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Canucks’ injury toll is getting ridiculous

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The Vancouver Canucks rank among the NHL’s better-than-expected rebuilders so far this season, and their respectable work (5-4-0 coming into Wednesday) is made that much more impressive when you consider their increasingly terrible health luck.

A lot of the air came out of the balloon in mid-October, when Michael Matheson‘s suspension-earning bit of violence sidelined rookie phenom Elias Pettersson with a concussion.

That already stings for a team that isn’t exactly loaded with talent on paper, and the hits keep coming. Veteran addition Jay Beagle is sidelined week-to-week. Brock Boeser missed tonight’s game against the Vancouver Canucks with a lower-body injury.

(So, Boeser – a big hope and sensational sophomore – and Pettersson both missed today’s game, and could miss more.)

Things haven’t been getting better during Wednesday’s contest itself. Underrated defenseman Alex Edler left the contest and would not return thanks to a lower-body injury. Oh, and Sven Baertschi, a winger charged with trying to replace some of the offense Boeser would produce, also left the Golden Knights game and will not be back.

There’s a chance Chris Tanev could be a little shaken up, as well.

To recap: the Canucks lost one or possibly even two of their top defensemen, two young forwards who are so good they’re giving fans hope, a solid top-six winger in Baertschi, and an expensive “heart-and-soul” guy in Beagle, with quite a few of those injuries happening recently.

It’s almost like the universe is trying to force this team to tank, even as Canucks head coach Travis Green seems like he’s getting the best out of this motley bunch.

Update: Remarkably, the Canucks ended up winning 3-2 via a shootout. Maybe this will be a costly win, but it’s impressive that Vancouver came out on top, anyway.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

James O’Brien is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @cyclelikesedins.

Capitals ready for challenge of defending Stanley Cup title

The summer of celebrating is over and on Wednesday night the Washington Capitals will raise a Stanley Cup banner to the Capital One Arena rafters. The distributing of their rings and the pre-game ceremony signifies the turning of the page from the 2017-18 season for the defending champions.

The Capitals’ players know that a slow start can have dire consequences in April and the focus must be on the now and not what happened that June night in Las Vegas. But for Lars Eller, his goal that broke a 3-3 tie in the Cup-clinching Game 5 is a memory he probably won’t stop looking back on this season.

“I don’t have a number,” Eller said earlier this month when asked how many times he’s called the goal up online, “but I’ll keep watching. If I’m in a bad mood I’ll put it on.”

***

As the Capitals go about defending their title this season, they know they have the target on their backs. Every night, teams will want to knock down the champs and they’ll be on the receiving end of opponents’ best games. They feel ready to accept that challenge. T.J. Oshie recalled that when they played against the Pittsburgh Penguins in the seasons after their most recent Cup wins, it was used as a measuring stick game. You want to see how your team, with all of its changes from the previous year (or in Washington’s case, the lack of changes), stack up against the team who had it all go right for them. 

That’s the expectation the Capitals will have for every game this season.

“It’s going to be a different scenario when we walk into the first game,” said Nicklas Backstrom. “At the same time, we have so much to build off of. This gave us confidence. If we can keep that going I think it’s going to be a good year again.”

[How will Golden Knights follow up historic first season?]

When asked during training camp last season, captain Alex Ovechkin stated his goal for the season quite simply: “We’re not gonna be suck this year.” He ended up being quite right. So how do the Capitals follow that up in 2018-19?

“Not suck back-to-back,” Ovechkin said at the start of training camp.

The Capitals’ Cup win also doubled as the removal of a monkey from Ovechkin’s back. Since entering the NHL in 2005, he’s had to watch Sidney Crosby and the Penguins win three titles as his team felt short of expectations numerous times, unable to to even get past the second round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. But when Evgeny Kuznetsov backhanded a shot through Matt Murray’s legs in overtime of Game 6, demons were exorcized and the series-clinching goal opened up the opportunity for them to finally get over the hump.

Now the 33-year-old Ovechkin won’t have to worry about ending his magnificent NHL career without a championship.

“It’s gone,” he said. “Right now, we have to think of different questions.”

The question now facing Ovechkin is whether the Capitals can repeat. They have a new coach with former assistant Todd Reirden stepping in for Barry Trotz and a very similar roster to the one that was on the T-Mobile Arena ice in June passing the Cup around. Gone is goaltender Philip Grubauer and forward Jay Beagle and back are key pieces to their championship run in Tom Wilson, John Carlson, Devante Smith-Pelly, Michal Kempny, and Brooks Orpik.

Repeating comes with its own set of challenges. Only three teams since 1990 have been able to win back-to-back Stanley Cups, with the Penguins achieving the feat twice in 1992 and 2017 and the Detroit Red Wings repeating in 1998. Three other defending champions have lost in the Cup Final, while another five fell in the conference final.

[Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule]

Of the 28 champions since 1990, nine have been booted in the first round and three missed the playoffs completely the following season. The dreaded Stanley Cup hangover with a short summer full of celebrating has affected plenty of teams. Having a target on your backs every night and knowing opponents will really get up for your games is another hurdle to overcome. Personnel losses in free agency have made major impacts on repeat opportunities, as well as injuries derailing the quest for another title.

The Capitals will be reminded of last season often in 2018-19. The repeat talk will come up if they’re having another successful year and find themselves back in the Stanley Cup Playoffs in April. But that can be a distraction.

The best way to approach it? Take Kuznetsov’s advice.

“That’s history already,” he said. “I already forgot about that. If you keep talking about that, keeping thinking about that, we’re going to be bad. You have to focus. The league gets better every day… We’ve got to get back to that mentality when we get hungry, when we want to win every game.

