Nick and Connor rant about retired numbers, anniversary patches, showing emotion in hockey, the Toronto Maple Leafs and William Nylander, coaches that might get fired, “the code” and Mike Matheson’s antics.
The Boston Bruins defeated the Edmonton Oilers, 4-1, Thursday night at TD Garden on the backs of a strong effort in goal from backup goaltender, Jaroslav Halak, and their first line of Brad Marchand, Patrice Bergeron and David Pastrnak.
Connor McDavid opened the game’s scoring before Pastrnak tied it and Marchand gave Boston their first lead of the night shortly thereafter. Joakim Nordstrom provided the insurance goal for the Bruins and Patrice Bergeron added the empty net goal late in the third period.
Halak made 25 saves on 26 shots against for a .992 save percentage in the win, while Edmonton netminder, Cam Talbot, stopped 28 out of 31 shots faced for a .903 SV% in the loss.
Boston improved to 3-1-0 (6 points) on the season and held onto 2nd place in the Atlantic Division. Edmonton is 0-2-0 (0 points) and sits last (8th) in the Pacific Division.
Milan Lucic made his 3rd annual visit to the Hub since the former Bruins winger and 2011 Stanley Cup champion was traded to the Los Angeles Kings at the 2015 NHL Draft before signing with the Oilers on July 1, 2016. There were a few Lucic No. 27 Oilers jerseys in the crowd along with throwback sweaters to his days in Boston among the fans, as seen on television.
Boston is set to take on the Detroit Red Wings (0-2-2, 2 points) Saturday afternoon on home ice for a 3 o’clock ET puck drop. The B’s moved up the start time so as not to interrupt fans across the New England region’s experience of Game 1 between the Boston Red Sox and the Houston Astros in the ALCS at Fenway Park.
The Bruins are facing the Oilers twice in a matter of eight days this season, as Boston begins their Western Canada road trip in Calgary, Alberta on Wednesday, October 17th against the Flames before traveling to Edmonton on the 18th and Vancouver on the 20th to face the Canucks. The B’s wrap up their four-game road trip (including three in Western Canada) after visiting the Ottawa Senators on October 23rd.
Thursday night’s action kicked off with a couple of changes made to Bruce Cassidy‘s lineup for the Bruins. After being a healthy scratch for Monday’s win against the Senators, Nordstrom was back in the lineup– this time around on the second line to the left of David Krejci and Jake DeBrusk.
DeBrusk was placed on his off-wing on the right side, while Ryan Donato was scratched.
Everything else remained the same as Monday’s lineup with the exception of Halak getting the nod in net with Tuukka Rask expected to play Saturday and the bulk of the Western Canada road trip.
McDavid (1) scored his first goal of the season after being held scoreless in Sweden against the New Jersey Devils for Edmonton’s season opener as part of the NHL Global Series this season.
Ty Rattie sent McDavid a backhand pass on a spin-o-rama up the ice, where McDavid then burst into nearly the speed of sound, turning on his jets into the offensive zone and beating Halak with a quick release that snuck through the Bruins netminder’s five-hole while Halak was slow to react.
Rattie (1) and Darnell Nurse (1) had the assists on McDavid’s goal at 3:43 of the first period and the Oilers grabbed on to the 1-0 lead.
It wouldn’t be for long, though, as Edmonton defender, Adam Larsson, interfered with Nordstrom’s ability to play the puck at 8:12 of the opening frame and sent the Bruins onto their first power play of the night.
Just 68 seconds into the skater advantage, David Pastrnak (4) scored a highlight reel goal– and early candidate for goal of the season– and tied the game, 1-1, at 9:20 of the first period. Matt Grzelcyk (1) worked the puck to Pastrnak for his first assist of the season.
After receiving the puck from Grzelcyk, Pastrnak juked the puck through his own legs– pulling it to his backhand, before deking Talbot out of his mind– forcing the Oilers netminder to butterfly– then quietly sneaked the puck past Talbot’s short side on the backhand.
On the ensuing power play, Anders Bjork sent the puck from halfway down the boards in the offensive zone back to the point, where the Bruins defense went d-to-d and across the ice to Marchand (1) waiting in the low slot for the power play goal.
Grzelcyk (2) picked up his second assist of the night and Bergeron (3) was credited with the secondary helper on Marchand’s goal at 14:37 and Boston had their first lead of the night, 2-1.
The Bruins wouldn’t look back.
Less than a minute later, Joakim Nordstrom entered the zone on a rush with David Krejci, sending a pass over to the Bruins playmaker who was skating down the right side with Nordstrom moving up the middle towards the goal.
Krejci slid the puck back to Nordstrom (1) for a one-timed wrist shot past Talbot and Boston had a two-goal lead, 3-1, at 15:13 of the first period. Krejci (2) had the only assist on the goal after Nordstrom originally turned the puck over and created a rush.
While shorthanded, Marchand broke free and drew a slashing penalty on a breakaway that nearly resulted in a goal at 17:19, canceling Edmonton’s power play opportunity and instead resulting in an abbreviated period of 4-on-4 action.
Oscar Klefbom was the guilty party and served his two minutes in the box while both teams failed to generate any scoring in the ensuing 4-on-4 play and shortlived power play for Boston.
After 20 minutes of action, the Bruins led 3-1 and were outshooting the Oilers, 15-11. Edmonton led in blocked shots (4-0), giveaways (2-0) and hits (11-9), while both teams were even in takeaways (4-4) and face-off win percentage (50-50). Boston was 2/3 on the power play and Edmonton was 0/1 entering the first intermission.
Tempers flared early in the second period when Kevan Miller and Khaira squared off and exchanged fisticuffs 3:33 into the second frame.
The ruckus simmered down as the period went on, despite one more crescendo as Sean Kuraly checked Edmonton blue liner Matt Benning hard enough into the glass to force the entire pane to fall out. Credit to the TD Garden ice crew, it was fixed in minutes and play resumed without much interruption.
Danton Heinen tripped up Connor McDavid at 18:24 of the second period, but the Oilers power play would carry over into the start of the third period.
Through two periods, Boston held onto their 3-1 lead and was outshooting Edmonton, 22-17. The Oilers led in blocked shots (6-4) and hits (22-13), while the Bruins had the advantage in takeaways (13-8) and face-off win% (55-45). Edmonton was 0/2 on the power play after 40 minutes and the B’s were 2/3.
Boston had a bit of a scare in the third period, as McDavid forced a pass to Rattie, who then sent the puck to Nugent-Hopkins in the low slot. From close range Nugent-Hopkins rang the iron, then the rubber biscuit rolled on edge across the goal line but just wouldn’t go in as Zdeno Chara guided it out of the crease at the last second.
Jesse Puljujarvi got a stick up high on Pastrnak midway through the third, but the Bruins failed to convert on the power play.
With 2:19 remaining in regulation, Oilers head coach Todd McLellan pulled Talbot for an extra attacker, but it was to no avail as Boston worked the puck out of their own zone, first with Brandon Carlo missing an empty net opportunity, then with Bergeron (5) successfully connecting on the gaping twine at 19:25 of the third period.
Bergeron secured a 4-1 victory for the Bruins as time expired and one more scrum ensued.
Boston finished the night with an advantage in shots on goal (32-26), blocked shots (11-8) and face-off win% (62-38), while Edmonton led in giveaways (11-10) and hits (27-21). The Oilers finished 0/2 on the power play, while Boston ended up .500 on the night going 2/4 on the skater advantage.
Among other stats…
Chris Wagner led the Bruins in hits with four, while Moore had three from the blue line. Kuraly led the team in shots on goal with six shots fired on Talbot. Bergeron finished the night second in shots on goal for the black-and-gold with four, while Marchand, Pastrnak and Wagner each had three.
Despite not engaging in any extracurricular activity, Milan Lucic managed six hits on the night for Edmonton. Leon Draisaitl and Klefbom were non-factors in the 60-minute effort as they both finished the night as a minus-2.
Meanwhile, McDavid led his team in shots on goal with four, while Nugent-Hopkins and Klefbom had three shots apiece.
The 2018-19 regular season has started, so let’s overreact and hand out the regular season awards already! It’s our 3rd Annual Participation Trophies After One Game presented by Nick and Connor.
I never thought I’d be doing this again, yet here we are. It’s time to begin the continuation of a now annual tradition around here at DTFR. It’s time to rank the NHL mascots.
For the first time since January 2017, here’s the latest look at things. Be sure to check out the last couple of days ranking’s (31st-21st and 20th-11th).
10) Youppi! (Montreal Canadiens) Last year’s ranking 6th
Youppi! is slipping as the Expos become even more of a distant memory with the passing of time. Adopted by the Canadiens after Montreal’s MLB team went to Washington, D.C. and rebranded as the Washington Nationals, Youppi! is still receiving pity votes because he doesn’t belong at an ice rink. He belongs in a field of dreams. Plus his distant cousin (we’re pretty sure), Gritty is way hotter. Step your game up, Youppi!
Homme, femme, ou mascotte, tous sont les bienvenus aujourd’hui au défilé de la #fiertéMTL, Demandez à Youppi!
— Canadiens Montréal (@CanadiensMTL) August 19, 2018
9) Chance (Vegas Golden Knights) Last year’s ranking 31st (despite not having a mascot at the time)
It took a little time for everyone to give chance a Chance, but he’s here to stay like the Golden Knights– and they mean business. Chance is just lovable enough to see himself bolt into the top-10 in this year’s power rankings, but a continued effort in the community could see him in the top-5 next year. Or maybe just more mean tweet videos. That was pretty good last season, you have to admit.
