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NHL Preview

Pittsburgh Penguins' Evgeni Malkin (71) celebrates his goal during the first period of an NHL hockey game against the Minnesota Wild in Pittsburgh, Thursday, Jan. 25, 2018. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

With the NHL season set to start next Wednesday, it is crazy to think that another offseason has flown by. The Washington Capitals won the Stanley Cup last season and will they repeat? Can the Pittsburgh Penguins snatch the Stanley Cup back from them?

What will the Vegas Golden Knights do for an encore? Can some teams that haven’t won a Stanley Cup before like the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Winnipeg Jets, and the San Jose Sharks finally win it all this season? Will the John Tavares experiment work in Toronto?

Metropolitan Division: 1. Pittsburgh Penguins: They will have one of the best offenses in the league led by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Defense will be a concern and goaltender Matt Murray will look to bounce back. The Pittsburgh Penguins are looking to win a third title in four seasons.

2. Washington Capitals: They won it all last season and they are looking to repeat. Alex Ovechkin took his game to another level last season. Todd Reirden will be the Capitals new head coach.

3. Philadelphia Flyers: They could be a dark horse in the east this season. The Flyers have pieces to make a run and it will depend on when goaltender Carter Hart arrives at the NHL level.

4. Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes have not made the playoffs since 2008-2009. Rob Brind’Amour is the new head coach and he won a Stanley Cup with Carolina back in 2006. Justin Williams is the new captain.

5. New Jersey Devils: Taylor Hall won the Hart Trophy last season and Nico Hischier is ready to take his game to another level. Goaltending could be any issue early in the season if Cory Schneider is not healthy.

6. Columbus Blue Jackets: The Blue Jackets have the talent to make a playoff run, but will Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky being on a contract year be a distraction to them? Not having defenseman Seth Jones for the first 4-6 weeks of the regular season isn’t a good thing and he is one of the better defenseman in the league.

7. New York Rangers: The Rangers are heading in a different direction with this franchise. They are taking a younger approach. It will take them a few years to be good again. David Quinn is the new head coach and he coached at Boston University last season.

8. New York Islanders: The Islanders have one of the worst rosters in the league. Barry Trotz is the new head coach. John Tavares left in free agency and Mathew Barzal is now the face of the franchise. They don’t have very good defense or goaltending.

Atlantic Division: 1. Toronto Maple Leafs: The John Tavares era is underway in Toronto. Because of this, they are one of the favorites to win it all come June. The Toronto Maple Leafs could have the best offense in the league this season. Defense will be a big question. Frederik Andersen needs to step up his game between the pipes.

2. Tampa Bay Lightning: The Lightning have been in the Eastern Conference Finals the past three-out-of-four seasons. They were also the best team in the east during the regular season last year. The Tampa Bay Lightning will be a team to be reckoned with as long as they stay healthy.

3. Boston Bruins: The Bruins have a ton of players returning from last year’s roster. They have a good balance of offense and defense. It will all be up to Tuukka Rask in whether or not the Boston Bruins make a deep playoff run.

4. Buffalo Sabres: The Sabres made many personnel changes to the roster this offseason. Rookie defenseman Rasmus Dahlin and rookie centerman Casey Mittelstadt could turn heads this season. Buffalo will be a lot more competitive, but they will fall short of a playoff spot.

5. Detroit Red Wings: Detroit will have a good goaltending duo this season in Jonathan Bernier and Jordan Howard. Rookie Filip Zadina could turn heads immediately in the Red Wings organization. If the Detroit Red Wings miss the playoffs this season, Head Coach Jeff Blashill might be out of a job.

6. Florida Panthers: The Panthers made an improbable second half run last season, but they missed the playoffs by a point. Florida has good players on the roster like Jonathan Huberdeau, Evgenii Dadonov, and Aaron Ekblad. Robert Luongo needs to have another big year in net for the Florida Panthers. Bob Boughner did a good job coaching this team last season.

7. Ottawa Senators: They already traded away defenseman Erik Karlsson before the season began and this means that the Ottawa Senators are in for a long rebuild ahead. The Ottawa Senators just made it to the Eastern Conference Finals two years ago.

8. Montreal Canadiens: Montreal doesn’t have a lot if offensive talent on the roster. Goaltender Carey Price is never reliable. He is usually hurt and he can’t make the big saves when he needs to. They are also in for a long rebuild ahead.

