John Gibson

NHL Power Rankings: Early season surprises and slow starts

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In this week’s edition of the PHT Power Rankings we take a look at some of the early season results around the league.

The first couple of weeks can be tricky to analyze because there is a lot of random noise still taking place, and that can cloud our early outlook on a lot of teams. Over the course of an 82-game season every team is going to hit hot streaks and cold streaks, and if one of those streaks happens early in the year with nothing else around it we can easily jump to some wrong conclusions.

So far some Stanley Cup contenders have struggled, while a couple of teams that were thought to be at the bottom of the league have excelled.

Which teams are for real and which ones are not? Let us try to figure some of that out now.

To the rankings!

The early elites

These teams are at the top and will likely stay here…

1. Carolina Hurricanes. Anyone that thought this team’s second half and postseason run was a fluke was mistaken. They are for real and they are not going away. If they get the goaltending they could be a serious contender to win it all.

2. Colorado Avalanche. So far the preseason hype is legit. They still have the superstars at the top of the lineup, and now they have some actual depth to go with it. Cale Makar looks like a potential Calder Trophy winner.

3. Boston Bruins. When Tuukka Rask is on his game — as he has been so far — the Bruins can be close to unbeatable.

4. Vegas Golden Knights. They do have two losses (a one-goal loss to a great Boston team, and a random off night in Arizona) but they have absolutely steamrolled every other team they have played, including several division foes. Mark Stone could be a real sleeper MVP contender this season.

Great starts but still have something to prove

These teams have started fast, but may not stay here…

5. Edmonton Oilers. The good news: They won their first five games, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl look unstoppable, and James Neal is doing exactly what they hoped. The bad news: The roster after those three is still littered with questions and their underlying numbers point to an unsustainable hot streak. We will see where this goes.

6. Buffalo Sabres. Jack Eichel and Rasmus Dahlin is a heck of a duo to build around, but after the way they started last year and fell apart after the first two months the rest of the team has to prove they can do it all year before anyone buys into them.

7. Anaheim Ducks. John Gibson might be the best goalie in hockey, and because of that they always have a chance on any given night. Having Ryan Miller is a backup is a pretty darn good Plan B in net, too.

8. Philadelphia Flyers. Still not quite sure what to make of the Flyers. The top of their lineup is great but the rest of the roster has question marks. A lot here still depends on what Carter Hart does. They started the season with three games in three different countries and managed to collect five out of six points during that stretch. Nice start.

The contenders that you know will be there

These teams are almost certainly going to be in the playoffs, and maybe even have a chance to play for the Stanley Cup, but have not yet played their best (or close to their best)…

9. St. Louis Blues. Brayden Schenn is responding to his new eight-year contract extension by scoring a ton of goals. We know he is good now, but that contract comes down to how good he looks four or five years from now.

10. Nashville Predators. Matt Duchene has been everything they could have hoped for so far. If he continues that he will be a significant addition to this roster.

11. Washington Capitals. They have not really played their best yet but are still managing to collect points in the standings almost every night. Good thing to do when you are not yet at your best.

12. Pittsburgh Penguins. The injury situation has left their forward lines a jumbled mess, but they are still finding ways to score goals and win. Sidney Crosby has been completely dominant.

13. Toronto Maple Leafs. The defensive questions that have followed this team around for the past few years are still there right now.

14. Tampa Bay Lightning. Something seems a little off so far. This is the best roster in the league on paper, but they have been really hit-and-miss so far this season. Their 4-2 loss in Ottawa over the weekend was ugly.

15. Calgary Flames. Some regression was to be expected this season, but they still have enough talent to be a factor in the Western Conference. Johnny Gaudreau is superb with the puck and is off to a great start.

The great unknowns

These teams are still mysteries whose seasons could still go in any direction…

16. Winnipeg Jets. Their defense is not very good, and that is going to be a big problem, especially if Dustin Byfuglien does not re-join the team. But they do still have a great collection of forwards and the big wild card is Patrik Laine having a monster season. So far, he is.