— Chance (@ChanceNHL) August 6, 2018
8) Blades the Bruin (Boston Bruins) Last year’s ranking 5th
Boston is bringing back a little more brown to their color palette this season with their 2019 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic sweater, which will undoubtedly really bring out Blades’ fur and eyes. Until then, he’s only slipping a little because the Bruins don’t have an alternate sweater this season and the competition got tougher.
— Boston Bruins (@NHLBruins) September 14, 2018
7) Fin (Vancouver Canucks) Last year’s ranking 10th
Fin is slowly working his way up towards the top of this list– fittingly at a time when it appears he’ll soon have a neighboring rival in Seattle. We’ll see if he can take a bite out of the competition like how killer whales eat penguins. Wait!?! That should actually deduct some points. At least Vancouver has this whole “turn your logo into a three-dimensional costumed character” down-pat.
— FIN (@CanucksFIN) September 15, 2018
6) Sabretooth (Buffalo Sabres) Last year’s ranking 8th
Did you see how Buffalo’s 2018 Winter Classic sweater looked on this tiger? No? Well, you need to get out more, because Sabretooth certainly did. He strut his stuff all over the community looking fashionable in royal blue and it’s a shame the Sabres don’t resort to that color full-time.
Sporting the 🔥🔥 Winter Classic threads tonight 😻 pic.twitter.com/J1W8wuN0Mq
— Sabretooth (@Sabretooth_NHL) April 4, 2018
5) Slapshot (Washington Capitals) Last year’s ranking 4th
Slapshot won the Cup last season with the Capitals, but didn’t surface on the Internet anywhere in any fountains around D.C. What a shame. Washington did bring back their original sweater as an alternate once again and we all know Slapshot looks better in that than he does in their current red, white and blue threads.
— Slapshot (@Caps_Slapshot) September 28, 2018
4) Gritty (Philadelphia Flyers) Last year’s ranking 29th (even though Philly didn’t have a mascot since 1976)
What do you mean you didn’t know about Gritty? Have you even been on the Internet, seen TV or anything this week? Gritty is all the rage. Gritty is here and now. Gritty is here to stay. Like him or not– he’s got (gr)it. And googly eyes (bonus points!).
Goodnight, internet. pic.twitter.com/gx2Pbxfcds
— Gritty (@GrittyNHL) September 25, 2018
3) Bailey (Los Angeles Kings) Last year’s ranking 1st
Last year’s winner of our mascot power rankings is this year’s second-runner up. It’s through no fault of his own, really, just time to pass the Kings (get it?) crown on to someone else. Fear not though, Bailey can crawl into the arms of Ilya Kovalchuk this season and be just fine.
— Bailey LA Kings (@BaileyLAKings) September 19, 2018
2) S.J. Sharkie (San Jose Sharks) Last year’s ranking 2nd
What’s not to love about a lovable loser? Not that I’m implying S.J. Sharkie is a loser, but he does live near the Charles M. Schultz Museum, so he’s got a little Charlie Brown in him. It just happens. But hey, Erik Karlsson’s on the Sharks now, so maybe this is their year!*
*He says, every year.
— #SJSharkie (@sjsharkie) September 18, 2018
1) Iceburgh (Pittsburgh Penguins) Last year’s ranking 7th
What makes Iceburgh No. 1 this year? Just look at him. He’s always well-dressed, though that might have something to do with the built-in formal look of penguins, Iceburgh is one hot mascot. He ages like a fine wine. Unlike Sidney Crosby’s playoff beard, which has somehow gotten worse the older “Sid the Kid” gets (I’m joking, it’s actually improved too).
It’s 92° and our friend Iceburgh is very toasty.
Headed downtown? Be sure to check out the “Public Art with a Purpose” exhibit which features a Penguins-themed globe to help raise awareness for climate change. 🌎 pic.twitter.com/9AXlJszHTD
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) June 18, 2018
In all seriousness though, all of the league’s mascots do an amazing job cheering up kids in visits around their community, entertaining their fans and rooting for their respective teams, so hats off to the people living inside of the sweaty costumes (actually, some are air-conditioned, so let’s maybe not give them that much credit for having a cooler job than the rest of us. Get it?).
Tampa Bay Lightning
54-23-5, 113 points, 1st in the Atlantic Division
Lost in the Eastern Conference Final to WSH, 4-3
Subtractions: F Carter Ashton (signed, KHL), D Mathew Bodie (signed, KHL), G Peter Budaj (traded to LA), F Erik Condra (signed with DAL), F Alex Gallant (signed with VGK), F Chris Kunitz (signed with CHI), F Matthew Peca (signed with MTL), D Andrej Sustr (signed with ANA)
Still Unsigned: D Jamie McBain
Offseason Analysis: The 2017-18 Tampa Bay Lightning had their best season in franchise history. Well, regular season, that is. Jon Cooper led his team from behind the bench to a 54-23-5 record (113 points) and the first seed in the Eastern Conference all the way to the 2018 Eastern Conference Final against the Washington Capitals– their former division rival in what was once the Southeast Division.
It was their first postseason meeting since 2011 and the Bolts had home ice advantage in a Game 7. What could possibly go wrong? Washington was never supposed to get past the Second Round, let alone beat the Pittsburgh Penguins en route to landing in the Eastern Conference Final– plus Alex Ovechkin was always criticized for his Game 7 play in his career– and the Lightning had all of their offensive weapons, including Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.
But Stamkos had no points in Game 7 against Washington, similar to the last five Game 7s he’s played. In six career Game 7s, Stamkos is pointless. Both literally and figuratively, if you may.
Tampa was shutout on home ice and their 2018 postseason run came to a crashing halt, one win shy of reaching their second Stanley Cup Final in three years.
For a team that’s made the Eastern Conference Final in three of the last four calendar years (2015, 2016 and 2018)– they’ve only gotten better, yet they haven’t had the results they’ve wanted (or expected) by now.
Steve Yzerman walked into the Lightning front office with Stamkos and Victor Hedman already on the roster, he left its day-to-day duties having drafted Kucherov (2011) and Andrei Vasilevskiy (2012), while signing an undrafted Tyler Johnson and acquiring Ryan Callahan, Mikhail Sergachev, Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller over the years.
Yzerman’s seamless transition from Tampa’s face of the franchise star in Martin St. Louis to Stamkos, Kucherov and Co. was destined to win a Cup while the former face of the Detroit Red Wings superstar was at the helm of operations.
BriseBois’ transition to power will be peaceful, as Yzerman was sure to lock up core members of the roster in Kucherov and McDonagh to extensions beginning in the 2019-20 season this offseason.
It’d be unfair to grade BriseBois’ offseason maneuvers over the last 16 days at the same weight as the rest of the GMs in the league, but it’s worth noting– neither Yzerman nor BriseBois were able to snag Erik Karlsson in a trade with the Ottawa Senators.
Instead, the biggest prize on the trading block this offseason went to the San Jose Sharks– a team the Lightning can only face in the postseason in the Stanley Cup Final. If they make it that far.
Yzerman chose not to re-sign Chris Kunitz and Andrej Sustr, seeing the former as too old for Tampa’s core and the latter as an expendable asset that was a healthy scratch most nights. He did, however, re-sign glue guy forwards Adam Erne and Cedric Paquette, as well as defender Slater Koekkoek to one-year bridge deals.
Their successful roster is largely intact, despite trading backup goaltender Peter Budaj to the Los Angeles Kinds for forward Andy Andreoff early this summer, but as Cooper seeks to decrease Vasilevskiy’s workload, Budaj’s 3.77 goals against average and .876 save percentage in eight games last season weren’t going to cut it– even with his injuries.
Meanwhile, Louis Domingue looks to improve on his 2.89 GAA and .914 SV% in 12 appearances with the Lightning last season, after going winless in seven appearances with the Arizona Coyotes (4.33 GAA, .856 SV%) before being acquired by Tampa.
Budaj’s eight appearances and Domingue’s 12 games in a Bolts uniform left Vasilevskiy to suit up for a career-high 65 games last season. He had a 2.62 GAA and a career-high .920 SV% in what was a Vezina Trophy finalist year with a 44-17-3 record.
While Vasilevskiy is one of the top-starting netminders in the league, 65 games played in the regular season, plus a maximum 28 potential games in the postseason is nearly 100 games of hockey. Multiply that by 60 minutes and, well, you get the point (hopefully).
Cooper has to rely on Domingue and his defense to reduce the minutes Vasilevskiy has to stand on his feet (or head) in order to keep his number one goaltender from getting fatigued.
Goaltending is all about finding that sweet spot– both in the rhythm of the game while making saves and in the ebbs and flows of the season-long schedule (including the possibility of a deep postseason run).
Offseason Grade: C+
So that’s it really.
Tampa didn’t create a mega-defense, because they didn’t get Karlsson. San Jose did.
They didn’t cause a disturbance in the Force with two potential No. 91s that would’ve seen John Tavares assume a new identity on the roster, because the Toronto Maple Leafs signed the biggest free agent on the market.
And that’s okay.
For Tampa, an “average” offseason meant sticking with their guys– the ones that reached the Final in 2015, almost reached it in 2016 and were brought in for the Conference Final run in 2018. Other than nailing down a backup goalie, the Bolts are ready to defend their top of the table standing in the Atlantic Division.
