NHL 2019-20 season preview

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We’ve survived another long offseason, and this week the NHL finally returned. With it comes a series of predictions, some of which will surely look ridiculous by the season’s end. Nevertheless, this year shapes up to be another exciting one in the hockey world, with teams making plenty of changes across the league. Let’s break it down, division by division.

 

Western Conference

Pacific Division

  1. Vegas Golden Knights
  2. Calgary Flames
  3. San Jose Sharks
  4. Arizona Coyotes (Wild Card)
  5. Vancouver Canucks
  6. Edmonton Oilers
  7. Anaheim Ducks
  8. Los Angeles Kings

The top three of the Pacific division should remain unchanged this season, with the Knights, Flames and Sharks leading the charge. After last year’s playoff heartbreak, Vegas’ high-powered offense with a full year of Mark Stone should help them bring home the division. The Flames shocked the league last year en route to a first place finish in the division, and while they’ve done little this offseason, the team is skilled enough to prove last year wasn’t a fluke. The Sharks are expected take a step back with the loss of key pieces including their captain Joe Pavelski and having done nothing to address their league-worst goaltending situation. Still, the defensive pairing of Brent Burns and Erik Karlsson will carry them to the playoffs. This should be the year the Coyotes finally get over the hump and make it back into the playoff picture. Last year, they barely missed the playoffs, and with a healthy roster and the addition of Phil Kessel, the team will find a way to sneak in. The Canucks and Oilers are two West Canadian teams in very similar positions, each having enough high-end talent to keep things interesting, but not enough depth to seriously contend for a playoff spot just yet. Meanwhile, the Ducks and Kings are firmly in the rebuilding camp and should spend the season developing their young talent.

 

Central Division

  1. Nashville Predators
  2. Colorado Avalanche
  3. Dallas Stars
  4. St. Louis Blues (Wild Card)
  5. Winnipeg Jets
  6. Chicago Blackhawks
  7. Minnesota Wild

This season should be as exciting as ever in hockey’s toughest division. The Predators made a few shake-ups this offseason, but should remain dominant atop the Central Division. The Avalanche had a coming-out party last postseason, knocking off the top-seeded Flames. Led by the transcendent Nathan Mackinnon, this year they’ll prove they’re here to stay. The Stars loaded up this offseason bringing in Corey Perry and Joe Pavelski. A boost in their offense is exactly what they need to secure a playoff spot. The defending champion Blues may suffer from some Stanley Cup hangover at the start of the season, but they’re running it back with virtually the same roster and should make some noise this season. The Jets regressed significantly this offseason, losing both Tyler Myers and Jacob Trouba, and their window for contention is closing quickly. The Hawks and Wild are both decent teams caught in a brutal division where everyone is pushing for the playoffs, so while they’ll stay in the conversation, their comparative lack of talent will cause them to falter out down the stretch.

 

Eastern Conference

Atlantic Division

  1. Tampa Bay Lightning
  2. Boston Bruins
  3. Toronto Maple Leafs
  4. Florida Panthers (Wild Card)
  5. Montreal Canadiens
  6. Buffalo Sabres
  7. Detroit Red Wings
  8. Ottawa Senators

The Atlantic is clearly divided between the top three and everyone else. The Lightning won the Presidents’ Trophy, the Bruins are defending Stanley Cup finalists and the Leafs are perhaps the most talented offensive team in the league. All three have legitimate cases to be Stanley Cup Champions this year. The Panthers and Canadiens are teams that should be on the playoff bubble this season. With Florida’s addition of elite goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, the team will find a way to sneak in. The Canadiens return much of the same team as last year and should once again just fall short. The bottom three in this division should be firmly cemented in the league’s basement. Buffalo and Detroit both have some nice players (Jack Eichel and Dylan Larkin, respectively), but the teams need to fill out the rest of their rosters before they can contend. Meanwhile, Ottawa may be the worst team in the NHL this season, but on the bright side, there is nowhere to go but up.

 

Metropolitan Division

  1. Washington Capitals
  2. Carolina Hurricanes
  3. Pittsburgh Penguins
  4. Philadelphia Flyers (Wild Card)
  5. New Jersey Devils
  6. New York Islanders
  7. New York Rangers
  8. Columbus Blue Jackets

This should be another interesting year in the metro, with all eight teams having legitimate cases to make the playoffs. The Capitals will stay in the driver’s seat, bringing back a roster that has dominated this division the past few seasons. After catching lightning in a bottle last year, the Hurricanes will find a way to recapture the magic and roll to second in the division. The Penguins might take a slight step back with the loss of Phil Kessel, but Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin will make sure this team is always in contention. The Flyers could be a surprising team this season with the addition of Kevin Hayes boosting an already strong offense. If Carter Hart can step up in net, this team will be dangerous. The three teams in the New York metropolitan area are toss-ups, with each team feeling that it can make the playoffs. The Devils have loaded up, drafting Jack Hughes first overall and bringing in P.K. Subban and Wayne Simmonds, but a lack of experience and shaky goaltending will cause the team to fall short of the playoffs. Like the Canes, the Islanders shocked the NHL with a playoff appearance and first round sweep of the Penguins, but unlike Carolina, they won’t be able to pull it off again. Last year, a bunch of decent players came together to play above their talent, but a regression is due this season. This should be an exciting year for the Rangers, with the blueshirts bringing in Artemi Panarin and a slew of elite prospects such as Kaapo Kakko. They’re too young to make a push for the playoffs right now, but soon the league will be on notice. The Blue Jackets may fall the most of any team in the NHL because of huge losses, including Matt Duchene, Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky. They’ll collapse from a playoff team to last in the metro.

 

Stanley Cup predictions

The league is as wide-open this season as it’s ever been, with many teams in contention for the cup. Out West, the Knights and Flames look like the biggest threats from the Pacific, while any of the top four from the Central could break through — though they’ll have to go through the ringer to do it. In the East, the top three of the Atlantic are the favorites, with the Lightning, Bruins and Leafs each being in “cup or bust” mindsets. Of course, they’ll have to remember not to sleep on the Capitals or Penguins, who always seem to step up come playoff time. In the end, I’m predicting the Vegas Golden Knights meeting the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Stanley Cup Finals, with the Bolts being the eventual Stanley Cup Champions. Both teams had a nightmare of a playoff run last year, but they’ll find a way to exorcise those playoff demons and run through the league. It won’t be easy, but these teams have the talent to get it done. We’re still eight months away from that, though. So for now, just sit back, relax and enjoy another season of NHL hockey!

Benjamin Coleman writes for Bear Bytes. Contact him at [email protected].