Keeping with the same format as the last few years, let’s take a look at what to watch for in the 2019-20 NHL season and who should make the playoffs.

Will the St. Louis Blues repeat?

No way. In fact, I’d be shocked if they did. They are the team least likely to repeat in some time. To makes matters worse, the Central Division will be a gauntlet this season. I wouldn’t want to be there. Jordan Binnington is due for his sophomore slump and there’s a possibility they won’t even make the playoffs. I peg them finishing about fifth in their division. But the one thing we learned from last season is never count them out.

Is there a Stanley Cup favorite?

Yes. With their latest additions, the Dallas Stars have the best chance of winning. The Stars grew a lot as a team last season. And if they could have found a way to muster a goal against an average Jordan Binnington in Game 7, they would have been in the conference finals. Their scoring depth will only be deeper this season. Especially with the additions of Corey Perry and Joe Pavelski. The addition of Pavelski is something I would have never envisioned. But now they have two very solid scoring lines and possibly three if players like Roope Hintz keep developing. Perry is obviously on the downside of his career but I think he will find a way to produce something. Their young defense, led by Miro Heiskanen, that was surprisingly solid last playoffs will only mature more. And watch out for Ben Bishop.

Is this the year the Toronto Maple Leafs finally win a Stanley Cup series? (again)

I sure hope so. It wasn’t last season but it should be this season. Although it’s very likely they will draw the Bruins again. But they can’t be that unlucky, can they? If they do, I have a feeling they can finally beat them now since the Bruins will be on their Stanley Cup runner-up hangover. They just need to learn how to plan a Game 7. I think they have enough experience now to figure out how to play them better. Nazem Kadri also can’t do anything stupid to cost them a series since he’s now on the Avalanche. During the season they always had something to deal with too whether it was an Auston Matthews injury or William Nylander’s holdout. A full team devoid of distractions and injury should enable them to develop the chemistry needed to win a playoff series.

How will the Tampa Bay Lightning fare after that debacle?

That’s tough to say. It’s hard to imagine how you can top an epic season followed by an epic playoff failure. I don’t think their regular season will be as good but they should have hopefully learned something from what happened. Remember the Bruins blew a 3-0 lead in a playoff series against the Flyers only to rebound and win it all the following season. But the Lightning will still be stuck in the Bruins and Maple Leafs bracket so it won’t get any easier for them. Depending on if they win the division or not, they may end up losing in the first round again. But it won’t be a sweep. I’m assuming they could beat the wild card team this time around. Honestly, despite the talent on the team and their talented head coach, I’m starting to wonder if they have the right chemistry and make-up to win it all. But the Washington Capitals finally broke through when most gave up on them and there is no reason to think the Lightning can’t do the same thing.

How will the Golden Knights rebound after their playoff screwing?

They should rebound nicely. The Pacific Division is very strange but the Golden Knights are the best and most well-rounded team in the division. They’ll definitely make the playoffs and they should find themselves back in the conference finals. Considering how interesting their first two seasons have been, it’s hard to imagine what’s in store for season number three. Because of how they battled back to tie Game 7 against the Sharks, I don’t think anything phases them. And getting screwed by a call will only help motivate them this season. They will also have Mark Stone for a full season.

Will Jack Eichel finally break out?

The Sabres certainly hope he will. Eichel’s seasonal progression seems to indicate this will be his big break out season where he finally becomes a superstar and notches 100 points. However, I don’t think that will necessarily correlate to the Sabres having a great season. And that’s a bad thing for them. It’s basically like Connor McDavid getting 100 point seasons in Edmonton and them still not making the playoffs. This will be an interesting season for the Sabres who really want to see some progress.

What team will have the biggest turnaround?

If it’s not the New Jersey Devils, something went terribly wrong. The Devils should have a healthy Taylor Hall again, a healthy former number one overall pick in 2017 Nico Hischier and current number one overall pick Jack Hughes. They also traded for P.K Subban. That’s a pretty good influx of new and returning talent. Nobody else is injecting four top tier talents like that into their lineup. The only questions are: Can they stay healthy and will they gel? Health is always something that’s hard to predict. But 82 games should be enough time for them to gel. You just wonder about Hall. He makes that team go but he’s been injury-prone throughout his career.

Have the Flyers finally found their goalie?

I bet Carter Hart and the Flyers sure hope so. Hart did much better than I thought he would when he was thrown into a very difficult situation. But he didn’t do that great toward the end of last season and it won’t get any easier for him in his second season and his first full season. The Flyers are expecting to make the playoffs too. That will only add to the pressure. And don’t forget that lovely Philly crowd. The last time the Flyers had a good young goalie was Sergei Bobrovsky and we all remember how that turned out. Here’s hoping for a better outcome this time.

Who will be the most interesting player to watch?

