2019-20 Season Preview

Previewing the 2019-20 Washington Capitals

(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

For more 2019-20 PHT season previews, click here.

Better or Worse: The Capitals have shown a solid knack for spotting value to supplement their longstanding, impressive core of Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and others. Sometimes that means waving goodbye to some of those diamonds in the rough, and this offseason served as an example, as they showed discipline in not overpaying Brett Connolly.

The Capitals have done well to zig and zag with salary cap realities, and in some cases, might have saved money and gotten the better end of the deal (if Radko Gudas and Matt Niskanen perform at the same broad level as last season, Gudas would possibly be the better asset). Richard Panik could be the next bargain pickup like Connolly, though the two bring different benefits to the table.

Still, losing Andre Burakovsky puts the overall balance at “worse.” A lesser GM would have suffered greater losses, though.

Strengths: The Capitals showed in that 2018 Stanley Cup run that, when things boil down to best-on-best, they can come out on top. It didn’t work out quite as well this past year, but with Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov down the middle, some nice wingers beyond Ovechkin, and some solid defense led by John Carlson, the Caps check a lot of boxes.

Braden Holtby has also been one of the most dependable goalies in the NHL, and with contract year motivation, it wouldn’t be shocking if he chased another Vezina.

More often than not, the Capitals have boasted a dangerous power play to boot.

Weaknesses: The Capitals find ways to outscore opponents, but it’s worth noting that they haven’t been elite by certain underlying measures for quite some time. In fact, in 2018-19, the Capitals were under 50 percent by Corsi, Fenwick, expected goals, and so on.

Again, the Capitals have been able to overcome those five-on-five numbers, whether they’ve done so by superior skill or winning quality chance battles. With core players getting older, it’s fair to wonder if the Capitals might fail that tightrope walk. Sometimes such declines are subtle; other times, the drop-off can be severe.

[MORE: Three Questions | On Holtby’s future | Under Pressure]

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): It had to sting to see Barry Trotz win a Jack Adams Award during his first season with the Islanders, particularly since Trotz’s team advanced to Round 2, while the Capitals fell in Round 1. Things could heat up in a big way for Todd Reirden if the disappointments start to stack up, but for now, it feels a little early to worry. Let’s put Reirden around a three.

Three Most Fascinating Players: Holtby, Backstrom, and Gudas.

Three interesting players, three contract years.

Holtby could easily set himself up for a contract that ranges from Andrei Vasilevskiy ($9.5 million AAV) to Carey Price ($10.5M AAV), but that might hinge on his production in 2019-20. Some of this might depend on how badly he wants to stay in Washington; could he be convinced to take a bit of a discount to try to keep the band together?

Backstrom’s been in Alex Ovechkin’s shadow for some time, and is a big bargain at a $6.7M cap hit. This is his chance to get recognition, and get paid closer to what he’s actually worth.

Gudas has been one of those rare physical, hard-hitting defensemen who actually tends to stand out well from a “fancy stats” standpoint. That said, he didn’t always earn the trust to get much of a prominent role with Philly. Could Gudas prove that he’s a top-four guy, and maybe keep penalties under control? While Backstrom and Holtby are almost certain to get big raises, things could go either way for Gudas.

Playoffs or Lottery: The Capitals have won the Metro for four seasons in a row, and regularly took the Southeast crown when it still existed. They’re rarely fighting for a playoff spot late in years, and sometimes don’t even really need to worry much about seeding.

Maybe they’ll sink a little bit, but this team has what you need to comfortably secure a playoff spot.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 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.

Previewing the 2019-20 Pittsburgh Penguins

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(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

For more 2019-20 PHT season previews, click here.

Better or Worse: The Penguins made a splash when they sent Phil Kessel to Arizona. In return, they got Alex Galchenyuk, who is talented yet enigmatic at times. They also signed Brandon Tanev in free agency over the course of the summer. Are they better on the ice? Not really. Kessel had picked up 70, 90 and 82 points over the last three years so it’s going to be tough to replace that production. Did Kessel have to be traded to keep peace in the Pens locker room? Yes.

