The 2017-18 NHL season is finally here. The offseason was long — longer for some more than others — but we’ve all made it to the other side with most of our relative sanity intact.
Every new hockey season feels like a breath of fresh air. It’s a clean slate for all teams, no matter how good or bad they were in the previous season. Of course some are favored more than others, but hockey has that random element that throws even the best predictions into chaos by the end of the year.
Teams like the Columbus Blue Jackets and Toronto Maple Leafs certainly made for the biggest surprises last year, and there will be more to come this season. Auston Matthews, Connor McDavid, Jack Eichel, and Patrik Laine will continue to make their first strides as the NHL’s new generation among old greats such as Alex Ovechkin, Sidney Crosby, Erik Karlsson, and Jonathan Toews.
It’s been awhile, but we’re glad to have you back with us for the start of a new year. Welcome aboard, folks. It’s time to come fan with us.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Toronto Maple Leafs
Detroit Red Wings
The Atlantic Division is poised to gain back one of their heavyweight teams in a big way this season. Last year, the Tampa Bay Lightning missed the postseason by one point after injuries spoiled a season ripe for the taking. With Steven Stamkos back at the helm, the Lightning will likely charge back into the top of the Atlantic standings, even with the loss of Jonathan Drouin.
Toronto is looking as dangerous as ever this season with their young core of incredible talent. The addition of Patrick Marleau will strengthen an already deep offensive lineup, pushing the Maple Leafs into second in the division thanks to the contributions of Matthews, Mitch Marner, and William Nylander.
Heading up the third spot in the Atlantic are the Bruins, who have Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron, and David Pastrnak leading the charge at offense. While Zdeno Chara has slowed down in his old age on the back end, the real gem might be the addition of young Charlie McAvoy to the blue line.
Despite finishing in fourth in the Atlantic, it’s going to be tough for the Canadiens to make a push into the postseason. While they added Drouin in the offseason, they didn’t do much more to improve a stagnant offense. Elite goaltender Carey Price will no doubt steal them wins, but scoring might prove tough for Montreal this year.
A healthy Eichel will be an incredible improvement for the Sabres, but the team doesn’t have much else going for them. Eichel will have a better crowd to work with on offense, as Jason Pominville was brought in during the offseason. However, their goaltending situation with Chad Johnson and Robin Lehner might be a disappointment.
The biggest fall this season will be the Ottawa Senators, who have lost Colin White and Derick Brassard to injury to open the year. Worst of all, their best player in Karlsson is still unavailable to play after foot surgery this offseason and his absence will be felt as the new season gets underway.
Florida will flounder once again this season thanks to curious moves to cut salary on integral hockey players. The absence of Jaromir Jagr aside, it’s hard to see the Panthers making a leap after cutting fair amounts of offensive and defensive upside.
Rounding out the Atlantic are the Red Wings, who are straddled with too many bad contracts and not enough young core pieces to make any sort of push after missing the playoffs for the first time since 1990.
Columbus Blue Jackets
New York Rangers
New York Islanders
New Jersey Devils
It will be hard to knock the Pittsburgh Penguins off their game as the reigning Stanley Cup champions. Despite a weaker offensive lineup, it’s difficult to count out the Penguins as being anything but the Metropolitan Division’s best with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in the lineup. Young Matt Murray will also get his first shot as the Penguins’ unequivocal starter, as his two Stanley Cup rings at the age of 23 will no doubt be a help without Marc-Andre Fleury waiting in the wings.
The Capitals took a hit this offseason after being bested by their Metropolitan Division rivals in the playoffs last year. The expectations were high on Washington and they failed, but it could be different this time around. Alex Ovechkin isn’t the player he once was, but his surrounding cast of Nicklas Backstrom, T. J. Oshie, and Evgeny Kuznetsov are still a force to be reckoned with.
Columbus won’t take anyone in the NHL by surprise this season. Their incredible rise ended abruptly in the postseason, but their core of Nick Foligno, Alexander Wennberg, Brandon Dubinsky, and Artemi Panarin will be equipped to handle most everything that will be thrown their way.
The Hurricanes will finally make the leap back into the postseason this year with a fourth-place finish. A strong offseason of solid additions brought them a goaltender, offensive depth, and defensive help. Alongside a core lead by Noah Hanifin on the back end and Jeff Skinner up front, this year will be their year for substantial growth.
Sneaking into the postseason this year will be the Flyers, who are also experiencing a bit of a youth movement. Nolan Patrick’s addition to the top-six will jumpstart an offense that sagged uncharacteristically, while Ivan Provorov, Shayne Gostisbehere, and Radko Gudas anchor the team on the back end.
While the Rangers still have all-world netminder Henrik Lundqvist, the goaltender struggled at times last season. The Rangers added Kevin Shattenkirk to their thin blue line, but the team will go where Lundqvist goes.