17. Montreal Canadiens. What this team really needs is for Jonathan Drouin to have a breakout year and become the star forward they hoped he could (and would) be.

18. Detroit Red Wings. They have to be thrilled with the start Anthony Mantha is off to. They have played well, but the roster just does not seem to stack up to the other potential playoff teams in the Eastern Conference.

19. New York Rangers. Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin looks like it has a chance to be quite a duo this season.

20. New York Islanders. They are still going to struggle to score goals, but Mathew Barzal will produce more than he has so far. They will still go as far as the goalies can take them.

21. Florida Panthers. They won just one of their first five games entering Monday, but two of their losses came in a shootout. Yeah, they missed out on two points, but we are talking about a coin flip away from their start looking dramatically different than it does. Sergei Bobrovsky being off to a slow start is not helping.

22. Columbus Blue Jackets. So far the goaltending has been the issue it was expected to be, but Pierre Luc-Dubois looks like he is on track for the huge year that was expected of him.

23. Vancouver Canucks. Quinn Hughes was the big reason for excitement this season and so far he is looking like a player that wants to insert himself into the Calder Trophy discussion.

24. Los Angeles Kings. The expectation was that there was no way Jonathan Quick could play worse than he did a year ago. In his first three games he has surrendered 19 goals. That is not going to cut it.

25. Arizona Coyotes. They are still getting great goaltending, but the lack of offense is a real concern.

Good teams that should be better

These are good rosters and should be playoff teams, but they have struggled so far…

26. San Jose Sharks. Not sure if a 40-year-old Patrick Marleau was the missing piece here, but they did win their first two games after he arrived, helping to ease the frustration from an 0-4 start. Do not expect this team to remain this low all season. Too much talent here. Still a potential Western Conference champion.

27. Dallas Stars. Roope Hintz has been the lone bright spot on what has been, so far, one of the most disappointing teams in the NHL.

Could be a long season

These teams have looked bad and may continue to look bad all season…

28. Ottawa Senators. Their win over the Lightning this weekend really was impressive, but other than that they have looked exactly like we expected the Senators to look.

29. Chicago Blackhawks. The early returns on the “did they do enough to fix their defense?” question are not looking promising.

30. New Jersey Devils. Their best players and their new faces are all off to slow starts, and that should help when those players get things turned around. Not sure if the goaltending will turn around, though. So far the Devils have not really done anything well this season.

31. Minnesota Wild. There is just — well — there is just not much positive happening here.

MORE:
• 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.

PHT Face-Off: High-Flying Oilers; What’s wrong with Bolts?

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Heading into today’s action, every team in the NHL has played between three and seven games. That’s not a huge sample size, but it’s enough to spot certain trends. The PHT Face-Off will break down some of the early-season storylines around the league. 

Here we go:

• Arizona can’t score:

The Coyotes made a blockbuster trade to acquire Phil Kessel from the Pittsburgh Penguins. Unfortunately for the ‘Yotes, that hasn’t translated into more goals. Through four games, Arizona has found the back of the net a total of seven times. More than half of those seven goals (four) came in their 4-1 win over the Vegas Golden Knights on Thursday night. They scored one goal against Anaheim, none against Boston and two in an overtime loss to Colorado on Saturday night.

The encouraging thing about Arizona’s start, is that they’re ninth in the NHL in Corsi For Percentage at 52.09 percent and ninth in High Danger Chances For percentage at 54.9 percent (stats provided by Natural Stat Trick). You have to think that if they can continue to post similar numbers, the pucks will start going in at some point.

Arizona will head into Tuesday’s game against Winnipeg with a 1-2-1 record. That’s not terrible considering their lack of scoring. The fact that they’ve given up just seven goals helps in a big way.

• What’s wrong with the Lightning?

