2017-18 saw the long awaited coronation of Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals, as well as the amazing breakout success of the Vegas Golden Knights. 2018-19 promises to be another terrific season, with several teams primed to take a run at the Cup. Here are my predictions for all 31 NHL teams this season, in just 31 words or less!
1. Tampa Bay Lightning
2018-19 Predicted Finish: 1st Atlantic
2017-18: 1st Atlantic, Eastern Conference Finals
Despite G.M. Steve Yzerman’s surprise departure, the Lightning are an offensive juggernaut led by Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos. Stars Victor Hedman and Andrei Vasilevskiy carry the defense and goaltending, respectively.
2. Nashville Predators
2018-19 Predicted Finish: 1st Central
2017-18: 1st Central, Central Division Finals
Nashville is loaded with several stars like Filip Forsberg in their prime, plus an elite top four on defense. The big question mark: Can goaltender Pekka Rinne backstop a championship run?
3. San Jose Sharks
2018-19 Predicted Finish: 1st Pacific
2017-18: 3rd Pacific, Pacific Division Finals
The Sharks made the biggest offseason splash, adding Erik Karlsson to a defense that already included Brent Burns and Marc-Edouard Vlasic. The Sharks’ transition game and power play should be scary.
4. Winnipeg Jets
2018-19 Predicted Finish: 2nd Central
2017-18: 2nd Central, Western Conference Finals
Winnipeg is emerging as one of the NHL’s best teams. The Jets, led by Blake Wheeler, are big, fast, and loaded on defense. Plus bargain goaltender Connor Hellebuyck has few peers.
5. Vegas Golden Knights
2018-19 Predicted Finish: 2nd Pacific
2017-18: 1st Pacific, Stanley Cup Finals
Vegas shocked the NHL and stunningly rolled to the finals in its inaugural season. Newcomer Max Pacioretty joins a deep offense, while Marc-Andre Fleury anchors the Golden Knights in goal.
6. Pittsburgh Penguins
2018-19 Predicted Finish: 1st Metropolitan
2017-18: 2nd Metropolitan, Metropolitan Division Finals
After winning back-to-back Cups, the Penguins still almost spoiled the Capitals’ coronation. The core, led by Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, is loaded, but goaltender Matt Murray needs to be better.
7. Washington Capitals
2018-19 Predicted Finish: 2nd Metropolitan
2017-18: 1st Metropolitan, Stanley Cup Champion
Washington unleashed speed, physical play and solid goaltending in the postseason, culminating in a title. The Capitals have stars on offense in Alexander Ovechkin and Evgeni Kuznetsov, and goaltender Braden Holtby.
8. Toronto Maple Leafs
2018-19 Predicted Finish: 2nd Atlantic
2017-18: 3rd Atlantic, Atlantic Division Semifinals
By acquiring John Tavares to join Auston Matthews, Toronto jumped to instant contender status. The Leafs should score at will, but their defense remains concerning. It was exposed in the playoffs.
9. Boston Bruins
2018-19 Predicted Finish: 3rd Atlantic
2017-18: 2nd Atlantic, Atlantic Division Finals
The surprising Bruins contended last season, after finally developing a young core to balance stars Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand, goaltender Tuukka Rask, and ageless Zdeno Chara. Expect continued growth in 2018-19.
10. Columbus Blue Jackets
2018-19 Predicted Finish: 3rd Metropolitan
2017-18: 4th Metropolitan, Metropolitan Division Semifinals
Despite superstars Artemi Panarin and Seth Jones, Columbus is a hard team to read as Sergei Bobrovsky’s rollercoaster play in goal always determines success. The Blue Jackets still need more balance.
11. Colorado Avalanche
2018-19 Predicted Finish: 3rd Central
2017-18: 4th Central, Central Division Semifinals
Almost out of nowhere, Colorado emerged in 2017-18 behind Nathan MacKinnon’s MVP-worthy season. The Avs could still use upgrades on defense and depth, but this is a dangerous, up-and-coming squad.
12. Minnesota Wild
2018-19 Predicted Finish: 4th Central
2017-18: 3rd Central, Central Division Semifinals
Minnesota’s window is closing. Aging stalwarts Zach Parise, Eric Staal and Ryan Suter still carry the mail. If the Wild stay healthy, and Devan Dubnyk excels in goal, they could surprise.
13. Anaheim Ducks
2018-19 Predicted Finish: 3rd Pacific
2017-18: 2nd Pacific, Pacific Division Semifinals
The slow-footed Ducks might have missed their championship chance as the NHL accelerates. Ryan Getzlaf leads the way and emerging goaltender John Gibson anchors a steady defense. Losing Corey Perry hurts.
14. St. Louis Blues
2018-19 Predicted Finish: 5th Central
2017-18: 5th Central, Out of the Playoffs
After undergoing an extensive makeover, the Blues could return to contender status. This is sniper Vladimir Tarasenko’s team, but St. Louis has balance and a top-notch defense. Goaltending remains a concern.
15. Philadelphia Flyers
2018-19 Predicted Finish: 4th Metropolitan
2017-18: 3rd Metropolitan, Metropolitan Division Semifinals
Philadelphia is a growing squad led by a terrific top line featuring captain Claude Giroux. The Flyers have depth on defense, led by stud Shayne Gostisbehere. Goaltending concerns still wreak havoc.