“It’s not going to be easy. The way we finished last year people are going to expect us to start in the same way, right?”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

PHT’s 2018-19 predictions: NHL Awards, first coach fired, overrated teams

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Pre-season predictions are fun to track once things get under way because it’s interesting to see how they start to look as more and more games are played. It’s a good way to see what people are thinking heading into the season, and it’s especially a fun time to check back on them during different points of the year.

Below are our picks for the NHL awards which will handed out in June, plus some various topics like overrated and underrated teams, first coach fired, how many goals William Karlsson will score and more. Please be sure to forget these when they turn out to be 100 percent wrong at the end of the season. But do please come back and praise those individuals for their predictive ways if any of these end up being correct.

Be sure to give us your picks in the comments!

HART: Laine (Leahy), McDavid (O’Brien), Ovechkin (Gretz), MacKinnon (Alfieri), Kucherov (Billeck)
ART ROSS: McDavid (all)
ROCKET RICHARD: Ovechkin (Leahy, Gretz), Laine (O’Brien, Alfieri, Billeck)
VEZINA: Rask (Leahy), Gibson (O’Brien, Gretz), Vasilevskiy (Alfieri, Billeck)
NORRIS: Jones (Leahy), Karlsson (O’Brien, Gretz), Subban (Alfieri, Billeck)
CALDER: Mittelstadt (Leahy, Gretz), Dahlin (O’Brien, Alfieri), Pettersson (Billeck)
SELKE: Bergeron (all)

OVERRATED TEAM

LEAHY: Blues. Every year it’s the same thing: They play well, Vladimir Tarasenko lights it up, and then something happens where they crap out in the playoffs. Ryan O’Reilly and David Perron will help, but Jake Allen needs to rebound.

O’BRIEN: Kings. Considering the age of their core, the Kings could easily crash and burn this season. That’s especially true if Jonathan Quick proves his critics right by regressing.

GRETZ: Kings. They will do what they always do. They will post great possession numbers, they will not give up many goals, but they are still so lacking in talent and creativity offensively that they just will not be able to keep up with the rest of the contenders in the Western Conference. Ilya Kovalchuk will help, but the 35-year-old version of him is not enough to fix everything wrong with this team offensively.

[Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule]

ALFIERI: Ducks. Ryan Kesler’s going to miss a lot of time due to injury and Corey Perry isn’t the player he once was. How much longer can the Ducks continue to be one of the better teams in the Western Conference? Sure, there’s some new blood on the roster, but Ryan Getzlaf can’t just keep shouldering the load for them. The Ducks will get into the playoffs, but they won’t do much damage.

BILLECK: Maple Leafs. Sure, they got Tavares. But did they improve on defense? Nope. The Maple Leafs are getting close, but they need a better backend to be Stanley Cup competitive.

UNDERRATED TEAM

LEAHY: Panthers. Roberto Luongo still has some juice left and a young core has been growing together as prospects Owen Tippett and Henrik Borgstrom could play big factors this season. Bob Boughner did a great job in year one. With more familiarity with his system and core players taking the next step, it’s a fine recipe for a big jump.

O’BRIEN: Oilers. It’s deeply unsettling to leave McDavid’s Oilers out of the playoffs, yet Edmonton missed last season even though the unparalleled megastar scored 108 points. That seems kind of impossible, doesn’t it? I expect a significant rebound, but not enough lessons were learned to get in the West’s eight.

GRETZ: Flyers. I don’t know if Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek will be exactly as good as they were a year ago, but they are still front-line players and the young talent on this team is really, really good. Once again they are a goalie away from being a serious contender.

ALFIERI: Golden Knights. Somehow, people are still doubting the Vegas Golden Knights. I don’t know if they’re an underrated team because they made it all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, but I feel like people aren’t giving them the respect they deserve. They also made some solid acquisitions over the summer.

BILLECK: Sabres. Great summer of moves, including bringing in Jeff Skinner. Carter Hutton should provide better goaltending and Ramus Dahlin. 

OVERRATED PLAYER

LEAHY: Ryan Johansen. What’s $8 million supposed to get you these days? Probably a little more offense than he’s provided for the Predators. He’s hit the 20- and 30-goal marks before and there’s plenty of talent in Nashville that he can get there again.

O’BRIEN: Jonathan Toews. Is Toews still overrated? Yeah, let’s go with Toews.

GRETZ: Marc-Andre Fleury. He had an amazing year, he had the best playoff run of his career, he is still a pretty good goalie, but he is not going to repeat what he did last year and throughout the playoffs.

ALFIERI: Paul Stastny. I liked the Stastny pick up for Vegas, but you can’t help but feel like his stock has picked up a lot of steam over the last few months. He’s still an extremely useful player but will he be able to contribute much more than 50 points? I don’t know about that. His $6.5 million price tag isn’t cheap.

BILLECK: William Karlsson. From 18 points to 78. From nine goals to 43. I’ll glady eat this if Wild Bill does it again, but until he does, I’m skeptical.

UNDERRATED PLAYER

LEAHY: Mikko Rantanen. Playing with Nathan MacKinnon and Gabriel Landeskog, it’s easy to overlook the talents of the 21-year-old Finn. He played a huge role in the MGM line’s success last season and heading into the final year of his entry-level contract, he could set himself up for a rich deal next summer.

O’BRIEN: William Karlsson. I’m starting to think that Karlsson is the bizarro version of Stars-era Loui Eriksson. Karlsson was deemed overrated so often – and harshly – last season thanks to his abrupt production and 23.4 shooting percentage. Now he enters 2018-19 as a perfectly skilled player making a perfectly fair $5.25M, and I wouldn’t be shocked if Vegas regrets going the “prove it” route with “Wild Bill.” (Note: I may be swayed by hair flips, though.)

