Sitting in last place at the beginning of the 2019 calendar year, St. Louis provided optimism for every National Hockey League (NHL) team by rebounding all the way to a magical Stanley Cup championship run in June. The Blues won’t be the favorite to repeat. The title of this year’s favorite rests squarely with a squad that tied an NHL record for most points in a season — Tampa Bay.
Both the Blues and Lighting play in loaded, top-heavy divisions, which means success will hardly be a given. How will it all shake out? We’ll all find out next June.
Here are my predictions for all 31 NHL teams this season, in just 31 words.
1. Tampa Bay Lighting
(2019-20 Predicted Finish: 1st Atlantic Division; 2018-19: 1 st Atlantic, Atlantic Division Semifinals)
Despite epic playoff disappointment, Tampa Bay returns the NHL’s best squad led by M.V.P. Nikita Kucherov, goalie Andrei Vasilevskiy and defenseman Victor Hedman. Signing Brayden Point and adding Kevin Shattenkirk helps.
2. Toronto Maple Leafs
(2019-20 Predicted Finish: 2nd Atlantic; 2018-19: 3rd Atlantic, Atlantic Division Semifinals)
No offense, except Tampa Bay, can compete with the likes of Toronto’s John Tavares, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. How the Maple Leafs’ retooled defense holds up will determine playoff success.
3. Vegas Golden Knights
(2019-20 Predicted Finish: 1st Pacific Division; 2018-19: 3rd Pacific, Pacific Division Semifinals)
With a deep, veteran squad, Vegas is poised to return to the top. Marc-Andre Fleury carries the Golden Knights in goal, while forward Mark Stone will have a big impact.
4. Washington Capitals
(2019-20 Predicted Finish: 1st Metropolitan Division; 2018-19: 1st Metropolitan, Metropolitan Division Semifinals)
The veteran-laded Capitals are the class of a weak Metropolitan Division. The usual suspects should carry the Capitals, including Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom and T.J. Oshie, plus goaltender Braden Holtby.
5. Boston Bruins
(2019-20 Predicted Finish: 3rd Atlantic; 2018-19: 2nd Atlantic, Stanley Cup Finals)
The defending East champs return a similar roster. The Bruins feature a dominant top line (Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, and David Pastrnak), solid defense, and an elite goaltender in Tuukka Rask.
6. San Jose Sharks
(2019-20 Predicted Finish: 2nd Pacific; 2018-19: 2nd Pacific, Western Conference Finals)
The injured-riddled Sharks almost made the finals. Their defense, led by Erik Karlsson, Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic, is second to none. Losing forward Joe Pavelski to free agency could hurt the offense.
7. Colorado Avalanche
(2019-20 Predicted Finish: 1st Central Division; 2018-19: 5th Central, Pacific Division Finals)
Forward Nathan MacKinnon might be the best player in the NHL, but by adding Nazem Kadri and others, emerging Colorado now has offensive depth. Rookie defenseman Cale Makar could be superb.
8. Nashville Predators
(2019-20 Predicted Finish: 2nd Central; 2018-19: 1st Central, Central Division Semifinals)
Nashville looks similar to 2018-19, only with Matt Duchene at center and P.K. Subban gone from their elite defense. The Predators should have more balance in front of goalie Pekka Rinne.
9. St. Louis Blues
(2019-20 Predicted Finish: 3rd Central Division; 2018-19: 3rd Central, Stanley Cup Champions)
Despite few changes, the defending champions aren’t getting the respect they deserve. The Blues feature dominant Vladimir Tarasenko and Ryan O’Reilly up front, plus potential franchise cornerstone Jordan Binnington in goal.
10. Dallas Stars
(2019-20 Predicted Finish: 4th Central Division; 2018-19: 4th Central, Central Division Finals)
Talented veterans Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and new addition Joe Pavelski lead Dallas. Ben Bishop can carry the mail in goal, while few teams can match the Stars’ blue line.
11. Calgary Flames
(2019-20 Predicted Finish: 3rd Pacific; 2018-19: 1st Pacific, Pacific Division Semifinals)
Despite posting the top record in the Pacific, Calgary is getting overlooked. The questions haunting them remain: Is there enough goaltending, and is there enough toughness to protect superstar Johnny Gaudreau?
12. Winnipeg Jets
(2019-20 Predicted Finish: 5th Central; 2018-19: 2nd Central, Central Division Semifinals)
The Jets are the NHL’s biggest wild card for 2019-20. Winnipeg, led by Blake Wheeler, Patrik Laine and Kyle Connor, has few offensive peers. However, the inexperienced defense could really struggle.
13. Carolina Hurricanes
(2019-20 Predicted Finish: 2nd Metropolitan; 2018-19: 4th Metropolitan, Eastern Conference Finals)
Carolina, after a surprising Cinderella run, returns one of the best blue lines in the NHL. Forward Sebastian Aho is a star, while Petr Mrazek had a comeback season in goal.
14. New York Islanders
(2019-20 Predicted Finish: 3rd Metropolitan; 2018-19: 2nd Metropolitan, Metropolitan Division Finals)
The Islanders’ core of Mathew Barzal, Josh Bailey and Anders Lee, are all back on last year’s surprise contender. The question remains whether the goaltending, without Robin Lehner, can surprise again.
