Jacob Hebda & Adam Lindner
Hours before the new NHL season began with four games on Wednesday evening, the league’s Department of Player Safety announced that Capitals forward Tom Wilson had been suspended for 20 games for a hit to the head of St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist.
So, while Wilson might not take to the PPG Paints Arena ice when the Capitals visit the Penguins Oct. 4, his teammates will.
In preparation for that, here’s a 31-team primer to prepare you for the upcoming season:
Carolina Hurricanes, 36-35-11, 83 points, missed playoffs in 2017-18:
The Hurricanes were thought to be a potential playoff team this past season but instead turned in a discouraging campaign that left them well short of a wild card spot. To get back on track, goalie Scott Darling will have to be far better. With star winger, Jeff Skinner gone, the offense will need a new face to step up. Their defense is strong, but if Carolina has any hope of reaching the postseason, one of these units will need to improve.
Columbus Blue Jackets, 45-30-7, 97 points, lost in Rd. 1 to WSH 4-2:
This feels like a watershed season in Columbus. Consecutive playoff trips have each ended in the first round, including a blown 2-0 series lead against the Capitals this past April. This team is still a contender, but if things don’t pan out this year, expect some major changes.
New Jersey Devils, 44-29-9, 97 points, lost in Rd. 1 to TBL 4-1:
After five straight years without a playoff appearance, the Devils finally made it back. Taylor Hall posted an MVP campaign, bringing some much needed excitement back to Jersey. However, after Hall, there are no bona fide stars on this roster. It will be interesting to see if the Devils put together another strong season, or regress back to being a non-contender.
New York Islanders, 35-37-10, 80 points, missed playoffs:
Fresh off adding a Stanley Cup to an already-impressive resume, new head coach Barry Trotz will bring some much-needed winning experience to the Islanders’ locker room. However, New York’s immediate playoff hopes took a colossal hit when franchise player John Tavares left America’s biggest city for Canada’s. It could be a rough season, but with Trotz at the helm, the Islanders may use this year as a springboard for future success.
New York Rangers, 34-39-9, 77 points, missed playoffs:
As the Rangers enter their first full rebuilding season, everyone’s eyes are already focused on next season. Henrik Lundqvist is on the decline, while former All-Star Kevin Shattenkirk will attempt to regain form after knee surgery. With some promising young players in the system, as well as an interesting free agent market looming in summer 2019, better days may be on the horizon in the Big Apple.
Philadelphia Flyers, 42-26-14, 98 points, lost in Rd. 1 to PIT 4-2:
This is a team on the rise, no doubt about it. The Flyers possess a dynamic blend of talented veterans and youngsters. Many pundits believe their time is nearing, but it could take another year or two. Why? Well, as usual, Philadelphia’s achilles heel looks to be its shaky goaltending situation.
Pittsburgh Penguins, 47-29-6, 100 points, lost in Rd. 2 to WSH 4-2:
After winning two straight Stanley Cups, it was inevitable that the Penguins would come back down to earth eventually. Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, it was the rival Capitals who eliminated their chances of a three-peat. With perhaps some newfound motivation in the form of revenge, and a championship core still in place, expect the Penguins to be back in contention.
Washington Capitals, 49-26-7, 105 points, won Stanley Cup Final:
Everything finally came together for Washington last season, who exorcised their postseason demons and brought home the Stanley Cup. Unfortunately for fellow championship hopefuls, Ovechkin and Co. are still there, so this team isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. The big question now is just how much of an impact the loss of coach Barry Trotz will have.
Boston Bruins, 50-20-12, 112 points, lost in Rd. 2 to TBL 4-1:
A talented team led by David Pastrnak, the Bruins seem positioned for a 2019 Cup run. The Atlantic is an awfully tough division now, though, and if Boston ends up falling, it will probably be thanks to Tampa Bay or Toronto.