Last season, the Lightning ran away with the President’s Trophy crown, as they amassed a 62-16-4 record which was good for 128 points. The Calgary Flames, who had the second-highest point total in 2018-19, collected 107 points. That’s a huge gap. Heading into Tuesday’s clash against the Montreal Canadiens on NBCSN, the Bolts have a 2-2-1 record.

Prior to Thursday’s win over the Toronto Maple Leafs, head coach Jon Cooper admitted that his team still felt the pain of being swept by the Columbus Blue Jackets in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

“I would be lying if I didn’t think there was a burden carried over,” Cooper told assembled media in Toronto on Thursday morning. “But we’ve talked to the players about it. We can’t change last year. We’re defending nothing, so let’s go and attack, and wherever people pick us, that’s for everybody else to talk about. It’s not how we feel. As I said before, we have a completely different team. Yes, a lot of our core is the same, but there’s no question, there’s a little bit of a burden you carry from last year. If we’re fortunate enough to make the playoffs and, hopefully, if we do win a round, we’re probably going to hear it until then. So let’s brush it off and play hockey.”

Give Cooper credit for providing us with an honest answer, because most coaches would’ve denied that there was any carry over at all.

Tampa may not put up another 62-win season, but they should be just fine.

• High-Flying Oilers: 

If you look at the list of NHL scoring leaders, you’ll notice that the first two games at the top belong to Edmonton Oilers players. Yes, Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl have registered 12 and 11 points respectively through their first five games. Also, James Neal is the only player in the league with seven goals this season. That’s a pleasant surprise considering he scored just seven times in 63 games with the Calgary Flames in 2018-19.

Sure, four of those goals came in one game, but that doesn’t take away from the fact that he’s been really, really good for his new team.

Even though there’s no way Neal is going to keep this pace up all season (breaking news: he won’t score 115 goals this year), it’s encouraging to see the Oilers get offensive production from someone other than McDavid and Draisaitl.

It’s early, but the Oilers are sitting atop the Pacific Division standings with a 5-0-0 record.

You can catch McDavid and the gang on NBCSN (9:30 p.m. ET) this Wednesday night against the Philadelphia Flyers.

• Quiet start for top two picks in 2019:

The first two picks in the 2019 NHL Draft were both able to crack their respective squads. Jack Hughes is with the New Jersey Devils, while Kaapo Kakko is taking a regular shift with the New York Rangers. The expectations were pretty high for both teenagers heading into this year, but the offensive output they’ve provided has been limited.

Through five games, Hughes has failed to pick up a point. We know that he’s fast, we know that he’s talented, but it may take a little bit of time for him to get used to the pace of play and the lack of time and space in the NHL. Head coach Jon Hynes has kept his rookie’s minutes fairly consistent, as he’s played between 14:23 and 17:36 this season.

Don’t get it twisted, it’s not Hughes’ fault that the Devils are 0-3-2 right now. After trading for Nikita Gusev and P.K. Subban, and then signing Wayne Simmonds in free agency, the expectations were that New Jersey would be much better. Expecting their prized rookie to light it up in his first year just isn’t fair. The points will eventually come.

According to Scott Cullen, Hughes is the first first overall pick since Steven Stamkos in 2008 to open his career with no points in five games.

As for Kakko, he collected his first goal/point in Saturday’s 4-1 loss to the Edmonton Oilers (he scored the opening goal of the game). Is this the moment that gets him rolling? It’s way too early to tell, but we’ll find out soon enough. Kakko has played two fewer games than Hughes, but their minutes have been similar (Kakko is averaging 15:25/game, Hughes is averaging 15:31/game).

Can Kakko continue to build his Calder Trophy case?

Both players will go head-to-head for the first time on Thursday night on NBCSN (7 p.m. ET).

• Gibson’s Finest: 

The Anaheim Ducks have played three of their first five games on the road, but they managed to go 4-1-0. Their only loss came in Pittsburgh, as they held the highest scoring team in the league to just two goals in a 2-1 defeat. Yes, the Ducks appear to be giving starting goalie John Gibson some help, but he continues to be one of the top goalies in the NHL.

