1. Tampa Bay Lightning – They didn’t land the grand slam attempt at Erik Karlsson, but the Lightning are still the class of the Atlantic Division. Adding Ryan McDonagh last season to what they already have should make them a force in the East for years to come.
2. Toronto Maple Leafs – Obviously things are going to have to play out with a defense that’s still not quite top notch, but the Leafs are going to be able score goals and produce offense with anybody after adding John Tavares to the existing group.
3. Boston Bruins – It’s amazing to think that the Bruins are relegated to third in the division after 112 points last season, but it’s going to be a nightly battle for the top three spots in this division. If some kids really make a leap this season, the Bruins could be second or first instead.
4. Florida Panthers – The Panthers are a team that everybody is sleeping on and they probably shouldn’t be. Tons of young talent and depth at both ends of the ice, and they still have the inimitable Bobby Lou as their goalie. It will be tough to crack the top three, though.
5. Buffalo Sabres – If Rasmus Dahlin is anything close to the real deal, then the Sabres should be a much, much better hockey team this season. Playoffs? Probably not. But they’ll take forward progress.
6. Detroit Red Wings – It’s difficult to see much of a difference between any of the bottom three teams in the division because they’re all going to be roadkill this season. Maybe the Red Wings will be just a little less roadkill on some nights.
7. Montreal Canadiens – The Habs dealt away another impact player in Max Pacioretty to Vegas and are paying an aging, breaking down goalie in Carey Price $10 million per season. Boy, would I feel bad for Claude Julien if he weren’t banking major money up there.
8. Ottawa Senators – The Senators might have some talent, but it will take some time to get out from under the storm clouds of last year. Bad owner, fans that are losing faith and you just traded your star player for pennies on the dollar. Yikes.
1. Washington Capitals – The Capitals finally got over the hump last season. Now the question is whether Alex Ovechkin and Co. spend this year holding a season-long party to celebrate what they did last year. But clearly the talent is there.
2. Pittsburgh Penguins – Perhaps the Penguins will be re-energized after watching their mortal enemies in DC hoist the Cup. A shorter season must have also done them some good after long back-to-back Cup years. The Cup-level talent is still there, however.
3. Columbus Blue Jackets – The Blue Jackets have the goaltending, they have the grit and they have a talent-loaded blue line to go with their workmanlike group of forwards. The only question is whether they finally get tired of working so hard for Torts.
4. New Jersey Devils – The Devils aren’t going to sneak up on anybody this season after a playoff year with Taylor Hall winning the Hart Trophy. They are also a year better as well, but the challenge will be a bigger one to stay among the top half of teams in the Metro.
5. Philadelphia Flyers – There’s a ton of young talent (especially on the back end) and there are some very good veteran players like Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek and Claude Giroux. Like every year, though, it’s going to come down to the goaltending of Brian Elliott and Michael Neuvirth, and neither is a world beater.
6. Carolina Hurricanes – The Hurricanes have a new look, a new coach and a new owner, and they’re even going to wear the Hartford Whalers uniform a couple of times. Unfortunately it’s probably going to be the same results for them in the standings.
7. New York Rangers – The Rangers blew up as much of the team as they could have last season and dropped to the bottom of the Metro Division. It will be a long way back to the top for the Blueshirts, but there’s a limit to just how bad they can be with an admittedly aging King Henrik still around.
8. New York Islanders – John Tavares left the Islanders holding the bag after bolting to the Leafs in free agency. It’s going to take them a while to recover from this one, but on the bright side they’re playing some games back in Nassau Coliseum this year.
1. Winnipeg Jets – The Jets took a pretty good leap last season and maybe they take another one to the cusp of a Stanley Cup this season. The one question about this team is whether some of the older core players are getting a little too long in the tooth for a Cup window, but they should have another season or two with Patrik Laine taking things over.
2. Nashville Predators – The Preds will once again be a tough out in the Western Conference, and should be involved in some pretty epic battles with the Jets over the course of the season. Would they already have won the Cup if they were going to win one? Tough to say with the talent up front, on the back end and between the pipes.
3. Minnesota Wild – The Wild should once again be a playoff team with Ryan Suter, Zach Parise, Eric Staal, Jason Zucker, Matt Dumba and Charlie Coyle along with Devan Dubnyk, but does anybody really think they’re ready for a run to the Cup? Just a nice hockey team out in Minnesota.