Strengths: Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin remain two of the elite players in the NHL. Crosby picked up 100 points last season for the first time since 2013-14 campaign. He’s showing no signs of slowing down. As for Malkin, he’s coming off a bad year by his standards, but the 32-year-old still managed to score 72 points in 68 contests. Look for the 33-year-old to have a bounce back year. The Penguins are still rock-solid down the middle.

Weaknesses: The defense still has a ton of question marks. Kris Letang is a great player, but can he stay healthy for an entire 82-game season? The 32-year-old has missed significant time over the last few years. This group also has Erik Gudbranson and Jack Johnson, who combine to make $7.25 million per year. That’s a lot of money for a team that’s always flirting with the upper limit of the salary cap. Justin Schultz and Brian Dumoulin will need to do some heavy lifting.

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): 6. Mike Sullivan has had plenty of success during his tenure as head coach, but things seemed to get stale in Pittsburgh last year. They’ve shaken things up by getting rid of Kessel. What happens if that doesn’t work? The Pens made the playoffs last year, but they went out with a whimper, as they were swept by the Islanders in the first round. Sullivan has to find a way to push the right buttons if he’s going to stick around for a few more years.

Three Most Fascinating Players: Keep an eye on Malkin, Galchenyuk and Tanev. We’ve talked about Malkin’s struggles last year. On paper, it wasn’t a terrible year, but a player with that much talent should dominant on a nightly basis. He’s already admitted to being a little out of shape last year, which means he should start the season in great physical condition so he doesn’t have to cheat as much offensively. Malkin is one the leaders of this team. They’ll go as far as he’s willing to take them.

Galchenyuk has a lot of pressure on his shoulders. He’s expected to get a shot to play on a line with Malkin, which means he’s going to have to be one of the key contributors on his team offensively. We know he has all the ability in the world, but he has just one 30-goal season to show for it. The Arizona Coyotes gave up on him after just one season, so he has something to prove now that he’s on his third team in three years. He has to replace Kessel’s production.

Tanev isn’t nearly as talented as the other two players on this list, but he’s in the spotlight because of the contract he signed with the Pens this summer. The 27-year-old got a six-year, $21 million deal. That raised some eyebrows on July 1st. Tanev had 14 goals and 15 assists in 80 games with the Winnipeg Jets last year. He’s not the kind of player that’s going to score much, but he’ll give an honest effort and bring a physical element to the team. Will that be enough to justify the contract? We’ll see.

Playoffs or Lottery: Playoffs. The Penguins will figure out a way to finish second or third in the Metropolitan Division. There’s still a lot of talent on the roster. Their better days may be behind them, but you can’t count them out just yet.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 NHL on NBC TV schedule

Joey Alfieri is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @joeyalfieri.

Previewing the 2019-20 Philadelphia Flyers

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(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

For more 2019-20 PHT season previews, click here.

Better or Worse: Better, although it remains to be seen if the Flyers get their money’s worth.

Kevin Hayes has a strong chance to serve as an elusive 2C, but there will be significant pressure stemming from a risky contract that carries a $7 million AAV. How you grade other moves comes down to taste. Is Matt Niskanen due for a bounce-back season, or did the Flyers just waste money and flexibility on a downgrade from Radko Gudas? Alain Vigneault brings name recognition and decent resume to the table, but his teams have often been swamped from a possession standpoint. We may look back at this situation and realize that Scott Gordon might have been the better option.

Strengths: If everything breaks right, the Flyers have a nice mix of veterans with enough left in the tank (Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, James van Riemsdyk), players in the meat of their primes (Sean Couturier, Shayne Gostisbehere), and young talent about to make the leap (Carter Hart, Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny).

Nolan Patrick has been a bit of a disappointment, but with Couturier taking 1C and Hayes slotting in at 2C, the second overall pick of the 2017 NHL Draft may flourish against lesser competition.

If everything pans out, the Flyers could have a nice mix of scoring, modern-style defense, and goaltending. I’d expect a lot of the things that went wrong in 2018-19 to correct in 2019-20, though it’s possible that the Flyers’ outlook was inflated a bit by a lot going right in 2017-18.