GRETZ: Dougie Hamilton. He led all defenders in the league in goal-scoring last season, is a 50-point player from the blue line, posts dominant possession numbers, and is signed long-term at below market salary cap number. He might be a top-10 defensemen in the NHL right now and is a tremendous value, and the Hurricanes got him — and a pretty good forward in Micheal Ferland — without giving up a ton

ALFIERI: Blake Wheeler. Sure, Wheeler got paid, but it feels like people still don’t consider him as one of the top players in the league. Only eight players scored more points than he did last season and nobody had more assists. He’s an underrated playmaker.

BILLECK: Blake Wheeler. Glossed over for the Hart despite a 91-point season. One of the best power forwards in the game and filled in admirably at center when Mark Scheifele went down for 16 games. 

FIRST COACH FIRED

LEAHY: Todd McLellan. This is how it’s trending in Edmonton, right? Connor McDavid is there having to do it all himself and general manager Peter Chiarelli had a quiet summer. That’s not going to inspire much confidence that the Oilers can rebound this season, and before the ax falls on him, Chiarelli will make a move behind the bench early.

O’BRIEN: Todd McLellan. Normally I’d say Guy Boucher would be the fall guy, but I doubt Ottawa has the scratch to fork over more money for an in-season hire. So let’s go with McLellan, who’s probably lucky he avoided the axe after 2017-18.

GRETZ: Todd McLellan. When you have the best player in the league and miss the playoffs twice in three years you do not get a very long leash. I don’t think Edmonton addressed its shortcomings enough in the offseason so not sure the winning will return just yet.

ALFIERI: Jeff Blashill. I know the Red Wings don’t typically make coaching moves during the season, but I expect it to be a very difficult year for Detroit.

BILLECK: Guy Boucher. It’s Ottawa and Boucher is in a no-win situation. 

BIGGEST FREE AGENT BUST

LEAHY: Jay Beagle. Good for Beagle getting that money, but that’s a long, pricey contract for a bottom-sixer*. (*Also applies to Antoine Roussel.)

O’BRIEN: Leo Komarov. John Ta-just kidding. Komarov edges Jack Johnson and Antoine Roussel by a hair, because that signing kicks Islanders fans while they’re down.

GRETZ: Carter Hutton. He had a great year for the Blues in part-time duty but the rest of his career performance at the NHL level is just okay. Don’t see him as a solution to the Sabres’ problems in goal.

ALFIERI: James Neal. He got off to a great start with Vegas last year, but he ended up with 25 goals and 44 points in 71 games. Even though those are far from bad numbers, I’m not sure they warranted a five-year, $28.75 million deal.

BILLECK: James Neal. Nearly $6 million a year for a guy who can’t reach 50 points anymore. 

BLUE JACKETS KEEP OR TRADE PANARIN?

LEAHY: Keep. The Blue Jackets could be contenders coming out of the East, but the futures of Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky are going to be huge sub-plots this season. If they’re a playoff team come February, how could not look to add to their roster and try and make a roster and hope for the best in free agency?

O’BRIEN: Trade. Trade him close to the deadline after they a) gauge where their team is and b) have a better shot at landing NHL-ready assets in return.

GRETZ: Keep. The Blue Jackets will keep him because they will be too competitive to trade him. Have to see where the team goes with him.

ALFIERI: Keep. They’ll be in a playoff race and they’ll need him to make sure they get in. I think he ends up walking in unrestricted free-agency.

BILLECK: Keep until the deadline and sign if the opportunity arises.

Erik Karlsson RE-SIGNS WITH SHARKS OR BECOMES UFA?

LEAHY: Re-signs. Doug Wilson is not going to let this big fish get away, and when Karlsson sees the talent that surrounds him in San Jose, he’ll want to stay. Maybe he’ll even grow out his beard after hanging out with Brent Burns and Joe Thornton  (OK, maybe not Jumbo now) for a while?

O’BRIEN: Re-signs… after the trade deadline.

GRETZ: Re-signs. Karlsson will sign with the Sharks before he reaches UFA. The Sharks can make it work under the cap and he can be the focal point of their defense and organization going forward.

ALFIERI: Re-signs. No way he’s leaving San Jose. He’ll be back on an eight-year deal.

BILLECK: Re-signs with a max contract.

PHT’S SEASON PREVIEW:
• Atlantic Division
• Metropolitan Division
• Central Division
Pacific Division
Power Rankings: Who is the NHL’s best team entering 2018-19?

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

PHT’s 2018-19 Pacific Division Preview

NHL On NBC

(The 2018-19 NHL season is almost here. This week Pro Hockey Talk will be previewing all four divisions looking at strengths and weaknesses, whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

• Atlantic Division Preview
• Metropolitan Division Preview
• Central Division Preview

At the start of the 2017-18 season there was an expectation that the Western Conference representative in the Stanley Cup Final would come from the Pacific Division. The oddsmakers, misguided as it may have turned out to be in hindsight, believed it would be the Edmonton Oilers, and that the expansion Vegas Golden Knights would be one of the league’s worst teams.

Not exactly how it all played out.

Once the games started getting played the Oilers turned out to be a season-long mess and disappointment, while the Golden Knights came out of nowhere, rolled to a division title, and then won the Western Conference before losing to the Washington Capitals in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final.

Following an unexpected season on the ice, there was a ton of significant roster movement within the division with San Jose, Vegas, Los Angeles, Calgary and Arizona all making significant changes to their roster.

Who ended up getting better and who ended up getting worse? Let us take a look around the Pacific Division as we continue our PHT Divisional previews.

ANAHEIM DUCKS

Better or Worse: Nobody stays the same in professional sports; you’re either doing something to get better or you’re doing something to get worse. And by not really doing anything to get better over the summer it makes me want to say the Ducks might be a little worse, especially given everything that happened around them in the division this summer where San Jose, Vegas, and Los Angeles all made big moves to strengthen their team. Still a good team, but not really much better than they were.

