- Dallas Stars*
- Injuries decimated the Stars last season, just a year after their Central Division crown. With better luck in that regard and an upgraded blueline (Marc Methot) and goaltender (Ben Bishop), coupled with one of the best offenses in the league, and the Stars could be a Cup contender.
- Nashville Predators*
- After a surprise run to the Stanley Cup Final, the Predators return with largely the same core plus new second-line center, Nick Bonino. With their rock-steady top four of Roman Josi, PK Subban, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis and newly signed top center Ryan Johansen, the Predators will be contenders again.
- St. Louis Blues*
- Last year was one of transition for the Blues as they lost their captain David Backes, playoff hero Troy Brower and goaltender Bryan Elliot last summer. With a new leadership group forming, and balance throughout their lineup led by superstar scorer Vladimir Tarasenko, defenseman Alex Pietrangelo and goalie Jake Allen, the Blues are set up for success.
- Chicago Blackhawks*
- The salary cap has shredded the Blackhawks roster. They were forced to jettison key veterans Scott Darling, Johnny Oduya, Artemi Panarin and Niklas Hjalmarsson. They added some good talent in Brandon Saad and others, but the team is not as strong as last year. Any team with Duncan Keith, Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews and Corey Crawford is a playoff team, but the Blackhawks window may be closing.
- Minnesota Wild
- The Wild overachieved in Brue Boudreau’s first year with the team. The offense surged with career years from Eric Staal, Charlie Coyle, Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter. That would all have to come together again for the Wild to be successful, and that is hard to replicate.
- Winnipeg Jets
- The Jets are stuck in neutral. They have some good pieces in place with Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler and Patrick Laine, but they haven’t added anything to make them a better team than last year. Perhaps another year of development will yield a playoff team, but major growth would need to transpire.
- Colorado Avalanche
- The Avalanche had the worst year of any team since the full-season lockout ten years ago and little has changed over the summer. Rumors surrounding Matt Duchene have failed to yield a trade and there is little hope of a great improvement over the coming campaign. However, there is nowhere to go but up.
- Anaheim Ducks*
- The Ducks always seem to win the Pacific crown and there’s little reason to think that will change this season. With Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler powering the offense and a big and mobile defense, the team is set up to be a regular season juggernaut again. It’s in the postseason that Anaheim really needs to make some noise as they still have not made the Stanley Cup Final in all these years of promise.
- Edmonton Oilers*
- Connor McDavid emerged as the best offensive player in the league last season, and the Oilers finally made the playoffs after ten years. The expectation for them this year will be to make the conference finals or more which is a tall order for a relatively green group. They may have it in them, but a year of regression may be in the cards.
- San Jose Sharks*
- Many seem to have forgotten about the Sharks with the hoopla over the Oilers, Ducks and Flames, but this team is still just a year removed from a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals. Joe Pavelski, Marc Edouard-Vlasic, Norris trophy winning-Brent Burns, Logan Couture, Joe Thornton and Martin Jones still anchor a very good team. Losing Patrick Marleau isn’t ideal, but there’s enough talent here to succeed if luck is on their side.
- Calgary Flames*
- There’s a lot to like about the Flames with Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan and Matthew Tkachuk on offense and Travis Hamonic, Dougie Hamilton, T.J. Brodie and Mark Giordano on defense. Newly acquired goalie Mike Smith will need to re-prove himself as a quality starter if the team hopes to succeed.
- Los Angeles Kings
- The Kings have fallen since their Stanley Cup heyday period of 2012-2014. Gone are coach Darryl Sutter and GM Dean Lombardi and in are coach John Stevens and GM Rob Blake. Perhaps the change of leadership will spark the team to their potential. The Kings needs better seasons from cornerstones Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick to succeed.
- Arizona Coyotes
- The Coyotes could be the surprise team of the season if their offseason moves pay off. Rick Tocchet will be given head coaching duties. Their trades for goalie Antti Raata, center Derek Stepan and defenseman Niklas Hjalmarsson, all proven winners, solidify a young core that includes Dylan Strome, Oliver Ekman-Larsson and Clayton Keller. It might take another year of maturation before the playoffs, but the Coyotes seem to have a bright future.
- Vancouver Canucks
- The Canucks are stuck between the old guard of the Sedin twins and the new guard such as Bo Horvat. Not elite, nor terrible, the Canucks do not seem like much of a playoff threat as they transition towards their next phase.
- Vegas Golden Knights
- In their inaugural season, the Golden Knights promise to be pretty terrible. They’re not trying to ice a winner just yet, more concerned with building up draft picks and fan enthusiasm. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury will keep them in some games, but Vegas won’t challenge for a playoff spot for a few years.
- Tampa Bay Lightning*
- GM Steve Yzerman has done a masterful job keeping integral cogs of his roster together through injury, player distraction and the salary cap. With better health this year, the Lightning should contend for the top spot in the conference, with an offense led by Steven Stamkos and Tyler Johnson and a defense anchored by Victor Hedman.