Weaknesses: There are reasons to wonder if certain players are overrated. Management may have put too much stock in Niskanen and Justin Braun, two players who’ve had a rough go of things lately and are 32. Even Ivan Provorov might not be quite as dynamic as many believe.

Rolling with Carter Hart is mostly smart, but it’s unsafe to merely assume that he’ll have a strong season. He’s still pretty wet behind the ears, and was actually struggling a bit in the AHL with a .902 save percentage before his big call-up. Brian Elliott isn’t exactly the greatest safety net either, considering his struggles on the ice lately — when he can even be healthy enough to suit up.

It’s also fair to worry about Father Time limiting the likes of Giroux and Voracek, not just players like Niskanen. Even JVR is already 30.

Frankly, recent experience points to Vigneault being a weakness, especially if he indulges in too much of a fixation with fighters, as he notoriously did with Tanner Glass in New York.

[MORE: 3 Questions | Under Pressure | Patrick the X-factor]

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): Hiring Alain Vigneault felt like one of several Flyers moves based on reputation and name recognition. Ron Hextall had introduced the rare concept of “patience” to this often-impetuous franchise, yet Chuck Fletcher is bringing a nostalgic air of chaos. I’d expect Vigneault to be fairly safe in his first year, so let’s put him at three.

Three Most Fascinating Players: Hart, Patrick, Sanheim.

The Flyers have a lot hinging on Hart, so we’ll see if he can justify his pedigree, and all of the relief people felt when he looked so promising late last season. It figures to be a less volatile situation than last season’s rotation of eight goalies, but that doesn’t mean it’s a guaranteed success.

Fans would be wise not to daydream too much about how much more potent this Flyers team would look with Miro Heiskanen (third overall) or Elias Pettersson (fifth overall) instead of Patrick at that second pick from 2017. Even if you can ignore such painful thoughts, the bottom line is that Philly needs more from the 21-year-old.

During Gordon’s interim run, Sanheim got a big bump in stature, and he delivered with promising play. Will that carry over with AV, or will Sanheim sink?

Playoffs or Lottery: The Flyers figure to be a bubble team not unlike what they were in 2017-18. While I’m not sure they’ll make the playoffs, that seems like a safer bet than Philadelphia being lottery-bound.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 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.

Previewing the 2019-20 New York Rangers

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(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

For more 2019-20 PHT season previews, click here.

Better or worse: They should be significantly better. How could they not be after adding Artemi Panarin, Jacob Trouba, Adam Fox, and two potential rookie of the year contenders at forward in Kaapo Kakko and Vitali Kravtsov. That is a ton of talent to enter the organization in one summer and it should be enough to have the team at least in contention for a playoff spot.

Strengths: It is probably their talent on the wings. Panarin, Kakko, and Kravtsov will get most of the headlines as the new faces joining the team, but don’t forget about returning veterans Pavel Buchnevich (20 goals in only 64 games a year ago) and Chris Kreider. The two rookies are still unknowns and they will no doubt have some growing pains throughout the season, but their potential is through the roof.

Weaknesses: The Rangers are probably at their weakest down the middle, from center and back through the defense. Mika Zibanejad has become an excellent first-line center, but there is not much proven depth at the position after him. The defense will get a boost from the offseason additions of Trouba and Fox, but they are still lacking a true No. 1 on their blue line. Someone that can control the game in all situations, play 25-26 minutes per night, and be a cornerstone player. Trouba is good, but he is not going to be a player that is the go-to-defender on a championship caliber blue line. He is probably best served as a No. 2 or 3.

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): When you have an offseason like the Rangers had it becomes easy for expectations to quickly get out of control. David Quinn has only spent one year behind the team’s bench (a clear rebuilding year) and it seems unlikely that he is entering the year in any real danger. Would that change if the Rangers don’t take any significant strides this season? It might. He is a 4 out of 10 on the hot seat rating.

[MORE: Three Questions | Under Pressure | X-factor]

Three most fascinating players: Kappo, Panarin, and Henrik Lundqvist

Kappo tops the list of fascinating players simply because he is the most anticipated prospect to put on a Rangers uniform in quite some time. Every rebuild needs a young superstar to build around, and he could be that player in New York.