That loss to Pittsburgh was also the only time this season that Gibson has allowed more than one goal in a game, which is totally ridiculous. He has a 3-1-0 record with a 1.26 goals-against-average and a .961 save percentage this season. Yes, it’s a small sample size, but you’d have to think that he’ll be in the conversation for the Vezina Trophy if he can keep his team’s season on the rails.

Gibson got the night off against Columbus on Friday, which means he’ll be fresh for tonight’s tough matchup in Boston.

What’s coming up this week?

• A lot of afternoon hockey on Columbus Day, Mon. Oct. 14, starting at 1 p.m. ET

• Lightning vs. Canadiens, Tue. Oct. 15, 7 p.m. ET (NBCSN)

• Jack Hughes vs. Kaapo Kakko, Thu. Oct. 17, 7 p.m. ET( NBCSN)

• Bruins vs. Maple Leafs for the first time since they faced each other in the first round, Sat. Oct. 19, 7 p.m. ET

WEDNESDAY NIGHT HOCKEY
Avalanche vs. Penguins, Wed. Oct. 16, 7 p.m. ET

NHL on NBCSN
Flyers vs. Oilers, Wed. Oct. 16, 9:30 p.m. ET

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.

Why are Sabres, Rangers, Oilers, Ducks off to hot starts?

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It’s far too early to talk about hot streaks for the Ducks, Sabres, Rangers and Oilers … but it’s far too fun not to. But before we get into that, you might be wondering: are any of these teams for real?

The quick answer isn’t sexy: we don’t know much of anything yet.

In 2018-19, the Devils began the season with a four-game winning streak, yet they were bad enough (31-41-10) to win the draft lottery and land Jack Hughes. Meanwhile, the Avalanche started off last season 6-1-2, and ended up proving that their 2017-18 breakthrough wasn’t a fluke.

So … yeah, apply your grains of salt here, but let’s dive into what’s driving some quick starts.

(Note: this post is limited to four teams that are off to hot starts who missed the playoffs in 2018-19. Hence, no Hurricanes, who made it to the 2019 Eastern Conference Final, for example.)

Anaheim Ducks (3-0-0, six points)

If someone told you that the Ducks began the season on a three-game winning streak, you’d probably assume that goaltending would be the key. And you’d be right.

John Gibson has earned all three wins, generating a ridiculous .970 save percentage, making at least 31 saves in each game so far.

As all-world as Gibson is, this pace is unsustainable. The Ducks have killed every penalty so far, going 7-for-7. Looking at Natural Stat Trick’s all-strengths stats, there are some absurd numbers, including Gibson making the save on a league-leading 94.12 percent of the high-danger scoring chances he’s faced.

It’s not all bad news for the Ducks, necessarily. The early returns on Dallas Eakins seem positive, as Anaheim is more or less breaking even in possession stats, which wasn’t always a safe assumption under former coach Randy Carlyle, who was notorious for submarining his team’s puck possession numbers.

The formula of Gibson (and, to an extent, strong backup Ryan Miller) plus respectable overall play and timely offense might just work for the Ducks. If nothing else, there’s a decent chance that they’ll make gains after a lousy 2018-19.

Just don’t expect Gibson to remain superhuman.

(If I had to bet on any goalie to be superb in 2019-20, it would be Gibson, though.)

Buffalo Sabres (3-0-1, seven points)

While the Ducks have had a perfect penalty kill so far, the Sabres’ power play has been outrageous. Buffalo leads the NHL with eight power play goals, converting on eight of 15 opportunities.

The Sabres have a power-play shooting percentage of 25. Last season, the Lightning led the NHL with a 21.64 power-play shooting percentage, while no one else even hit 19 (Boston was second at 18.84 percent).

Eichel and Rasmus Dahlin are tied for the league lead with five power-play points, while Victor Olofsson chisels out a reputation as “Goal-ofsson” for his deadly work on the man advantage.

