The 2018-2019 NHL season begins Wednesday, October 3. Predictions are everywhere, and you only need to look back to 12 months ago to realize that no outcome is too strange to come true.
Case in point? In October 2017, plenty of experts were picking the Edmonton Oilers to win their first Stanley Cup with Connor McDavid and also saying that the brand-new Vegas Golden Knights would be lucky to win more than a handful of games. Instead, the Oilers missed the playoffs while Vegas bulldozed through powerhouses like San Jose, Nashville, and Winnipeg all the way to the Stanley Cup final.
So instead of trying to guess what's going to happen this time around, we're just going to share some of our biggest questions about the next season. Let's begin!
Q: Is this San Jose's year?
After over a decade of incredible, Presidents' Trophy-winning regular seasons that always ended in playoff heartbreak, Alexander Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals finally captured their first Stanley Cup. The only other team to recently come close to Washington's mix of regular season awesomeness? The San Jose Sharks.
Since 2004, the Sharks have never had a losing season and have missed the playoffs just once. But the team is still searching for its first Cup. Now that they have snagged former Ottawa captain and superstar defenseman Erik Karlsson, is it the Sharks' turn to follow Washington's better-late-than-never example and win it all?
Q: Is there a surprise lurking north of the border?
Speaking of Erik Karlsson, you don't have to go far to hear worried talk about Ottawa and Montreal this season. Both teams just lost their captains to trade (ex-Montreal skipper, Max Pacioretty, went to Vegas) and their rosters are full of unproven players. But hold on a second. Didn't we just finish talking about how no one predicted that Vegas would be any good last year? Why not the Senators or Canadiens this year?
Both teams have veteran goaltenders (Craig Anderson in Ottawa and superstar Carey Price in Montreal) who are capable of exceptional, game-changing play. Meanwhile, is there anything more dangerous than a bunch of eager newcomers and experienced cast-offs with nothing to lose? We're not predicting a Cup final for either of these teams, but we also don't think anyone playing Ottawa or Montreal should assume they have an easy win ahead of them.
Q: How good are Calgary and Vancouver?
It's pretty much accepted at this point that both Winnipeg and Toronto have super-stacked teams and few weaknesses. And Edmonton? Sure, they missed the playoffs last year, but any team with the league's best player is a threat. But the Calgary Flames and Vancouver Canucks? Those two clubs are a bit harder to predict.
Calgary spent the summer playing got-it, got-it, need-it, got-it with the Carolina Hurricanes, trading Dougie Hamilton and Michael Ferland to them for Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindholm. And they signed Carolina's coach Bill Peters, too, just for good measure. The hope is that this is a final tweak that shakes a team full of talent like Johnny Gaudreau and Sean Monahan into shape. If it works out, the Flames feel like they could be as good as nearly anyone in the NHL.
Then there's Vancouver. This team isn't anywhere near as deep as Calgary. And the retirement of maybe the greatest twins to ever play in the NHL—Daniel and Henrik Sedin—leaves a big hole. But youngsters Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat both look like future stars—so does rookie centre Elias Pettersson. We know from experience that it takes a lot more than a trio of young forwards to succeed in the NHL. But you know whose roster looked a bit like Vancouver only two years ago? The Maple Leafs in 2016, when they enjoyed the rookie years of Matthews, Marner, and Nylander and a bonus trip to the playoffs.
Q: Is Philly's Gritty the greatest NHL mascot of all time?
We rest our case!