45-26-11, 101 points, 3rd in the Central Division
Lost in First Round to WPG, 4-1
Subtractions: F Patrick Cannone (signed, DEL), F Matt Cullen (signed with PIT), F Kurtis Gabriel (signed with NJ), D Alex Grant (signed, KHL), D Dylan Labbe (signed with Wichita Thunder, ECHL), D Viktor Loov (signed, KHL), G Steve Michalek (signed, Austria), F Zack Mitchell (signed with LA), D Zac Palmquist (signed with Lehigh Valley Phantoms, AHL), G Niklas Svedberg (signed, SHL), F Daniel Winnik (signed to a PTO with BOS), G Adam Vay (signed, Kazakhstan)
Still Unsigned: F Adam Gilmour, D Kyle Quincey
Offseason Analysis: Despite a late-season decline, Devan Dubnyk managed to backstop the Minnesota Wild to a third place finish in the Central Division standings– locking up their sixth consecutive postseason appearance and guaranteeing a First Round matchup with the Winnipeg Jets.
Unfortunately for the Wild, they had a First Round matchup with the Winnipeg Jets. Oh and Minnesota’s head coach is Bruce Boudreau, so everyone knows about the playoff curse surrounding him by now, right?
Kidding aside, Minnesota lasted five games against Winnipeg when they realistically should’ve been swept by the jumpin’ Jets.
After nine seasons of being in charge, Chuck Fletcher was fired and Paul Fenton was hired as Minnesota’s new General Manager.
Fenton, of course, served as the assistant GM for the Nashville Predators (2006-18) and had been familiar with Wild owner, Craig Leipold– given their two seasons of overlap as employee and employer in Nashville from 2006-08 before Leipold sold the Predators and bought Minnesota.
Additionally, Fenton was highly-touted as the best “available” prospective General Manager that was potentially on the market for going big time and moving up in the rankings. Under the guidance of David Poile for over a decade with the Preds, Fenton is more than ready for his new role with the Wild.
Unfortunately, he’s inheriting a mess. Yes, even though the Wild have made the playoffs six seasons in a row now, they haven’t gotten past the Second Round.
Plus Zach Parise and Ryan Suter are under contract for forever (slight exaggeration) and both have an injury history (Parise’s career was nearly over and Suter’s going to miss the start of this season). They’re also on the books at over $7.500 million per season each with no movement clauses.
Parise, 34, and Suter, 33, aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, unless someone’s willing to eat some cap hit.
Minnesota has about $1.770 million in cap space with seven pending free agents (including two RFAs) next offseason. Eric Staal is one of them and he’s already indicated he’s willing to be more than patient while the Wild figure themselves out.
Staal’s currently making $3.500 million per season and reached the 40-goal plateau last season in a rejuvenating 76-point year (42 goals, 34 assists). At 33, he’s not going to get any younger, but he’s still a vital component of the roster with at least a couple more decent seasons left in him. Perhaps he’ll be the next ageless wonder, even.
Eric Fehr was given a second chance after the San Jose Sharks acquired his services from the Toronto Maple Leafs last season and he impressed the Wild enough to sign him to a one-year deal. Either that or Minnesota found their perfect placeholder while a) youth develops and b) they figure out how to free up cap space next offseason.
While the performance on the ice is to be determined– what with an underrated goaltender in Dubnyk and a solid blue line now that Matt Dumba is locked up through the 2022-23 season– this season will be a season in transition, no doubt, for the front office.
Perhaps Boudreau’s next to go after Fletcher’s roster building couldn’t get the Wild over the Second Round hump, does Leipold start pointing fingers behind the bench? Is it only natural that a new General Manager bring in their own plan for the bench to go along with the personalities on their roster?
It’s a make or break season for Minnesota, whether anyone wants to accept it or not.
Offseason Grade: C-
Hiring the best “GM prospect” as your new General Manager was Minnesota’s biggest move this offseason. Well, that and re-signing Matt Dumba to a friendly long-term deal worth $6.000 million per season through 2022-23.
But Paul Fenton’s got plenty of headaches ahead, regardless of team performance on the ice and that’s where the navigation of this franchise gets tricky. Besides, none of the free agents added to the roster this offseason scream “steal of the century”, though signing Andrew Hammond as a third-string goalie doesn’t hurt– goaltending depth is all too often over-looked.
Erik Karlsson finally got traded, NHL 19 came out and our official 2018-19 Pacific Division Season Preview just so happened to be this week too. Nick and Connor place their bets on the San Jose Sharks and more.
Los Angeles Kings
45-29-8, 98 points, 4th in the Pacific Division
1st Wild Card in the West, swept in the First Round by VGK 4-0
Subtractions: F Andy Andreoff (traded to TB), F Andrew Crescenzi (signed, Austria), D Christian Folin (signed with PHI), D Kevin Gravel (signed with EDM), F Michael Mersch (signed with DAL), F Torrey Mitchell (signed, Switzerland), F Tobias Rieder (signed with EDM), D Jordan Subban (signed with TOR), G Scott Wedgewood (signed with BUF)
Still Unsigned: F Justin Auger
Re-signed: D Paul LaDue, D Alex Lintuniemi, D Kurtis MacDermid
Offseason Analysis: Cash-strapped in the era of the salary cap and nearing the end of their Stanley Cup contention window, the Los Angeles Kings went out and signed 35-year-old Ilya Kovalchuk to a three-year deal worth $6.250 million per season.
Normally, $6.250 million per season isn’t a terrible deal, especially on a three-year contract for a player that’s over 30. One of the problems with this deal, however, is that Kovalchuk is 35.
By the end of his current contract he’ll be 38.
With just over $2.100 million in cap space right now, the Kings have all but sealed their fate to a rebuild after Kovalchuk’s playing days are done– assuming he’s going to retire for the second time after the 2020-21 season.
Anze Kopitar (31) isn’t getting any younger, despite being under contract at $10.000 million through 2023-24. Dustin Brown (33) is signed for the next four-years and the same goes for Jeff Carter (33). Los Angeles’s core group of forwards is aging– and aging fast without anything screaming up the depth charts.
Half of their forwards are 31 or older.
On defense, Jake Muzzin‘s turning 30 in February, Dion Phaneuf (33) and Alec Martinez (31) lead the way among older blue liners. Oh yeah and Drew Doughty (28) is in the final year of his $7.000 million AAV contract.
Don’t worry, Kings fans, General Manager Rob Blake took care of any doubts about Doughty’s future by signing the star defender to an eight-year extension beginning in 2019-20 at $11.000 million per season.
That raise of $4.000 million? Yeah, that doesn’t help the cap situation. No amount of Norris Trophy’s or Selke Trophy’s can counteract rising salaries– in fact, they don’t help negotiations from a general manager’s perspective.
But why worry about the future when Los Angeles is trying to win one more Cup now?
After all, starting goaltender Jonathan Quick is 32-years-old and on a friendly $5.800 million per season through 2022-23. When things start to tumble, the Kings can flip Quick and retain some salary to… well, let’s not think about that– let’s assume Quick will be a King for life.
There’s no bright scenario on the horizon for Los Angeles. Time is ticking away.
While head coach John Stevens looks to improve from last season’s 45-29-8 record (98 points) on the season, he’s looking at doing so with an aging core and on the backs of a 32-year-old starting goalie and 36-year-old backup (Peter Budaj). Unless Jack Campbell, 26, is finally ready to emerge as an NHL backup.
Oh and Stevens is at the helm of a team in California (did anybody see the Erik Karlsson trade the other day? The San Jose Sharks got a lot better, like, as good as– if not better than– the Nashville Predators defense)– let alone the rest of the Pacific Division (hello Vegas Golden Knights).
But less about the worries for the Kings and more about just what will Kovalchuk do in his NHL return?
He last had a 31-point season (11 goals, 20 assists) for the New Jersey Devils in 37 games during the lockout shortened 48-game 2012-13 season. Prior to that Kovalchuk had 37-46–83 totals in 77 games with the Devils in 2011-12, which was, oh yeah that season New Jersey went on to face the Kings in the 2012 Stanley Cup Final (he had one point in that series).
Then came the summer of 2012 when “Kovy” retired. This, of course, came two-years into his
17-year (whoops, cap circumvention) 15-year, $100 million contract that he signed with New Jersey in 2010.
Devils fans felt cheated, not that Atlanta Thrashers fans had already felt betrayed by Kovalchuk leaving their team for New Jersey in the first place.
Kovalchuk returned to Russia, signing a four-year contract with SKA St. Petersburg (KHL), where he went on to have 16-24–40 totals in 45 games in 2013-14, then 55 points (54 games played) in 2014-15 , 49 points (50 GP) in 2015-16, 78 points (60 GP) in 2016-17 and 31-32–63 totals (53 GP) in 2017-18 with the club.
So he hasn’t lost his scoring touch.
At least, that’s what Stevens and Blake are hoping. A lot has changed in the NHL since his departure, namely speed and skill. It’s not a question of whether Kovalchuk can put pucks in the net, but rather, can he skate with the rest of the league’s teams zooming around on the ice?
Especially as the Kings continue to rely on a burly version of the game– one that still emphasized more physicality than other teams, despite Stevens’s refined approach last season.
Keeping a watchful eye on the stars in Los Angeles isn’t an uncommon thing. For Kovalchuk, it’s about to be part of his life again, but on a bigger scale than Atlanta or New Jersey.
Offseason Grade: B-
By default, landing one of 2018’s top unrestricted free agents not named John Tavares means the Los Angeles Kings improved and deserve an “above-average” rating for their offseason marks. But the Kings didn’t get any younger and let some expendable assets (Tobias Rieder, Kevin Gravel and Christian Folin) walk that helped spread a little depth down the lineup when necessary.
This season and next offseason are crucial to the future direction of the organization, what with Adrian Kempe, 22, entering the final year of his entry-level contract this season and that salary cap thing again. Things cannot remain stagnant for too long.