Buffalo Sabres, 25-45-12, 62 points, missed playoffs:
Having recently re-signed promising scorer Sam Reinhart to a two-year deal ($3.65 million AAV) to cap an eventful offseason, former Penguins executive Jason Botterill should feel proud of the job he’s done in the roughly 17 months that he’s had as Buffalo’s GM. While last season’s team was listless by season’s end, this one is much more exciting, and rookie D-man Rasmus Dahlin should shine.
Detroit Red Wings, 30-39-13, 73 points, missed playoffs:
The Wings missed the playoffs for the first time in 25 seasons in 2018, and should miss for the second straight year in 2019. While the rebuilding process is certainly much further along now than it was a year ago, this team still shouldn’t go far.
Florida Panthers, 44-30-8, 96 points, missed playoffs:
The Panthers have an opportunity to reign supreme over the Atlantic’s middle class this season, as the league boasts both contenders and bottom-feeders. One of Florida’s biggest concerns this season may be fending off upstart Buffalo.
Montreal Canadiens, 29-40-13, 71 points, missed playoffs:
The Canadiens should thank their Atlantic Division counterpart, Ottawa, for imploding as of late, because otherwise, the NHL community would be that much more concerned with what’s going on in Montreal. One year after scoring 2.5 goals per game, the Habs traded both Alex Galchenyuk and Max Pacioretty away, clearing the way for a future of tanking.
Ottawa Senators, 28-43-11, 67 points, missed playoffs:
It’s really hard to believe that less than two years ago, this franchise was an overtime goal away from dethroning the reigning champion Penguins and playing for the Stanley Cup. Now, the Senators are arguably the most lackluster team in the NHL. Matt Duchene and Matt Stone, Ottawa’s two best players, could be gone by the trade deadline. It will get worse before it gets any better.
Tampa Bay Lightning, 54-23-5, 113 points, lost in East Finals to WSH 4-3:
Practically the whole world thought Tampa was on its way to the 2018 Cup Finals after the Bolts found themselves with a 3-2 lead in the East Finals over Washington. They ended up choking, but this year’s a new year, and the Lightning remain just as talented as ever. They will remain atop the Atlantic.
Toronto Maple Leafs, 49-26-7, 105 points, lost in Rd. 1 to BOS 4-3:
Adding John Tavares to one of the most exciting young teams in hockey is a recipe for a lot of wins. This season should be fun for the Leafs, even with heavy expectations.
Chicago Blackhawks, 33-39-10, 76 points, missed playoffs:
A year after missing out on the Western Conference playoffs, the Blackhawks are back with largely the same nucleus in 2018. Much like Pittsburgh, who’s also aging, Chicago’s window is certainly closing, but Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews aren’t to be discounted.
Colorado Avalanche, 43-30-9, 95 points, lost in Rd. 1 to NSH 4-2:
Even though the Avs were a surprise playoff team last year, expectations shouldn’t be huge this year. The postseason is the reality once again for Colorado, but nothing much more beyond that should be attainable for the Avs.
Dallas Stars, 42-32-8, 92 points, missed playoffs:
The Stars underperformed by failing to make the playoffs in 2018, but stand to make a run in 2018-19 behind Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn. A big key will be Ben Bishop’s consistency in net.
Minnesota Wild, 45-26-11, 101 points, lost in Rd. 1 to WPG 4-1:
The Wild always seem to look great in the regular season, but can never figure out how to make it happen when it counts in the playoffs. We’ll see if the 2019 Cup run is any different.
Nashville Predators, 53-18-11, 117 points, lost in Rd. 2 to WPG 4-2:
The Preds won the President’s Trophy in 2018, but surprisingly fell to the Jets in the second round last season. Nashville should again sit atop the West throughout the ‘18-19 campaign.
St. Louis Blues, 44-32-6, 94 points, missed playoffs:
The Blues started off the 2017-18 season as one of the NHL’s hottest teams before fading and barely missing out on a playoff spot. To ensure that doesn’t happen again, GM Doug Armstrong acquired a big name in Ryan O’Reilly, as well as some depth forwards. If goalie Jake Allen can prove to be a consistent force in net, St. Louis has all the makings of a dark horse contender.
