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1. Pittsburgh Penguins
Led by Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel, the Penguins once again have an elite forward core that should light up the scoreboard on a nightly basis. Their defense isn't stout in its own end but they have enough skating/puck moving ability to quickly get it up to their forwards and drive play in the right direction. If Matt Murray bounces back, they'll be tough to beat.
2. Columbus Blue Jackets**
I really, really, really like this Blue Jackets team. They are deep up front and have a nice mix of high-end skill, speed, and physicality. In Seth Jones and Zach Werenski, they have two fantastic blueliners more than capable of doing the heavy lifting. The Jackets also have arguably the best goaltender in the league mending the crease on a nightly basis.
Unfortunately, the uncertain futures of Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky have cast a cloud over the franchise. Will they stick around all year? Will their play be hindered by contract concerns? Nobody knows but, if things don't get ugly off the ice, I think the Blue Jackets have the pieces in place to be excellent.
3. Philadelphia Flyers
This is it. This is the year of the Flyera.
I am absolutely in love with their forward core. I think it has the potential to be one of the league's best. Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek are high-end offensive wingers. Sean Couturier is one of the top two-way centers in the league (he should have won the Selke last season). James van Riemsdyk and Wayne Simmonds are elite net-front players who will fill the net consistently. Nolan Patrick, Travis Konecny, and Oskar Lindblom are all skilled forwards poised for breakout years with an excellent supporting cast around them. I don't really know what the team is doing with the 4th line but they could put me out there and still have a well above average group of forwards.
I'm not completely sold on the defense – it's impossible to be with Andrew MacDonald chewing up top-4 minutes – but it should be respectable with Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov leading the charge.
If Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth provide anything close to league average goaltending this team will comfortably make the playoffs.
4. Washington Capitals
I'm sure you're wondering why in the world I have the Stanley Cup winners finishing 4th in their own division. Well, let me tell you.
For one, I think they overachieved last year. They won a lot of games where they were on the wrong end of the scoring chance battle and I'm not sure that's a good recipe for success over time.
They are a top-heavy team – 35 point forward Tom Wilson skates on their top line Brooks Orpik averaged almost 20 minutes per game last year – and I think the loss of Philipp Grubauer is much bigger than people suggest.
Last season Grubauer played in 35 games and posted a .923 save percentage. Pheonix Copley – fresh off a .896 save percentage in 41 AHL games – is unlikely to provide even average goaltending, let alone what Grubauer gave the team.
The Caps' stars will win them a fair share of games but I think this team is going to take a step back.
5. Carolina Hurricanes
I could probably copy/paste the same blurb from the last few years into this spot and nobody would notice.
While the Hurricanes may not have established stars and name brand guys up front, their offense should be solid with Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, Andrei Svechnikov, and Jordan Staal leading the charge.
Their blueline is stacked from top-to-bottom with smart, mobile puck movers who can also keep tight gaps and handle themselves defensively.
The big question mark *again* is goaltending. The Hurricanes need Petr Mrazek and/or Scott Darling to step forward and give them at least average goaltending. If that happens, the Hurricanes will likely be a playoff team. If not, they'll fall short once again. I really hope it's the former because this team has a lot of talent and plays an eye-pleasing style of game.
6. New Jersey Devils
This should be fun. *sighs*
I like the team's forwards. I do. Taylor Hall is an absolute monster, Nico Hischier is ready to be a star, Marcus Johansson and Kyle Palmieri should be safe bets for 45-50 points, and it's possible – perhaps even likely – Pavel Zacha, Miles Wood, and Jesper Bratt all take steps forward. Throw in some responsible defensive forwards like Blake Coleman, Stefan Noesen and Travis Zajac and the forward core looks to be in pretty good shape.
My problem with the team is from the blueline in. Mirco Mueller and a declining Andy Greene are currently penciled in as the top-4 defenders on the left side. That is...not at all good. Sami Vatanen is solid and Damon Severson is better than some give him credit for but they're not top-pairing guys who are going to lift up others. The Devils need Will Butcher to shore up his defensive play a bit and force the coaching staff to give him 20+ minutes a night otherwise they'll probably be in trouble.
As much as I love Cory Schneider, I'm not sure he can be relied upon to consistently clean up the messes in front of him. He is recovering from off-season surgery and, unfortunately, his numbers over the last couple of years suggest his best days are behind him.
Keith Kinkaid put together a fantastic 2nd half but years of data suggest he's not much more than an average backup. Expecting him to be the answer will likely result in disappointment.