Or else the Kings might be the next Chicago Blackhawks.
It’s that time of year again – it’s time to analyze the NHL’s schedule for the upcoming season.
As mentioned in last year’s edition of this post, these sorts of columns aren’t usually associated with the NHL due in large part to the fact that every team plays every other team at least twice – once at home and once on the road – for a fairly even strength of schedule for each and every club. However, there’s more than a few benchmarks on the league’s calendar, as well as some important stretches in each organization’s individual schedule, that makes each team’s campaign unique.
In terms of how the schedule can be divided, the NHL’s offering for this upcoming season is very similar to the one we just completed in June in that it can be divided into fourths. One quarter of the season – approximately 21 games played for every team – is compacted between Opening Day (scheduled for October 3) and American Thanksgiving, the second of nine days this year without any regular season play.
American Thanksgiving is not an arbitrarily picked date, mind you. Longtime fans of DtFR know there’s more than a few stat-heads in residence around here, and one of our favorites is that teams in playoff position by American Thanksgiving qualify for the postseason over 75 percent of the time. For those wondering, last season was a bit wild in regards to that statistic, as only 11 (instead of the usual 12) of the teams in playoff position by the Thanksgiving Break punched tickets to the dance.
I’m not here to point fingers, but the St. Louis Blues were on top of the Western Conference when they sat down for their 2017 turkey feasts. Maybe the tryptophan stuck around for the remainder of the season?
Excuse this Blues fan’s digressions.
I usually consider the second and third quarters as one group (for those bad at math, that’s half the schedule), meaning Black Friday (November 23) to February 24 provides the main bulk of the season – approximately 41 games per team (funny how that works out to half an 82-game season, isn’t it?). Just like Thanksgiving, February 24 is not a date simply drawn out of a hat. Instead, that is the last day of play before February 25’s trade deadline.
It is in this chunk of the season that a team truly proves itself in the face of a grinding schedule, as clubs will be playing at least three games a week for 13 weeks with only two major breaks – the standard three-day Christmas holiday and the All-Star Break/bye week (more on that in a moment).
After the trade deadline, the NHL’s regular season schedule is hot and heavy until it comes to a close on April 6 (You hear that Boston? No extending the season this year!). With every club packing approximately 20 games into only 41 days, teams will effectively be in action every other day as they scramble to complete their playoff qualification or improve upon their seeding.
Of course, there’s always a few wildcards that try to mess with this system. Take, for example, the Florida Panthers, who for the second season in a row have a backlogged schedule. With only 19 games on their calendar before Thanksgiving, the Panthers will play a whopping 22 games after the deadline to close out the season, meaning they just might complete they playoff push they came so close to pulling off last season.
On the flip side, Nashville is a team that has potential to see a stellar position in the standings – say, possession of the Presidents’ Trophy like Tampa Bay had for much of the season – slip through its fingers at the bitter end. The Predators will lace up their skates only 18 times after the trade deadline for the fewest number of tilts in that time span of any club in the NHL.
In terms of spacing their games evenly across the season, the teams with the most-balanced schedules include the Avalanche, Blackhawks, Bruins, Canadiens, Flyers, Lightning, Rangers, Senators, Sharks, Stars and Wild.
This season marks the third season of bye weeks in the NHL, and the league is continuing to make adjustments on the breaks to maximize the benefits for players while minimizing the impact on its overall product.
Year 1 featured byes scattered throughout the schedule from New Year’s all the way into March, creating confusion among fans and, presumably, opposing coaching staffs alike as we tried to keep track of which organizations had taken their breaks already and which were still playing on tired legs.
To alleviate that concern, the NHL condensed all byes into the span of two weeks in January last season with relative success. Gone was the chance of catching a team that had played for four-straight months without much of a break, as well as the chance a team could enter the playoffs with any sniff of an edge due to enjoying their bye later in the season. However, what that design created was a month book-ended by the Christmas and All-Star Breaks that lacked much action, as it’s tough to have games taking place when literally half the league is resting.
In my opinion, the league just might have found a winning formula in its third try. This year’s schedule sees every team’s bye week attached to the All-Star Weekend in San Jose. 21 clubs will enjoy the majority of their breaks following the festivities on January 24-27, while the remaining 10 will take their byes before the weekend or have it split on either side of the break.
What results is a minimum of four days off for all players regardless of their participation in San Jose, plus the four days allocated to the All-Star events that only a handful of players will attend. In addition, by selecting a majority of the 10 teams that will take their byes before the All-Star Break from the Eastern Conference, the NHL can schedule those sides for enough games to fill the scheduling void since travel between those cities is far shorter than in the West.
The players get their breaks and the NHL keeps hockey in arenas and on TV: I’d say everybody wins.
My favorite days of the regular season are always when there’s 15 games on the schedule, leaving only one team inactive. I guess that means I’ll have to do my Christmas shopping on a different day, because the first of those dates is November 23 – right after American Thanksgiving.
Unfortunately for Kings fans, their favorite club will be left out in the cold that day (who am I kidding, is there ever a cold day in Los Angeles?), but they’ll get to participate in December 29’s loaded schedule at the expense of Columbus.
Finally, the last 15-game day of the calendar is on April 6 – the final day of the regular season. Just like the Kings were the first team to be absent on a slammed schedule, the Ducks will be the odd team out, as their 82nd and final game of the regular season will take place the day before against Los Angeles at Honda Center.
ANAHEIM DUCKS – eliminated in First Round, 101 points
It’s hard to tell: did the Ducks have the worst road record of any 2018 Pacific Division playoff team because of all their injuries, or because their style of play is on the verge of extinction in the NHL’s current era of speed and skill?
I have a sneaking suspicion we’ll know soon enough, as four of Anaheim’s first six games are away from Honda Center. Should the Ducks struggle in Glendale against the potentially up-and-coming Coyotes in Game 2 of the regular season on October 6, there just might be cause for concern in Orange County.
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 13 days (December 15-27)
LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 14 days (December 29-January 11)
BYE WEEK: January 24-February 1 (nine days)
LAST 10 GAMES: at Colorado, vs. Florida, vs. Winnipeg, vs. San Jose, at Los Angeles, at Vancouver, at Calgary, at Edmonton, vs. Calgary, vs. Los Angeles
ARIZONA COYOTES – 29th, 70 points
Going 0-10-1 in your opening 11 games is going to have a majorly detrimental effect on more than your overall record, so it’s no surprise the Coyotes ended the season with the worst home and road records of any club in the Western Conference. However, Arizona posted an 11-7-2 record in its last 20 games to close the campaign, so perhaps the Yotes aren’t as far off the mark as they seem on the surface.
Just like last season, Arizona’s first 11 games could answer a lot of questions about this organization moving forward, as the Coyotes have drawn a balanced schedule to open their season. Six of their first 11 opponents qualified for the playoffs last season (including Winnipeg [Oct. 20] and the Lightning [Oct. 27]), but almost all of the other five were nowhere close to the playoff bubble (Dallas [Oct. 4] was closest, but still missed the postseason by three points). Now, the Coyotes don’t necessarily have to have a winning record by the time October is through, but at least a .500 record would be reason enough to begin believing in this squad.
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 17 days (January 20-February 5)
BYE WEEK: January 24-February 1 (nine days)
LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 14 days (February 24-March 9)
LAST 10 GAMES: at Tampa Bay, at Florida, at New Jersey, at NY Islanders, vs. Chicago, at Colorado, vs. Minnesota, vs. Los Angeles, at Vegas, vs. Winnipeg
BOSTON BRUINS – eliminated in Second Round, 112 points
Known for its brutal winters and Nor’easters, few look forward to making the trip to Boston during the wintertime. Count hockey players in particular among the professionals unexcited about a visit to New England, as TD Garden was home to the best home team in the Atlantic Division.
The Bruins fell just one point short of claiming the Eastern Conference crown last regular season, but they’ll have a chance to take an early lead this year when they open the season with eight-straight games against teams that failed to miss the playoffs. After visiting Washington D.C. for the Capitals’ banner raising ceremony on October 3, Boston will head to Buffalo (Oct. 4) before returning home to host the Senators (Oct. 8), Oilers (Oct. 11) and Red Wings (Oct. 13). Then, they’re off to Canada, taking on Calgary (Oct. 17), Edmonton (Oct. 18), Vancouver (Oct. 20) and Ottawa (Oct. 23) before returning home.
BYE WEEK: January 20-28 (nine days)
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in nine days (February 15-23)
LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 12 days (February 26-March 9)
LAST 10 GAMES: at NY Islanders, at New Jersey, at Florida, at Tampa Bay, vs. NY Rangers, vs. Florida, at Detroit, at Columbus, at Minnesota, vs. Tampa Bay
BUFFALO SABRES – 31st, 62 points
Is it a surprise that the worst home team of the NHL ended up being the worst team at the end of the season? KeyBank Center was not a friendly place for the Sabres last year, but that’s sure to change with first-overall draft pick D Rasmus Dahlin joining the club to excite the loyal Buffalo fans.
Surely to the surprise of many, the Sabres did not finish the 2017-18 season with the worst road record in the league (that belonged to division rival Montréal). 14-20-7 away from home is far from pretty, but is is certainly something to build off of as Buffalo tries to return to the postseason for the first time in eight years.
