Last season, on January 3, the St. Louis Blues had the worst record in the National Hockey League (NHL). By June 12, the team hoisted its first Stanley Cup in franchise history.
The NHL is arguably the most unpredictable league among the four major North American sports leagues.
Teams, like the 2012 Los Angeles Kings, can perform inconsistently throughout most of the season, squeak into the playoffs as an eight-seed and go on a run culminating in a Stanley Cup.
On the other hand, last season’s Tampa Bay Lightning tied the all-time record for wins during the regular season and, come playoff time, got swept in the first round.
The way the season unfolds, from start to finish, is predicated on momentum—who has it, who does not and when. Here’s a preview of the 2019-2020 NHL season.
The Atlantic Division is home to two of last season’s biggest stories: The meteoric rise and the inexplicable fall of the Tampa Bay Lightning, and the oh-so-close Boston Bruins, falling one win shy of another Stanley Cup celebration.
Both teams are seeking redemption and should finish near the top of the division.
Another stacked roster in the division belongs to the Toronto Maple Leafs. Star forwards Auston Matthews and John Tavares will try to push the Leafs over the hump after consecutive first-round playoff exits the past two seasons.
With so much big-name star power, the Leafs will need to win soon before they watch some of their big pieces leave due to the salary cap.
The team to watch out for in the Atlantic is the Florida Panthers. Freshly hired head coach Joel Quenville has three Stanley Cups to his name and is looking to change the culture in Sunrise. The Panthers signed former Vezina trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky in response to last season’s disaster in net.
Coach Q has the talent and the track record; his team should be able to contend this season.
Who would have thought the scrappy Carolina Hurricanes would represent the Metro in the Eastern Conference Finals last season?
The Canes found their stride at the perfect time last year, and now everyone will be wondering if their success was merely a fluke. Forwards Jordan Staal, and Sebastian Aho will look to silence the critics.
Another key storyline in this division is the revival of a storied rivalry: the New York Rangers and the New Jersey Devils.
The Devils selected American prodigy forward Jack Hughes with the first pick in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft; their foes from across the Hudson River took Finnish phenom forward Kappo Kakko at number two.
The Devils still have 2018 Hart Trophy (MVP) winner Taylor Hall on the wing and brought in longtime Philadelphia Flyers forward Wayne Simmonds, who is very familiar with Metropolitain play.
Meanwhile, the Rangers acquired defenseman Jacob Trouba from the Winnipeg Jets and made winger Artemi Panarin the league’s highest paid at that position.
Both teams are trending in the right direction, but are they ready to make playoff runs?
It is rare for a team to repeat as Stanley Cup Champions. The Pittsburgh Penguins did it in 2016-2017 for the first time since the Detroit Red Wings did so 1997-1998.
The Blues played 26 heavy playoff games last season en route to their Cup, and this could have some effects on the team throughout the long season.
The most interesting team in the Central is the Dallas Stars. Despite ranking 29th in the league in goal-scoring, the Stars were able to rely on their John Klingberg-led defense into the second round.
Now, they have former Sharks captain forward Joe Pavelski and former Ducks forward Correy Perry. Both goal scorers are trying to get back on track after a rough campaign last season. Time will tell if these new pieces can gel and provide the Stars with the offensive spark they clearly lacked one year ago.
How is this for a stat: The Edmonton Oilers had two of the top-five point scorers in the league in Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl and they still missed the playoffs. McDavid is the best player in the league and he is only 22.
New head coach Dave Tippet needs to find a way to develop the supporting players around both him and Draisaitl.
The true contenders in the division are the Vegas Golden Knights and San Jose Sharks, who played an electric first round series against each other last season.
San Jose lost captain Pavelski, but still features star defenseman Erik Karlsson and forward Logan Couture to lead the team.
Vegas, only in its third season as a franchise, is looking to mount another run to the cup like they did, to nearly every hockey fan’s surprise, two years ago.