Strengths: The Ducks’ strength is definitely on the back end where they have Hampus Lindholm, Cam Fowler, and Josh Manson leading the defense, and then have the duo of John Gibson and Ryan Miller in net. When healthy Gibson is one of the best goalies in the league and Miller was outstanding last year as a backup when needed.

Weaknesses: Corey Perry‘s injury is going to be a major blow to a team that was already lacking in offense. They are going to need Ondrej Kase to take a big step in his development and get a little more out of Jakob Silfverberg to make up for it. 

2017-18 Highlight: Crushed by injuries down the middle the Ducks addressed it by trading Sami Vatanen to the New Jersey Devils for Adam Henrique. A few weeks after the trade Henrique scored one of the best goals of the NHL season against his former team when he did this.

MVP Candidate: Ryan Getzlaf may be entering his age 33 season but he is still an impact player and top-line center. He has scored at a point-per-game level the past two years and still makes everyone around him better.

Playoffs or Lottery: Even with the injury to Perry this is still probably a playoff team — especially in this division — but one that may be behind San Jose and Vegas within the the division.

ARIZONA COYOTES 

Better or Worse: They will be much better. They showed huge improvement in the second half of the 2017-18 season  just by having a healthy Antti Raanta in the lineup, and then they went and added Alex Galchenyuk and Michael Grabner over the summer. I also still have high hopes for Dylan Strome to be an impact player and they will also be getting a full season Jakob Chychrun on defense.

Strengths: Thanks to the additions of Derek Stepan and Alex Galchenyuk over the past year the Coyotes have a pretty decent 1-2 punch at center. Combine them with the potential of Dylan Strome, the presence of Oliver Ekman-Larsson on defense, and Raanta in net and they have a nice foundation down the middle to build from.

Weaknesses: Depth is probably the big one, and it is not just related to any one position. It is almost everywhere except for maybe center. Depth on the wings, depth on the blue line, depth in goal. The talent at the top of the lineup is intriguing and very good, but there just is not enough to complement them just yet.

2017-18 Highlight: Once they got him in the lineup Raanta was everything the Coyotes could have hoped for him to be, and his highlight of the year was this post-to-post glove save against the Montreal Canadiens.

MVP Candidate: It is probably going to have to be the Raanta show for the Coyotes this season. How much of an impact did he make on the Coyotes a year ago? In the games where he earned a decision they played at a 90-point pace (21-17-6). In the games where he didn’t? They played at a 47-point pace. A lot of their problems in the overall standings came from that brutal 1-12-1 start, a stretch where Raanta only played two full games.

Playoffs or Lottery: They will be much better and there are a lot of reasons to be hopeful about where this team can go and what it can be in the future but they still have a little more work to do before they get there. It will be another lottery season, but they will be at the back end of the lottery as opposed to the top of it.

CALGARY FLAMES 

Better or Worse: James Neal is a nice addition, but is he enough to make the team better than it was last year, when it wasn’t good enough to make the playoffs? Something to keep in mind here: Neal scored 25 goals and finished with 44 total points in 71 games for Vegas a season ago. He is their big offseason addition. Micheal Ferland, who was included by the Flames in the trade that sent their best defenseman, Dougie Hamilton, to the Carolina Hurricanes, scored 21 goals and finished with 41 points in 77 games. Add in the fact you lost your best defender and it’s hard to see how the roster is better.

Strengths: For all of the things that went wrong for this team a year ago they do have three outstanding young players to build around in Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, and Matthew Tkachuk. All three of them are age 25 or younger and were all among the team’s top-three scorers a year ago.

Weaknesses: It is an extremely top-heavy team offensively, and while Neal might help he is probably not enough of a difference maker to take them from 26th in goals scored to the level they need to be at offensively to contend. The defense without Hamilton is also going to be a question mark because T.J. Brodie and Travis Hamonic both struggled last season, while Mark Giordano is another year older.

2017-18 Highlight: This is a weird one, but their 2-0 win in Anaheim at the start of the season snapped what had been a 25-game losing streak at the Honda Center that dated all the way back to the 2004 season. That is a remarkable losing streak in one building.

MVP Candidate: How can it be anybody other than Gaudreau? He is one of the best offensive players in the league and is coming off of a monster season that saw him record 60 assists and 84 total points. He is also entering his age 25 season, typically the year players hit their peak offensive production in their careers.

Playoffs or Lottery: They were 11 points out of a wild card spot (and 16 points back of a top-three spot in the Pacific Division) and I don’t see enough improvement here to make up that much ground. They are a lottery team.

EDMONTON OILERS 

Better or Worse: They could really go either way here. If the fix the special teams units that ruined their 2017-18 season they should be better, especially if Oscar Klefbom is healthy and returns to form. But they didn’t really make any meaningful additions to a team that missed the playoffs by 17 points.

Strengths: They have Connor McDavid. Period.

Weaknesses: Perhaps the best way to put this would be to reference you to a story from the Edmonton Journal over the weekend that looked at the players on the roster bubble in training camp and point out the fact that every single player listed at right wing is listed as being on the bubble. My goodness, that is bleak. Also bleak: The defense. And the goaltending. And basically everything that is not Connor McDavid or Leon Draisaitl or Ryan Nugent-Hopkins.

2017-18 Highlight: This assist by McDavid to set up Patrick Maroon is truly something to behold.

MVP Candidate: McDavid is the odds on favorite to win the MVP award at the start of the season, mostly because he is the best player in the world at the moment and is coming off of back-to-back scoring title and 100-point seasons. He is going for a third consecutive scoring title, an accomplishment that is incredibly rare in NHL history. To get another MVP award though he is going to need the team around him to be better.

Playoffs or Lottery: As incredible as it may seem for a team that has the best player in the league, they are probably a lottery team again. For the third time in four years. There just is not enough talent around McDavid to make them a contender.

