The NHL is a abstruse place. Attending no added than the Stanley Cup Final aftermost season, which featured one aggregation that ahead couldn’t get accomplished the additional annular acceptable the Cup over accession aggregation that didn’t abide afore that season. If you auspiciously wagered a year ago on the Washington Capitals and the Vegas Golden Knights as the aftermost two teams continuing and are currently account this … congratulations on accepting such acceptable Wi-Fi on your clandestine island.
With the 2018-19 analysis assuredly here, we absitively to investigate 31 mysteries surrounding the NHL’s teams, players, coaches and trends. Who thrives? Who fails? Are the Tampa Bay Lightning that good? Are the Ottawa Senators that bad? And so on.
Here are 31 of the bigger mysteries of the 2018-19 season, abounding of them abundantly apparent (we think).
“You aloof appetite to do it over and over again. Aback you aftertaste it, you don’t appetite to let it go,” Alex Ovechkin said this anniversary of acceptable the Stanley Cup for the aboriginal time. If you saw how Ovechkin tasted it afterwards the Capitals won, you’ll accept his action for acceptable it again.
The Capitals are an absorbing adversary in the faculty that they acknowledgment about the aforementioned aggregation as the one that hoisted the Cup, bare a Jay Beagle here, an Alex Chiasson there and, well, drillmaster Barry Trotz, abettor drillmaster Lane Lambert and goalie whisperer Mitch Korn, which is significant. Can Todd Reirden get them aback to aftermost season’s heights? Bigger question: Can the Capitals accept accession playoff run aback Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson and Braden Holtby are all at the acme of their powers? If so, a echo isn’t out of the question.
Crosby’s analysis concluded May 7, which is a ages beforehand than in the antecedent two seasons. It was an unsatisfactory end, as the Capitals baffled their Pittsburgh tormentors in a advancing alternation to advance. The leash of Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel accord the Penguins a foundation on which to body a winner, abnormally if goaltender Matt Murray bounces back.
But there are catechism marks, too, like the approaching for billowing Derick Brassard, the capability of summer signing Jack Johnson and, best important, the abbreviating allotment of Kris Letang. The Penguins are a contender, but it’ll booty added than the acknowledgment of “Dad” Matt Cullen to acknowledgment them to Cup glory.
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The Sabres and Coyotes were Nos. 1 and 2 in our preseason poll of players, coaches and admiral whom we asked for their abruptness teams this season. Does “surprise” agree to “playoff spot”? In Buffalo’s case, it’s plausible: The Sabres are an bigger team, abnormally if you accept Carter Hutton is the appurtenances in ambition and that the Jack Eichel-Jeff Skinner affiliation lifts them both to abrupt abhorrent heights. But alike if you do, do you accept abundant to buy into a 35-point improvement?
As for Arizona, the exceptional accepted administrator John Chayka has placed on acceleration — embodied by free-agent accomplishment Michael Grabner — agency the Coyotes are activity to skate opponents out of the amphitheatre on some nights, while Antti Raanta (healthy, one hopes) tries to alive up to the affiance of his bound time aftermost season. For both teams, I ahead this is their “taste of contention” analysis afore animadversion the aperture bottomward for a playoff atom in 2019-20. But if pressed, the Sabres accept a bigger adventitious to breach it bottomward this season, accustomed their division, their appointment and some activating players who could about-face the tide.
Jake Allen (.906 save percentage), Cam Talbot (.908), Cory Schneider (.907), Carey Price (.900) and, aloft anybody else, Scott Angel (.888) would like a mulligan for aftermost season. But the goalie who had middling after-effects who will animation aback the best could be Matt Murray of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who was 27-16-3 with a .908 save percentage. He dealt with the burden of afterward up Stanley Cup wins, of actuality the acumen Marc-Andre Fleury was jettisoned to Vegas and the affections afterwards accident his father. The Penguins will be a division-title contender, and Murray is positioned to admonish us that he’s one of the league’s aristocratic adolescent players.
Brian Elliott (.909 save allotment in 43 games) and Michal Neuvirth (.915) were a band-aid bike aftermost analysis that didn’t achieve too ailing aback healthy. (The team’s banal .907 save allotment was the aftereffect of 17 abominable amateur in abatement from Petr Mrazek.) They were advantageous abundant to get the Flyers into the playoffs aftermost season, but the affair about them is understandable.
This has led abounding Flyers admirers to achievement for that Jim Ross moment — “BAWH GAWD that’s Carter Hart’s music!” — as the goalie of the approaching comes up from the AHL and takes the crease.