The Islanders, meanwhile, will try to placate John Tavares before his contract expires in July. Adding Jordan Eberle and Josh Ho-Sang to the team will help the Islanders’ offense, but it won’t be enough to overcome a strong division.
Despite grabbing Nico Hischier in the draft, the Devils will finish at the bottom of the Metropolitan Division. New Jersey has some incredible pieces to work with, but the team will falter despite a more potent offensive showing.
St. Louis Blues
In a Central Division ruled by the Chicago Blackhawks, this year it will be the Minnesota Wild’s turn to step into the spotlight. Trading Jason Pominville and Marco Scandella opened roster spots for rookies and veteran signings to bolster their already solid depth. While the Wild don’t boast the incredible star power many top NHL teams have, their lineup is of the league’s best top to bottom and it will show by the end of the year.
The most improved team in the Central will be without a doubt the Stars. Dallas finally mitigated their biggest weakness this offseason, and after signing Ben Bishop the team will no longer have to rely on goaltending to save them. An offensive lineup of Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, and Alexander Radulov will be one of the NHL’s most potent in a bounce-back season.
Last year’s Western Conference champions will hover at third in the Central Division this year. The loss of James Neal to Vegas will hurt the offense, and Ryan Ellis’ injury will do them no favors on defense. Even still, the Predators boast some of the best blue line talent in the league, and that will carry them once again to the postseason.
The Blackhawks lost many key pieces in the offseason, including backup Antti Raanta and former Calder Trophy winner Panarin. Their young pieces in Nick Schmaltz and Alex DeBrincat will plug the holes on offense nicely, but their defense has taken hits. Chicago will bend, but not break as they slide into a playoff spot.
Also improved, but not enough to crack the postseason, will be the Jets. Mark Scheifele is one of the NHL’s most underrated forwards, and he’ll lead Laine, Blake Wheeler, and Nikolaj Ehlers with quite the offensive punch. Steve Mason will have a better year in net, but a postseason berth will be just out of reach.
The Blues have been riddled with injury, and they’ll suffer because of it. Both Alexander Steen and Patrik Berglund have various ailments to start the year, and Robby Fabbri will miss the entire season. St. Louis’ got some offensive help this year with the Brayden Schenn trade, yet a step back seems assured.
And, to no one’s surprise, the Avalanche will fill out the Central Division’s basement. While Colorado won’t be as horrific as last year, Matt Duchene’s presence hangs over the team like a black cloud. A new venue for the star is needed, and not a moment too soon.
San Jose Sharks
Los Angeles Kings
Vegas Golden Knights
The legend of Connor McDavid will continue to grow this year. The Edmonton Oilers may have their cap space shrinking by the day, but their roster will carry them to a first-place finish in the Pacific. When not facing down McDavid, opponents will have to contend with Leon Draisaitl, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Milan Lucic. If there’s one Achilles’ heel to Edmonton, it’s how well Cam Talbot can stay healthy. If he’s as on his game as last season, the Oilers will roll right on through the Pacific.
Always a Pacific Division stalwart, the Ducks remain just as steady as ever. Corey Perry and Ryan Getzlaf lead the team, but their defense of Cam Fowler, Hampus Lindholm, Sami Vatanen, and Josh Manson will be the real backbones of the lineup. Anaheim is nowhere near Edmonton’s levels of excitement, but they will continue to be a constant threat.
Another young threat in the Pacific will be the Flames, who may boast the best defensive lineup in the NHL. Adding Travis Hamonic to an already stacked lineup of Mark Giordano, Dougie Hamilton, T.J. Brodie, and Dennis Wideman will give Calgary a boost. Johnny Gaudreau, of course, will be the team’s creative centerpiece and the addition of Jagr will shine bright as they head back to the postseason.
The Sharks remain quite a deep team even with the loss of Patrick Marleau to Toronto. While their core has aged, San Jose didn’t do much to jostle their winning formula outside of adding a few small pieces. The Sharks’ window is still closing on them, but they’ll stick around for another season longer.
Maybe the most improved Pacific team will be the Coyotes. General manager John Chayka has added depth to Arizona across the board. While Jakob Chychrun’s absence on the blue line to start the season stings, this team will surprise many with a fifth-place finish.
Offense will once again be an issue for the Kings, who will finish out the season out of a playoff spot. Jonathan Quick can solve some problems, but Los Angeles will once again have a hard time scoring goals after doing nothing this offseason to fix it.
The NHL’s 31st team will not have the most amazing first season in franchise history, but they won’t be awful either. The Golden Knights have some exciting options on offense in Jonathan Marchessault, James Neal, and Vadim Shipachyov. Marc-Andre Fleury will be solid in goal, but Vegas’ will do their future selves a service by remaining at the bottom half of the league.
Rounding out the Pacific will be the Canucks, who have looked stagnant for a few seasons now. Their core is getting older, and no help outside of Bo Horvat has yet to arrive. Until management gets it together, this season will be another lost one for Vancouver.