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in 17 days (January 14-30)
BYE WEEK: January 19-28 (10 days)
LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 15 days (February 1-15)
LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Toronto, at Montréal, at New Jersey, at Ottawa, vs. Detroit, at NY Islanders, vs. Columbus, vs. Nashville, vs. Ottawa, at Detroit
CALGARY FLAMES – 20th, 84 points
Teams with outstanding road records in the regular season are usually pretty dangerous in the postseason – but only if they qualify. Enter the curious case of the Calgary Flames last season, as they tied St. Louis for the honor of Best Road Team among those that failed to qualify for the playoffs with a 20-15-6 mark away from the Saddledome.
If new Head Coach Bill Peters can maintain that success in white, he’ll need to make sure his troops are in tip-top shape at the start of the New Year when the Flames begin their longest home stand. During that extended stay in Alberta, Calgary will host tough competition of the likes of the Avalanche (Jan. 9) and Panthers (Jan. 11), as well as the improving Coyotes (Jan. 13) and Sabres (Jan. 16).
LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 10 days (January 9-18)
BYE WEEK: January 23-31 (nine days)
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in eight days (February 9-16)
LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Columbus, vs. Ottawa, at Vancouver, vs. Los Angeles, vs. Dallas, vs. Anaheim, at San Jose, at Los Angeles, at Anaheim, vs. Edmonton
CAROLINA HURRICANES – 21st, 83 points
Upon first glance at their 36-35-11 record, you might think you would want the Hurricanes to be traveling to your favorite team’s arena in hopes of them earning two points. However, just the opposite was true, as the Canes tied Florida for the best road record of any Eastern Conference club to miss the postseason.
With that in mind, Metropolitan rivals Pittsburgh (Feb. 5) and New Jersey (Feb. 10) cannot afford to rest on their laurels when Carolina takes to its longest road trip of the season just after the bye week, as the Hurricanes are going to be more than eager to defend their Road Warrior title.
LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 14 days (November 10-23)
BYE WEEK: January 24-31 (eight days)
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in eight days (February 5-12)
LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Tampa Bay, vs. Minnesota, vs. Montréal, at Washington, vs. Washington, vs. Philadelphia, at Pittsburgh, at Toronto, vs. New Jersey, at Philadelphia
CHICAGO BLACKHAWKS – 25th, 76 points
My, how the mighty have fallen. After winning its most recent Stanley Cup only three years ago, Chicago took a massive tumble last season to end up in last place in the Central Division, only six points removed from the bottom of the Western Conference. To add insult to injury, the Hawks’ 18-18-5 record at home and 15-21-5 record on the road qualified them for the division’s worst in both categories.
Playoff teams take care of business at home, so that is where the Blackhawks should focus most of their energy at the start of the season. It won’t take United Center very long to spring back to life if the Hawks can earn at least 10 points on home ice in October – an easy task considering four of their seven visiting opponents that month failed to qualify for the playoffs last season.
LONGEST HOME STAND: Four games in seven days (December 12-18)
BYE WEEK: January 23-31 (nine days)
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Three games in five days – 3x (February 1-5; February 27-March 3; March 26-30)
COLORADO AVALANCHE – eliminated in first round, 95 points
This might be intrinsic of any 16 seed, but the Avs had the worst home record of any Central Division playoff team and the worst road record of all playoff teams.
Excitement in Denver for the Avalanche is growing by the minute, so I think it’s a safe assumption that Colorado will improve on its 28-11-2 mark at Pepsi Center this season. However, it’s the Avs’ 15-19-7 away record that I’m most concerned with, and they’ll get a nice, balanced road trip in January to work out the kinks in their white sweaters. That road swing starts in Winnipeg with a tough match against the Jets (Jan. 8), followed by two softer tilts against the Flames (Jan. 9) and Canadiens (Jan. 12). The intensity gets ratcheted up again with a stop in Toronto (Jan. 14) before culminating with a visit to Ottawa (Jan. 16). If Colorado can come home with at least seven points from that Canadian swing, it will be more than set up for another playoff appearance.
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in nine days (January 8-16)
LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 18 days (January 19-February 5)
BYE WEEK: January 24-February 1 (nine days)
LAST 10 GAMES: at Minnesota, at Dallas, vs. Chicago, at Chicago, vs. Vegas, vs. Arizona, at St. Louis, vs. Edmonton, vs. Winnipeg, at San Jose
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS – eliminated in first round, 97 points
A 2-0 advantage heading back to Nationwide Arena wasn’t enough to get the Blue Jackets their first playoff series victory, so it’s back to the drawing board again this season.
Going off last year’s table, the toughest stretch in Columbus’ schedule is surely its six-game run leading up to the Christmas break. The Jackets host the Kings (Dec. 13), Ducks (Dec. 15), Golden Knights (Dec. 17) and Devils (Dec. 20) before heading east to take on Philadelphia (Dec. 22) and New Jersey (Dec. 23). Since those last three matchups are in the division, they’re obviously more important, but if Columbus is as good as I think it is, it should come away with at least eight points over that stretch.
LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 13 days (December 8-20)
BYE WEEK: January 20-28 (nine days)
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in nine days (March 16-24)
LAST 10 GAMES: at Calgary, at Edmonton, at Vancouver, vs. NY Islanders, vs. Montréal, at Nashville, at Buffalo, vs. Boston, at NY Rangers, at Ottawa
DALLAS STARS – 19th, 92 points
Dallas’ 26-12-3 home record tied with Columbus for the 13th-best home mark in the NHL last season, yet the Stars failed to qualify for the postseason (in fact, the Stars had the best home record of any Western Conference club to miss the playoffs).
That’s what draws me to the Stars’ Halloween road trip throughout the Eastern Conference. If American Airlines Center is going to maintain its status as one of the tougher places to play in this league, the Stars are going to need to expel some ghosts and improve on their road effort if they want to extend their season beyond 82 games.
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 10 days (October 28-November 6)
LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 21 days (January 12-February 1)
BYE WEEK: January 20-29 (10 days)
LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Florida, vs. Colorado, vs. Pittsburgh, at Winnipeg, at Calgary, at Edmonton, at Vancouver, vs. Philadelphia, at Chicago, vs. Minnesota
DETROIT RED WINGS – 27th, 73 points
How nice is it that the league is letting the W Filip Zadina Era officially get underway with his NHL debut taking place at home? That game might be against a solid Blue Jackets team, but there shouldn’t be an empty seat in Little Caesars Arena on October 4 in anticipation of seeing what this kid is capable of.
Unfortunately for the rebuilding Red Wings, there’s 81 more games remaining on their schedule that might not be met with quite the same fanfare. Even if Detroit is still in contention late in the season, it’ll be hard pressed to make up any ground in the standings as six of its last 10 games – including five straight – are on the road.
BYE WEEK: January 23-31 (nine days)
LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 10 days (February 17-26)
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in 10 days (March 19-28)
LAST 10 GAMES: at NY Rangers, at St. Louis, at Vegas, at San Jose, at Buffalo, vs. New Jersey, vs. Boston, vs. Pittsburgh, at Pittsburgh, vs. Buffalo
EDMONTON OILERS – 23rd, 78 points
With one of, if not the best player in the game in C Connor McDavid on their team, the Oilers surely have to be better than last season, right? If that is the case, Edmonton’s comeback story will find an interesting start when it squares off against New Jersey at Sweden’s Scandinavium – the home nation of LW Pontus Aberg, D Oscar Klefbom, D Adam Larsson and RW Jesse Puljujarvi – on October 6.
However, the point of the Oilers’ schedule I’m most interested in is the seven games leading up to their bye week. All seven of those tilts will be against clubs that missed the playoffs last year, with all but one taking place at Rogers Place where the Oil were the best home team in the Pacific Division that failed to qualify for the postseason. If Edmonton can’t capitalize on a juicy stretch like that, this team is beyond hope.
LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 14 days (December 18-31)
BYE WEEK: January 23-February 1 (10 days)
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in eight days (February 25-March 4)
LAST 10 GAMES: at St. Louis, vs. Columbus, vs. Ottawa, vs. Los Angeles, vs. Dallas, vs. Anaheim, at Vegas, at Colorado, vs. San Jose, at Calgary
FLORIDA PANTHERS – 16th, 96 points
Though finishing in ninth place in the Eastern Conference in 2017-18 is usually reason enough to predict the Panthers could qualify for the playoffs this season, there’s even more evidence for those willing to dig a little bit deeper.
The Devils (Nov. 26), Ducks (Nov. 28), Lightning (Dec. 1), Bruins (Dec. 4) and Avalanche (Dec. 6) may be coming to Sunrise during Florida’s longest home stand, but the fact that the Panthers were the NHL’s best home team to miss the playoffs will surely play in their favor. Similarly, there will be no fear in the Cats’ eyes when they travel to Philadelphia (Nov. 13), Columbus (Nov. 15) or Tampa Bay (Nov. 21) during their longest sabbatical from BB&T Center, as Florida also boasts (along with Carolina) the best road record of any Eastern Conference team to fail to qualify for the 2018 postseason.
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 11 days (November 13-23)
LONGEST HOME STAND: Eight games in 15 days (November 24-December 8)
BYE WEEK: January 22-31 (10 days)
LAST 10 GAMES: at Dallas, vs. Arizona, vs. Boston, at Toronto, at Montréal, at Ottawa, at Boston, vs. Washington, vs. NY Islanders, vs. New Jersey
LOS ANGELES KINGS – eliminated in First Round, 98 points
This year’s winner of the 2018-19 Bye Lottery is none other than the Kings of Tinseltown, who’ll get a whopping 11 days off the ice to rest and recuperate for the final 32 games of their regular season.