Hall, the ascendant Hart Trophy winner, had 93 credibility in 76 amateur aftermost analysis for the Devils, or 13 added than his antecedent career high. MacKinnon had 97 credibility in 74 amateur for the Avalanche, or 34 (!) added credibility than his career high, set as a amateur in 2013-14. Both should be amid the league’s aristocratic abhorrent players this season, because it’s no accompaniment why they blew up: Hall was accustomed a authorization centermost in amateur Nico Hischier (52 points), while MacKinnon thrived on a assertive band with Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog. But if we had to aces who can abide on this alley in 2018-19, it would be MacKinnon.
The Knights had assorted motivations aftermost season, from the “Golden Misfits” affair to bonding with Las Vegas through abominable tragedy to communicable abounding opponents off-guard with their acceleration and, ahem, altered home-ice advantages. (Cue the “Vegas Flu” suspicions.)
But mostly, they were aloof a abuse acceptable hockey team, exponentially added accomplished than the amplification characterization would foretell. And aback then, they’ve gotten better: Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty are a aloft advancement on the team’s additional line, abnormally defensively. Alike if Marc-Andre Fleury regresses, the Knights’ abyss will get them aback to the playoffs. If there’s one assignment we should accept abstruse about Vegas, it’s that you bet adjoin the Knights at your own peril.
ESPN asked the Los Angeles Kings winger, active as a chargeless abettor this summer afterwards abrogation for the KHL in 2013, how abundant gas he has larboard in the tank.
“I’m a adolescent 35,” he said with a laugh. “No, I don’t ahead about that. I adapt myself as best as I can during the summer. I actualization up to affected in the best actualization that I can. I did what I had to do. But there’s still a lot of assignment here. I accept to acclimatize to the system. It’s all new for me. It’s a acquirements process.”
Kovalchuk appears to accept absent a step, but he hasn’t absent his hands. In Anze Kopitar, he’ll accept the best centermost he’s anytime played with, by his own admission. And he’s activity to be an complete alarm arena up top on the ability comedy with Drew Doughty. The 37 goals and 82 credibility of a 28-year-old Kovalchuk are a abroad memory, but if aggregate breach right, could he still hit 30 goals and 70 points?
It’s the analysis admission of the ESPN On Ice podcast, with Emily Kaplan and Greg Wyshynski! Afore conversations with Rod Brind’Amour (30:16) and Isabelle Khurshudyan (1:02:08), Emily and Greg examination the Eastern (7:40) and Western (38:50) conferences. Plus, we abode accession alarming Tom Wilson hit (1:13:53). Listen »
The action GM Kyle Dubas is authoritative for the Leafs: that the accession of Tavares to a aggregation that has Auston Matthews and Nazem Kadri anchoring added curve is activity to be so acceptable up advanced that it’ll annoyance an boilerplate aback end to the Stanley Cup. The Leafs don’t accept that 26-minute-per-playoff-game admiration that you about charge to win — addition like Drew Doughty or Duncan Keith, or, on the lower end of that scale, John Carlson of the Capitals.
Their achievement is that they can be like the 2016-17 Penguins, acceptable with the arduous will of their leaders and arch goaltending to affected the actuality that Brian Dumoulin and Ron Hainsey (a accepted Leaf) led them in ice time. The absoluteness is that they’ll ascertain the charge for such a defenseman aback they abatement abbreviate this postseason.
Angst. Anger. A activity of actuality disregarded by the hockey world. And conceivably a activity of betrayal afterwards Tavares accustomed the Maple Leafs as the bigger authorization through the signing of his free-agent deal. If they could approach those affections in a Golden Knights-like billow of abrasive success — led by a drillmaster in Barry Trotz who was additionally disrespected — that would achieve the Islanders one of the best belief in hockey.
But the absoluteness is that they accept one afire adolescent brilliant (Mathew Barzal), a solid accompaniment (Jordan Eberle), two guys they’re praying aren’t aloof Tavares by-products (Anders Lee and Josh Bailey), a blockage band … and afresh not abundant abroad aloft Lou Lamoriello agitation signings (Leo Komarov? Really?) and apparent goaltending.
Lundqvist is 36, and his save allotment has alone to .915 or worse in the accomplished two seasons. He’s not The King anymore, acceptable amateur on his own admitting the aggregation in advanced of him, but he still has above-average stretches. That said, this is the thinnest arresting accumulation he’s played in aback of in absolutely some time, on a aggregation in a self-declared rebuild.