I think the Devils will be competitive but expect them to fall a little short of the playoffs.
7. New York Islanders
Despite losing John Tavares, the Islanders still have a good top-6. Mathew Barzal is #elite, Jordan Eberle is solid, Anders Lee is basically a lock for 30+ goals, and there are some other nice pieces (like Anthony Beauvillier).
The list of positives on this team pretty much ends there. Their bottom-6 forwards are littered with offensively inept possession anchors. It's probably the worst group in the league.
Things aren't much better defensively. I mean, they're relying on Luca Sbisa to help solidify things. Barry Trotz might be able to tighten things up a *tad* but the team is probably still going to bleed chances. I don't think Robin Lehner or Thomas Greiss is capable of holding up in those circumstances.
8. New York Rangers
The rebuilding Rangers look to be in line for another tough year. I think their offense will be respectable with Mika Zibanejad, Mats Zuccarello and Pavel Buchnevich leading the charge but their defense has some question marks, to put it nicely. Though Henrik Lundqvist will steal some games, the Rangers seem like a good bet to lose a lot of games and allow a lot of goals.
1. Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins are an aging team but they are still top dog in the Metro. Crosby and Malkin are still the best 1-2 punch in the entire league and Matt Murray is a consistent top 10 goalie. Kessel even with his "down year" of 92 points should be another solid weapon. Biggest question mark will as always be the health of Kris Letang.
2. Washington Capitals
Right on the heels of the Penguins will once again be the Caps. The Stanley Cup hangover will be the question surrounding the team all season. Holtby will be a Vezina finalist and Ovi will be at the top of his game so he can do snow angels in a fountain in July again.
3. Philadelphia Flyers
This is where things get murky. Couturier proved last season that he was more than just a shutdown centre, putting up huge points alongside Giroux. The emergence of young talented D Provorov and the continued offense on the backend from Ghost Bear make the Flyers a dangerous team...have they broken the goaltending curse?
4. Carolina Hurricanes
I love the moves the 'Canes made this offseason. Acquiring one of the best young top pairing defenders in the league in Dougie Hamilton was only the start. Carolina has potential overflowing in their top 6 but not knowing if they will reach that this year is the question. Zykov, Svechnikov, Necas, Terevainen and Aho could be a strong group over the next 10 years. They are my dark horse playoff pick this season.
5. Columbus Blue Jackets
Something weird is going on in Columbus. News broke later in the summer that Panarin was not interested in seeking a long term deal with the Blue Jackets and recently confirmed he will become a free agent this summer. Bobrovsky has now come out and said he won't negotiate a contract during the season. With Seth Jones out for at least the first month of the season the Blue Jackets may dig themselves a big hole too early on. If things start looking bleak and their big names won't resign the Blue Jackets could be huge sellers this year.
6. New Jersey Devils
Taylor Hall is an elite player and one of the best forwards in the entire league but he will be hard pressed to carry this team on his back again. The backend is the biggest question mark going into the season. Did Schnieder have a bad season or is this a new trend?
7. New York Rangers
The Rangers have self declared their own rebuild. At least this season is going to be ugly in New York but a solid management group should see them through this.
8. New York Islanders
And so begins the Tavaresless era. Hopefully Barzal can continue the torrid pace he scored on last season because he is almost on his own. The Islanders will win some games but with their goaltending situation they are going to get scored on.... alot.
They have some rest in weary legs from playoff runs and come back energized.
If, and it's big one, they sort out goaltending and everyone else keeps progressing they could be very dangerous.
The hangover will be real and well deserved. Tom Wilson being himself does not help either and the Caps run on cruise control.
There's some desperation in there and if they can manage without Jones they might be okay in the long run but a big if.
I want to believe they move up, but something about them doing SFA in the off-season says complacency and stagnation.
The trickle-down effect of losing Tavares and replacing with plugs will be real and spectacular.
Good moves this off-season but not enough to move the needle and oh yeah- goaltending.
This is the year we learn just what the plan is going forward. It may not be pretty but being ugly this year is a good thing. Lose for Hughes and the Rangers should.
Predicting the Atlantic Division standings
Predicting Atlantic Division breakout players
Predicting Metro Division breakout players
Predicting Pacific Division breakout players
Predicting Central Division breakout players
Who will win the Hart Trophy in 2018-19?
Who will win the Calder Trophy in 2018-19?
Who will win the Vezina Trophy in 2018-19?
Who will win the Norris Trophy in 2018-19?