LOS ANGELES KINGS

Better or Worse: He may be 35 years old but Ilya Kovalchuk will be a big addition for an offense-starved team. Will he be a 50-goal, 90-point player? Not a chance. But he should be at least capable of 30 goals and 60 points, something that would make him one of the most productive players on the team.

Strengths: They are one of the best defensive teams in the league with one of the best defensive players in Drew Doughty. They haven’t finished lower than 10th in goals against since the 2009-10 season and are consistently in the top-five. No team in the league gave up fewer goals a season ago.

Weaknesses: Simply put, it’s offense. Even with Anze Kopitar, Jeff Carter and the addition of Kovalchuk this is simply a mediocre at best offensive team and has been for a few years. They

2017-18 Highlight: Kopitar was the Kings’ best player all year and was perhaps at his most dominant in a 7-1 win over the Colorado Avalanche when he scored four goals.

MVP Candidate: The one that was the runner-up a season ago, Kopitar. He is one of the best two-way players in the league that offers a game-changing combination of top-tier offense and shutdown defense.

Playoffs or Lottery: The Kings have missed the playoffs in two of the past four seasons and have not made it out of the first round since winning the Stanley Cup in 2014. They have been, pretty much, a bubble playoff team for the past four years and there really is not much to suggest that is going to change this season.

SAN JOSE SHARKS 

Better or Worse: Better. Much better. They should have a full season of Joe Thornton (injured) and Evander Kane (acquired at the trade deadline and signed to a contract extension) and they acquired a two-time Norris Trophy winner in Erik Karlsson. It would be a shock if they were not better.

Strengths: With Karlsson and Brent Burns they have three of the past seven Norris Trophies on their blue line and a player in Marc-Edouard Vlasic that gets votes every year. There is not a better top-three anywhere in the NHL on defense.

Weaknesses: They are not many. If we were to reach here we could say they were a middle of the pack team a year ago offensively, finishing 14th in goals scored and 16th on the power play, but you have to figure both of those numbers can easily go up this season given the additions.

2017-18 Highlight: Logan Couture scored 12 more goals than any player on the Sharks this past season. None of them looked better than this goal against the Winnipeg Jets.

MVP Candidate: Going to go with Karlsson here, simply because he is going to play a ton of minutes on what should be a Stanley Cup contender and assuming he is 100 percent healthy should have a monster year. Especially playing on a team that has Stanley Cup level talent around him.

Playoffs or Lottery: They were second round playoff team a year ago made some pretty significant additions to the roster, including one of the biggest pick-ups over the summer in Karlsson. They are not only a playoff team, they are a Stanley Cup contender.

VANCOUVER CANUCKS 

Better or Worse: Even though Henrik and Daniel Sedin were at the end of their career and as good as they were in their prime, they were still two of the Canucks’ best players and among their top-three scorers. They are now gone. The players coming in from outside the organization to replace them: Jay Beagle and Antoine Rousell on long-term contracts to be fourth-liners. They are a worse team today.

Strengths: The biggest strength on this team will be getting Brock Boeser and Bo Horvat back for full seasons after both missed 20 games a year ago. Boeser is one of the league’s bright young stars and should be the Canucks’ best player for the foreseeable future.

Weaknesses: Goaltending is going to be a problem. Jacob Markstrom is the starter but has never really been anything better than average at any point in his career. The duo of him and Anders Nilsson is going to have to exceed any reasonable expectation anyone might have for them to help make this team competitive, especially playing behind the defense.

2017-18 Highlight: You could not have scripted a better farewell game in the NHL for the Sedins than this.

MVP Candidate: Brock Boeser finished the 2017-18 season as the Canucks’ leading goal-scorer and point-producer. He did that as a 20-year-old rookie in his first full season of NHL action, and despite missing 20 games due to injury. He is their best player by a mile.

Playoffs or Lottery: One of the worst teams in the league from a year ago that did not really get any better in the offseason. They are not only a lottery team, they are a potential Jack Hughes team.

VEGAS GOLDEN KNIGHTS 

Better or Worse: I don’t know if they will be “better” in terms of results on the ice, because that would mean actually winning the Stanley Cup, but the roster on paper certainly looks better with the additions of Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty. Sure, they lost James Neal and David Perron, two really good contributors on the 2017-18 team, but the two players coming in to replace them are better.

Strengths: Their top line was one of the best in the NHL a season ago, and while there is every reason to believe that William Karlsson and Reilly Smith will regress a bit, they should still be very good. Jonathan Marchessault is also every bit as good as he showed. They also have an outstanding goalie.

Weaknesses: For as good as their top-six is — especially that top line — their bottom six is definitely lacking a little bit. The fourth line received a lot of praise in the playoffs, but I’m not sure how well it holds up over an 82-game season.

2017-18 Highlight: The whole season was a highlight, but their Western Conference clinching game against the Winnipeg Jets was the culmination of a truly remarkable, totally unexpected season.

MVP Candidate: Marchessault showed that his 30-goal season from the 2016-17 season in Florida was anything but a fluke by following it up with a dominant performance in Vegas, earning himself a long-term contract extension.

Playoffs or Lottery: Nobody should expect another run to the Stanley Cup Final, but this should still be a playoff team and probably even a strong contender in the Western Conference.

MORE: Your 2018-19 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

ProHockeyTalk’s NHL free agency tracker

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The NHL’s off-season is under way and with free agency beginning July 1 there will be plenty of action this summer. Check back here for all of the trades and signings that teams will be making in hopes of improving their chances at winning the 2018-19 Stanley Cup.

