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  • How will the Bruins overcome last year’s heartbreak? What comes next for the Blues? We answer the most pressing question for each team ahead of the 2019–20 season.
By The SI Staff
October 01, 2019

The 2018–19 playoffs were as bizarre and exciting as they come, and the summer had its fair share of excitement. 

The band of Blue Jackets that wreaked havoc in the first round by sweeping the Lightning has broken up and has scattered throughout the league. Phil Kessel, Joe Pavelski, Corey Perry and numerous others also joined new teams and an exciting Calder race is raring to get underway. 

With the start of the new season on our doorstep, there are many questions we are anxiously waiting to be answered. Here’s one for every team:

Where will the offense come from? 

Uh, not sure. Ryan Getzlaf was their leading scorer, despite playing in 67 games. Sam Steel was fantastic in juniors and in the AHL, but he’s just 21. Between him, Troy Terry, Jakob Silfverberg, maybe they can score enough to not make John Gibson the victim of countless 2–1 losses. 

What will Phil Kessel’s impact be? 

The Coyotes have only had one player score more than 65 points in the last seven seasons and they’ve finished no better than 18th in goals for during that stretch. Goal scoring hasn’t been Arizona’s strong suit, but that’s exactly why they brought in Kessel. He’ll elevate a forward group that should bounce back after an injury-riddled season and, alongside Clayton Keller, help turn the power play into something that’s respectable.

How do they overcome last year’s heartbreak?

By doing a lot of the same. In a postseason that was flipped upside down and then spun around a few times for good measure, the Bruins were the one regular-season stalwart that emerged from the craziness of a wild-card takeover in the early rounds and entered the finals as the heavy favorite. But the Blues weren’t letting them get in the way of their storybook ending and the Bruins were left in tears as they left the ice. Boston boasts an elite veteran core that’s still showing off despite getting up there in age and has locked up some very talented young players. Maybe just find some consistency on the power play.

Will the playoff drought finally end? 

The Sabres surprised everyone when they held the league’s best record through late November, but shocked fewer when they spiraled back down toward the cellar. They fired coach Phil Housley, brought in Ralph Kreuger and revamped the blue line with Brandon Montour, Colin Miller and Henri Jokiharju. Even if Jeff Skinner doesn’t repeat his 40-goal effort, continued progression from Jack Eichel and Rasmus Dahlin should have the Sabres in the wild-card hunt.

Have they figured out how to navigate the playoffs?

Calgary got blasted by Colorado in the playoffs, then responded by grabbing Cam Talbot to be their goalie. That might not have been the best idea. After his 2016–17 season, in which Talbot was pummeled with 2,117 shots, he’s been increasingly worse. He was chased out of Edmonton and buried in Philly. David Rittich was decent in the regular season, but there’s a reason he didn’t play in the playoffs. If there was a true upgrade in net, we’d be looking at a super dangerous team. That doesn’t seem like the case. 

Will goaltending be an issue? 

Carolina has had a history of needing improved goaltending and last year it came upon a good solution in Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney. The tandem was crucial in the Hurricane’s magical run that made them the league’s most lovable Bunch of Jerks. But McElhinney has moved on and the Canes now have James Reimer—who was one of the league’s worst last season—in his place. Carolina is hoping Reimer’s most recent campaign is an anomaly and that he’ll still make a good backup. But as long as Petr dishes out the Mrazel Dazzle, this team could try to steal the Metro. 

Can they build off last season’s strong finish? 

The Blackhawks are the league’s stealth squad. Obviously, there is a ton of high-end talent: Alex DeBrincat is a star; Alex Nylander has star potential; Dylan Strome found his home; Olli Maata and Calvin de Haan are upgrades on defense. Plus, Robin Lehner is coming off the best year of his career. This could be a dangerous team. 

Is this team the real deal?

The Avs had a breakthrough year in 2017–18 and kept pace last year as they continued to exceed expectations. This is a very, very talented team with a young core that got some added depth up front this offseason. With Tyson Barrie gone, the young defense will have to prove itself this year. But Cale Makar didn’t have any issue when he stepped into the playoffs with ease, scoring in his first game. Now we await to see what the Calder candidate is capable during the regular season in a tough Central Division. 

How bad will this post-all-in team be?

Losing Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, Sergei Bobrovsky, Ryan Dzingel and a ton of draft picks hurts. There’s no way to recuperate those assets, but the Blue Jackets aren’t bereft of talent. Seth Jones and Zach Werenski are two of the better young defensemen in the league. Columbus has a cadre of skilled forwards in Cam Atkinson, Josh Anderson and Pierre-Luc Dubois, and Oliver Bjorkstrand flashed his goal-scoring potential in the postseason. The Blue Jackets won’t be terrible, but with shoddy goaltending and little depth, they aren’t going to be good, either.

Will Corey Perry and Joe Pavelski be the fix on offense?

The Stars had a rather unprolific offense last season (29th in the league) and adding scoring depth became a top priority. Joe Pavelski, who is coming off a 38-goal season (tied for his career best), was one of the biggest grabs in free agency. Corey Perry hasn’t been at full strength for quite some time after having surgery last season and is already set to miss a few games at the start of the season after fracturing his foot from tripping on a stair, but will still solidify a mighty top six. It’s the third and fourth lines that will need to find inspiration from their new veteran teammates. 

