Wednesday kicks off an NHL season of 1,271 games. Here's how we see things finishing in the standings.
We’re still seven months away from seeing just how this new NHL season will play out, but that doesn’t mean we don’t already have some thoughts on how the standings will look come April 6, 2019.
The numbers have been crunched, the rosters and offseason transactions pored over and the darts thrown at the wall. Here’s what it all adds up to: A season that will see each division have its own sets of races in the standings.
There has been plenty of ink already spilled over John Tavares's move to Toronto, as well as Erik Karlsson's trade out of Ottawa to San Jose, not to mention countless other moves made over the summer. And they'll all play a big role in how things shake out over the course of 1,271 games.
Here's how we see things shaking out come at the season's end:
2. Maple Leafs
4. Panthers (WC2)
7. Red Wings
The Lightning, Maple Leafs and Bruins are clearly the class of the Atlantic, and all three legitimate Cup contenders. Behind them, however, the Panthers and their vaunted top two lines are primed to out perform the bottom four teams in the division, and sneak their way back into the postseason. The rebuilt Sabres are clearly on the cusp with a bevy of young talent, but they'll have to wait another season or so. Between the Habs and Wings, Carey Price's goaltending in Montreal should be the difference, though one thing is clear for both teams: at least they're not the Senators.
2. Blue Jackets
4. Flyers (WC1)
It was the longest summer in quite some time for Sidney Crosby and Co., and coming back well-rested portends bad things for the rest of the Metro. The Blue Jackets are a good bet to give the Penguins a run for their money—that is, if contract situations for Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky don't color a promising season. The Capitals will have to prove they're done celebrating last season's championship, but will find themselves in the mix once again. The race between the Flyers, Devils and Hurricanes for a wild card spot will be fascinating to watch, provided no one fades too hard ahead of the stretch run. Mired in a rebuild, the Rangers can be content to sit back and learn, though new coach Dave Quinn has an edge that his Islanders counterpart Barry Trotz does not: Henrik Lundqvist in net. If Trotz wants to avoid going from the division's top team to the basement, he'll have to get his new team on track—and fast.
4. Stars (WC2)
The Jets broke out in a big way last season, and they'll have a chip on their shoulders after coming up short of the Stanley Cup Final. It's not that the Predators will take a step back, however—expect a team that brought some offense to complement its standout defense to have its eyes on an elusive title. The battle for the division's third slot is certain to be fun, with the rebuilt Blues and high-powered Stars trying to find a way back to the postseason after both missed out last season. The Avalanche won't give them an inch, as MVP candidate Nathan MacKinnon proved he's a force to be reckoned with. A pair of teams with aging cores are facing an uphill battle, though the Wild are healthy once again—an issue the Blackhawks face with star goalie Corey Crawford sidelined to start the season.
2. Golden Knights
4. Kings (WC1)
Way out West, the Sharks, with the addition of Erik Karlsson, and the Golden Knights, owners of a shiny new second line, are the teams to beat in the Pacific. The overhauled Flames have the inside track on the division's final playoff spot with their deepened offensive unit. With a roster featuring an MVP candidate, a Norris Trophy candidate and a Vezina candidate, the Kings have what it takes to fend off the upstart Coyotes in a race for the wild card. After that, however, things get a bit dicier. The Ducks made the playoff last season, but with Corey Perry out for at least five months, that doesn't seem likely this time around. Connor McDavid did everything he could to drag the Oilers back to the postseason, but he enters 2018–19 with a largely unchanged roster around him, which spells another summer at home watching everyone else compete for the Cup. While the Canucks have been hapless for the last few seasons, things are on the upswing in Vancouver. A slew of young talent provides plenty of hope for the future, but some baffling offseason contracts mean that future isn't anytime soon.