NHL Preview

by Glenn Kaplan
by Glenn Kaplan

NHL Training Camps have already started around the NHL. The first game of the NHL season will be on Wednesday October 3 when the Boston Bruins travel to face the Washington Capitals. They will be raising the banner for the first time in franchise history. Washington will have a target on their back entering the regular season.

There are a ton of story lines entering the season. Can the Capitals repeat? Will the Pittsburgh Penguins take back their ultimate glory? Can the Winnipeg Jets win it all for the first time? Is the Toronto Maple Leafs season? What will the Vegas Golden Knights do for an encore?

Eastern Conference: Metropolitan Division: 1. Pittsburgh Penguins: The Pittsburgh Penguins got much needed offseason rest last season after failing to get past the second-round of the playoffs. They will be energized from the start and it could make them dangerous once again. Pittsburgh has one of the best offenses in the league and they have the best player in the world in Sidney Crosby. The Penguins must show more grit this season. Daniel Sprong could be a breakout player this season and goalie Matt Murray needs to stay healthy.

2. Washington Capitals: They will have a target on their back to start the season. Washington is hungry to win another title. Barry Trotz is not the coach anymore. Todd Reidren is the new head coach. He was promoted from assistant head coach. Alex Ovechkin will look to lead by example once again this season. He scored 49 goals last season and it led the league. They have basically the same roster back this season. The biggest problem for the Capitals this season could be a backup goalie to Braden Holtby.

3. Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers might be a dark horse in the east. They have the pieces in place to make a playoff run this season. The addition of James van Riemsdyk will help this team out no doubt. Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov will only get better on the blue line. The two biggest questions for the Philadelphia Flyers this season will be can Head Coach Dave Hakstol be consistent from the get go? Will the Flyers have a goalie carousel once again? Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth are the two current goalies on the roster. It is quite possible Alex Lyon and Carter Hart could be the goalies by the end of the season.

4. Carolina Hurricanes: They will have a new regime this season. After getting rid of Bill Peters in the offseason, they hired Rob Brind'Amour as the new head coach. He was once a player for the Carolina Hurricanes and Brind'Amour was a Stanley Cup Champion with them back in 2006. Justin Williams is the new captain this season. The Hurricanes have good young players. Sebastian Aho is becoming a star and second overall pick Andrei Svechnikov could be a star as well. They haven't made the playoffs since 2008-2009 and Carolina is overdue.

5. New Jersey Devils: Taylor Hall won the Hart Trophy and hopefully for the Devils, the same success occurs. Hall had 93 points last season. Nico Hischier had the second most points last season with 52 points. New Jersey hopes he makes a big jump in his second year. Keith Kinkaid played well in net last season when Cory Schneider struggled. Kinkaid might have to start in net this season because Schneider is dealing with offseason surgery. The New Jersey Devils hope they get back to the playoffs for the second consecutive season for the first time since the 2008-2009 and the 2009-2010 season.

6. Columbus Blue Jackets: Columbus has talent to get back to the playoffs and make a run, but there will be things that cause them not to. Goalie Sergei Bobrovsky is 29 years old and he is on a contract year. That could be a big distraction, especially if he falters early on in the season. Joonas Korpisalo is 24 years old and he is also a free agent at the end of the season. He is the backup goalie. Artemi Panarin is 26 years old and he is also on a contract year. The Columbus Blue Jackets thought about trading him in the offseason. Those things could be distractions to a team. They didn't make many upgrades to the roster this offseason.

7. New York Rangers: The New York Rangers will be heading in a different direction starting this season. They hired Boston University's David Quinn to be the new head coach. Quinn was successful there and the Rangers hope it will be the same. It will take time for this team to be good again, but players like Filip Chytil and Lias Andersson could be exciting this season. They will be a fast team, but they won't have enough offense. Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is 36 years old and he is showing signs of cracking.

8. New York Islanders: The New York Islanders have one of the worst rosters in the league, especially since John Tavares left in free agency for the Toronto Maple Leafs. Mathew Barzal will be the star player now after recording 85 points last season as a rookie. He won the Calder Trophy. Barry Trotz is the new head coach and Lou Lameriollo is the new general manager. Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss being the top two goalies on the roster is a problem and so is the defense.

Atlantic Division: 1. Toronto Maple Leafs: Kyle Dubas is the new general manager and he has had quite the offseason. They were able to sign John Tavares to a seven-year deal and because of it, Toronto might be the favorites to win it all this season. They also have weapons all over the ice like Auston Matthews, Mitchell Marner, Zach Hyman, Patrick Marleau, William Nylander, and Nazem Kadri. Andreas Johnsson could be a breakout player for the Toronto Maple Leafs this season. The biggest concern for the Maple Leafs might be their defense. Frederik Andersen is a good goalie, but he has to take his game to another level this season.

