding defensemen Jamie McBain and Henrik Tallinder.)
Reason to Be Optimistic: Ryan Miller isn't the same goalie he was during the last Olympic season, but he's still a solid netminder who will be playing for a spot on Team USA. Meanwhile, Tomas Vanek averaged over a point a game last year and has reached the thirty-goal mark four times and the forty-goal mark twice.
Reason to Worry: Yeah, about Miller and Vanek: They're both free agents at the end of the year, and therefore could be candidates to be traded mid-season.
Where They Finished Last Season: Fifteenth in the East; missed playoffs.
Biggest Off-Season Move: Off the ice, it's the finalization of the sale of the team, which should keep it in South Florida. On the ice, this off-season was characterized by the additions of notable veterans. So take your pick between the washed-up Scott Gomez, a Tim Thomas trying to return to the league after a year away, or Ryan Whitney, signed this past weekend after being released from his tryout with St. Louis.
Reason to Be Optimistic: The Panthers are likely to struggle this year, but at least they have a young core to build around, led by Calder winner Jonathan Huberdeau.
Reason to Worry: There are bright spots in this lineup, but overall it is one of the weakest in the NHL. That could change in a couple years, but for now, Panthers fans need to be patient, especially as their team moves into the more difficult Atlantic Division.