August 30
• The Flames extend Noah Hanifin with a six-year, $29.7 million deal. (Link)

August 27
• Troy Brouwer signs a one-year, $850,000 deal with the Panthers. (Link)

August 21
• Anthony Peluso gets a one-year, $650,000 contract with the Flames. (Link)

August 20
• Dustin Tokarski signs a one-year, $650,000 deal with the Rangers. (Link)

• Hunter Shinkaruk inks a one-year, $650,000 contract after being traded to the Canadiens. (Link)

• Kerby Rychel goes the other way in the Shinkaruk trade and agrees to a one-year, $725,000 contract with the Flames. (Link)

August 15
Ondrej Kase gets a three-year extension from the Ducks worth $7.8 million. (Link)

August 14
• The Devils re-sign Steve Santini to a three-year, $4.25 million extension. (Link)

Ryan Ellis, Predators agree to an eight-year, $50 million extension. (Link)

August 13
• Noah Dobson signs his three-year, entry-level deal with the Islanders. (Link)

August 10
Dylan Larkin and the Red Wings agree to a five-year, $30.1 million extension. (Link)

August 9
Christian Dvorak inks a six-year, $26.7 million extension with the Coyotes. (Link)

August 4
William Karlsson, Vegas Golden Knights avoid arbitration with one-year, $5.25 million contract. (Link)

John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks agree to an eight-year extension with a $6.4 million AAV (Link)

August 3
Mark Stone gets a one-year, $7.35 million contract from the Senators. (Link)

• Stars forward Gemel Smith is awarded a one-year, $720,000 contract in arbitration. (Link)

Cody Ceci gets a one-year, $4.3 million deal via arbitration. (Link)

August 1
• The Flyers and Robert Hagg agree to a two-year, $2.3 million deal (Link)

Patrik Nemeth and the Avalanche agree to a one-year, $2.5 million deal. (Link)

July 31
• The Rangers and Ryan Spooner agree to a two-year, $8 million deal. (Link)

July 30
• Flames, Garnet Hathaway avoid arbitration and agree to a one-year, $850,000 deal. (Link)

Miikka Salomaki and the Predators come to terms on a two-year, $1.5 million extension. (Link)

Matt Read joins the Wild on a two-way deal. One-year, $650,000. (Link)

July 28
Brady Skjei and the Rangers agree to a six-year, $31.5 million deal. (Link)

July 27
Tom Wilson gets a six-year, $31 million extension from the Capitals. (Link)

July 26
• David Rittich, Calgary Flames agree to one-year, $800,000 contract. (Link)

Tristan Jarry re-signs with the Penguins. Two years, $1.35 million (Link)

July 25
• Mark Jankowski and the Flames agree to two-year, $3.35 million deal to avoid arbitration. (Link)

Dan Hamhuis returns to the Predators with a two-year, $2.5 million deal. (Link)

Mattias Janmark signs a one-year, $2.3 million deal with the Stars. (Link)

Jake Virtanen re-signs with the Canucks. Two years, $2.5 million. (Link)

• An arbitrator has awarded Flames defenseman Brett Kulak a one-year, $900,000 contract. (Link)

MacKenzie Weegar returns to the Panthers one a one-year deal. (Link)

Jason Zucker and the Wild agree to a five-year, $27.5 million extension. (Link)

July 24
Joel Edmundson and the Blues avoid arbitration and agree to a one-year, $3 million deal. (Link)

• Another arbitration session avoided as Brandon Montour and the Ducks reach a two-year, $6.775 million deal. (Link)

Tucker Poolman and the Jets agree to a three-year, $2.325 million deal. (Link)

Brooks Orpik returns to the Capitals on a one-year, $1 million contract. (Link)

• Jets, Marko Dano agree to a one-year, $800,000 deal. (Link)

July 23
William Carrier stays with the Golden Knights with a two-year, $1.45 million contract. (Link)

• Islanders, Brock Nelson avoid arbitration with one-year, $4.25 million deal. (Link)

July 22
• Jets defenseman Jacob Trouba is awarded a one-year, $5.5 million contract in arbitration. (Link)

Brandon Tanev and the Jets agree to a one-year, $1.15 million deal. (Link)

July 21
Matt Dumba signs a five-year, $30 million extension with the Wild. (Link)

July 20
• Troy Stetcher and the Canucks agree to a two-year, $4.65 million extension. (Link)

July 19
Adam Lowry and the Jets come to terms on a three-year, $8.75 million extension, avoiding arbitration. (Link)

Madison Bowey re-signs with the Capitals. Two years, $2 million. (Link)

Derek Grant joins the Penguins on a one-year, $650,000 deal. (Link)

July 18
• Chris Tierney, San Jose Sharks avoid arbitration with a two-year deal with an AAV of $2.9375 million. (Link)

• The Edmonton Oilers sign their 2018 first-round pick Evan Bouchard to an entry-level deal. (Link)

July 17
• The Devils agree to terms with Blake Coleman on a three-year, $5.4 million deal (Link)

• A busy morning for Ray Shero also sees Stefan Noesen agree to a one-year, $1.725 million deal. (Link)

Ryan Pulock, Islanders agree to a two-year, $4 million contract. (Link)

Jimmy Vesey and the Rangers avoid arbitration and agree to a two-year, $4.55 million deal. (Link)

Tomas Nosek re-signs with the Golden Knights. One-year, $962,500. (Link)

July 16
Ryan Hartman and the Predators agree to a one-year, $875,000 deal. (Link)

Elias Lindholm inks a six-year, $29.1 million extension with the Flames. (Link)

• The Ducks lock up Adam Henrique with a five-year, $29.125 million extension. (Link)

Juuse Saros signs a three-year, $4.5 million extension with the Predators. (Link)

Jon Gillies and the Flames agree to a two-year, $1.5 million deal. (Link)

July 15
• The Blue Jackets and Oliver Bjorkstrand agree to a three-year, $7.5 million extension. (Link)

• Philip Danult re-signs with the Canadiens. Thee years, $9.249 million. (Link)

July 14
Ryan Murray accepts his qualifying offer with the Blue Jackets. One year, $2.825 million. (Link)

Rob O'Gara re-signs with the Rangers. One year, $874,125. (Link)