2. Tampa Bay Lightning: The Lightning blew a 3-2 series lead in the Eastern Conference Finals to the Washington Capitals. This is the second time in three seasons they blew a 3-2 lead in the conference finals. Tampa Bay has been to the conference finals for the past three-out-of-four seasons. They were healthy last season and the Lightning need that to happen again this season. The line of Nikita Kucherov-Steven Stamkos-J.T. Miller could be dangerous. They have very good role players like Brayden Point, Ondrej Palat, and Alex Killorn. Tampa Bay has a very good blue line. Andrei Vasilevskiy is an elite goalie.

3. Boston Bruins: The Bruins have four lines that can score. They also have a balanced blue line. The issue with them might be goaltending. Tuukka Rask should be the starter for most of the season, but if Jarsolav Halak becomes the starter, it could be a bad thing for them. Boston has the talent to make a run to win it all.

4. Buffalo Sabres: The Sabres made a lot of adjustments to the roster this offseason. They won't be a playoff team, but they will be a lot more competitive this season. Defenseman Rasmus Dahlin and center Casey Middelstadt are both rookies and they could both make impacts. Buffalo is rolling the dice by making Carter Hutton the starter. Linus Ullmark could make a name for himself in net later on in the season.

5. Detroit Red Wings: Rookie Filip Zadina could turn heads right away. He was the sixth overall pick and Zadina should have been a top three pick. Henrik Zetterberg will retire because of back problems. He will most likely be a first ballot hall of famer. They have missed the playoffs the past two seasons and head coach Jeff Blashill will be under pressure to make it to the playoffs this season. Detroit has upgraded at goaltender. Jonathan Bernier will be one of the goalies. Jimmy Howard will be the other goalie. That could be a tandem that could work effectively.

6. Florida Panthers: The Florida Panthers made a ridiculous second half run, but they missed the playoffs by a few points. Florida can't afford to that again this season. They have some good players on the roster. Goaltending could be a issue for them this season.

7. Ottawa Senators: With defenseman Erik Karlsson traded, the Ottawa Senators are in complete rebuild mode. They will be one of the worst teams in the league this season. Goalie Craig Anderson could be traded as well.

8. Montreal Canadiens: The Canadiens have one of the worst rosters in the league. They don't have any players that are intimidating. Goalie Carey Price can never stay healthy.

Western Conference: Central Division: 1. Winnipeg Jets: The Jets caused fits to many opponents last season and they will do again this season. They are one of the favorites to win it all this season. Winnipeg lost to the Vegas Golden Knights in the conference finals last season in five games. Patrik Laine is just 20 years old and he scored 44 goals last season. Blake Wheeler led by example last season. He recorded 91 points. Mark Scheifele is becoming a star and Connor Hellebuyck is the real deal in net. Winnipeg is in trouble without Hellebuyck. The Winnipeg Jets present a rare breed of speed and physicality.

2. Nashville Predators: The Predators won the Presidents' Trophy last season and they were bounced in the second-round against the Winnipeg Jets. Nashville has the best blue line in the NHL and Filip Forsberg is one of the most electrifying goal scorers in the entire NHL. Pekka Rinne won the Vezina Trophy last season as the league's best goaltender, but Juuse Saros will play a lot of games this season between the pipes because Rinne is 35 years old. They have the talent to win it all, especially since head coach Peter Laviolette pushes the right buttons most of the time.

3. St. Louis Blues: The Blues made adjustments to the roster this offseason after missing the playoffs for the first time since the 2010-2011 season. Tyler Bozak, Ryan O'Reilly, and David Perron are some of the key offseason signings. St. Louis hopes goalie Jake Allen is ready for the start of the season because of back spams. Chad Johnson or Vince Husso will be the starter if he is not ready to go. The St. Louis Blues have a talented enough roster to make a playoff run.

4. Colorado Avalanche: After having the worst record in the NHL in the 2016-2017 season, they made it to the playoffs last season. Colorado lost in six games to the Nashville Predators in the first-round of the playoffs. Nathan MacKinnon carried the team on his back with 97 points. Mikko Ratenen broke out last season with 88 points. Semyon Varlamov and Philipp Grubauer will split time between the pipes this season. Defenseman Samuel Girard could have a breakout season. Speaking of the blue line, defenseman Ian Cole is also a good offseason acquisition for them.

5. Dallas Stars: The Stars will be an interesting team this season. Tyler Seguin was just signed to an eight-year contract extension. Seguin and Jamie Been have been the core players for the Stars. They need other help around them so they can get back to the playoffs and make a postseason run. Ben Bishop needs to stay healthy between the pipes. The defense was better last season, but it needs to tighten up this season. Jim Montgomery is the new head coach for the Dallas Stars after Ken Hitchcock decided to retire.