Elias Pettersson by far. You’ll always want to see Connor McDavid and Auston Matthews play as they continue to ascend. But Petterson is just 20 years old and he’s coming off a rookie season where it was really hard to find anything wrong with his game. He’s got a great chance to net 50 goals this season and double digits in game-winning goals. Lost in the admiration of his killer shot is the fact that he’s a pretty good passer too.

Who will be the most interesting team this season?

The Anaheim Ducks by far. The Ducks are going through a changing of the guard that started the last twenty or so games last season. They will now be starting a lot of players that were a part of their successful AHL Gulls teams not to mention their new coach, Dallas Eakins, happened to be the coach of those teams too. It’s always good when the new coach is already very familiar with most of the players. Ryan Getzlaf will be the only major player left from the Ducks’ glory days. Players to watch out for that were there at the end of last season include Sam Steel, Ondrej Kase, Troy Terry and Daniel Sprong. John Gibson is due for a rebound season in net too.

Now that the Coyotes almost won 40 games, will they make the playoffs?

Very doubtful. They are certainly moving in the right direction. But the Pacific Division will probably only get in three teams in, again, and the Coyotes are not a top three team in the division yet. Clayton Keller actually went backward last season. The Coyotes don’t score many goals either. But the addition of Phil Kessel will majorly help that. Hopefully he will behave himself and help develop Keller. They still feel like they are a few seasons away though.

What teams will be hardest to predict?

The Chicago Blackhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins. I could seem them making the playoffs, possibly winning their division or not making the playoffs at all. And none of these outcomes would surprise me. Both of these team live by their goalies. Corey Crawford needs to stay healthy and Matt Murray needs to rebound. Beyond that their aging stars are still there but they’ll need help to make the playoffs. Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust will need to contribute more for the Penguins with Phil Kessel gone. They’ll also need to find some defensive help now that Olli Maatta has ended up in Chicago. Kris Letang isn’t getting any younger either. Speaking of the Blackhawks, if Maatta can give them anything on defense and they can continue to get scoring depth and Alex DeBrincat can take it to the next level, they might sneak back into the playoffs. I’m curious to see if Alexander Nylander can jump start his career in Chicago or not.

Playoff Predictions

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 sort of take a stab at the Stanley Cup finalists.

Eastern Conference

Tampa Bay Lightning
Boston Bruins
Toronto Maple Leafs
Washington Capitals
Pittsburgh Penguins
Philadelphia Flyers
New Jersey Devils
New York Islanders
Carolina Hurricanes

I’m assuming the Flyers and Devils both leap back into the playoffs. But those are big ifs. I copped out and listed nine teams up there. Most likely to drop out are the Capitals and Hurricanes. Probably the least likely candidates for most but I’m not 100% sold on the Hurricanes yet and I think the Capitals will start their slide backward. It’s also possible the Islanders slide out too. It’s hard to peg what will happen to the Penguins. I have no idea who will win the Metropolitan Division but it will probably come down to the final week again. But I do think they will get five teams in again. It’s hard for me to imagine any team unseating the big three in the Atlantic Division. However, the Florida Panthers are a big unknown. I think they will spend the year rebuilding but they might snag a wildcard.

Western Conference

Vegas Golden Knights
Dallas Stars
Winnipeg Jets
Nashville Predators
San Jose Sharks
Calgary Flames
Colorado Avalanche
Chicago Blackhawks
St. Louis Blues

The Flames and Sharks are the two most likely teams, besides the Blues, to possibly not make a repeat trip back to the playoffs. The Vancouver Canucks and the Blackhawks are your dark horses. It’s very possible one or both of them may sneak into the playoffs as a lower seed. The only other teams with a chance are the Ducks and the Edmonton Oilers but they would need a hell of a lot to go right for that to happen. Then there’s the Minnesota Wild who will have the same uninteresting season they always do that will culminate with them finishing anywhere from 7th to 12th place. Yawn. The Central Division should get five teams in again. I think it’s pretty likely the Golden Knights play the Stars in conference finals. In fact, I’m so sure it will happen, it probably won’t.

I’d love a Dallas Stars vs New Jersey Devils or Toronto Maple Leafs Stanley Cup finals. That would be thrilling to watch. But unlikely to happen. The interesting thing about hockey is we tend to have a few dynasties winning Stanley Cups over a span of several years and then we hit a lull where we have random teams being in the finals before we go back to dynasties. The Capitals and Blues were your random teams. This will either be the last year of the lull or it will be the start of a new dynasty or possibly two. If the Stars or Maple Leafs win, it will be the start of their runs. If the Golden Knights or Lightning win it, it’s hard to tell if it will be the start of something or not.

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Keeping with the same format as the last few years, let's take a look at what to watch for in the 2019-20 NHL season and who should make the playoffs. Will the St. Louis Blues repeat? No way. In fact, I’d be shocked if they did. They are the team least...