2018-19 NHL Season Preview
Keeping with the same format as last year, and not doing unrealistic team by team analysis, let’s take a look at what to watch for in the 2018-19 NHL season and who should make the playoffs.
Is this the year the Toronto Maple Leafs finally win a
Stanley Cup series?
Yes. The Maple Leafs have succeeded and disappointed under Mike Babcock. They’re making the playoffs but they aren’t advancing. That should change this season. Even though they lost James Van Riemsdyk, they picked up the biggest free agent available in John Tavares. Between him, Auston Matthews, William Nylander and Mitchell Marner they have a lot of talent. The problem is, as noted above, they haven’t accomplished much in the playoffs. John Tavares has only one playoff series win. The rest of the young Maple Leafs core have none. Babcock and Patrick Marleau are the only people on the team that have any significant playoff wins. The Maple Leafs
won’t might not win the Stanley Cup this season but they should finally be able to win a playoff series. But it definitely won’t be easy. There’s a pretty good chance they will draw the Bruins or Lightning in the first round, unless they win the division. But even if they do draw one of them, I think there’s enough talent there, coupled with the sting of past playoff disappointment, that will finally get them over the hump.
What will Alex Ovechkin do for an encore and are the Capitals set for another run?
Alex Ovechkin will be even better now that the monkey is off his back but the Capitals run is over. The Capitals had everything finally go right for them last season. It’s pretty unlikely that will happen again. Their luck already appears to be over as evidenced by how they lost their head coach. Ovechkin will likely score fifty goals again this season though and Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom will be their usual selves. It’s not that they are a terrible team, they’ll make the playoffs, they’ve just always been a really weird team that doesn’t play to their potential. All the little things would have to go their way again for them to have a chance to repeat.
What will the Vegas Golden Knights do for an encore?
It could go a few ways. Losing in the finals is not something a lot of teams get over easily in any sport. It’s hard to know how this team will take it. The Knights lost James Neal and David Perron but they did pick up Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty. Most of the guys are still young and hungry enough to want more success. It also helps to have that raucous Vegas crowd behind you. I don’t think they’ll have much of a hangover and they should make the playoffs and they might even win their division again. If Marc-Andre Fleury continues to play well, it’s not out of the realm of possibility the Knights go deep in the playoffs again.
Is there a Stanley Cup favorite?
Yes. With their latest addition the San Jose Sharks have the best chance of winning. The Sharks have been making some great moves as of late, see Evander Kane, and winning the Erik Karlsson sweepstakes was their best move yet. Although they did give up four players and two picks to get him, which is a lot. I have chided teams for giving up that much before, like the Bruins did for Rick Nash, but this trade is not as bad. Karlsson is a stud and still in his prime. The two current NHL players are not that great and the two prospects probably won’t pan out. One first and second round pick isn’t that bad if you are consistently making the playoffs and you get someone in their prime. The Sharks now boast a deep top six rotation (Kane, Joe Pavelski, Logan Couture, Thomas Hertl, Joe Thornton), okay five, and two premier defensemen (Karlsson, Brent Burns). Not to mention a decent goalie (Martin Jones). That’s a solid team.
Will the Edmonton Oilers bounce back?
More than likely. The Oilers didn’t handle their weighty expectations well at all. Most of the role players came back down to earth, they had no backup goalie and their defense was still average at best. The good thing is everyone is a year older. Now entering his fourth season, Connor McDavid really needs to take over the team now. You got the feeling he understood that as he racked up 19 points in his last ten games last season. Leon Draisaitl also needs to raise his game to the next level. Even if those two were to play lights out, the rest of the team needs to step up. I suppose Al Montoya is an upgrade at backup goalie. He’s usually good when he plays twenty games which he should get if the Oilers are smart. I’m really interested to see how Darnell Nurse and Ethan Bear play from the blueline. Bear may not be in the starting lineup when the season starts if they choose to keep him in the AHL and Nurse may not either since he still isn’t signed. But Nurse just did sign a deal and reported to the camp. Their biggest problem is the Oilers still haven’t acquired the elite defenseman in his prime. They were supposed to do that with Taylor Hall and failed miserably. They could have done so by getting Karlsson but apparently he didn’t want to come to the Oilers. Never a good sign if a player doesn’t want to play with the best player of his generation. Not the best start for the Oilers.
Will the Chicago Blackhawks be able to make the playoffs again?
It seems very unlikely. Their getting older strategy last season really didn’t work. Compounding the issue was the lost of Corey Crawford to injury. A year later, Crawford is still not 100% and everyone else is a year older. I also feel like the rest of the NHL has figured out the Blackhawks since they haven’t really changed much of the years. If Alex DeBrincat and Nick Schmaltz can improve upon their rookie and breakout seasons respectively, the Blackhawks will have depth, a good young core and a chance. But they also need Jonathan Toews to get out of the downward spiral his career has become. A healthy Crawford helps too.