15. Pittsburgh Penguins
(2019-20 Predicted Finish: 4th Metropolitan; 2018-19: 3rd Metropolitan, Metropolitan Division Semifinals)
Pittsburgh has had a great run, but the Penguins are now transitioning. Expect legendary forwards Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, to have another Cup run before retirement, just not in 2019-20.
16. Columbus Blue Jackets
(2019-20 Predicted Finish: 5th Metropolitan; 2018-19: 5th Metropolitan, Atlantic Division Finals)
Without Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus may slide. However, the Blue Jackets still have Seth Jones and Zach Werenski on a dominant defense, and feature sniper Cam Atkinson up front.
17. Montreal Canadiens
(2019-20 Predicted Finish: 4th Atlantic; 2018-19: 4th Atlantic, Out of the Playoffs)
After an eventful off-season, Montreal may continue its upward climb. Carey Price is the stalwart in goal, while Max Domi was solid up front. However, the Canadiens must find more offense.
18. Florida Panthers
(2019-20 Predicted Finish: 5th Atlantic; 2018-19: 5th Atlantic, Out of the Playoffs)
Florida features everything it needs to contend on offense, plus an underrated blue line. The Panthers are taking a big chance on Sergei Bobrovsky becoming its needed savior in goal.
19. New Jersey Devils
(2019-20 Predicted Finish: 6th Metropolitan; 2018-19: 8th Metropolitan, Out of the Playoffs)
New Jersey had an active off-season, adding Jack Hughes and P.K. Subban to its young squad. Forward Taylor Hall is healthy and may dominate, but the Devils’ goaltending has to improve.
20. Vancouver Canucks
(2019-20 Predicted Finish: 4th Pacific; 2018-19: 5th Pacific, Out of the Playoffs)
Riding emerging star forwards Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat, Vancouver may finally return to the playoffs. If the Canucks’ defense is better than expected, watch out Pacific Division.
21. Philadelphia Flyers
(2019-20 Predicted Finish: 7th Metropolitan; 2018-19: 6th Metropolitan, Out of the Playoffs)
Philadelphia is a one of the NHL’s biggest question marks. Other than goaltending, the Flyers had few excuses for their terrible 2018-19. Young netminder Carter Hart might finally stabilize the goaltending.
22. New York Rangers
(2019-20 Predicted Finish: 8th Metropolitan; 2018-19: 7th Metropolitan, Out of the Playoffs)
The New York rebuild is well ahead of schedule. Throw-in forwards Kaapo Kakko and free agent stud Artemi Panarin, and the Rangers could even return to the playoffs in 2019-20.
23. Chicago Blackhawks
(2019-20 Predicted Finish: 6th Central; 2018-19: 6th Central, Out of the Playoffs)
Chicago was better than expected last year, even as their defense and goaltending failed them. Forward Alex Debrincat was a draft steal, while acquisition Robin Lehner should take over the net.
24. Arizona Coyotes
(2019-20 Predicted Finish: 5th Pacific; 2018-19: 4th Pacific, Out of the Playoffs)
Arizona is moving in the right direction, as the Coyotes nearly made the playoffs last year. Adding sniper Phil Kessel should boost the offense for a team laden with young talent.
25. Buffalo Sabres
(2019-20 Predicted Finish: 6th Atlantic; 2018-19: 6th Atlantic, Out of the Playoffs)
Buffalo might not be playoff-bound in 2019-20, but the Sabres are finally trending upward. Adding coach Ralph Krueger to this talented group of underachievers led by Jack Eichel could work wonders.
26. Minnesota Wild
(2019-20 Predicted Finish: 7th Central; 2018-19: 7th Central, Out of the Playoffs)
The Wild need to rip apart their core, stockpile assets, and rebuild. Unfortunately, Minnesota refuses to do so, which should leave them just short of the playoffs and far from contending.
27. Detroit Red Wings
(2019-20 Predicted Finish: 7th Atlantic; 2018-19: 7th Atlantic, Out of the Playoffs)
The new-era Red Wings feature youngsters like Dylan Larkin and Anthony Mantha leading the way. There will be growing pains and uneven play in Detroit, but the future is bright.
28. Edmonton Oilers
(2019-20 Predicted Finish: 6th Pacific; 2018-19: 7th Pacific, Out of the Playoffs)
Edmonton endured a brutal 2018-19. Despite featuring Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, two of the NHL’s top five forwards, the Oilers were terrible. Not enough changes were made to fix this team.
29. Anaheim Ducks
(2019-20 Predicted Finish: 7th Pacific; 2018-19: 6th Pacific, Out of the Playoffs)
By cutting loose Corey Perry, Anaheim said goodbye to a tremendous cornerstone. The Ducks will be competitive in the weak Pacific Division, but are still years away from really contending.
30. Los Angeles Kings
(2019-20 Predicted Finish: 8th Pacific; 2018-19: 8th Pacific, Out of the Playoffs)
The aging Kings are beginning a slow, needed rebuild. Despite a rough 2018-19, things might be worse this season as the Kings haven’t bottomed out yet. Expect some exciting, big trades.
31. Ottawa Senators
(2019-20 Predicted Finish: 8th Atlantic; 2018-19: 8th Atlantic, Out of the Playoffs)
After trading away almost everything, Ottawa is now in full rebuilding mode. It won’t be a pretty season, but the young Senators, led by Thomas Chabot, should be fun to watch.