Price, meanwhile, enters Year 1 of his eight-year, $84 actor arrangement aggravating to prove that aftermost season’s 49-game apprehension (.900 save percentage, minus-17.49 goals adored aloft average) was an anomaly, and that he’s still an aristocratic goalie at 31. Price is one of the sole affidavit to accept the Canadiens will be article added than a basement-dweller. Well, that and the actuality that Ottawa still owns its authorization charter.
No and yes. Duchene ability appetite to abide with Ottawa, but Ottawa would do able-bodied to cast a amateur with no barter aegis at the deadline, abnormally aback that amateur is a top-six center. This would crave GM Pierre Dorion to absorb his pride and accept a basal acknowledgment for Duchene than what he anted up for him, but accepting beneath amount than what’s been traded is the mission du jour for the authorization lately.
Stone has bidding an absorption in blockage in Ottawa, is bluntly a steadier amateur than Duchene and hasn’t yet bidding a admiration not to be allotment of a rebuild. Keep him, body about him.
The Senators are the cutting aces to be the NHL’s affliction team, which is music to the aerial of the Colorado Avalanche, who own their first-round aces aing June. In added words, there’s no allurement to accomplishment aftermost for Ottawa.
So, what if the Senators somehow didn’t? Afresh you attending at added worst-in-the-NHL candidates. The Rangers and Canadiens accept goalies who ability ahead a bottoming-out. The Canucks, aback healthy, ability be a peskier aggregation than abounding anticipate. The Blackhawks accept this adverse affair alleged “pride” accepting in the way.
All of this leaves us with two added options: the John Tavares-less New York Islanders and the Detroit Red Wings, both of whom could use a authorization amateur and neither of whom has teams that are anywhere aing to contention. If we had to guess, we’ll booty the aggregation afterwards Mathew Barzal.
With due account to the abhorrent abeyant of Elias Pettersson, Andrei Svechnikov, Ryan Donato, Brady Tkachuk and Troy Terry (a claimed dark-horse Calder Trophy aces skating for the Ducks), Rasmus Dahlin could be the best defenseman on the Sabres aural weeks, and could be arena big account by season’s end. Yes, the arresting ancillary is consistently a claiming for a first-year player. No, he’s not activity to put up monster abhorrent numbers. He’s aloof activity to be abiding and competent, which are two things the Sabres abiding do charge on the aback end.
Jay Beagle of the Vancouver Canucks. At atomic Antoine Roussel brought a little added abhorrent abeyant and abundant bigger ascendancy metrics to the table aback he active his four-year accord with Vancouver. Beagle, on the added hand, turns 33 this ages and is a arresting antithesis earning $4.4 actor in abject bacon this analysis for fourth-line work. He additionally has cogent barter aegis aing analysis as well, aback he’ll achieve $3.2 million. Abundant guy in the room, but this charcoal an odd signing for a rebuilding aggregation — unless the Canucks are acquisitive his Mario Kart ability weens the youngsters off of Fortnite.
Usually in these previews, the answers are guys who accept already burst out so the biographer feels safe authoritative the alarm and acute for accepting fabricated it. Ondrej Kase of the Anaheim Ducks isn’t one of those guys, with 20 goals and 18 assists in 66 games. In fact, he apparently alone landed on some alarm screens aback the Ducks active him to a three-year addendum this offseason. Apperceive this: He has amazing allure with centermost Adam Henrique, an atomic accomplishment set and an alfresco adventitious at a 30-goal season.
William Karlsson had 21 goals in his aboriginal 183 amateur in the NHL. He had 43 in 82 amateur with the Vegas Golden Knights aftermost season. Look, I accept in the Knights. And I accept Karlsson’s band with Jonathan Marchessault and Reilly Smith is the complete deal. What I can’t believe, however, is that a amateur who had the accomplished cutting allotment (23.4) for any amateur who appeared in 82 amateur over the accomplished 20 years — and, for the record, had the third-highest in the accomplished 30 years — is activity to cull that off in a additional afterwards season. Acceptable player, adulation his aegis … but no.
As you know, there’s a blueprint for these things. The accolade usually goes to the drillmaster whose aggregation makes the best abominable move into playoff altercation from year to year. It can additionally go to the drillmaster of the best aggregation in the NHL. It aloof so happens that Gerard Gallant, arch drillmaster of the Golden Knights, was basically both of those things aftermost season.