What should we expect from the transition period helmed by Steve Yzerman?

Growing pains with some fun mixed in. Dylan Larkin emerged as a high-end No. 1 center last season and a young supporting cast of Andreas Athanasiou, Anthony Mantha and Tyler Bertuzzi helped ease the pain of another rebuilding year. There’s a lot of work left to do—especially on the backend where Filip Hronek and Moritz Seider currently herald the Red Wings’ next wave of blueliners—but Detroit isn’t too far off from returning to the postseason.

Can Ken Holland steer them back to the playoffs?

Only if he gives Connor McDavid a better supporting cast. New coach Dave Tippett has two of the best hockey players in the league in McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, but management needs to beef up the roster with some secondary scoring and defensive depth if they don’t want to waste the prime seasons of such elite talents. Holland didn’t make any huge changes in the offseason, and Tippett may be able to get more out of the rest of the team this summer than the previous bench bosses, but the Oilers need a deeper roster before they can jump into the next tier of the league. 

Does Sergei Bobrovsky make them a playoff team?

Yes. He’s such an upgrade in net. If he’s playing at his best all season long, watch out. This is an offense that can really score. Plus, they have an experienced coach in Joel Quenneville who knows how to win. I don’t think fans really know just how good Aleksander Barkov is. 

Can the veterans bounce back?

The Kings’ days as a powerhouse team are way behind us now, but this year should still be better if veterans Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick can find inspiration after having down seasons in 2018–19. Los Angeles is ushering in a new generation of talent to take the reigns, however there is still a lot of experience on this roster that can keep this team competitive. 

Can the Wild compete in a stacked Central Division?

Minnesota escaped from the ongoing nightmare that was Paul Fenton’s reign as general manager, but the regular season won’t bring much optimism. The Avalanche, Blues, Jets, Predators and Stars are all expected to make the playoffs. That leaves almost no room for error for the Wild, who are going to struggle to become contenders with an aging core of Zach Parise, Ryan Suter, Eric Staal and Mikko Koivu.

Will they make the playoffs?

The Canaidens were quietly consistent last season with a prolific even-strength offense and middle-of-the-pack defense, but a horrendous power play kept them out of the playoffs. The Habs made a...uh...bold move when it drew up an offer sheet to Sebastian Aho only for Carolina to easily match up and this team still needs more depth at center. But it has a strong goalie in Carey Price and a stronger defense with Ben Chiarot in tow that’ll keep them in the playoff conversation. Of course Montreal can be a lot more competitive if Shea Weber is finally healthy, but that hasn’t been the case for the last two years. 

Is Matt Duchene enough to fix last year’s abysmal power play?

Matt Duchene certainly isn’t going to make this power play worse than it was, that’s for sure. In case it hasn’t been hammered home enough, the Predators had the worst power play in the league last year at 12.9%. Duchene had an impressive season, though his power-play numbers weren’t mind-boggling, but he should definitely generate more than what this team was cooking (burning?) last year. If the Preds want to finally get over that hump and raise a real banner, the man-advantage has to be a helluva lot stronger. But with a still-fearsome blue line, an uber talented goalie and now a No. 2 center finally in the mix, Nashville might finally have all the right fixin’s.  

What needs to happen for Taylor Hall to sign that extension?

Playoffs or bust. Taylor Hall has said as much, and the Devils have done everything they can by bringing in P.K. Subban, Nikita Gusev, Jack Hughes and Wayne Simmonds this offseason. They should be competitive in Metro Division that could really go in any direction, which should go a long way in convincing Hall to remain in Newark. Breakout seasons from Nico Hishcier and Hughes wouldn’t hurt.

Can they exceed expectations again?

Barry Trotz believed in his team last year when many outside of Long Island didn’t, leading to a surprising run into the playoffs. They let contract negotiations with Vezina finalist Robin Lehner completely fall apart, which was puzzling after the tandem of Lehner and Thomas Greiss allowed the fewest goals in the league and was a crucial part of the team’s impressive season. But with Seymon Varlamov in the mix, the Isles should be fine and could very easily be on another fun run into the playoffs.

Are their expectations too high after an accelerated rebuild? 

If the expectations are a playoff berth? Yes. GM Jeff Gorton has executed the Rangers’ rebuild as well as anyone could have hoped for. The team is still young, and a little bit of patience is due while their prospects develop and Russian blue chips Vitali Kravtsov, Yegor Rykov and Igor Shesterkin work their way into the lineup. New York’s hopes for transforming into a playoff contender are a couple seasons away from coming to fruition.

Is there anything to be excited about? 

Yes! Kind of. Thomas Chabot is really, really good, future Norris winner good. Erik Brannstrom also has future star written all over him. Brady Tkachuk is fun to watch. And they could still sell at the deadline. Guys like Tyler Ennis, Artem Anisimov and Ron Hainsey could bring back a few nice pieces. Other than that, though, woof. 

Is Carter Hart their true goaltending savior? 