Speaking of byes, keep an eye on the Kings in the days following American Thanksgiving. From November 24-December 4, they’ll play seven games, all of which are against competition who’s 2017-18 campaigns ended after 82 games last season. Making that slice of their schedule even sweeter, six of those sides are from within Los Angeles’ own division, meaning the Kings could start staking a real claim for the Pacific before Christmas if they take care of business – something they didn’t exactly do a good job of last season (the Kings had the worst home record of any playoff team last season).
LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 17 days (October 28-November 13)
BYE WEEK: January 22-February 1 (11 days)
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 10 days (February 2-11)
LAST 10 GAMES: vs. San Jose, vs. Anaheim, at Calgary, at Edmonton, at Vancouver, vs. Chicago, vs. Calgary, at Arizona, at Anaheim, vs. Vegas
MINNESOTA WILD – eliminated in First Round, 101 points
Every team looks forward to its bye week, but none will need it as much as the Wild. The toughest stretch of Minnesota’s schedule is the six games leading up to the festivities in San Jose, as all of those matchups are against clubs that qualified for the playoffs a season ago.
Minnesota starts that run in Philadelphia on January 14, followed only a day later by a visit to Xcel Energy Center by the Kings. After that, the Ducks (Jan. 17) and Blue Jackets (Jan. 19) both make trips north before the Wild head west to take on Vegas (Jan. 21) and Colorado (Jan. 23). It’s a tough run (especially the game against the Avs, against whom the Wild lost three of four games last season by a combined 19-4 score), but this Minnesota club is a veteran group that should rise to the occasion.
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Seven games in 14 games (October 29-November 11)
BYE WEEK: January 24-31 (eight days)
LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in nine days (March 11-19)
LAST 10 GAMES: vs. NY Islanders, vs. Colorado, at Washington, at Carolina, vs. Nashville, at Vegas, at Arizona, vs. Winnipeg, vs. Boston, at Dallas
MONTRÉAL CANADIENS – 28th, 71 points
The start of the season has a decent chance of being painful for the Habs (they open their campaign at Toronto [Oct. 3] and Pittsburgh [Oct. 6] before returning home to host the Kings [Oct. 11] and Penguins [Oct. 13]), but they’ll then have five-straight tilts against teams that missed the playoffs last season to warm up in anticipation of their first meeting of the year against arch-rival Boston (Oct. 27).
If the Canadiens are going to improve this campaign, they’re going to need to figure out their road woes from a season ago. Finishing the season with a league-worst 11-26-4 record away from Bell Centre is simply not going to cut it – unless Montréal is planning on drafting D Bowen Byram, F Cole Caufield or C Jack Hughes with another lottery pick next summer.
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 13 days (December 19-31)
LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 22 days (January 19-February 9)
BYE WEEK: January 24-February 1 (nine days)
LAST 10 GAMES: at Philadelphia, vs. NY Islanders, vs. Buffalo, at Carolina, vs. Florida, at Columbus, at Winnipeg, vs. Tampa Bay, at Washington, vs. Toronto
NASHVILLE PREDATORS – Presidents’ Trophy winner, 117 points
The Predators had their sights on something a little bit bigger than the Presidents’ Trophy last season (the Capitals know all about that plight), but their championship window is still wide open – just as long as they figure out when they want to hand the crease over to G Juuse Saros.
Of the many games and series I’m looking forward to this season, few shine as bright as the Preds’ four showdowns with Winnipeg. Fortunately for us, the first of those is scheduled for October 11 – only nine days into the 2018-19 season – but the series will really heat up in March when the final two meetings take place in the span of 23 days. Though Winnipeg is known for its home-ice advantage, Nashville has full intentions of improving on a NHL-best of its own: a 25-9-7 road record.
LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in nine days (November 25-December 3)
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 10 days (January 4-13)
BYE WEEK: January 24-31 (eight days)
LAST 10 GAMES: at San Jose, vs. Toronto, vs. Pittsburgh, at Winnipeg, at Minnesota, at Pittsburgh, vs. Columbus, at Buffalo, vs. Vancouver, vs. Chicago
NEW JERSEY DEVILS – eliminated in First Round, 97 points
Like a top-flight college football team, the Devils are playing a neutral-site game to open their regular season. However, what sets New Jersey apart from Alabama, Florida State, Ohio State, Oklahoma, USC and the likes is that its tilt against the Oilers will not take place in North America, but instead at Scandinavium in Gothenburg, Sweden (homeland of W Jesper Bratt and F Marcus Johansson).
Talk about a truly impartial crowd.
Few teams are going to be looking forward to the Christmas break quite like Jersey. Starting with a showdown in Washington on November 30, the Devils will begin a series of 10-straight games against teams that were in the playoffs last season – none more anticipated than a home rematch against the Lightning on December 3.
LONGEST HOME STAND: Four games in eight days (October 11-18)
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Seven games in 13 days (October 30-November 11)
BYE WEEK: January 20-27 (eight days)
NEW YORK ISLANDERS – 22nd, 80 points
As someone who’s never visited either Barclays Center or Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum, I do not know if the Isles’ three homecoming games are going to be awesome because (a) the team returns to the building where they won four-straight Stanley Cups or (b) they’re playing in a building actually built for hockey, but I do know they’ll be awesome nonetheless.
Another thing I know is that the Islanders’ longest home stand (five games, all of which will be contested in Brooklyn) will likely not be a fun one, as C Mathew Barzal‘s side will be hosting the Maple Leafs on February 28 (complete with former captain C John Tavares), Capitals (Mar. 1) and Flyers (Mar. 3) in the span of four days, all of which were playoff teams only a few months ago. That tough stretch will do the Islanders no favors as they try to shed the label of the Metropolitan Division’s worst home team.
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in eight days (October 13-20)
BYE WEEK: January 23-31 (nine days)
LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in eight days (February 26-March 5)
LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Boston, at Montréal, at Philadelphia, vs. Arizona, at Columbus, at Winnipeg, vs. Buffalo, vs. Toronto, at Florida, at Washington
NEW YORK RANGERS – 24th, 77 points
There’s a few fans and analysts out there that think the Rangers can complete their rebuild and get right back into the playoffs this season. That remains to be seen, but we’ll have a pretty good idea of what to expect from these Blueshirts by the end of November.
No, I’m not talking about the American Thanksgiving thing that was mentioned earlier – though that is mathematically backed. Instead, I offer this note: good teams can beat other good teams, but great teams almost always defeat the clubs they’re supposed to. In that strain, eight of New York’s last nine tilts before Thanksgiving are against sides that failed to make the playoffs last year, with a majority of those tilts taking place in the Big Apple. If the Rangers can earn at least 12 points during that run, I’ll buy in that this team is for real. For them to do that, they’ll need to improve on a Metropolitan Division-worst 13-23-5 record away from Madison Square Garden.
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in eight days – 2x (October 25-November 1; February 12-19)
BYE WEEK: January 20-28 (nine days)
LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in nine days (February 2-10)
LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Detroit, at Toronto, vs. Pittsburgh, at Boston, vs. St. Louis, at Philadelphia, at New Jersey, vs. Ottawa, vs. Columbus, at Pittsburgh
OTTAWA SENATORS – 30th, 62 points
We shared our hot-like-a-Canadian-Tire-fire takes in the season previews earlier this summer, but I always have my concerns about a team enjoying its longest home stand before October even comes to a close. That means much of the Senators’ travels will be condensed into six months without the opportunity for an extended series of nights sleeping in their own homes.
If Ottawa can, by some unpredictable act of God, manage to get back on track this season, it has a very favorable schedule to close the campaign. Seven of its last 10 opponents failed to qualify for the playoffs last season, and the three that did all have to come to Canadian Tire Centre. If the Sens are within six points of a playoff spot by mid-March, they could be just the team to squeak into a fifth postseason berth in the last eight seasons.
LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 14 days (October 10-23)
BYE WEEK: January 23-31 (nine days)
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in eight days (February 14-21)
LAST 10 GAMES: at Vancouver, at Calgary, at Edmonton, vs. Buffalo, vs. Florida, vs. Toronto, vs. Tampa Bay, at NY Rangers, at Buffalo, vs. Columbus
PHILADELPHIA FLYERS – eliminated in First Round, 98 points
To all Flyers season ticket holders: consider grabbing a holiday ticket package to the 76ers this December, because you’re going to be hard pressed to watch much hockey at Wells Fargo Center that month. Of the 14 games Philadelphia will play in the final month of the year, a whopping 10 will be away from Broad Street.
Making matters even more difficult, eight of those December games will be against clubs that qualified for the postseason last year, including two contests against division rival Columbus. By midnight of January 2 (the Flyers are in Nashville on New Year’s Day), we will surely know if this season’s Philadelphia club can build upon last year’s success. If last year’s campaign is any indication, these Flyers should return to the City of Brotherly Love in good shape, as they had the best road record of any team in the Metropolitan Division last season.
LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 10 days – 2x (November 8-17; February 2-11)
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in 10 days (December 23-January 1)
BYE WEEK: January 20-27 (eight days)
LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Montréal, at Chicago, vs. NY Islanders, at Washington, vs. Toronto, at Carolina, vs. NY Rangers, at Dallas, at St. Louis, vs. Carolina
PITTSBURGH PENGUINS – eliminated in Second Round, 100 points
Last season, Penguins fans bemoaned the number of back-to-back games on their favorite club’s schedule. The NHL must have heard those complaints, because there’s only 11 instances of that occurring this season, the first of which isn’t until November 23 (at Boston) and 24 (vs. Columbus) – the weekend following American Thanksgiving when every team but Minnesota and Ottawa plays two games in three days.