July 13
Joel Armia and the Canadiens come to terms on a one-year, $1.85 million contract. (Link)

Marc-Andre Fleury and the Golden Knights agree to a three-year, $21 million extension. (Link)

Andreas Johnsson accepts his qualifying offer, a one-year, $787,500 deal with the Maple Leafs. (Link)

• The Stars extend Devin Shore with a two-year, $4.6 million contract. (Link)

July 12
Connor Hellebuyck signs a six-year, $37 million extension with the Jets. (Link)

• The Blackhawks send the contract of Marian Hossa’s contract, Vinnie Hinostroza, Jordan Oesterle and a 2019 third-rounder to the Coyotes for Marcus Kruger, Jordan Maletta, Andrew Campbell, MacKenzie Entwistle’s rights and a 2019 fifth-rounder. (Link)

Cody McLeod returns to the Rangers on a one-year deal. (Link)

Jamie Oleksiak and the Penguins agree to a three-year, $6.4125 million extension. (Link)

July 11
Adam Erne re-signs with the Lightning. One-year, $800,000. (Link)

Anthony Mantha and the Red Wings agree to a two-year, $6.6 million extension. (Link)

July 10
Patrick Maroon heads homes to St. Louis and signs a one-year, $1.75 million deal with the Blues. (Link)

Nikita Kucherov signs an eight-year, $76 million extension with the Lightning. (Link)

July 9
Ross Johnston gets a four-year, $4 million extension with the Islanders. (Link)

Rasmus Dahlin inks his three-year, entry level contract with the Sabres. (Link)

• The Islanders add forward Jan Kovar, who spent the last five seasons in the KHL, with a one-year deal. (Link)

July 7
• Alex Lyon re-signs in Philadelphia. Two years, $1.5 million. (Link)

Dmitrij Jaskin and the Blues agree to a one-year, $1.1 million extension. (Link)

Colin Miller signs four-year, $15.5 million extension with the Vegas Golden Knights (Link)

Dylan DeMelo re-ups with the San Jose Sharks. Two years, $1.8 million total. (Link)

July 6
Matt Nieto stays with the Colorado Avalanche. Two years, $3.95 million total. (Link)

• Oscar Dansk re-signs with the Vegas Golden Knights. Two years, $1.35 million total. (Link)

• The Dallas Stars re-sign Jason Dickinson to a one-year, $875,000 contract. (Link)

Alexander Petrovic re-signs with the Florida Panthers with a one-year deal. (Link)

• After getting bought out by the Wild, Tyler Ennis signs with the Maple Leafs. One year, $650,000. (Link)

Ryan Strome re-ups with the Oilers with a two-year, $6.2 million extension. (Link)

Oskar Sundqvist inks a one-year, $700,000 to remain a St. Louis Blue. (Link)

July 5
Cedric Paquette gets a one-year, $1 million deal to stay with the Lightning. (Link)

Trevor van Riemsdyk, Hurricanes avoid arbitration with two-year, $4.6 million deal. (Link)

Anthony Duclair heads to the Blue Jackets on a one-year, $650,000 deal. (Link)

Andreas Athanasiou stays with the Detroit Red Wings with a two-year, $6 million deal. (Link)

Jacob De La Rose re-signs with the Canadiens with a two-year, $1.8 million contract. (Link)

• The Ducks bring on Andrej Sustr with a one-year, $1.3 million contract. (Link)

Boone Jenner gets a four-year, $15 million extension from the Columbus Blue Jackets. (Link)

Christian Folin gets a one-year deal from the Philadelphia Flyers. (Link)

Jordan Nolan heads to the St. Louis Blues. One year, $650,000. (Link)

July 3
Robby Fabbri stays in St. Louis with a one-year, $925,000 deal. (Link)

• The Boston Bruins re-sign Sean Kuraly for three years, $3.825 million. (Link)

Remi Elie re-signs with the Dallas Stars. One year, $735,000 (Link)

Calvin de Haan signs with the Carolina Hurricanes on a four-year, $18.4 million contract in free agency. [Link]

• The Islanders signed goalie Robin Lehner to a one-year contract. [Link]

Brad Richardson is back with the Arizona Coyotes on a two-year contract. [Link]

• The Islanders bring back Matt Martin in a trade with the Toronto Maple Leafs. (Link)

July 2
Tomas Hertl re-ups with the Sharks on a four-year, $22.5 million contract. (Link)

Carter Rowney gets a three-year deal from the Anaheim Ducks. (Link)

Joe Thornton re-signs in San Jose with a one-year, $5 million deal. (Link)

Brian Gibbons lands a one-year, $1 million contract with the Anaheim Ducks. (Link)

Slater Koekkoek is back with the Tampa Bay Lightning. One year, $865,000. (Link)

Zac Rinaldo has a new home with the Nashville Predators. One year, $650,000. (Link)

James Neal gets a five-year, $28.75 million deal from the Calgary Flames. (Link)

Tom Kuhnhackl joins the Islanders on a one-year deal. (Link)

July 1
Matt Calvert joins the Colorado Avalanche on a three-year, $8.4 millon deal. (Link)

Valtteri Filppula joins the Islanders on a one-year, $2.75 million deal. (Link)

• The Buffalo Sabres send Ryan O'Reilly to the St. Louis Blues for a 2019 first-rounder, 2021 second-rounder, forwards Tage Thompson, Patrik Berglund, and Vladimir Sobotka. The Blues also pick up O’Reilly’s $7.5 million signing bonus. (Link)

Luke Schenn will be manning the Anaheim Ducks’ blue line next season. One year, $800,000. (Link)

• Defenseman Nick Holden is joining the Western Conference champion Vegas Golden Knights. Two years, $4.4 million (Link)

• Islanders sign Leo Komarov for four years, $12 million. (Link)

Sven Baertschi is back in Vancouver on a three-year, $10 million contract. (Link)

