The upcoming NHL campaign is less than three months away from puck drop, and it’s time to explore a number of possibilities and expectations for a handful of clubs from both the Eastern and Western Conference.
NHL fans alike were spoiled in 2017-18, and those that made bold predictions lucked out.
The expansion Vegas Golden Knights proved that the impossible is possible after the Knights reached the Stanley Cup Final in dramatic fashion, nonetheless. However, the Golden Dream was ended when the Knights lost to a (then) Cup-less Alex Ovechkin and Washington Capitals team in five games.
Let’s not forget about perennial contenders that missed out on the Stanley Cup Playoffs, either. Two original six clubs in the Chicago Blackhawks and New York Rangers surprisingly missed the playoffs, and for the Blackhawks – it marked the first time since 2008 that Chicago wasn’t invited to Lord Stanley’s dance.
What shocking storylines are in store for 2019?
Hooked on Hockey Magazine makes five bold predictions for the 2018-19 NHL season
Philadelphia makes a deep run
One team that’s proven to be consistent at making deep runs in the Stanley Cup Playoffs when they’re least expected to would be the Philadelphia Flyers.
While the Flyers haven’t advanced past the first round of the playoffs since 2012, the City of Brotherly Love is due for an exciting and overachieving campaign. The Flyers have reached the Eastern Conference Finals on three occasions since 2004, and expect the club to make that a fourth time when Philadelphia writes a Cinderella Story in 2018-19.
The addition of winger, James van Riemsdyk, will drastically improve the team’s average power play from last season (15, 20.7%), and youngsters such as Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov will continue to blossom and turn heads around the league.
Expect the team’s overall chemistry for the upcoming season to impact the Flyers’ success at reaching the 2019 Eastern Conference Finals. What about the goaltending, though?
The reality is that Philadelphia has never had strong goaltending and even when it was able to advance far into the playoffs. Brian Elliott will have a bounce-back season but in a supporting role to Michal Neuvirth who finally has a consistent, plus healthy, season.
Another Surprise in Sin City
Yes, the Vegas Golden Knights appear to be on track as a Stanley Cup Playoff contender for the next handful of seasons; however, don’t expect to see the Golden Misfits skating in the postseason for 2019.
Successful, or not, an expansion franchise such as the Knights won’t be able to handle a quick turn around and continue their winning ways the following season. The unique combination of time and “reality” will catch up to Vegas next season, and the team will fall just short of making back-to-back appearances in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The problem won’t be Marc-Andre Fleury but expect to see a step back in his play between the pipes. The losses of forwards and veteran leaders such as James Neal and David Perron will take a toll on the team’s depth and offensive production, too.
Don’t expect newly added free agent Paul Stastny to live up to his contract, either. The 32-year-old is better off and would find more success on a deeper squad and with a lesser role. Vegas will rely too much on the veteran and Vegas will soon find out it made a mistake by signing him.
The Knights’ October schedule and record from that month will haunt them come April.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs will be hot
For the fifth time since 1996, the Florida Panthers will clinch a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Not only with head coach Bob Boughner take home the Jack Adams Award (Coach of the Year) in 2019, but the Panthers will win a playoff series for the first time since reaching the Stanley Cup Final back in 1996.
But, wait it gets better…
For the first time in NHL history, hockey fans alike will have the opportunity to tune into the battle of Florida in the playoffs. After spending too much time in the shadows of the Tampa Bay Lightning since 2004, the Panthers take down the Bolts in the playoffs and in bittersweet fashion.
Defenseman Aaron Ekblad will take one big step forward and make headlines as one of the league’s best overall players. Top NHL defenseman and potential Norris Trophy winners truly blossom into their own during their fourth and fifth years in the league. That aspect will be no different for the 22-year-old, who’s already gained plenty of valuable exposure as one of the team’s leaders at such a young age.
The Islanders will have something to brag about
It’s been a tough and sensitive offseason for the New York Islanders and the orange and blue’s faithful fanbase, after the departure of captain John Tavares to the Toronto Maple Leafs. While the team was unable to make any significant unrestricted-free-agency signings, or acquire an all-star caliber skater via a trade, New York will have something to smile about once 2019 ends.
The Isles will face-off with the Tavares and his beloved Leafs on three occasions in 2018-19 (12/29/2018; 2/28/2019; 4/1/2019), and New York will sweep the season series.
Two of those three contests are home games for the Islanders, which will both be emotional and high energy affairs. Yes, Tavares will ink his name on the scoresheet, but it’s the Isles who take home personal and silent victory.
One More Hoorah
There’s one team and group of skaters, in particular, that has one more exciting and deep run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs left in the tank.
The Los Angeles Kings will win the Stanley Cup in 2019.
Yes, Los Angeles’ window to win a third Cup in recent years has arguably closed, but the timing is right for the Kings officially put a stamp on their dynasty. While Los Angeles has a handful of aging stars such as newly acquired Ilya Kovalchuk (UFA), Dion Phaneuf, Jeff Carter, Dustin Brown and goaltender Jonathan Quick, the veterans will rekindle some old magic and form a good mix with some of the team’s younger assets.
Now, Los Angeles may not win the Pacific Division or have an intriguing regular season, but the team will find that extra gear come playoff time and Jonathan Quick will prove that he’s one of the best and most clutch NHL goaltenders in recent memory.
Let that sink in, Los Angeles…because this is going to be the last one and for a long time.
Erik Karlsson gets traded to a Pacific Division team
Yes, the Anaheim Ducks are ‘Mighty’ again with the recent unveiling of the team’s 25 Anniversary alternate jersey, but the Ducks will land a superstar that they’ve been overdue for acquiring.
The Ottawa Senators and Anaheim will complete a blockbuster deal that ships Erik Karlsson to the Anaheim Ducks. Entering the 2018-19 season, the Ducks have the salary-cap space ($8,734,167, per CapFriendly) and similar to Los Angeles still have a window that’s open to win another Stanley Cup with some of the team’s notable stars.
Anaheim may have to part ways with a big named skater and obviously valuable draft picks, but the time is now for the Ducks to strike and make a statement. Adding the former two-time Norris Trophy into the equation, and locking him long term, will do wonders for the Ducks and the youngster between the pipes in John Gibson.
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