However, what Pittsburgh got in fewer back-to-backs, it gave up in home stands. The most consecutive home games the Pens will play this season is three, which they do a whopping six times in a 41-game home schedule at the toughest arena in the Eastern Conference (at least according to the Pens’ home record last season). That’ll lead to a lot of plane rides and hotel stays, which could wear on the squad as the season progresses.
LONGEST HOME STAND: Three games in eight days (October 4-11)
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in nine days (January 11-19)
BYE WEEK: January 20-27 (eight days)
LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Philadelphia, at Carolina, at Nashville, at Dallas, at NY Rangers, vs. Nashville, vs. Carolina, at Detroit, vs. Detroit, vs. NY Rangers
SAN JOSE SHARKS – eliminated in Second Round, 100 points
Good luck finding a more balanced schedule in the Pacific Division, if not the entire NHL. The Sharks have two five-game road trips to go with their six-game home stand, and it’s rare that they have only a one-off stay at SAP Center. That means the Sharks should spend more nights in their own beds than other clubs, which will surely pay dividends later in the season when other teams are getting tired after a full season of play.
Based on last year’s standings, one of the toughest stretches of San Jose’s schedule looks like it will occur in mid-March, as the Sharks will host the Predators (Mar. 16) and Golden Knights (Mar. 18) before heading south to take on their California brethren on back-to-back days (Mar. 21 and 22). With that in mind, I’d expect San Jose to be in the mix for its seventh Pacific Division title and maybe, just maybe, a shot at the top seed in the Western Conference.
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in 10 days (October 5-14)
LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 13 days (November 11-23)
BYE WEEK: January 23-February 1 (10 days)
LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Vegas, at Los Angeles, at Anaheim, vs. Detroit, vs. Chicago, vs. Vegas, vs. Calgary, at Vancouver, at Edmonton, vs. Colorado
ST. LOUIS BLUES – 18th, 94 points
One of the most striking things about the Blues’ schedule is that, of the five times they play Chicago all season, three of those showdowns are scheduled in October. If that doesn’t get F Ryan O’Reilly excited to play for the Notes, I don’t know what will.
Undoubtedly, one of the most important six-game stretches in St. Louis’ schedule occurs around American Thanksgiving, as the Blues will square off with five of last season’s Western Conference playoff teams, including a home-and-home series with the Predators on Thanksgiving Eve and Black Friday. For the Blues’ sake, hopefully G Jake Allen will choose any other time of the season for his annual month-long meltdown.
LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 18 days (October 25-November 11)
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in 18 days (January 21-February 7)
BYE WEEK: January 24-February 1 (nine days)
LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Edmonton, vs. Detroit, vs. Tampa Bay, vs. Vegas, at NY Rangers, at New Jersey, vs. Colorado, at Chicago, vs. Philadelphia, vs. Vancouver
TAMPA BAY LIGHTNING – Prince of Wales Trophy runner-up, 113 points
There’s no way to start a campaign quite like an extended home stand, and that’s just what the Lightning have the privilege of this season. However, the Bolts can’t afford to get too comfortable (even if the toughest competition they’ll face during that home stay is Columbus on Oct. 13), as they’ll immediately embark on their longest road trip (a tour of the Western Conference) after a division tilt against the Red Wings (Oct. 18). Fortunately, they boasted the Eastern Conference’s best road record last season, so that surely won’t be a problem for them.
Coincidentally, we can combine a Californian road trip and the Blue Jackets to find the toughest stretch of Tampa Bay’s schedule – at least in terms of last season’s standings. The Bolts will head to Orange County for a New Year’s Eve showdown against the Ducks, followed three days later by a Tinseltown tilt and a jaunt up to San Jose on January 5. When C Steven Stamkos and co. return to the friendly confines of Amalie Arena on January 8, Columbus will be waiting for them to cap a four-game streak against playoff teams from a season ago – the longest such run on Tampa’s schedule.
LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 13 days (October 6-18)
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in eight days (October 20-27)
BYE WEEK: January 20-29 (10 days)
LAST 10 GAMES: vs. Arizona, at Washington, at Carolina, at St. Louis, vs. Boston, vs. Washington, at Ottawa, at Montréal, at Toronto, at Boston
TORONTO MAPLE LEAFS – eliminated in First Round, 105 points
The Maple Leafs were good before Tavares showed up, but now Torontonians have Stanley Cups dancing in their dreams. We’ll have a discussion about the Leafs’ chances in their season preview later this summer (spoiler: that defense still hasn’t been fixed), but first it’ll be worth mentioning that they seem to have a balanced schedule in front of them.
Toronto gets a nice and easy initiation into its 2018-19 campaign by playing its first five games against clubs that failed to qualify for the 2018 postseason, but the pedal hits the metal on October 13 when five of the Maple Leafs’ next six opponents finished in the NHL’s Sweet 16. In fact, from Opening Day until American Thanksgiving, just under 60 percent of Toronto’s first 22 games will be against 2018 Stanley Cup Playoff teams, meaning the Leafs will need to be ready right out of the gate if they want to avoid playing catch-up in the standings for the remainder of the regular season.
LONGEST HOME STAND: Four games in 10 days (December 29-January 7)
BYE WEEK: January 24-31 (eight days)
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 11 days (February 9-19)
LAST 10 GAMES: at Nashville, at Buffalo, vs. NY Rangers, vs. Florida, at Philadelphia, at Ottawa, at NY Islanders, vs. Carolina, vs. Tampa Bay, at Montréal
VANCOUVER CANUCKS – 26th, 73 points
With RW Brock Boeser and C Bo Horvat already in Vancouver and F Elias Pettersson champing at the bit to fulfill the Canucks’ Swedish quota, it’s hard to believe British Columbia’s NHL representative can remain at the bottom of the table for many more seasons.
Pretending, if only for a moment, that this is the year the Canucks start their upward climb, their seven-game home stand that effectively closes the season (Games 81 and 82 are in Nashville [Apr. 4] and St. Louis [Apr. 6]) will play a major role in determining their postseason fate. That series starts slow with visits from the Senators (Mar. 20) and Flames (Mar. 23), but picks up some real steam when Columbus (Mar. 24), Anaheim (Mar. 26), Los Angeles (Mar. 28), Dallas (Mar. 30) and San Jose (Apr. 2) roll into town. Every point is precious that time of year, so the blue-and-green’s extended time in their own beds could provide just the edge they need to qualify for the playoffs for the second time in six seasons.
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 13 days (October 6-18)
BYE WEEK: January 24-February 1 (nine days)
LONGEST HOME STAND: Seven games in 14 days (March 20-April 2)
LAST 10 GAMES: at Chicago, vs. Ottawa, vs. Calgary, vs. Columbus, vs. Anaheim, vs. Los Angeles, vs. Dallas, vs. San Jose, at Nashville, at St. Louis
VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS – Stanley Cup runner-up, 109 points
In their inaugural season, the Golden Knights got blessed with an unbelievable seven-game home stand to open T-Mobile Arena (the venue that proved to be the best home-ice advantage in the Pacific Division). It looks like it’s time for the NHL to cash that $500 million check, as Vegas will embark on a five-game road trip only three days into the season after hosting the Flyers on October 4 (much to the chagrin of the rest of the league, Vegas finished last season tied with Los Angeles for the honor of “Best Visitor in the Pacific Division,” as they both had matching 22-14-5 records away from home).
Speaking of five-game runs, an important one for Vegas will get underway on Valentine’s Day. The Golden Knights host Toronto that night, followed by a visit from the Predators two days later. Then Vegas is off to Colorado (Feb. 18) before returning home to host the Bruins (Feb. 20) and Jets (Feb. 22). That is Vegas’ longest stretch of consecutive games against 2018 playoff teams, and the fact that three of those clubs are Western Conference foes means postseason seeding could be on the line.
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Five games in eight days (October 6-13)
LONGEST HOME STAND: Five games in 13 days (October 16-28)
BYE WEEK: January 24-31 (eight days)
LAST 10 GAMES: at San Jose, vs. Winnipeg, vs. Detroit, at St. Louis, at Colorado, vs. Minnesota, at San Jose, vs. Edmonton, vs. Arizona, at Los Angeles
WASHINGTON CAPITALS – Stanley Cup champion, 105 points
Winning a championship is hard, but successfully defending that title can be even harder. That’s the next challenge facing W Alex Ovechkin‘s crew, and we’ll see if they’re up to it after their first five games – all of which are against clubs that qualified for the playoffs last season, including rival Pittsburgh (Oct. 4) and the reigning Western Champion Golden Knights (Oct. 10).
Even if the Caps don’t come out with a solid record after that series, they’ll still have more than enough time to whip their play under new Head Coach Todd Reirden into shape, as their next eight opponents all failed to extend their seasons beyond 82 tilts.
BYE WEEK: January 24-31 (eight days)
LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 11 days (February 1-11)
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Six games in 12 days (February 12-23)
LAST 10 GAMES: at New Jersey, vs. Tampa Bay, vs. Minnesota, vs. Philadelphia, vs. Carolina, at Carolina, at Tampa Bay, at Florida, vs. Montréal, vs. NY Islanders
WINNIPEG JETS – Campbell Bowl runner-up, 114 points
RW Blake Wheeler and the Jets took a major step forward last season to advance all the way to the Western Conference Finals before falling in five games to Vegas. Expectations in Manitoba are going to be extremely high this campaign, but it’ll be interesting to see if this young roster can perform with a large target on its back.