So far, the Sabres’ expected goals on the power play was 3.17, which ranks third in Natural Stat Trick’s listings, so there’s certainly some strength to the unit. Perhaps that’s where Ralph Krueger really picked up some especially strong tricks in soccer?

The Sabres are playing over their heads, yet there are positive signs possession-wise.

Edmonton Oilers (3-0-0, six points)

With 14 goals on 80 SOG, the Oilers lead the NHL with a 17.5 shooting percentage.

Not shockingly, James Neal is on fire after that four-goal game, generating six goals on 14 SOG for a 42.9 shooting percentage. Connor McDavid‘s hot hand isn’t so surprising (22.2 percent), but Zack Kassian won’t convert three goals on five SOG (60 percent) very often.

Looking deeper at the Oilers’ stats, they’ve struggled with the seventh-worst Corsi For and Fenwick For percentages, although they’ve generated slightly more high-danger chances for than against (34-30) early on under Dave Tippett. There are worse strategies than “being middle-of-the-pack while having McDavid.”

New York Rangers (2-0-0, four points)

The Rangers have the highest PDO (1.098) so far this season with a high shooting percentage (16.13) and save percentage (93.67). You probably won’t be stunned to realize that the Oilers rank second in PDO (1.077), the Ducks come in fourth (1.058), and the Sabres are ninth (1.043).

Mika Zibanejad‘s been worthy of more attention during the last couple of years, but he won’t generate four points per game (he has eight in two games so far). Artemi Panarin could very well maintain strong chemistry with Zibanejad, but this pace will inevitably subside.

New York’s underlying numbers are rough thus far, even when you factor in score effects.

The Rangers’ 6-4 win against Winnipeg to open the season on Oct. 3 might be the template for the Rangers: lots of goals and chances going both ways, goalies ending up miserable, and chaos generally ensuing. It might not always be pretty, but it could end up being fun to watch.

MORE:
• Pro Hockey Talk’s Stanley Cup picks.
• 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.

The Buzzer: Wrapping up wild Saturday around the NHL

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Three Stars

1. Mika Zibanejad, New York Rangers. What a start to the year for the Rangers’ top center. Playing alongside big free agent acquisition Artemi Panarin, Zibanejad already has eight points in two games and had a hat trick on Saturday in a 4-1 win over the Ottawa Senators, scoring an even-strength goal, a power play goal, and a shorthanded goal. Read more about it here.

2. Mike Hoffman, Florida Panthers. The other hat trick in the NHL on Saturday belonged to Hoffman as he was the difference in the Panthers’ 4-3 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning. After scoring a career-high 36 goals in his debut season with the Panthers a year ago, he already has four goals in his first two games this season.

3. John Gibson, Anaheim Ducks. When he is on top of his game Gibson can be the best goalie in hockey. He showed that on Saturday by turning aside 35 of the 36 shots he faced in a 3-1 win over the San Jose Sharks. Gibson and the Ducks handed San Jose its third consecutive defeat to begin the season. The Ducks are now 2-0 with Gibson stopping 67 of the first 69 shots he has faced over the first two games.

Other notable performances on Saturday

  • Patric Hornqvist and Jared McCann both scored a pair of goals for the Pittsburgh Penguins as they rebounded from an ugly season opening loss to rout the Columbus Blue Jackets, 7-2.
  • The Sabres dominated the New Jersey Devils, 7-2, thanks to a pair of two goal efforts from Sam Reinhart and rookie Victor Olofsson. Rasmus Dahlin also had three assists for the now 2-0 Sabres.
  • James Neal scored two goals for the Edmonton Oilers as they were able to hold on for a wildly entertaining back-and-forth win over the Los Angeles Kings. Connor McDavid also had four points (one goal, three assists) in the win.
  • Tyler Bertuzzi scored two goals and added two more assists to help lift the Detroit Red Wings to a 5-3 win over the Nashville Predators to open their season.
  • Brayden Schenn celebrated his new eight-year contract extension with the St. Louis Blues by scoring his first goal of the season in their 3-2 win over the Dallas Stars.
  • Jaroslav Halak stopped all 35 shots he faced for the Boston Bruins, and they needed every one of those saves in a 1-0 win over the Arizona Coyotes.
  • Colorado’s big three of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, and Gabriel Landeskog were once again dominate in a 4-2 over the Minnesota Wild.
  • Johnny Gaudreau had three points (one goal, two assists) and David Rittich stopped all 34 shots he faced for the Calgary Flames in their 3-0 win over the Vancouver Canucks.