6. Minnesota Wild: The Wild made it to the playoffs last season, but they will show signs of crack and fatigue this season. Minnesota's window of winning a Stanley Cup Title has closed at the moment. Goaltender Devan Dubnyk is 32 years old and he showed signs of fatigue in the first-round playoff series against the Winnipeg Jets.

7. Chicago Blackhawks: The Blackhawks missed the playoffs last season for the first time since the 2007-2008 season. Chicago will have a poor roster again this season. Alex DeBrincat, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, and Brandon Saad won't be an issue. The blue line and goaltending will be an issue. Corey Crawford can't stay healthy and they don't have a reliable backup.

Pacific Division: 1. San Jose Sharks: The Sharks acquired defenseman Erik Karlsson on Thursday from the Ottawa Senators and it increased San Jose's chances to win it all. They re-signed Evander Kane in the offseason. The San Jose Sharks had a chance to land John Tavares in free agency, but they didn't. The Sharks have a good mix of veteran players and young players. Martin Jones is one of the most underrated goalies in the league.

2. Calgary Flames: The Flames have one of the most underrated rosters in the league. Goalie Mike Smith is also underrated. His health cost Calgary a chance at the postseason last season. Johnny Gaudreau, Sam Monahan, Sam Bennett, and Matthew Tkachuk are some key offensive players on the roster. Defenseman Noah Hanifin was traded from the Carolina Hurricanes in the offseason and maybe a new place of scenery will be good for him and elevate his game. He is 21 years old and Noah Hanifin was the fifth overall pick in the 2015 NHL Draft.

3. Vegas Golden Knights: The Golden Knights took the league by storm last season. They made it to the Stanley Cup Finals last season and lost in five games against the Washington Capitals. Vegas will have higher expectations this season compared to last season and will see how they respond. William Karlsson broke out last season and scored 43 goals and recorded 35 assists. His plus/minus was 49. Marc-Andre Fleury was very good last season. They had to play five different goalies last season because of injuries.

4. Arizona Coyotes: The Coyotes were the worst team in the league at one point last season and they got better towards the end of the season. If goalie Antti Raanta can stay healthy, Arizona will contend for a playoff spot. Veterans Michael Grabner and Marian Hossa will help this team. They have a lot of young players like Dylan Strome and Clayton Keller. Coach Rick Tocchet hopes his team makes a major improvement in his second year as head coach.

5. Los Angeles Kings: The Kings made it to the playoffs last season, but their lack of goal scoring and the health of goaltender Jonathan Quick could be a big question mark whether or not they get back to the playoffs. Los Angeles signed Ilya Kovalchuk this offseason and he hasn't played in the NHL since the 2011-2012 season with the New Jersey Devils. The Devils were in the finals that season with him.

6. Edmonton Oilers: Connor McDavid recorded 108 points last season and that led the NHL. The Oilers took a monster step back after they made it to the playoffs in 2016-2017. Edmonton doesn't have a great roster and goaltender Cam Talbot also took a step back. If they miss the playoffs this season and they most likely will, it is very possible General Manager Peter Chiarelli and Head Coach Todd McLellan could both be fired.

7. Anaheim Ducks: The Ducks were swept by the San Jose Sharks in the first-round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season. Their core players are getting older like Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf, and Ryan Kesler. They signed goalie John Gibson to a contract extension this offseason and they will regret it.

8. Vancouver Canucks: Brock Boeser was a beast as a rookie last season and he will only get better. The Canucks will play hard in games, but they are still a couple of years away from being a playoff contender.

Playoffs: Eastern Conference First Round: (M1) Pittsburgh Penguins over (WC1) Carolina Hurricanes, (M2) Washington Capitals over (M3) Philadelphia Flyers, (A1) Toronto Maple Leafs over (WC2) New Jersey Devils, and (A2) Tampa Bay Lightning over (A3) Boston Bruins.

Western Conference First Round: (C1) Winnipeg Jets over (WC2) Arizona Coyotes, (C2) Nashville Predators over (C3) St. Louis Blues, (P1) San Jose Sharks over (WC1) Colorado Avalanche, and (P3) Vegas Golden Knights over (P2) Calgary Flames.

Eastern Conference Second Round: (M1) Pittsburgh Penguins over (M2) Washington Capitals and (A1) Toronto Maple Leafs over (A2) Tampa Bay Lightning.

Western Conference Second Round: (C1) Winnipeg Jets over (C2) Nashville Predators and (P1) San Jose Sharks over (P3) Vegas Golden Knights.

Eastern Conference Finals: (A1) Toronto Maple Leafs over (M1) Pittsburgh Penguins.

Western Conference Finals: (C1) Winnipeg Jets over (P1) San Jose Sharks.

Stanley Cup Finals: (C1) Winnipeg Jets over (A1) Toronto Maple Leafs.