Welcome to my NHL Season Preview for the 2018-19 season. In this preview,I’ll give summaries of all 31 teams,how I think each one will finish,my playoff predictions and a Stanley Cup Finals prediction before the season begins. Here we go with the preview…
1. San Jose (108 points)
Last season the Sharks had their postseason end earlier than expected by the upstart Golden Knights. This year,however,they hope things will be different. While they missed out on John Tavares,the Sharks made a power move in trading for defenseman Erik Karlsson from the Senators. He joins a talented group of defensemen such as Brent Burns and Marc-Edoard Vlasic. Joe Pavelski and Joe Thornton still give San Jose a power punch on the front line,but are getting older and the team may not have a big enough window open to win a Stanley Cup. Evander Kane and Logan Couture are locked up long-term and give the team a strong core and Tomas Hertl and Timo Meier are young forwards who are coming into their own. With Martin Jones between the pipes along with the star talent they have,the Sharks should be a Cup favorite. The health of the team is key in order for that to happen.
2. Vegas (104 points)
The Golden Knights surpassed expectations and not only made the playoffs,but the Stanley Cup Finals as well,coming up just short against the Washington Capitals. Despite losing guys like David Perron and James Neal to St. Louis and Calgary,respectively,the team is still loaded with talent and the signing of Paul Stastny and the trade for Max Pacioretty. They join a talented roster with Reilly Smith,and Pierre-Edouard Bellemare on the front line with defensemen Deryk Engelland and Brad Hunt. With veteran Marc-Andre Fleury between the pipes and the ability to prove everyone wrong,this team is very talented and should be good again this season. I don’t think they’ll be as good as last season because they’ll be on notice now as opposed to the year before. This team is coached well,built well,and they’re here to stay.
3. Edmonton (101 points)
Yes,that’s right,I have the Oilers drilling their way back to the playoffs and no,it’s not a homer pick. After a year of expectations falling way short,I have a hard time believing a team with Connor McDavid is going to miss the playoffs again.
He is one of the best players in this game and he should have a great season once again. For the Oilers to make the playoffs they need to have bounceback seasons from Milan Lucic, Cam Talbot,and a better power play. They also need their younger players such as Jesse Puljujarvi, Kailer Yamamoto,and even Evan Bouchard. Leon Draisaitl also needs to step up a bit for me,especially after getting that lengthy contract last year. Darnell Nurse looks to have a good year after re-upping his contract in Edmonton recently,and Adam Larsson needs to step up as well. Edmonton should always be in the playoff picture so long as #97 is healthy and I think they make it with the young group they have and encouraging signs from the preseason.
4. Calgary (97 points)
The Flames had a decent season last year,but fell short of a postseason berth. A new coach,a new group of players coming in and a new hope of winning their first Stanley Cup in 30 years has Calgary fans getting their hopes up for a dynamite year.
James Neal and Derek Ryan signed in the offseason to give the group of forwards a boost which includes Mikael Backlund,Johnny Gaudreau,Matthew Tkachuk and Sean Monahan. Defensively the team is pretty decent with Travis Hamonic,T.J. Brodie,and Giordano playing on the blue line. Goaltending hinges on a healthy Mike Smith who is closer to 40 than he is 30. All in all the Flames made a lot of good moves to get themselves into a position to be in the conversation to get into the postseason.
5. Los Angeles (94 points)
The Kings made it back to postseason play last season only to be swept by the Golden Knights in the first round. Can they make it back this year? That depends on a lot.
For starters, Jeff Carter and Dion Phaneuf have to come in healthy. Also, with Ilya Kovalchuk coming back to the league after five years in the KHL makes one wonder if he will be the player of old or a flash in the pan. Anze Kopitar and Dustin Brown are still fine players,but aren’t getting any younger,neither is netminder Jonathan Quick. There’s also a lack of depth with the forwards.
However,if Kovalchuk can have some chemistry with Carter or Kopitar and can fill the net while playing on the wing,they should be able to score enough to get themselves in a good position to return to the playoff fold. I do,however,expect a lot of scoring to come from Drew Doughty and the defense. Because of the lack of depth up front and the age of the superstar talent,I do see them missing the playoffs this season.
