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EASTERN CONFERENCE

Metropolitan

Washington Capitals: For the first time, fans should get to see what Todd Reirden hockey truly looks like. He took over for Barry Trotz behind the bench after the Cup celebration and a short summer that didn’t give him much time to overhaul systems. The Capitals could look like a different team.

New York Islanders The struggles in the second round against Carolina suggested a need to add a top-line scorer, but they failed to do that. With the team mostly unaltered and still motivated to improve, there’s no reason to expect a regression. The Islanders won’t sneak up on any teams this season, but they still have a championship-winning coaching staff and their defence creates scoring chances.

Pittsburgh Penguins The expectations for a deep playoff run remain in place, though the memories of Pittsburgh’s run of consecutive Stanley Cups in 2016 and 2017 are fading. Alex Galchenyuk’s arrival helps make the Penguins a little younger and fresh legs are welcomed after a tired and uninspired postseason exit. Pittsburgh, however, will need goaltender Matt Murray to stay healthy and avoid the malaise that befell them for large portions of last year.

Carolina Hurricanes: It’s been a challenge over the past two decades for the Hurricanes to build upon their successes. A key to doing so this season might come with the man advantage. Carolina scored on less than 10 per cent of its postseason chances on the power play – the worst rate of any team that reached the second round – and went stretches of 24 and 13 consecutive power plays without scoring. The additions of Ryan Dzingel, Erik Haula and Jake Gardiner should help with that.

Columbus Blue Jackets Fans kept waiting for general manager Jarmo Kekäläinen to make an off-season blockbuster deal that never came. As a result, a group of familiar players will try to fill the void left by Artemi Panarin. The bigger question is the goaltending, following the departure of Sergei Bobrovsky.

Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers should at least contend for one of the final playoff spots in the East and could snag one if once-prized prospects Shayne Gostisbehere and Nolan Patrick play to their potential.

New York Rangers: The Rangers should be a better and more exciting team to watch this season. However, all the new additions could need time to jell, as well as the young players needing to grow and adjust to the size and pace in the NHL. Head coach David Quinn has pointed to defensive zone coverage and penalty killing as two key areas the team needs to improve.

New Jersey Devils: Since John Hynes took over as coach, there has been a pattern of good year, bad year, good year, bad year. This is year five and with the draft and all the moves, the trend clearly indicates good year. The Devils struggled in recent seasons on the power play, scoring on less than 18 per cent. With first overall pick Jack Hughes, Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier, PK Subban, Kyle Palmieri and defencemen Will Butcher and Damon Severson, that should improve.

Atlantic

Tampa Bay Lightning: Despite a talent-laden roster, it will be difficult to duplicate last year’s regular-season success. And even if the Lightning does claim another Presidents’ Trophy, it will mean little unless they not only can get back to the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2015 – but win it all.

Boston Bruins: The Bruins are deep on defence, blending the aged Zdeno Chara with players like Charlie McAvoy and Brandon Carlo. They have the most productive first line in hockey, but they are still looking for a second line right wing. And then there are the injury issues that can beset an older team, chief among them Patrice Bergeron’s groin problem that has lingered into training camp.

Toronto Maple Leafs: The situation feels the same for the Leafs this season. Stuck in the stacked Atlantic Division, Toronto will again be measured against the success of the Boston Bruins and Tampa Bay Lightning. There are no William Nylander-level contract distractions to iron out this time around. Following Mitch Marner’s new deal, can the Leafs’ lethal trio of forwards - Auston Matthews, Marner and John Tavares - help get their team past the first round?

Montreal Canadiens: Having missed the playoffs two seasons in a row and three times in the past four years, getting back to the postseason will be the Habs’ top priority in 2019-20. The usual suspects row the boat: goaltender Carey Price, defenceman Shea Weber and, with a season under his belt, 2018 third overall pick Jesperi Kotkaniemi.

Florida Panthers: The first 20 games might tell the story. Over the last 19 years, the Panthers have averaged only 17 standings points in the first 20 games – meaning they almost always fall back in the chase for playoff positioning early, and hardly ever recover. This year, 13 of Florida’s first 20 games are against teams that are coming off trips to the Stanley Cup playoffs. Survive those, and the Panthers could be off and running.

Buffalo Sabres: It’s difficult to assess how good – or bad – the Sabres were the past two seasons under Phil Housley, the Hockey Hall of Fame defenceman, who showed signs of being overwhelmed as a first-time head coach. On the plus side, GM Jason Botterill enters the third year continuing to add depth and youth to an organization left mostly barren under former GM Tim Murray. He could have a chance to stockpile even more talent by trading Rasmus Ristolainen, who has an NHL salary-cap friendly three years left on his six-year, US$32.4-million contract.

Detroit Red Wings: Red Wings fans have been clamouring for Steve Yzerman to come back to lead the franchise. They got what they wanted, but Yzerman isn’t going to be able to make miracles happen with a team that doesn’t have much offence after its top two lines and a defence that is average at best. Coach Jeff Blashill acknowledged the organization has to be surprised by many of its players to speed up the turnaround.

Ottawa Senators: It feels like things can only get better for the Senators. They were the worst team in the NHL last year, so unless they somehow notch fewer than their 64 points from 2018, consider it a success. With an eye on the future, they locked up superstar-in-the-making Thomas Chabot to a long-term deal ahead of the regular season. The good news probably stops there.