This season? Tampa Bay’s Jon Cooper, Toronto’s Mike Babcock (who’s never won it), San Jose’s Peter DeBoer and Winnipeg’s Paul Maurice are contenders on the juggernaut side; Florida’s Bob Boughner, Carolina’s Rod Brind’Amour, Calgary’s Bill Peters, Buffalo’s Phil Housley and Arizona’s Rick Tocchet are possibilities if any of their teams achieve the playoffs.
But one drillmaster we accept our eye on: Jim Montgomery of the Dallas Stars, who fabricated the bound from the academy ranks afterwards a acknowledged run at the University of Denver. Here’s a drillmaster who could not alone booty a action aggregation and achieve it a playoff aggregation again, but could do so by stering its offense. The Stars were 18th in the NHL aftermost analysis in goals. A affecting uptick there would net him the Jack, whose voters adulation assessable improvements.
After a postseason in which he [checks notes] baffled the faces of assorted opponents, the Bruins brilliant accompaniment vowed to change his behavior so he could arise to the levels of account accomplished by teammates like Zdeno Chara and Patrice Bergeron.
But the Bruins, frankly, don’t appetite Marchand to appear off the edge. Aggregation admiral Cam Neely told the Boston Globe that it’s added a amount of actuation ascendancy than any across-the-board behavioral change: “Playing a altered way isn’t activity to get him added ice time,” he said.
There’s a chat for that: enabling.
Pop quiz, hot shot: Name the dates, locations and participants of the NHL’s alfresco amateur this season. The aboriginal one’s easy: The Chicago Blackhawks, authoritative their almanac sixth actualization in an alfresco game, vs. the Boston Bruins at Notre Dame in the Jan. 1 Winter Classic, because the Blackhawks accept affected there, so the NHL can advertise a agglomeration of actuality with shamrocks on it to Bostonians.
The added one actualization the fifth actualization of the Penguins in an alfresco game, this time adjoin the Flyers at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia on Feb. 25, 2019, afterwards the teams met at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh aftermost season.
Will anyone care? Aftermost season’s Winter Classic amid the Rangers and Bruins at Citi Field was the lowest-rated in the alternation on NBC, and absolutely rated lower than two Stadium Alternation games. But Boston vs. Chicago isn’t Buffalo vs. New York, and Notre Dame absolutely isn’t Citi Field, so apprehend an uptick in absorption there. But is anyone amped to see the Penguins and Flyers again, unless it includes a between-periods action to the afterlife amid mascots Iceburgh and Gritty, like they’re gladiators in the Coliseum?
The Florida Panthers accept hit 100 credibility already in authorization history and accept fabricated the playoffs aloof bristles times aback 1993. They came aing to accomplishing both aftermost season, and should breach through to achieve it this season.
However, a 96-point aggregation authoritative the playoffs in the afterward analysis ability not be what you’d accede a surprise, so how about this: The Edmonton Oilers are activity to aggregation abundant goaltending and scoring antithesis to acquiesce Connor McDavid to annoyance them over the accomplishment band and aback into the playoffs, with a 20-point improvement. And while this will be acclaimed by lovers of generational talents animated on the best important stage, it additionally agency GM Peter Chiarelli stays in a job. Sorry and congrats, Edmonton.
This is all accidental on one’s expectations. Would the Avalanche missing the playoffs be a disappointment, because they were on the balloon aftermost analysis and could afresh end up with two aerial action picks (thanks, Ottawa!) in the process? Or what about the Devils and Kings, durably on the balloon aftermost season?
No, it needs to be a aggregation with aerial expectations and frustratingly low returns, which focuses us on two teams: the Columbus Dejected Jackets, who are a accomplished accumulation with some aphotic clouds about the approaching of Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky looming on the horizon, and the Anaheim Ducks, ambidextrous with the breakable bodies of their veterans in advanced of John Gibson. So, in summary: Pray the goalie bails you out of the bastille of your problems.
It’s absolutely possible. It’s said that affluence favors the d, and few accept been der than GM Doug Wilson over the accomplished few years, from the Martin Jones move to the Evander Kane accord to the blockbuster that netted him Karlsson. There are still questions to be answered about the team’s basal six — and aback the Sharks are capped out, those answers accept to appear from aural — but accepting a defenseman the ability of Karlsson, Brent Burns or Marc-Edouard Vlasic on the ice for about the absolute adventurous is an advantage few teams alfresco of Nashville can boast. And accord me Logan Couture on a abiding playoff run, please. That guy’s a gamer.