6. Anaheim (89 points)
The Ducks are basically bringing back the same roster as last season,a year where they finished second in the Pacific. So why do I have them on the outside looking in when it comes to the postseason? Well the health of Ryan Kesler plays into that as the team expects to lose him for most,if not all of this season with a hip injury. Ryan Getzlaf is trending downward,but still a very productive player. Corey Perry will miss five months of the season with a knee injury.
The defense may be this team’s strong point with guys like Rickard Rakell,Cam Fowler,Brandon Montour,and Andy Welinski. John Gibson is also continuing his strong play in net as one of the division’s best netminders. Adam Henrique, Jakob Silfverberg and Ondrej Kase will continue their roles as complimentary playmakers and Patrick Eaves returns and hopes to bounce back after losing last year due to illness. Anaheim is still a strong team and is always in the postseason conversation,but without Kesler I think they take a step back this year and miss by a few points.
7. Arizona (83 points)
While the Coyotes had a strong finish to last season,I don’t know if it’s going to translate into a playoff berth this season. For Arizona to get there,they need strong starts from guys like Antti Raanta, who needs to stay healthy as he was one of the best goaltenders down the stretch last season, Alex Galchenyuk to have a greater change of scenery after coming over from Montreal last season,and Dylan Strome who really hasn’t been developed properly,but still has some promise and a high ceiling.
The Coyotes have a strong defense with Alex Goligoski,Oliver Ekman-Larsson,Niklas Hjalmarsson,and Jakob Chychrun,who will start the season of the shelf and it’s unknown how much time he will miss with injury. With all the young pieces in place and key players being gone with injury,I do think it’ll be another building year by the desert.
8. Vancouver (75 points)
The Canucks have a youth movement in place with the Sedin twins having retired after last season. It may be Bo Horvat’s team as he is expected to become Vancouver’s new captain. That title,however,may one day go to Elias Pettersson,who is expected to play a big role for this team this year as well as Brock Boeser,who is a lethal threat to score as was shown last year.
The defense looks to grow stronger alongside veterans Alexander Edler and Michael Del Zotto and it’ll only be a matter of time before Quinn Hughes makes his presence on the Vancouver blue line. I think it’s going to be a big-time rebuilding year in the Pacific Northwest and fans will just have to wait it out.
1. Winnipeg (110 points)
The Jets had a magnificent year that ended shorter than they had hoped,but will they extend their postseason time into the Cup finals? Captain Blake Wheeler is hoping to.
Even though a lot of players left the team, they should be able to fill those holes from within their farm system. Defensively they’re strong with Dustin Byfuglien,Joe Morrow,Jacob Trouba,and Ben Chariot. Wheeler (who is eyeing a contract extension) and his forwards Patrik Laine,and Mark Scheifele look to score early and often for Winnipeg. Netminder Connor Helleybuck for an extension in the offseason and looks to continue to excel stopping shots in net.
I liked what I saw from the Jets last season and I think that with all the pieces they lost they’ll make up for with the crew they have and are bringing up. This team is looking great and a potential Cup contender.
2. Nashville (105 points)
Another team that is just as much of a Cup contender is this team,the Nashville Predators. Last year’s President’s Trophy winners,this team looks just as good as they did last season and what I like about them the most is their ability to put pieces around their core players.
One area that the Preds excel at is their defense,their top four is probably the best core in the league headlined by P.K. Subban along with captain Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm. Along with that elite defense is the goaltending where we find longterm netminder Pekka Rinne,who looked great last season. They also have some great scoring lines with great forwards like Filip Forsberg and Ryan Johansen and are getting a full year from Eeli Tolvanen and Ryan Hartman,so we’ll see what they can do to help this Nashville squad thrive.
I see no reason why this team can’t and won’t be successful. They may not have as many points in the standings,but they’ll be damn good and fun to watch.
3. St. Louis (101 points)
The Blues were a busy bunch in the offseason,making moves to bring David Perron back to the team,Patrick Maroon and Tyler Bozak as well as trading for Ryan O’Reilly. Those forwards join an already talented group with Valdimir Tarasenko,Brayden Schenn and Alexander Steen. The defense hopes to receive quality seasons from veterans Jay Bouwmeester and Carl Gunnarsson and should help a core with guys like Alex Pietrangelo,Vince Dunn,Colton Parayko, and Joel Edmundson.