- Florida Panthers*
- The Panthers are just a year removed from an Atlantic Division crown and still have the roster of a playoff team. With more front-office stability and the continued progression of players like Vincent Trocheck, Aleksander Barkov and Aaron Ekblad, the Panthers could be a team to watch.
- Montreal Canadiens*
- The Canadiens lost some defensive prowess in Andrei Markov, but gained some offensive punch in Jonathan Drouin. That should result in them generally treading water for the upcoming year. Any team with goalie Carey Price is dangerous.
- Toronto Maple Leafs
- The Maple Leafs soared a year after being the worst team in the league, making the playoffs behind Calder trophy-winner Austin Matthews. A regression may be in the cards next season as maturation throughout the lineup may be necessary.
- Boston Bruins
- The Bruins boast a dynamite top line centered by Patrice Bergeron flanked by winger Brad Marchand and a great goaltender in Tuuka Rask. Beyond that, they lack depth in many key positions and need to bulk up the rest of their roster in order to be a contender again.
- Detroit Red Wings
- The Wings are stuck in flux between the old guard (Zetterberg, Kronwall, Howard) and the new (Larkin, Mantha, Svechnikov). Even with a new state-of-the-art arena, the playoffs seem like a stretch. However, a rebound season from goaltender Petr Mrazek and better luck with injuries could make them a playoff contender.
- Ottawa Senators
- The Senators shocked the hockey world by making it to the Eastern Conference finals last year. Usually with a magical season like that, there’s a bit of a drop off the next year, but with Erik Karlsson, Ottawa has a game-changer who can single-handedly control the game whenever he’s on the ice. If Karlsson is successful, the Senators can be a force again. But that may not be the case.
- Buffalo Sabres
- Another year of missing the playoffs meant the axing of GM Terry Murray and coach Dan Bylsma. Under new leadership (GM Jason Botterill and coach Phil Housley), perhaps the Sabres can finally achieve some form of respectability, but it may take another year or two of development for young stars Jake Eichel, Ryan O’Reilly, Sam Reinhart and Rasmus Ristolainen.
- Pittsburgh Penguins*
- The back-to-back defending Stanley Cup champions return with largely the same roster minus a few key veterans (Ron Hainsey, Matt Cullen, Trevor Daley, Marc-Andre Fleury and Nick Bonino). The team is still led by Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Kris Letang and Matt Murray though. They will make the playoffs and have their eyes set on a dynasty.
- New York Rangers*
- The Rangers went through some changes in the offseason, losing Derek Stepan and Anti Raanta, but gaining Kevin Shattenkirk. The window appears to be closing on this group backstopped by Henrik Lundqvist, Ryan McDonagh, Chris Kreider and Rick Nash. They have to go for it all before it does.
- Washington Capitals*
- After a go-for-it-all year last year, the Capitals find themselves somewhat depleted. Gone are Kevin Shattenkirk, Karl Alzner, Justin Williams, Nate Schmidt and Marcus Johansson, and all their replacements must come from within. But any team with Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie and Brayden Holtby is still a force. Perhaps with lower expectation, the Capitals can break through.
- Carolina Hurricanes*
- The Hurricanes have been just on the cusp of playoff-dom for the past few seasons now, but perhaps this is the year they finally get back in. With new goaltender Scott Darling and a standout, young defense led by Justin Faulk, the ingredients are there for success. It’ll be up to their offense to capitalize on their chances.
- Columbus Blue Jackets*
- The Blue Jackets steamrolled to the playoffs last year before collapsing against the Penguins in the first round. A balanced offense led by Cam Atkinson and Nick Foligno was bolstered by a defense anchored by Seth Jones and Zach Werenski and Vezina trophy-winning netminder Sergei Bobrovsky. The trade for Artemi Panarin gives the Jackets another top flight talent, but it would all have to come together again for the Jackets to return to the playoffs. They’ll be a bubble team.
- Philadelphia Flyers
- The Flyers will only go as far as their defense takes them. With Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds and Claude Giroux leading the attack, the goals should be plentiful. It’s whether or not the Flyers young defensemen can take the next step in their development that will determine the team’s fate and whether or not Bryan Elliot is up to the task in net.
- New York Islanders
- It’s crunch time for the Islanders and John Tavares. In the last year of his deal, Tavares will be the most sought after free agent in a decade if he makes it to the open market. The franchise will carry a black cloud over its head until he’s signed to an extension or traded to another team. The rest of the team features some up and comers, but is not particularly strong in any area.
- New Jersey Devils
- The Devils won the first overall pick in the draft last June, selecting potential number 1 center Nico Hischier. With current number 1 center Travis Zajac down for 4 to 6 months, the team will need all the help it can get. Taylor Hall had a good first season with the franchise, but goalie Cory Schneider had a down year and must be brilliant for the team to succeed. The Devils are trending in the right direction, but still have far to go.
In terms of how the season will end, I am predicting a final between the St. Louis Blues and the Tampa Bay Lightning with the Blues winning in 6 games.