Central Division: 1. Winnipeg Jets: The Jets want to show that they weren’t a fluke last season. Patrik Laine is a 20-year-old phenom and they are also good defensively and between the pipes. Connor Hellebuyck had a breakout year last season in net and he hopes he continues to have another great season and beyond.

2. Nashville Predators: To no surprise, the Presidents’ Trophy curse last season struck the Nashville Predators. They lost in seven games to the Winnipeg Jets in the second-round of the playoffs. Goaltender Pekka Rinne needs to start well out of the gates. Juuse Saros will be playing games in net anyways this season for Nashville. The blue line is the makeup of this team.

3. St. Louis Blues: The Blues made many changes to the roster this offseason. They missed the playoffs for the first time since the 2010-2011 season. St. Louis can’t let injuries derail them this season again. Tyler Bozak, Ryan O’Reilly, and David Perron are three key players the St. Louis Blues signed this offseason.

4. Colorado Avalanche: After having the worst record in the league in 2016-2017, the Avalanche made it to the playoffs last season as the second wild card team in the west. Nathan MacKinnon put the team on his back and Mikko Rantanen also had a breakout season. Speaking of breaking out, defenseman Samuel Girard could have a breakout season.

5. Dallas Stars: Tyler Seguin was signed to an eight-year contract extension and this is a good sign for the Stars. Jamie Benn is also an offensive machine. Dallas needs other players to step up.

6. Minnesota Wild: The Wild might hit a wall this season. Bruce Boudreau needs to be on the hot seat. They do have talent on the roster but if they get off to a slow start or miss the playoffs this season, it is possible that Minnesota could fire him.

7. Chicago Blackhawks: The Blackhawks didn’t qualify for the playoffs last season and it was the first time since the 2007-2008 they didn’t qualify for the postseason. Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews will have good years again. The defense is a major question mark and so is the goaltending, especially if Corey Crawford can’t.

Pacific Division: 1. San Jose Sharks: With adding defenseman Erik Karlsson to the roster via trade, it helps their chances to win it all this season. They have a good mix of youth and veterans. The San Jose Sharks want to win a Stanley Cup before Joe Thornton retires. Martin Jones is one of the most underrated goalies in the league.

2. Calgary Flames: The Flames will have a ton of offense this season. The question will be can the blue line and goaltending hold up. Bill Peters is the new head coach this season after they surprisingly fired Glen Gulutzan at the end of the year last season.

3. Vegas Golden Knights: After reaching the Stanley Cup Finals last season, they will have unfinished business to take care of. William Karlsson had a breakout season with 43 goals and 35 assists. His plus/minus was 49. The Golden Knights lost some key players this offseason. Defenseman Nate Schmidt is suspended for the first 20 games of the season. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury needs to hold down the fort again this season.

4. Arizona Coyotes: The Coyotes are ready to take their game to the next level. They have not reached the playoffs since the 2011-2012 season. Arizona was the number three seed that year and they reached the Western Conference Finals that season. Head Coach Rick Tocchet will have high expectations for his young group this season. They added key veterans Marian Hossa and Michael Grabner. Antti Raanta will be good in net this season.

5. Los Angeles Kings: The Kings were healthy last season, but they struggled to score goals. Los Angeles made it to the playoffs, but they were swept in four games against the Vegas Golden Knights and they only scored three goals in that series. Ilya Kovalchuk signed a three-year deal this past offseason. He last played in the NHL back in 2011-2012 for the New Jersey Devils. Kovalchuk has been playing in the KHL in Russia for the past several years.

6. Edmonton Oilers: Connor McDavid led the league once again in points last season with 108 (41 goals and 67 assists). His plus/minus was 21. The Oilers didn’t have a lot of depth last season and they need it to come back this season. If it doesn’t, General Manager Peter Chiarelli and Head Coach Todd McLellan will be looking for new jobs after this season.

7. Anaheim Ducks: Corey Perry is expected to miss the first five months of the regular season for the Anaheim Ducks and that will be a major problem for them. The Ducks could take a monster step back this season after they got swept against the San Jose Sharks in the first-round of the playoffs last season. Anaheim signed goalie John Gibson to an eight-year contract extension, but they will regret it sooner rather than later.

8. Vancouver Canucks: The Canucks will play hard, but they are not ready to contend yet. Vancouver is still 2-3 years away from being a playoff team again. The last time they made it to the playoffs was in the 2014-2015 season. Brock Boeser is a star in the making.

 

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.

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