The key for the Blues to have a great season and be more of a core contender is for Jake Allen to have a great season in net. He has to be more consistent if this team is going to be anywhere as good as they have been in recent seasons. I do think the Blues did more than enough to play spoiler in the race for the Central division,only time will show if the moves paid off.
4. Dallas (98 points)
The Stars have a new look coaching staff that to me looks like they’ll get the job done and the team back to the postseason.
Up front they’ll have the talents of Jamie Benn, Jason Spezza, Tyler Seguin and Alex Radulov and breakout seasons Mattias Janmark and/or Brett Ritchie are in the realm of possibility. Also,don’t underestimate Tyler Pitlick. Defensively the team is very stacked with Marc Methot, playing along with John Klingberg, Esa Lindell and young stud Miro Heiskanen and Julius Honka.
Ben Bishop is a star goalie,but has to really step up if Dallas is getting anywhere near the postseason and I think he will. I think this team is very talented and even though Colorado and MInnesota were in the postseason last year,I think they’ve made good strides to show they belong.
5. Minnesota (94 points)
Last season the Wild were playoff participants yet again,but their hopes were dashed early by the Jets. While they have a great deal of success during the regular season,it’s going to be tougher to get back to the postseason,especially with many teams in the division having gotten better on paper. There’s no reason to believe that Minnesota won’t get back to the playoffs,it’s just going to be harder.
Devan Dubnyk is still a very serviceable and quality goalie and provided that Ryan Suter can recover from a broken ankle fully the defense can be a top-10 core. The forwards are very productive in their own right with veterans Mikko Koivu,Zack Parise,Eric Staal and youngsters Luke Kunin,Joel Eriksson Ek, and Jordan Greenway who may take more prominent roles up front.
All in all the Wild look like they’ll be good enough on paper to make the postseason,but I think they take a step back this year. They can,however,prove me wrong.
6. Colorado (90 points)
The Avs were a surprise team last year that found its way into the postseason with a star season from Nathan McKinnon. This year youngsters like Mikko Rantanen, Tyson Jost, Alex Kerfoot and J.T. Compher on the front line, plus Samuel Girard and Nikita Zadorov on the blue line will hope to take the next step after tasting the postseason.
Veterans like Gabriel Landeskog and Eric Johnson will be counted on to try and take this team to the next level.
What needs to improve for Colorado is the goaltending. Philipp Grubauer,was traded for in the offseason to give Semyon Varlamov some competition. It’s Varlamov’s job to lose at this point. Having said that with the shakiness in net as well as a young roster I think the Avalanche will take a year to season themselves before getting back to the postseason.
7. Chicago (84 points)
While the core of this team still has Jonathan Toews,Patrick Kane, Corey Crawford,and Brent Seabrook, the Blackhawks are still in a bit of rebuild mode. They did,however,bring back Brandon Saad and Marcus Kruger from their Cup teams.
Crawford himself is still recovering from vertigo-like symptoms and if he can make a full recovery,this team could see a better finish than where I have them finishing now. Otherwise we will be seeing Cam Ward in the crease for Chicago more and more.
While the youth movement has yet to happen on defense,especially with Seabrook on the decline, up front is already taking place with the likes of already estbalished youngsters Alex DeBrincat and Nick Schmaltz. Dylan Sikura and Philipp Kurashev hoping to make contributions of their own.
If the Hawks are hoping to be playoff-bound,a healthy Crawford is key,but right now it’s a traditional transitional year with more youth coming their way.
1. Toronto (112 points)
I think this is a year where the Leafs take an even bigger step and become a Cup contender after years of being in the basement of the East. Winners of the John Tavares sweepstakes, he joins a great group of forwards like Patrick Marleau,who at age 39 is still hoping to nab his first Cup of his career, Tyler Ennis,and of course Auston Matthews,who for the life of me I don’t understand why isn’t team captain yet.
While the defense,led by Morgan Reilly,isn’t as strong as they’d like,they are a very good offensive squad and it’s been said that a good offense can balance out a weak defense. Not only that,but Frederik Andersen seems to do best when carrying a big workload.