Highlights of the Night

The Carolina Hurricanes were overtime winners once again, this time erasing a two-goal third period deficit against the Washington Capitals. New addition Jake Gardiner scored the game-winner, his first as a member of the Hurricanes.

The prettiest play of the night was still probably the passing play by the Rangers to set up Zibanejad’s second goal.

Blooper of the Night

The Oilers were winners, but it was still a frustrating night for goalie Mike Smith at times as he had a couple of early mishaps playing the puck. This one was especially tough for him.

He had another turnover behind the net later in the period that resulted in another easy Kings goal. Fortunately the Oilers offense showed up in a big way.

Honorable mention blooper: Kasperi Kapanen‘s ridiculous stick-throwing penalty that helped complete the Montreal Canadiens’ third period rally. Watch it again here. It set the stage for the Canadiens’ shootout win. Brendan Gallagher also had a huge night for Montreal, recording three points.

Factoids

  • The Boston Bruins have won 15 consecutive games against the Arizona Coyotes, tied for the longest active win streak for one team against a single opponent. [NHL PR]
  • Phil Kessel played in his 776th consecutive regular season game on Saturday night, tying him for the seventh-longest consecutive games played streak in NHL history. [NHL PR]
  • Jeff Petry‘s penalty shot goal was just the second penalty shot goal by a defender in Canadiens history. [NHL PR]
  • Sidney Crosby had a fight and moved into a tie with Jean Beliveau for 41st on the NHL’s all-time points list. [NHL PR]
  • The Avalanche are nearly unbeatable when all three of MacKinnon, Rantanen, and Landeskog record at least one point in a single game. [NHL PR]
  • McDavid’s four-point game was already his eighth in the NHL. Only Nikita Kucherov, Patrick Kane, and Johnny Gaudreau have more four-point games since McDavid entered the league. [NHL PR]

Scores

Buffalo Sabres 7, New Jersey Devils 2

Montreal Canadiens 6, Toronto Maple Leafs 5 (SO)

New York Rangers 4, Ottawa Senators 1

Florida Panthers 4, Tampa Bay Lightning 3

Pittsburgh Penguins 7, Columbus Blue Jackets 2

Carolina Hurricanes 3, Washington Capitals 2 (OT)

St. Louis Blues 3, Dallas Stars 2

Detroit Red Wings 5, Nashville Predators 3

Boston Bruins 1, Arizona Coyotes 0

Colorado Avalanche 4, Minnesota Wild 2

Anaheim Ducks 3, San Jose Sharks 1

Calgary Flames 3, Vancouver Canucks 0

Edmonton Oilers 6, Los Angeles Kings 5

MORE:
• 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.

PHT’s 2019-20 predictions: NHL Awards, free agent busts, overhyped teams

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The 2019-20 NHL season is almost here (Wed. at 6:30 pm on NBCSN) and what better way to kick off the new hockey than with some predictions. Today we’ll look at the various awards and some topics such as overhyped team, first coach fired, whether Nikita Kucherov or the Tampa Bay Lightning will record a higher point total, and more.

Pre-season predictions are fun to read to get a sense of what people are thinking as we head into a new season. There was plenty of change around the league on the ice, behind the bench, and in the executive offices. Lots of teams have reason for hope, while the expectations of others aren’t very lofty, but they’re just hoping to take some positive steps.

Who will take home the hardware in June and what teams and players will be notable this season? Here’s what the PHT staff is thinking at the moment.