4. Colorado Avalanche – Nathan MacKinnon is a legit NHL star and they have enough to get into the postseason, but once again they look a little light compared to the heavyweights in this conference. Mikko Rantanen really exploded on the scene for them last season.
5. Chicago Blackhawks – I’m officially down on the Blackhawks after expecting them to return to glory the last couple of seasons. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews will still have their nights of going off, but they just can’t put together a playoff roster while paying the massive cap hits to that duo at the same time.
6. Dallas Stars – The Stars will score plenty of goals with Tyler Seguin, Jamie Benn, Alex Radulov and a whole host of others on offense, but they are way too run-and-gun to be taken seriously in the Western Conference. It will be interesting to see how Seguin plays after getting that massive contract extension this summer.
7. St. Louis Blues – The Blues still have Vladimir Tarasenko, Colton Parayko and Alex Pietrangelo, but they’re a long way from the Blues team that ruled this conference. It could be a long year in St. Louis based on the competition.
1. San Jose Sharks – Erik Karlsson is a game-changer for the San Jose Sharks, and he’s a game-changer for the entire Western Conference. This should be San Jose’s season to dominate with Brent Burns and Karlsson constantly on the ice, and this should also be the season they finally get to the Final and hoist the thing. We’ll see if it actually happens.
2. Vegas Golden Knights – It was kind of a Cinderella year for the Golden Knights coming in as an expansion team, and they also probably had a lot of teams not quite prepared to play in their first team trip to Vegas. It will be a much together road for the Golden Knights, so we’ll get to see exactly how good they really are after last year’s magic.
3. Los Angeles Kings – The Kings still have Jonathan Quick, Drew Doughty and Anze Kopitar along with wunderkind Tyler Toffoli, and they still have the heart of a champion. But they’re also getting a little long in the tooth, and they added 35-year-old Ilya Kovalchuk to that mix for a little more offensive punch. We’ll see how that works out.
4. Edmonton Oilers – Things could really go one of two ways for the Oilers. Either they get back on track and finally start playing up to their talent level, or the pressure of expectations is going to eat them up, spit them out and changes are going to start being made. It should be fascinating to watch, and Connor McDavid should lead them out of the mess if he’s half as good as everybody says that he is.
5. Anaheim Ducks – Losing Corey Perry for a long stretch of time at the beginning of the season certainly is a bummer, and the Ducks are another team that’s hanging on with an aging group. Still a lot of proud competitors sprinkled in with some good, young players, but it’s going to be hard to keep up with the teams on the rise in this division.
6. Calgary Flames – New look in Calgary with Dougie Hamilton no longer in the Flames dressing room, and instead more onus on other talented youngsters like Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Keith Tkachuk and Sam Bennett among others. We’ll see if removing some of their core group shakes up the rest of the team after disappointing last season.
7. Arizona Coyotes – Certainly the Coyotes have assembled a talented group of youngsters and John Chayka should have the team in exactly the shape he wants them to be at this point. But it still feels the Coyotes are a long ways away even after having a breakout rookie like Clayton Keller last season.
8. Vancouver Canucks – Who knows where things will take the Canucks this season? They have Brock Boeser and they have Bo Horvath, and that’s a good place to start. But a team that just lost Trevor Linden as Team President sure feels like it needs to bottom out before things are going to truly get better.
Tampa Bay Lightning over Pittsburgh Penguins in Eastern Conference Final – The Penguins get within a playoff series of getting back to the Stanley Cup Final, but instead they fall to a Lightning team that’s primed for big things this season.
San Jose Sharks over the Winnipeg Jets in Western Conference Final – The Sharks aren’t going to be denied as they become an updated version of the Pronger/Niedermayer Ducks with Burns and Karlsson ready to control play against their opponents. It’s tough to beat that.
Sharks over the Lightning in Stanley Cup Final – It would be fitting if the Lightning fell short in their efforts to land Karlsson (which was never going to happen in the same division as Ottawa) and then fall short to Karlsson and the Sharks in the Stanley Cup Final. We would get to see the Victor Hedman/Erik Karlsson pirate videos from the NHL All-Star Game all over again.
Hart Trophy – Connor McDavid, Edmonton Oilers
Norris Trophy – Erik Karlsson, San Jose Sharks
Calder Trophy – Rasmus Dahlin, Buffalo Sabres
Vezina Trophy – Connor Hellebuyck, Winnipeg Jets
Selke Trophy – Patrice Bergeron, Boston Bruins