16. Los Angeles Kings
2018-19 Predicted Finish: 4th Pacific
2017-18: 4th Pacific, Pacific Division Semifinals
L.A. was the surprise winner of the Ilya Kovalchuk sweepstakes. Top-flight defenseman Drew Doughty and goaltender Jonathan Quick remain the leaders of a team lacking quality young depth.
17. Dallas Stars
2018-19 Predicted Finish: 6th Central
2017-18: 6th Central, Out of the Playoffs
Dallas’ plummet to mediocracy came as a shock. A team led by Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin and Alexander Radulov struggled to score. Finding more depth will be vital in 2018-19.
18. New Jersey Devils
2018-19 Predicted Finish: 5th Metropolitan
2017-18: 5th Metropolitan, Atlantic Division Semifinals
The youthful Devils were one of the league’s best stories of 2017-18. Taylor Hall is a true star, and New Jersey has dependable goaltending, but its core is still maturing.
19. Florida Panthers
2018-19 Predicted Finish: 4th Atlantic
2017-18: 4th Atlantic, Out of the Playoffs
After a terrible trade with Vegas, Florida was left as smoldering wreckage in 2017-18. Led by Alexander Barkov, the Panthers still have a strong core plus ageless workhorse netminder Roberto Luongo.
20. Carolina Hurricanes
2018-19 Predicted Finish: 6th Metropolitan
2017-18: 6th Metropolitan, Out of the Playoffs
After a decade of mediocrity, Carolina is overdue for the playoffs. Sebastian Aho, 21, is the NHL’s best unknown player, while new defenseman Dougie Hamilton adds to an already solid blueline.
21. Chicago Blackhawks
2018-19 Predicted Finish: 7th Central
2017-18: 7th Central, Out of the Playoffs
How valuable is goaltender Corey Crawford? His injury last season triggered Chicago’s nightmare collapse. Even if he’s healthy, the Blackhawks, led by Jonathan Toews and Patrick Kane, are sliding downward.
22. Calgary Flames
2018-19 Predicted Finish: 5th Pacific
2017-18: 5th Pacific, Out of the Playoffs
Calgary features a talented young offensive talent led by Johnny Gaudreau and some elite blueliners like Mark Giordano. Offensive depth and goaltending remain glaring issues holding the Flames back.
23. Edmonton Oilers
2018-19 Predicted Finish: 6th Pacific
2017-18: 6th Pacific, Out of the Playoffs
Led by the NHL’s best player, Connor McDavid, and budding star Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton has boatloads of potential. However, the Oilers lack depth and elite defensemen, and that still spells trouble.
24. New York Islanders
2018-19 Predicted Finish: 7th Metropolitan
2017-18: 7th Metropolitan, Out of the Playoffs
Without John Tavares, the Islanders could crumble. New York has Mathew Barzal, Josh Bailey and Anders Lee — all talented youngsters. It is Robin Lehner’s job to fix lingering goaltending issues.
25. Buffalo Sabres
2018-19 Predicted Finish: 5th Atlantic
2017-18: 8th Atlantic, Out of the Playoffs
A losing culture plagues the Sabres, but by moving out Ryan O’Reilly, Buffalo is officially Jack Eichel’s team. Defensive and goaltending issues will likely prevent a return to the postseason.
26. Arizona Coyotes
2018-19 Predicted Finish: 7th Pacific
2017-18: 8th Pacific, Out of the Playoffs
Amid arena concerns, Arizona is building a talented squad. Clayton Keller is a budding superstar, while Oliver Ekman-Larsson anchors the Coyotes’ defense. Disgruntled Canadien Alex Galchenyuk might be a terrific addition.
27. Detroit Red Wings
2018-19 Predicted Finish: 6th Atlantic
2017-18: 5th Atlantic, Out of the Playoffs
Detroit attempted to remain competitive, but now is finally rebuilding. The last piece of the bygone era, Henrik Zetterberg, retired, leaving the team officially in hands of Dylan Larkin and company.
28. New York Rangers
2018-19 Predicted Finish: 8th Metropolitan
2017-18: 8th Metropolitan, Out of the Playoffs
After many years near the top, the rebuilding Rangers are no longer a Stanley Cup contender. The big question is whether veteran goalie Henrik Lundqvist will wait out an overdue makeover.
29. Montreal Canadiens
2018-19 Predicted Finish: 7th Atlantic
2017-18: 6th Atlantic, Out of the Playoffs
Not even star goaltender Carey Price can carry a Montreal squad that traded away two of its best offensive players. It’s going to be another long and disappointing year for fans.
30. Vancouver Canucks
2018-19 Predicted Finish: 8th Pacific
2017-18: 7th Pacific, Out of the Playoffs
With the Sedin twins’ retirement, Vancouver moves on to a new era. Forwards Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat are excellent foundational building blocks, but the Canucks remain far away from contending.
31. Ottawa Senators
2018-19 Predicted Finish: 8th Atlantic
2017-18: 7th Atlantic, Out of the Playoffs
The Senators were a mess with Erik Karlsson, and should be worse without him. Two years ago Ottawa was one overtime goal away from the Finals. That seems like eons ago.