Winnipeg Jets, 52-20-10, 114 points, lost in West Finals to VGK 4-1:
The Jets came up short last season, but it’s impossible to ignore their improvement from perennial disappointment to a championship contender. This is a team with both elite talent and solid depth throughout its roster. Assuming Winnipeg finds an answer at center after Paul Stastny headed southwest to Las Vegas, a Stanley Cup is certainly within reach.
Anaheim Ducks, 44-25-13, 101 points, lost in Rd. 1 to SJS 4-1:
There certainly has to be worry that the Ducks’ Cup window has closed, or is, at least, impending. Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler are all on the wrong side of 30, which makes last year’s hasty playoff exit all the more alarming. Still, John Gibson is among the NHL’s best young goalies, while Anaheim maintains one of the best defensive groups in the league. A championship run is not entirely out of the question.
Arizona Coyotes, 29-41-12, 70 points, missed playoffs:
The Coyotes look to be trending upward, but seem likely to fall short of the postseason yet again. Trading for Alex Galchenyuk and signing Michael Grabner could each prove to be great moves by GM John Chayka. Even so, depth is a major concern. Arizona could be a revelation, but a middling, yet simultaneously promising season seems more probable.
Calgary Flames, 37-35-10, 84 points, missed playoffs:
Calgary figures to be somewhere near the middle of the pack this season. However, this feels like a team on the rise. With top-level talent in Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Mark Giordano, as well as the addition of veteran winger James Neal, the Flames may be a playoff-caliber team. Keep expectations tampered for the time being, but keep an eye on what else is happening in Alberta.
Edmonton Oilers, 36-40-6, 78 points, missed playoffs:
The Oilers saw their Stanley Cup hopes fizzle almost immediately upon last season’s arrival. After a slow start, Edmonton was never able to gain any traction, making for a disheartening follow-up to a promising 2016-17 campaign. An improvement this year seems likely, but those championship ambitions feel much more distant than before. Ultimately, Edmonton’s fate will be determined by how well Connor McDavid’s teammates play around him.
Los Angeles Kings, 45-29-8, 98 points, lost in Rd. 1 to VGK 4-0:
After three seasons of underwhelming play, Los Angeles seemed to rediscover its groove last year under new coach John Stevens. Despite a quick exit in the first round, the Kings seem poised for an extended postseason stay this time around. Ilya Kovalchuk is making his much-anticipated NHL return, Jonathan Quick has proven he is still elite, and this Stanley Cup-pedigree core is still intact. Don’t sleep on the Kings.
San Jose Sharks, 45-27-10, 100 points, lost in Rd. 2 to VGK 4-2:
Since coming just short of a title in the 2016 Stanley Cup Finals, the Sharks have yet to reach that stage again. Enter Erik Karlsson, arguably the best defenseman in the NHL, via a trade with Ottawa. The move has San Jose (understandably) dreaming big, but now comes the hard part — running the Western Conference gauntlet and actually winning the Cup.
Vancouver Canucks, 31-40-11, 73 points, missed playoffs:
Brock Boeser gives the Canucks reason for optimism, but the rest of the team is mostly uninspiring, especially now that the Sedin brothers are gone. If things break right, Vancouver could find itself with a shot at the playoffs. However, it will probably take at least a few more seasons for this team to become a real playoff contender.
Vegas Golden Knights, 51-24-7, 109 points, lost in Stanley Cup Final to WSH 4-1:
After a trip to the Stanley Cup, how do you avoid underwhelming results the following season? Well, the answer is debatable, but adding Max Pacioretty and Paul Stastny seems like a good place to start. Even so, replicating the magic of an inaugural season Cup appearance will be difficult. But considering the Knights’ talent and depth, don’t be surprised if they find themselves back in the Finals again in 2019.