This is perhaps one of the best chances the Maple Leafs have to end their Stanley Cup drought,there’s something good certainly brewing here with bringing over Tavares to play along with Marleau and Matthews. I think this Toronto team is going to be very,very good.
2. Tampa Bay (107 points)
Last season the Lightning’s Stanley Cup hopes ended at the hands of the eventual champions,the Capitals. This year they are hoping to advance just one round further.
Steven Stamkos,Ondrej Palat,Nikita Kucherov,and Ryan Callahan lead Tampa’s front line and they hope to score early and often. Defensively they are loaded with Victor Hedman,Ryan McDonagh (both of which signed long-term deals over the summer),Braydon Coburn,Dan Girardi and the rising star in Mikhail Sergachev. Andrei Vasilevskiy has lived up to the hype as a starting goaltender in this league and is only going to continue to thrive.
The Lightning have already shown they can contend and I think they have a great team that is capable of winning a Cup. They just have to get over the hump.
3. Boston (102 points)
After the Bruins lost in the second round to the Lightning,it seems like the team may be in a backwards trend. They’re still very good,but how good?
Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak remain one of hockey’s elite top lines with young forwards Danton Heinen, Ryan Donato, Jake DeBrusk, and Anders Bjork looking to help drive the offense. On the back end, Torey Krug and Charlie McAvoy are as top notch as they come. Zdeno Chara is still trucking along at age 41 and John Moore became a solid and vital addition to Boston’s defense last season.
Tuukka Rask is still one of the best netminders in the league and has been a rock for the Bruins for so long. I do like the addition of Jaroslav Halak in the back-up goaltender role as well and can be very serviceable when needed. I think the Bruins will still be decent and get back to the postseason,but aren’t as big of contenders as Tampa Bay and Toronto are.
4. Florida (97 points)
While many may think I’m a little nuts for having the Panthers in the wild card,let me explain myself. They finished very strong during the second half of last season and gained a lot of momentum the team is hoping to carry through to this season.
One thing that Florida is going to be able to do and do very well is score. With Mike Hoffman coming over from Ottawa joining a great group of forwards like Aleksander Barkov,Jonathan Huberdeau,Vincent Trocheck, and Owen Tippett. Aaron Ekblad and the defense have always been a big strength for the team with outstanding blueliners in Keith Yandle,Mike Matheson,and Ian McCoshen. Roberto Luongo at 39 is still a good goaltender and his health is key to Florida’s postseason chances.
I like their chances a lot with the addition of Hoffman and the momentum that brewed towards the end of last season.
5. Buffalo (87 points)
I had the Sabres making it to the playoffs last season and I was a little naive to think such a thing,but I do think,however,that they’ll be making strides to make themselves a little more postseason ready in years to come.
The top pick from this year’s draft Rasmus Dahlin joins Jack Eichel and Casey Mittelstadt, Rasmus Ristolainen and Sam Reinhart as part of a young core that hopes to be around a while to help turn things around in Buffalo. The defense does need some figuring out in regards to who will be the six guys rotating in it. We already know that Ristolainen,Dahlin and Zach Bogosian are penciled in,but the rest are anyone’s guess.
The forwards alongside Eichel,Middlestadt,Reinhart,and Kyle Okposo are primed to have a bounce back season so long as Okposo can stay healthy. Victor Olafsson could also be a guy who can be counted on to score a lot in his rookie campaign.
I’m not crazy about the platoon of goaltenders with Carter Hutton and Linus Ullmark,but if one of them can emerge as the starter long term then this team will exceed many expectations. Keep in mind that this team may not even be as good as I have them,but they have youth of their side and not many expectations to be anything resembling a playoff team.
6. Detroit (84 points)
Last season the Red Wings saw them missing the playoffs for the second year in a row and it looks like the team will be living life after Henrik Zetterberg (even though he isn’t officially retired).
They had a great draft back in June with top-10 picks Filip Zadina and Michael Rasmussen who could be ready to contribute if they prove to be NHL-ready once the season begins. Filip Hronek and Joe Hicketts are also looking to make the leap to the big club on the defensive side.