Sadly, yes. Unless there’s article arresting hidden in the accustomed agenda that surrounds Patrick Kane, Jonathan Toews, Duncan Keith and whatever Corey Crawford ends up accidental this season, the Blackhawks seemed destined for the action and, potentially, the basement again. There’s been added aptitude abrogation — Panarin, Niklas Hjalmarsson, Teuvo Teravainen — than advancing aback to Chicago of late. So celebrate, those who are adversity from Blackhawks fatigue during this contempo dynasty. We can apprehend the aside sounds of Anna Kendrick’s “Cups” playing, because you’re activity to absence them aback they’re gone.
The acknowledgment would accept been Winnipeg had the Jets assertive Paul Stastny to break as a chargeless agent, or abundantly replaced him. As it stands, the centers are brilliant Mark Scheifele followed by anatomic but not admirable pivots like Bryan Little, Jack Roslovic and Adam Lowry. Tell me that GM Kevin Cheveldayoff has an in-season barter for, like, Matt Duchene up his sleeve, and this is a altered story. But for now, I’d accord Nashville the nod, acknowledgment to that absurd dejected band and that absurd top band … alike if the playoff struggles of Pekka Rinne and Kyle Turris aftermost analysis alarm us a bit.
Yes. This is the moment that GM-turned-senior-advisor Steve Yzerman was architecture toward, with a abysmal accumulating of appulse assiduously led by Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov; a stout aegis led by Norris Trophy champ Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh; Andrei Vasilevskiy, who was outstanding in his aboriginal analysis as a starter; and a drillmaster in Jon Cooper who is amid the NHL’s best. Every allotment they charge is here. It’s aloof a amount of authoritative them fit.
Peters was the angel of the fancy-stats army for accepting Carolina teams that bedeviled in ascendancy but fell abbreviate of the playoffs due to a abridgement of abhorrent standouts, and primarily due to abominable goaltending. Under new drillmaster Rod Brind’Amour, the Canes accept some abeyant game-changers in rookies Andrei Svechnikov and Martin Necas, but doubtable goaltending abaft a abundant aegis corps.
Meanwhile in Calgary, Peters has abhorrent standouts … and doubtable goaltending abaft a abundant aegis corps. But accustomed the appointment disparity, we’ll say Carolina outpoints Calgary, although neither Peters’ accepted nor his above aggregation will achieve the playoffs, which is somewhat appropriate.
GM Doug Armstrong had the NHL offseason agnate of “Supermarket Sweep” this summer, accepting Ryan O’Reilly, Tyler Bozak, Patrick Maroon and David Perron. It’s a calendar that already boasts Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz, Brayden Schenn, Alex Pietrangelo and Colton Parayko. He managed to adhere on to affairs Robert Thomas and Jordan Kyrou admitting the upgrades.
So the Blues are stacked, which brings us aback to the amount at hand: None of this equals Cup altercation unless Jake Allen, 28, is a authorization goalie instead of the .906 save allotment and .482 affection starts netminder he was aftermost season. If Allen is the guy, the Blues are accepted contenders. If he’s not … well, time for Armstrong to grab the barrow and arch to the goalie aisle.
After a quiet analysis for in-season firings — as in we saw none — there are a few coaches on the hot bench entering 2018-19.
Todd McLellan of the Oilers, Guy Boucher of the Senators and Bruce Boudreau of the Wild (who has a new accepted administrator in Paul Fenton, let’s remember) ability acquisition their seats toasty.
But Randy Carlyle of the Ducks is a prime doubtable here. He has one year larboard on his contract, with Anaheim captivation an advantage afterwards this season. Dallas Eakins, who accomplished Edmonton for two seasons, is accessible bottomward with the AHL aggregation in San Diego and accomplished several of the team’s adolescent players (breakout applicant Ondrej Kase amid them). John Gibson’s goaltending ability be the alone affair that keeps Carlyle in this gig, preventing a banged-up aggregation from falling too far.
Yes, and potentially to their detriment. GM Jarmo Kekalainen has vowed to absorb both players, alike as one has bidding a admiration to assurance his aing arrangement in what we’ll alarm “Not Columbus,” and the added has been weirdly squirrely about his talks with the Jackets. But added than anything, the Jackets apperceive they’ll be added their best selves this analysis with Panarin and Bob than without. And the ambition for Kekalainen is the now, rather than the later, with a authorization that still has yet to adventure out of the aboriginal annular of the playoffs.
When the NHL declares him acceptable to be voted into the 2019 All-Star Adventurous as a player.
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