WESTERN CONFERENCE

Central

Nashville Predators: How the Predators fare with the man advantage will be watched closely from the first power play, and they must avoid a sluggish start on the power play to fend off a sense of déjà vu. They piled up 100 points last season despite a power play that had fans begging Nashville to decline penalties. The plan to park Matt Duchene in front of the net and use four forwards could provide the lacking scoring punch. Roman Josi’s contract status will be monitored closely with both sides insisting they want a new deal. Pekka Rinne has been the backbone of this franchise for so long, but he knows his play and not his past will earn him the net.

Winnipeg Jets: Ahead of training camp there was a sense the Jets could be a force in the West. But with restricted free agent Kyle Connor still unsigned, and defensive Dustin Byfuglien away from the team as he contemplates his future, the path forward for Winnipeg in 2019-20 is unclear. Byfuglien’s absence, which came after the departures of Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot, means the team only has the services two of its top six blueliners from last season. One upside, RFA Patrik Laine agreed to a new deal on Friday.

St. Louis Blues: Nothing is certain for the defending champs in a competitive Central Division where the Dallas Stars added Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry, the Nashville Predators signed Matt Duchene and the Chicago Blackhawks could return to the land of contenders. Still, the Blues were legitimate contenders a year ago before a rough start and have the talent to be among the NHL’s best yet again.

Dallas Stars: Jim Montgomery guided Dallas to the playoffs as a rookie coach making the jump from college, and did it despite a tumultuous midseason stretch triggered by Lites’ profane and public ripping of the club’s two offensive stars. Now Montgomery is trying to get the Stars past the second round for the first time since they lost to Detroit in the Western Conference finals in 2008. At that point, the Stars had made the playoffs 12 of 14 seasons since moving to Dallas, including a title in 1999.

Colorado Avalanche: Colorado is a pick by some pundits to make it to the final of the Western Conference. The Avalanche stunned the top-seeded Flames last season, winning the series 4-1, before falling in Game 7 to San Jose in the next round.

Chicago Blackhawks: Chicago allowed a whopping 291 goals last season, second worst in the league behind Ottawa, and finished with the NHL’s worst penalty kill at 72.7 per cent. GM Stan Bowman made several moves this summer to address those issues. If they don’t work out, it could be another long year.

Minnesota Wild: After leading the league in percentage of goals by defencemen last season (20.9) and finishing tied for fifth in percentage of points by defencemen (26.3), the Wild have Dumba back to skate with Suter on the first pair. Jared Spurgeon and Jonas Brodin are next, giving them one of the deepest blue line groups in the game.

Pacific

Calgary Flames: After putting together their best season in nearly two decades, the Flames made a quick exit from the playoffs. Their elimination in five games by the Avalanche was surprising, but possibly more the result of drawing a very hot first-round opponent in the Avalanche than their own performance. They have a lot of talent and should advance into postseason without much problem; David Rittich will need to play better in net after being replaced by the veteran Mike Smith, now in Edmonton, during the playoffs.

San Jose Sharks: The Sharks have one of the most potent defences led by former Norris Trophy winners Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns. They need shutdown defenceman Marc Edouard-Vlasic to bounce back from a down year after allowing their most goals in a season in 22 years. GM Doug Wilson also didn’t do much to replace the production of Joe Pavelski, Joonas Donskoi and Gustav Nyquist up front, hoping at least a few of a group of untested players featuring Jonny Brodzinski, Dylan Gambrell, Sasha Chmelevski and Alex True can fill that scoring void.

Vegas Golden Knights: The scoring is there for the Golden Knights, the defensive pairings are solid, and it could come down to the 34-year-old Marc-André Fleury. Last year he started 34 of Vegas’ first 40 games, including 13 straight during one stretch. Head coach Gerard Gallant said he’ll confer with goaltender coach Dave Prior on who will be in net each game, and that Fleury has input on his playing time.

Arizona Coyotes: The Coyotes have been one of the NHL’s best defensive teams since Dave Tippett’s tenure as coach and now may have the scoring to go with it. Phil Kessel provides an immediate scoring jolt and Arizona has multiple players who can put the puck in the net. Clayton Keller, Oliver Ekman-Larsson, Vinnie Hinostroza, Derek Stepan and Brad Richardson all scored at least 14 goals last season. Arizona will have to figure out a rotation between Antti Raanta and Darcy Kuemper, but will have a quality goalie in net every night regardless of who’s between the pipes.

Vancouver Canucks: The Canucks are becoming somewhat of a perennial disappointment, having missed the playoffs four season in a row, and five times in the last six years. Could 2019-20 be the season they begin to turn things around? It’s possible, considering they feature three stars in the making in Elias Pettersson, Bo Horvat and Brock Boeser.

Anaheim Ducks: Anaheim has plenty of intriguing talent at all ages and experience levels. Eakins was considered a can’t-miss future star behind the bench when he took over the Oilers in 2013. If he proves to be a true difference-maker in his second shot at the NHL, the results should show up immediately.

Edmonton Oilers: Along with goal-tending drama and a lack of scoring from supporting players, the biggest question in Edmonton revolves around the health of superstar centre Connor McDavid. The Oilers missed the playoffs for the 12th time in 13 years despite McDavid racking up 116 points; if he has not fully recovered from a knee injury in the final game of the season they have no chance of reaching postseason.

Los Angeles Kings: Los Angeles is looking to avoid missing the playoffs in multiple seasons for the first time since 2008-09 but has an aging roster with large contracts, which doesn’t give the Kings much salary cap flexibility.

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