There are still very good veterans in the Detroit lineup such as ,Justin Abdelkader,Tyler Bertuzzi,Thomas Vanek and Gustav Nyquist on the front line and Mike Green,Niklas Kronwall,Nick Jensen,Danny DeKeyser and Jonathan Ericcson on the blue line. Jimmy Howard is still between the pipes and should be solid,especially with Jonathan Bernier backing him up. Bernier played well last year in Colorado.
The Wings are a team that’s still in transition. I don’t think they’re a playoff team yet,but if the youth comes along faster than expected, you will see a surprise team this year for sure.
7. Montreal (76 points)
The Max Pacioretty era in Montreal ended over the summer as he was shipped to Vegas,leaving the Habs to start a rebuild which starts this season.
Yes,Shea Weber and Carey Price are still with the club,but is it realistic to think they’ll be around past the league’s trade deadline? I don’t think so. So it’s in with the new guard with a new wave of young talent with Victor Mete, Jonathan Drouin, Brendan Gallagher, Max Domi, and Noah Juulsen. With this young core the future looks very bright,but for now,it’s a learning and growing process in hockey’s most successful city.
8. Ottawa (67 points)
The Sens are in full rebuild mode with Eric Karlsson having been shipped to San Jose. Are Matt Duchene and Mark Stone next? It’s very possible. Craig Anderson may be on the way out as well.
The future in Ottawa (as long as they’re still in the city) is players like Brady Tkachuk,the fourth overall pick in this year’s draft, Colin White,Thomas Chabot,Jonny Tychonick,Jacob Bernard-Docker and Logan Brown. While these guys are the future,the present and near future isn’t as great as the Senators traded away their first round pick in 2019 to Colorado for Duchene and even he may be shipped out,too. It may get worse before it gets any better in Canada’s capital city.
1. Pittsburgh (108 points)
If there’s a team that’s always regarded as one that’s built to win it all,it’s the Penguins. After getting their hopes for a three-peat dashed by the Capitals last season,they’re looking to push back-hard!
The key for this team to get back is to stay healthy and they’re going to need guys like Derick Brassard,Kris Letang and Matt Murray,as well as their two main guys,Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin to keep their team in the Cup conversation all season long. Phil Kessel and coach MIke Sullivan need to get back on the same page,otherwise the former may be on his way out.
Jack Johnson was brought in to help solidify the Pittsburgh defense with Justin Schultz,Brian Dumoulin,Zack Trotman,and Juuso Riikola. The forwards look as good as ever with Malkin, Crosby,Kessel,Patric Hornqvist, and newcomers Derek Grant and Jimmy Hayes to round out the core.
Matt Murray should still be solid in net for the Pens who I still think are strong enough to hoist a Cup yet again.
2. Washington (106 points)
The Capitals won it all for the first time in franchise history last season,and many are looking to see if they can do it all again or if there’s any hangover left over from their Cup win,namely Alex Ovechkin.
Washington returns most of their core roster from a year ago and is in their prime. They recently locked up John Carlson long-term. He,along with Brooks Orpik,Madison Bowey,and Dmitry Orlov will anchor a solid blue line. Ovechkin,along with Nikolas Backstrom,T.J. Oshie,Evgeny Kuznetsov,Devante Smith-Pelly and Travis Boyd will provide strength and scoring on the front line.
Braden Holtby will continue being possibly the league’s best goaltender having had a great postseason last year. I expect Washington to be in the mix for the Cup yet again,whether or not they’ll win it again is something we’ll all have to see.
3. Columbus (103 points)
The Blue Jackets are looking at a make or break year as Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin both free agency eligible at season’s end. The team very much would like to keep them around,but those decisions will hinge on how the season goes.
Anthony Duclair and Riley Nash were terrific additions to the Columbus front line. They along with Nick Foligno,Cam Atkinson,Boone Jenner are just some of the great forwards the team has a plethora of. Defensively the team is good with Seth Jones,Adam Clendening,Markus Nutivaara and Ryan Murray.
I think the Jackets will still be very good this year and will remain in the postseason mix in the conference and the division.
4. Philadelphia (97 points)
The Flyers made it back to the postseason last year,but fell in the first round to their in-state rivals,the Penguins. This year they’re looking to be back in the postseason and striving to go further.