Riley Nash cashes in on a big year and gets a three-year, $8.25 million deal with the Blue Jackets. (Link)

Vladislav Namestnikov is staying with the New York Rangers with a two-year, $8 million extension. (Link)

Tobias Rieder hooks up with the Oilers on a one-year, $1.3 million contract. (Link)

Matt Cullen goes back to Pittsburgh on a one-year. $650,000 deal. (Link)

John Moore gets a big contract from the Boston Bruins. Five years, $13.75 million. (Link)

• #TavaresWatch is over. John Tavares has signed a seven-year, $77 million deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs. (Link)

• The Sabres and Blues basically swap backup goalies now that Chad Johnson signs for one year, $1.75 million in St. Louis. (Link)

• The Hurricanes find their backup in Petr Mrazek. One year, $1.5 million. (Link)

Michael Grabner heads west with a three-year, $10.05 million deal with the Coyotes. (Link)

Kyle Brodziak joins the Oilers for two years, $2.3 million. (Link)

• After two seasons in the KHL, Val Nichushkin returns to Dallas with a two-year, $5.9 million deal. (Link)

J.T. Brown joins the Wild on a two-year, $1.375 million contract. (Link)

Ryan McDonagh inks a seven-year, $47.25 million extension to stay with the Tampa Bay Lightning. (Link)

• The Stars stay busy adding Roman Polak (one year, $1.3 million) to their blue line. (Link)

Tomas Plekanec is member of the Montreal Canadiens again. One year, $2.25 million. (Link)

• The Chicago Blackhawks add Cam Ward ($3 million) and Chris Kunitz ($1 million) on one year deals and ink Brandon Manning to a two-year, $4.5 million contract. (Link)

• The Coyotes make Oliver Ekman-Larsson‘s eight year, $66 million extension official. (Link)

• The Colorado Avalanche add to their blue line bringing in Ian Cole on a three-year, $12.75 million deal. (Link)

Blake Comeau is signed by the Dallas Stars, three years, $7.2 million. (Link)

Tyler Bozak joins Perron in St. Louis as the Blues ink the center to a three-year, $15 million deal. (Link)

Thomas Hickey heads back to the Islanders with a four-year, $10 million contract. (Link)

Paul Stastny leaves Winnipeg for the Vegas Golden Knights on a three-year, $19.5 million deal. (Link)

• The Jack Johnson to the Penguins deal is real and it’s $16.25 million over five years. (Link)

Thomas Vanek (one year, $3 million), Mike Green (two year, $10.75 million) and Jonathan Bernier (three year, $9 million) have all signed with the Detroit Red Wings.

James van Riemsdyk heads back to Philadelphia with a five-year, $35 million contract. (Link)

David Perron returns to St. Louis and signs a four-year, $16 million deal with the Blues. (Link)

Jay Beagle and Antoine Roussel each get four-year, $12 million deals from the Vancouver Canucks. (Link)

• The Calgary Flames pick up Derek Ryan (three years, $9.375 million) and Austin Czarnik (two years, $2.50 million). (Link)

Greg Pateryn gets a three-year, $6.75 million deal from the Minnesota Wild. Eric Fehr (one year, $1 million) is joining him. (Link)

• The Bruins, Sabres Stars find backups with Jaroslav Halak (two years, $5.5 million) headed to Boston, Anton Khudobin (two years, $5 million) on his way to Dallas and Carter Hutton (three years, $8.25 million) going to Buffalo.

Matt Hendricks moves on to the Wild with a one-year, $700,000 deal. (Link)

June 30
• Winnipeg Jets clear valuable cap space by shipping Steve Mason to Montreal Canadiens. (Link)

Logan Couture, San Jose Sharks agree to eight-year, $64 million extension. (Link)

Ryan Reaves is sticking in Sin City, signing a two-year, $5.5 million contract with the Vegas Golden Knights. (Link)

Chris Wagner heads to the Boston Bruins on a two-year, $2.5 million deal. (Link)

Eddie Lack returns to New Jersey on a one-year, $650,000 deal with the Devils. (Link)

• The Carolina Hurricanes hand Andrei Svechnikov his three-year, entry level deal worth $2,497,500. (Link)

Niklas Hjalmarsson inks a two-year, $10 million extension (kicks in 2019-20) with the Arizona Coyotes. (Link)

June 29
Drew Doughty, Los Angeles Kings agree to eight-year, $88 million extension. (Link)

Michal Kempny stays in Washington with four-year, $10 million extension. (Link)

• Capitals name Todd Reirden as Barry Trotz’s replacement. (Link)

Frank Vatrano returns to Florida Panthers on one-year, $925,000 contract. (Link)

• Carolina Hurricanes re-sign Valentin Zykov with two-year, $1.35 million contract. (Link)

June 28
• Penguins hand one-year, $650,000 deal to J.S. Dea. (Link)

June 27
• Penguins deal Conor Sheary, Matt Hunwick to Buffalo Sabres. (Link)

Devante Smith-Pelly returns to Washington Capitals with one-year, $1 million deal (Link)

• Penguins re-sign Riley Sheahan to $2.1 million, 1-year deal. (Link)

• Arizona Coyotes bring back Kevin Connauton with two year, $2.75 million extension. (Link)

June 26
• Vancouver Canucks re-sign Derrick Pouliot, one year, $1.1 million. (Link)

• Pittsburgh Penguins re-sign Bryan Rust with 4 year, $14 million deal. (Link)

• Ottawa Senators buy out final year Alex Burrows’s contract. (Link)

J.T. Miller gets five-year, $26.25 million extension from Tampa Bay Lightning. (Link)

• Sam Morin gets three-year, $2.1 million extension from Philadelphia Flyers. (Link)

Joe Morrow re-signs with Winnipeg Jets for $1 million over one year. (Link)