The Flyers had an uninspiring campaign last year, much in part because they were setting records for most goaltenders dressed in a season. But when Carter Hart finally got his turn, he made quite the statement, stringing together eight straight wins and finding a way to steady a middling team. An injury to the young netminder kept the goalie carousel spinning during a crucial part of the season and the long list of netminders was just one of the reasons Philadelphia had a down year. But Hart having a potential breakthrough season this year—if he’s given the top job over Brian Elliott that is—could help fix issues elsewhere on the ice.

Will Evgeni Malkin bounce back?

A 72-point season might be seen as an impressive one for most NHL forwards, but from Evgeni Malkin’s perspective it was a down year. The Penguins had a lot of problems exposed by the Islanders in their first-round sweep and so the offseason saw one of their most prolific forwards in Phil Kessel traded to Arizona for Alex Galchenyuk as a way to shake things up. Malkin seems motivated to return to an elite form this year and a shiny new linemate in Galchenyuk could be just what he needs. Both Geno and Sidney Crosby have a habit of making their linemates better, and Galchenyuk has a lot potential to complement Malkin and get him back on track. 

Was last year an anomaly for Martin Jones? 

If his playoff performance was meant to be a cliffhanger for what’s to come this year, then yes. After an abysmal regular season and then a shaky start to the playoffs, Jones found redemption as he backstopped his team to the Western Conference finals. Even with their former captain wearing green instead of teal, this team can still be a legit contender, but only if Jones and backup Aaron Dell don’t find themselves at the worst duo in the league again. 

What comes next after they finally won it all?

Successfully defending as champions is becoming more and more difficult. After a grueling nine months of hockey and a shortened offseason, getting back into the swing of things won’t be easy. However, Craig Berube is the type of coach that can keep his team focused and in shape, and most of the championship roster is returning. Hometown hero Pat Maroon is now in Tampa Bay, but Justin Faulk (traded from Carolina for Joel Edmundson) has joined the squad during training camp. Although there may be a few down periods simply from exhaustion this season, this Blues team knows how to turn it around even in the worst of situations preeeeeetty quickly. 

Did they find the missing pieces to finally pull it all together?

After firmly supplanting themselves atop the league for basically the entire second half of the season, the Lightning learned a quick lesson when they were swept in the first round. And this should be terrifying to other teams. The last few years showed how talented this squad is, and now it has the embarrassment of the playoffs as motivation. The additions of Maroon and Kevin Shattenkirk solidify the Lightning’s roster that runs as deep as the humiliation from last year. Now they need to sustain what is destined to be another successful season and finally break through in the playoffs. 

Can they finally make a Stanley Cup run?

Three straight years finishing third in the Atlantic, three straight first-round exits. Something’s gotta give, right? The drama is definitely never lacking in Toronto, and it was an eventful offseason that saw another RFA bargaining for big money and one of its star players failing to notify the team he was charged with disorderly conduct. But this is a team that knows that just making the playoffs is not an accomplishment anymore. It needs to break through, and if the Leafs do that, something tells me they could keep on rolling through to the Stanley Cup Final. 

Will Quinn Hughes be their third straight Calder finalist? 

Two years ago Brock Boeser shined as a rookie and last year it was all about Elias Pettersson. Will Quinn Hughes carry on the rookie legacy? In a season during which all eyes will be on his younger brother, Jack, the eldest Hughes brother is primed to make his own run at the Calder Trophy. Quinn has the small build of a puck-moving defenseman that teams are finding true value in these days and he made a very strong first impression in his five games last season. Vancouver is a young team that is reaching the level to contend for a playoff spot, and Hughes is capable of having a very strong impact to get them there. 

Will they bounce back from that sophomore slump?

One of the best storylines of the 2017–18 season was watching the Golden Knights do the unthinkable and find themselves in the Stanley Cup Final in their inaugural season. Their follow-up was underwhelming, however, when the Sharks stunned them in Game 7 of the first round with a ridiculous comeback. The Knights made some decent moves last year and they’ve kept most of the roster that finished the season. Things could come together in Season 3 of this fun Vegas show. 

Does this core have another shot at the Cup? 

The Capitals can always bank on being a dangerous team and now that they had a longer offseason to recover from a 2017–18 Stanley Cup hangover (whether its literal or metaphorical), this team is set in the short term. But the veteran core is aging and this could be the last time it can make a run at another Cup. Both Braden Holtby (30) and Nicklas Backstrom (31) have contracts expiring at the end of the season. While both would like to stay put in D.C., neither has worked out an extension. Alex Ovechkin (34) still has two more years on his deal, but this season will give a glimpse into what management’s vision for the Capitals is in the long term.

Do they have enough depth on defense? 

After being one of the most dangerous blue lines in the league last year, the Jets suddenly look rather skint on defense. Jacob Trouba is in Manhattan and both Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot are off with new squads. And the hits kept coming when Dustin Byfuglien said he needs to ponder his future, an announcement that was made the day before training camp. Winnipeg brought back important RFAs Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor to maintain a strong offense, but the once-lethal defense of yesteryear is no longer and that puts serious doubt in this team’s playoff chances if it isn’t addressed. 

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