With the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators set to kick off the 2019 NHL season on Oct. 2, The McGill Tribune previewed both conferences to predict the Stanley Cup winner.
Generally considered the tougher of the two conferences, the Eastern Conference features the Tampa Bay Lightning who are likely to be the best team in the league again this year given their roster loaded with talented and quick players. The Maple Leafs and Bruins will both be strong contenders too, with the former relying on skill and the latter on experienced veterans. Meanwhile, the Penguins and Capitals may not be the favourites they were a few years ago; however, stars Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin could still carry their respective teams into the playoffs.
The Panthers, Devils, Canadiens, Hurricanes, and Islanders will also likely be in the playoff hunt. Florida hired Stanley Cup-winning coach Joel Quenneville from the Chicago Blackhawks, while New Jersey made significant additions this offseason, acquiring P.K. Subban and drafting Jack Hughes, which should give them a competitive edge. Montreal plays an aggressive and pace-pushing game, which could be enough to make the playoffs if goaltender Carey Price can return to his pre-injury form and lead the team. Carolina has promising young talent throughout their roster and plays an efficient form of hockey. Finally, the New York Islanders, who relied on phenomenal goaltending last year, will need more of the same for a chance at a postseason berth.
At the bottom of the field, the Rangers, Flyers, Red Wings, and Senators will all be going through a transition phase that will make it difficult for them to keep up with the rest of the conference.
Playoff prediction: Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs, Boston Bruins, Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins, Florida Panthers, New Jersey Devils and Montreal Canadiens.
While the Western Conference may not be as competitive as it once was, there are still a few teams boasting promising lineups. The Flames, Golden Knights, and Sharks will stand out. Calgary is an exciting team filled with quick, skilled, and young forwards; a formidable defence and exciting style of play will make them the team to beat. Las Vegas has two powerful forward lines alongside Stanley Cup-winning goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, which should make them dominant once again this year. San Jose is an experienced team with a balance of younger scorers, solid veterans, and talent in every position.
The Predators, Blues, Avalanche, Jets, and Stars will likely make up the next tier. While Nashville may have traded away P.K Subban over the summer, they signed Matt Duchene, a great overall centre. They also still have a strong defensive core to make an impact. St. Louis is the reigning Stanley Cup champion and will enjoy a strong returning group of core players. Colorado boasts three of the best forwards in the NHL, while Winnipeg has a strong and talented forward group. However, Winnipeg’s defence might be in serious trouble if Dustin Byfuglien, who is pondering retirement, leaves. Dallas has talent up front and a great goalie. That said, being one of the oldest teams in the NHL may affect whether this team can keep up with younger, faster teams.
The Oilers, Canucks, and Blackhawks may have superstars in Connor McDavid, Elias Petterrson, and Patrick Kane respectively, but they lack enough depth to put them in the playoff discussion. The Coyotes and Wild are two middling teams lacking direction, and the modern NHL has gotten too fast for the slow Anaheim Ducks and Los Angeles Kings.
Calgary Flames, Vegas Golden Knights, San Jose Sharks, Nashville Predators, St. Louis Blues, Colorado Avalanche, Winnipeg Jets and Dallas Stars.
Stanley Cup prediction
While Tampa was ousted in the first four games of the playoffs last year, they simply have too much talent to be denied again. Prepare for a Tampa-Vegas final, with Tampa ultimately hoisting the Cup.