James van Riemsdyk is back with the team after a six year stint in Toronto,however his addition may not be enough to help separate them from the rest of the division. But he does join a deep group of forwards such as Claude Giroux,Wayne Simmonds,Sean Couturier,and Nolan Patrick,among others. Defensively the team is just above average,but they do have stalwart guys like Shayne Gostisbehere,Travis Sanheim,Andrew McDonald and Ivan Provorov. The goaltending is a little below average with Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth,but the good news is Carter Hart may be coming up soon and should be the team’s top netminder by season’s end.
I think Philadelphia is still going to be very good,but around the same record as before,especially when the goaltending isn’t playoff caliber.
5. New Jersey (96 points)
Last season was Taylor Hall’s breakthrough year,winning the Hart Trophy and helping bring the Devils back to the playoffs. While I don’t think they’re a one-year wonder per se, I do see them taking a step back,solely because they’re in a tough and competitive decision and because they did overachieve a bit.
Hall,along with Travis Zajac,Kyle Palmieri,Paval Zacha,Marcus Johansson,Nico Hischler,Brian Boyle and Jesper Bratt make up a solid group of forwards while on the defensive end you have Andy Greene,Will Butcher,Eric Gryba,and Mirco Mueller to form a good blue line.
Corey Schneider and his health could be the key to New Jersey getting back to the postseason. However, there are a few too many holes on the team for them to be playoff bound again. I think they come close to doing so,but will be on the outside looking in.
6. Carolina (91 points)
While I don’t have the Hurricanes in a playoff spot,I do think they have the ability to play spoiler in the playoff race.
They have a very talented roster with two rookie forwards in Andrei Svechnikov and Martin Necas who look to have an impact for this Carolina team. Dougie Hamilton comes over from Calgary along with Calvin de Haan to help bolster the defense.
The goaltending is where I think is the team’s Achilles heel. While I do like Petr Mrazek coming over,he is only there on a year-long contract and even at that you may have Scott Darling try to win the starting job back at some point if given the chance and it’s hard for me to place a team in the playoffs without solid goaltending.
If the Canes can solve their goaltending woes and get scoring from its new forwards they will be knocking on the postseason door. I think,however, they’re a year away.
7. N.Y. Islanders (80 points)
The Islanders are now living life without John Tavares and it looks like they’re going to be in rebuild mode.
They did have an awesome draft and hired Barry Trotz as their head coach fresh off of winning a Cup in Washington,but for now,the future is on hold. Matthew Berzal may be the best young piece they have,but he may be the focus of many double teams this year which may leave him with statistics that will leave more to be desired.
I do think Robin Lehner will be a good netminder for New York and will be one of few bright spots,but one thing I’m not really seeing happening is Anders Lee or Jordan Eberle staying very long. I think management will likely trade them to contenders in the hopes of getting something in return for them,something that didn’t happen when Tavares left.
I think the Isles may be lottery-bound not just this year,but also up until their move to Belmont Park. Sometimes,it’s just time to reload and on Long Island that’s what’s happening.
8. N.Y. Rangers (66 points)
It’s going to be another rough year for the Rangers as they themselves are in a rebuilding situation.
Yes,Henrik Lundquist is still there and is capable of nabbing a few games here and there by playing spoiler, but it’s going to take some time to find the right pairings of
Marc Staal,Brady Skjei,and Kevin Shattenkirk are anchors on the New York blue line with Chris Kreider,Mats Zuccarello and Jimmy Vesey on the front lines. The Rangers should be exciting to watch in seasons to come and even this one from time to time,but not very good overall this year.
Stanley Cup Playoffs
Opening Round-Western Conference
San Jose over Calgary
Edmonton over Vegas
Winnipeg over Dallas
Nashville over St. Louis
Opening Round-Eastern Conference
Toronto over Florida
Tampa Bay over Boston
Penguins over Flyers
Capitals over Blue Jackets
Second Round-Western Conference
San Jose over Edmonton
Nashville over Winnipeg
Second Round-Eastern Conference
Tampa Bay over Toronto
Pittsburgh over Washington
Western Conference Finals
Nashville over San Jose
Eastern Conference Finals
Tampa Bay over Pittsburgh
Stanley Cup Finals
Tampa Bay over Nashville
Enjoy the season!