The free agent market is usually a fools paradise where long-term contracts end up backfiring spectacularly, but Panarin might be one of the exceptions to that. He has been one of the best offensive players in the league since entering the NHL, he does not have a ton of mileage on his career, and he is still at an age where he should be in the prime of his career. He showed in Columbus that he can not only carry his own line, but also carry a team.

It will be interesting to see how much Lundqvist has left in the tank and what his workload will look like. He turns 38 this season and probably only has a handful of seasons left in the NHL. He showed signs of slowing down a year ago but he also still flashed those moments of dominance where he can steal a game. You have to think Alexander Georgiev will get his share of starts this season, especially as the Rangers look to the future, but for now this is still Lundqvist’s net.

Playoffs or lottery: The biggest problem for the Rangers is they play in an absolutely loaded division that does not really have any truly weak teams. They should definitely stay in the playoff race all year but given their lack of depth at center and the question marks on defense they may not be quite ready yet. Their ceiling seems like a wild card. Their most likely finish is somewhere between 8th and 11th in the Eastern Conference.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 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.

Previewing the 2019-20 New York Islanders

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(The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to look at all 31 teams. We’ll be breaking down strengths and weaknesses, whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)

For more 2019-20 PHT season previews, click here.

Better or worse: The answer to this question depends on how much you think they can repeat what they did a year ago. They are bringing back largely the same team, with the one notable exception being the swapping of Robin Lehner for Semyon Varlamov in goal. If Varlamov can step in and replace what Lehner did, they have a shot to be pretty good again. If he fails to do that, it could mean a significant step backwards. If they are better, it is hard to see them being significantly better. If they are worse, they probably won’t be much worse depending on what Varlamov does.

Strengths: The Islanders have one of the league’s best, most successful head coaches in Barry Trotz and that is always a bonus. The combination of his structured system and some great goaltending made the Islanders the toughest team to score against a year ago. They also have a franchise player in Mathew Barzal who is quickly becomimg an all-around force.

Weaknesses: It is the offense. The good news is they were able to bring back all of their key unrestricted free agent forwards, re-signing Anders Lee, Jordan Eberle, and Brock Nelson. But this was not a particularly dangerous team offensively a year ago and was one of the worst offensive teams to make the playoffs. Barzal should be more productive this season, but they are still going to have to win a lot of close, low-scoring games.

Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being red hot): You can never be too sure of what Lou Lamorieillo is thinking with his head coaches, but after the turnaround the Islanders had a year ago Trotz would seem to be as secure as any coach in the league. We will put him as a 1.5 out of 10. Normally for a coach in this position it would be a 1, but we are allowing the possibility of Lamoriello doing something bizarre just because … hey … it has happened with him and coaches before.

Three most fascinating players: Barzal, Devon Toews, Josh Ho-Sang

Barzal just because he seems destined to have a bounce back year offensively. His point production regressed in year two but he showed a lot of improvement in other areas and is becoming an outstanding all-around player. If he can get back to an 80-90 point player that would be a huge help to what was an otherwise dull offense a year ago.

Toews did not make his NHL debut until he turned 24 years old, so you could definitely call him a “late bloomer.” He made the most of that opportunity once he finally was able to show what he can do at the NHL level. His quite underlying numbers and ability to move the puck are an asset to the Islanders’ blue line and he could be on the verge of a nice breakout season.

Ho-Sang just because this seems to be the latest make-or-break year for him and the Islanders in what has been a career of make-or-break years. He has talent, the Islanders need difference-makers up front, and he has always produced reasonably well given the lack of minutes he gets when he plays for the Islanders. There is still a chance he can be a long-term part of this team.

Playoffs of Lottery: This is a tricky one because they could easily fit into either group. Some regression should be expected, they did not do much to their roster over the summer, and the goaltending is suddenly a bit of a question. While all of that was happening, a lot of non-playoff teams around them managed to get a lot better on paper. Give the strength of the division around them they seem to be a bubble team, but I am going to say they just barely fall on the wrong side of it due to the lack of offense and the team maybe not being as good at goal prevention as it was a year ago.

MORE:
• ProHockeyTalk’s 2019 NHL free agency tracker
• Your 2019-20 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.