What will Ilya Kovalchuk have left to contribute to the Kings?
This is probably the hardest question on here to answer. In the KHL, Kovalchuk averaged over a point per game and produced over 30 goals in his last two seasons there. Not bad since the KHL season is only 56 games long. The Kings are also pretty good at squeezing new life into old stars. But their magic seems to be running out lately. The more interesting questions are whether he will fit in with the Kings style or develop any chemistry with any of them. It’s probable he will score 30 goals this season. If he sticks around long enough, he should be able to hit 500 career goals and 1000 career points in the NHL.
Will the Stars Star Duo ever accomplish anything meaningful?
Hopefully and eventually yes. Other than one Art Ross trophy, neither Tyler Seguin or Jamie Benn have had much to celebrate. They only have two playoff appearances and one playoff series win during their time together in Dallas. The current team isn’t much different than past iterations. There isn’t much depth behind the duo besides Alexander Radulov. Ben Bishop had a year to settle into his new team in goal so he should be better this season. But unless they add some depth or play better in important games, they might not make the playoffs again. That would make it their third year in a row.
Are the Penguins still hungry?
Great players are always hungry. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are still hungry. The Penguins still have a pretty talented and young roster. Their problem last season were fatigue, injuries and Matt Murray not being at his best. Fatigue won’t be an issue this season, injuries might not be and Matt Murray should bounce back. It’s unlikely they’ll be in the finals this season but it is possibility they could.
Have we seen the best of Taylor Hall?
Not yet. Spite is a powerful thing. While you may think winning the Hart trophy would be enough to stick it to the Oilers, I’m pretty sure in his mind it’s not. He still hasn’t cracked 40 goals or a 100 points in his career and I think if he stays healthy he will do both this season. His ultimate goal is a Stanley Cup but that isn’t on the Devils horizon just yet.
Who has a really talented team that still might surprise?
My pick is the Philadelphia Flyers. The other favorites are all well known but the Flyers just added James Van Riemsdyk giving them six forwards (Van Riemsdyk, Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, Travis Konecny and Wayne Simmonds) who have scored at least 20 goals last season. That’s a potent offense. This doesn’t even take into account Nolan Patrick, who might accomplish the feat this season. Of course their problems is the same as it’s always been, goaltending. They are going to have to hope that either Brian Elliott or Michal Neuvirth plays well and stays healthy. Otherwise, they might be doomed by their goalies again and go out in the first round again.
Will the Coyotes win more than 30 games and are the moving in the right direction?
No and yes. It’s possible they’ll get 32 wins but I wouldn’t count on it. They are definitely on the right track though. Clayton Keller and Oliver Ekman-Larsson are emerging homegrown talent and trading Max Domi for Alex Galchenyuk was a good move. To be honest, the more high draft picks they accumulate now the better it is for them in the long run. Just drafted Barrett Hayton may also turn out to be a great pick. One more awful season is all they need before they can start learning how to win.
I’ll name the eight or so teams I think will get in and then those teams from the eight that are on the bubble and who may pop it. Then I’ll take a stab at the Stanley Cup finalists.
Tampa Bay Lightning
Toronto Maple Leafs
Columbus Blue Jackets
New Jersey Devils
In the Eastern Conference, it looks like all the same exact teams will make it in again. I don’t think that’s ever happened before so it’s very unlikely it will this time. But never say never. My first six teams are all locks. I think the Blue Jackets and Devils are bubble teams and the Panthers are the team most poised to take the spot. There’s a possibility the Hurricanes and even the Islanders might surprise.
San Jose Sharks
Vegas Golden Knights
Los Angeles Kings
The Western Conference is really tight and hard to pick. However, the teams at the top are miles ahead of the second tier teams and there’s a lot of second tier teams. My first four teams are locks. It’s very likely the Oilers and Kings get in too. Then there’s a whole bunch of teams fighting for the last two playoff spots. Honestly, I don’t really know who will get those spots. I’m going to say the Flames, Stars, Blues, Wild and Blackhawks all have the best chance.
In the Stanley Cup Finals, I’m liking the San Jose Sharks to face the Maple Leafs. I’ll take the Sharks finally winning it all. The Penguins could also be back. I’ve pretty much given up on the Lightning. The Bruins do too many stupid things. The Golden Knights could be back in the finals again. The Jets and Predators also have a shot.
Author: Alex Mueller
Alex Mueller graduated from Temple University with a minor in journalism over a decade ago. He’s been writing about NHL hockey, on and off, since the Fall of 2009. He’s written for Pucking Awesome, the Checking Line and now Hockey Recaps. He played goalie at San Diego Ice Arena. His first novel, Bobby Sterling vs Truth, is available on Amazon now.