A good indication of how Winnipeg will perform under that pressure will come in the first month of play. After a nice, long home stand that ends with a major matchup against the Maple Leafs (Oct. 24) at the league’s most intimidating home arena, the Jets will take to the road for a back-to-back in Detroit (Oct. 26) and Toronto (Oct. 27), then fly to Finland (RW Patrik Laine‘s homeland) for another back-to-back against the up-and-coming Panthers (Nov. 1 and 2). If G Connor Hellebuyck and co. can come away with a winning record after that extended, 9328-mile (that’s 15 megameters, Canadians) road trip, I have no doubt these Jets will be challenging for their first division title since 2006-07’s Southeastern title as the Atlanta Thrashers.
LONGEST HOME STAND: Six games in 11 days (October 14-24)
LONGEST ROAD TRIP: Four games in 13 days (January 17-29)
BYE WEEK: January 20-27 (eight days)
LAST 10 GAMES: at Anaheim, at Vegas, vs. Nashville, vs. Dallas, vs. NY Islanders, vs. Montréal, at Chicago, at Minnesota, at Colorado, at Arizona
It’s still way too early to make these bold claims, but let’s do it anyway.
Using marginal goals for and marginal goals against from the 2017-18 regular season– let’s assume there were no roster, coaching or front office changes this summer that would otherwise flip everything upside-down– here are expected points totals for all 31 National Hockey League teams for the 2018-19 season.
- z-Tampa Bay Lightning, 114 points
- x-Boston Bruins, 113 points
- x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 108 points
- Florida Panthers, 92 points
- Detroit Red Wings, 77 points
- Montreal Canadiens, 71 points
- Ottawa Senators, 65 points
- Buffalo Sabres, 61 points
- y-Pittsburgh Penguins, 100 points
- x-Washington Capitals, 99 points
- x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 96 points
- x-Philadelphia Flyers, 95 points
- x-New Jersey Devils, 93 points
- Carolina Hurricanes, 81 points
- New York Islanders, 79 points
- New York Rangers, 78 points
2018-19 Eastern Conference Outlook
Not much is different in the Atlantic Division heading into 2018-19.
The top teams are the top teams, regardless of their additions (John Tavares to the Toronto Maple Leafs) or subtractions (uhh, James van Riemsdyk from the Maple Leafs?) and there’s going to be a little movement in the Metropolitan Division (most notably, a new division leader from 2017-18 to 2018-19).
Carolina’s revamped defense and the Rangers post-trade deadline to present overhaul are wild cards to watch for any surprises in the standings.
2017-18 Eastern Conference Expected Points Totals vs. (What Actually Happened)
- y-Montreal Canadiens, 102 points (z-Tampa Bay Lightning, 113 points)
- x-Boston Bruins, 101 points (x-Boston Bruins, 112 points)
- x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 95 points (x-Toronto Maple Leafs, 105 points)
- x-Tampa Bay Lightning, 95 points (Florida Panthers, 96 points)
- Ottawa Senators, 91 points (Detroit Red Wings, 73 points)
- Florida Panthers, 81 points (Montreal Canadiens, 71 points)
- Detroit Red Wings, 77 points (Ottawa Senators, 67 points)
- Buffalo Sabres, 77 points (Buffalo Sabres, 62 points)
What happened in the Atlantic? Injuries and age slowed the Canadiens way, way down, while Tampa reemerged as one of the top teams in the NHL, appearing in their third Eastern Conference Final in four years (despite losing to the Washington Capitals in seven games).
Boston proved to be ahead of schedule in their plan, while the Leafs were right on track. Meanwhile, the floor fell out from underneath the Senators and a new head coach didn’t bring the expected progress in development for the Sabres.
Florida turned a few heads, though ultimately proved to be a non-contender, missing the playoffs by a point (Columbus and New Jersey locked up the Eastern Conference wild cards with 97 points on the season), while Detroit fell within the expected margin of error (anywhere from 72-82 points on the season).
- p-Washington Capitals, 125 points (y-Washington Capitals, 105 points)
- x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 114 points (x-Pittsburgh Penguins, 100 points)
- x-Pittsburgh Penguins, 111 points (x-Philadelphia Flyers, 98 points)
- x-New York Rangers, 106 points (x-Columbus Blue Jackets, 97 points)
- New York Islanders, 91 points (x-New Jersey Devils, 97 points)
- Philadelphia Flyers, 85 points (Carolina Hurricanes, 83 points)
- Carolina Hurricanes, 83 points (New York Islanders, 80 points)
- New Jersey Devils, 67 points (New York Rangers, 77 points)
What happened in the Metropolitan? Sometimes it’s not about the number of points, but rather, the divisional standing that matters.
Washington may have surprised some experts by finishing 1st in their division in 2017-18 (then going on to win the Cup), but to us it wasn’t (the division win, not the Cup). The rest was a crapshoot. Three teams (Washington, Columbus and Pittsburgh) made the playoffs from our predictions heading into last season, while one (N.Y. Rangers) fell flat and hit the reset button.
New Jersey had one of the biggest improvements from 2016-17 to 2017-18, while the Carolina Hurricanes hit the nail on the head (albeit one position higher than our prediction) with 83 points in 2017-18.
- z-Winnipeg Jets, 114 points
- x-Nashville Predators, 113 points
- x-Minnesota Wild, 99 points
- x-Colorado Avalanche, 99 points
- Dallas Stars, 95 points
- St. Louis Blues, 93 points
- Chicago Blackhawks, 81 points
- y-Vegas Golden Knights, 108 points
- x-Los Angeles Kings, 105 points
- x-San Jose Sharks, 100 points
- x-Anaheim Ducks, 99 points
- Edmonton Oilers, 81 points
- Calgary Flames, 80 points
- Vancouver Canucks, 74 points
- Arizona Coyotes, 73 points
2018-19 Western Conference Outlook
Before the additions of Ryan O’Reilly (via trade), Tyler Bozak and Patrick Maroon (via free agency), the St. Louis Blues were destined to slide through another season of mediocrity. Now, they’re the most unpredictable team of the Central Division– and, yes, that’s even acknowledging what kind of season Jake Allen has in net.
Allen could make or break St. Louis’s season, though Mike Yeo will have to balance Allen’s starting time with Chad Johnson‘s play as a solid backup, but enough about the Blues (for now).
Everything else looks just the same in the Central with Colorado, Minnesota and Dallas as the teams that are most likely to change places and hit or miss one of the last playoff spots in the West.
In the Pacific, the arms race for the top of the division rages on with the Golden Knights, Kings and Sharks auditioning for the role of top-dog and the Ducks bumbling their way into a wild card spot.
It’s status quo in Edmonton, Calgary and Vancouver, with the Arizona Coyotes entering the 2018-19 season as the biggest underdogs (hint, if they had played the way they did from February through April 2018 all season last season, they would be a lot higher up in these expected totals).
2017-18 Western Conference Expected Points Totals vs. (What Actually Happened)
- z-Minnesota Wild, 115 points (p-Nashville Predators, 117 points)
- x-Chicago Blackhawks, 104 points (x-Winnipeg Jets, 114 points)
- x-St. Louis Blues, 99 points (x-Minnesota Wild, 101 points)
- x-Nashville Predators, 98 points (x-Colorado Avalanche, 95 points)
- Winnipeg Jets, 89 points (St. Louis Blues, 94 points)
- Dallas Stars, 76 points (Dallas Stars, 92 points)
- Colorado Avalanche, 47 points (Chicago Blackhawks, 76 points)
What happened in the Central? Simply put, the stars aligned.
The Blackhawks were kept far away from the 90-point plateau (and a playoff spot) by virtue of injuries to their starting goaltender, Corey Crawford, while the anemic offense of the 2016-17 Colorado Avalanche was no more in 2017-18.
Both are surprises– by definition, given expected points totals are driven by an equation that takes last season’s offense into account for the following season– but any inherent intuition would show that Colorado was destined to improve (by that much, perhaps not).
St. Louis fell out of the race while Connor Hellebuyck backstopped the Winnipeg Jets to a 50-plus win season and the Wild surged quietly. The Stars were thought to be further off the path back to the playoffs than they turned out, but alas, Dallas was still 6th in the division at season’s end.
- y-Vegas Golden Knights, 106 points (y-Vegas Golden Knights, 109 points)
- x-Edmonton Oilers, 106 points (x-Anaheim Ducks, 101 points)
- x-Anaheim Ducks, 101 points (x-San Jose Sharks, 100 points)
- x- San Jose Sharks, 100 points (x-Los Angeles Kings, 98 points)
- Calgary Flames, 94 points (Calgary Flames, 84 points)
- Los Angeles Kings, 90 points (Edmonton Oilers, 78 points)
- Vancouver Canucks, 67 points (Vancouver Canucks, 73 points)
- Arizona Coyotes, 66 points (Arizona Coyotes, 70 points)
What happened in the Pacific? One of the best things about making predictions using a set of data is the outliers that cause some people to doubt all of math in its entirety. Nothing is concrete in the world of projections and expectations. The 2017-18 Edmonton Oilers are a great example of that.
Based on a spectacular breakout 2016-17 season, the Oilers should’ve done a lot more than *checks notes* leave Cam Talbot in the net for too many games, facing too many shots, while Milan Lucic exerts some type of energy in the midst of another 100-point season by Connor McDavid only to miss the playoffs (by a lot) and still receive enough pity votes for the Hart Memorial Trophy to finish 5th in the voting. Hmm.
One player does not make a team. One expected points total before a single puck drops on the regular season does not guarantee anything.
Meanwhile, Vegas surprised everyone, Anaheim and San Jose hit their expected points totals, Los Angeles was ahead of schedule (though the core is still aging), Calgary regressed and the rest was as expected (again, given the margin of error– about +/- 5 points).