[PHT PREDICTIONS: EAST / WEST / STANLEY CUP]

Be sure to give us your picks in the comments!

HART: Nathan MacKinnon (Sean, James, Joey, Adam)
ART ROSS: Connor McDavid (Sean, Adam), Nathan MacKinnon (James), Nikita Kucherov (Joey)
ROCKET RICHARD: Alex Ovechkin (Sean, James, Adam), John Tavares (Joey)
VEZINA: John Gibson (Sean), Andrei Vasilevskiy (James, Joey), Ben Bishop (Adam)
NORRIS: Seth Jones (Sean), Erik Karlsson (James), Victor Hedman (Joey, Adam)
CALDER: Kaapo Kakko (Sean, James, Adam), Jack Hughes (Joey)
SELKE: Aleksander Barkov (Sean), Mark Stone (James), Ryan O’Reilly (Joey), Brayden Point (Adam)

OVERHYPED TEAM

SEAN: An NHL-worst power play was (hopefully) improved by the Matt Duchene addition, but while the Predators will once again be their solid selves, did David Poile do enough to overcome the trending upward Dallas Stars and Colorado Avalanche in a very tough Central Division? The bottom six could help out a bit more, and they need to find the old Kyle Turris at some point.

JAMES: The Coyotes are spending like a team with legitimate aspirations, but I just don’t see enough dynamic talent to break through.

JOEY: Boston Bruins. Everyone has them locked into the top three spots in the Atlantic, but they’re coming into the year a little banged up. They’re also coming off a long playoff run.

ADAM: Going to go with Nashville. They are still really good, but I don’t think Matt Duchene solves all that much for them and even though their defense is still really good I think they are going to miss P.K. Subban.

UNDERRATED TEAM

SEAN: Staying in the Central, the Avs are rightly garnering a lot of hype, but let’s not sleep on the Stars. Once they figured out Jim Montgomery’s system in the second half, they surged. Add in Joe Pavelski and a lottery ticket in Corey Perry, along with the up-and-coming Roope Hintz, future Norris winner Miro Heiskanen, and old standards Tyler Seguin, Alex Radulov and Jamie Benn, and you’ve got a real dangerous team this season. If Ben Bishop and Anton Khudobin can repeat their success from last season in goal, watch out for the Stars.

JAMES: The Penguins keep shrinking their margin of error with some head-scratching moves. Even so, they still have Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and a few other valuable players, so reports of their demise have been greatly exaggerated.

JOEY: Carolina went to the conference final, but I’m not sure they’re getting the respect they deserve. I think they can finish second in the division.

ADAM: Columbus is going to be better than people think. They still have a lot of really good players coming back, and I think Pierre-Luc Dubois has a massive breakout year this season.

UNDERRATED PLAYER

SEAN: Four seasons with double-digit goals, at least 40 points in each of his five NHL seasons, and consistently in the positive when it comes to possession, Klingberg needs to get more due around the league. With Heiskanen and Esa Lindell on the blue line, the Stars’ top defenseman are among the best in the league.

JAMES: Alex Pietrangelo gets mentioned as an underrated player quite often, yet I think Colton Parayko might be even more overlooked. Parayko is a beast AND an absolute unit, to use fancy scientific jargon.

JOEY: Jonathan Huberdeau put together one of the quietest 90-plus point seasons I can remember. I think he’ll have another big year in Florida.

ADAM: John Klingberg shouldn’t be underrated, but I feel like he is. The development of Miro Heiskanen kind of stole a lot of the spotlight in Dallas last year but Klingberg is still the player that runs that defense, and he is outstanding.

FIRST COACH FIRED

SEAN: Boudreau seems inevitable, right? It’s looking like another long year in the State of Hockey and with a new GM in town, he might want to install his own hire, even with Bruce’s history of success in the league.

JAMES: Bruce Boudreau. Bill Guerin didn’t hire him, and the Wild insist on contending with a so-so roster, setting the stage for Bruce’s face to turn the color of a pink slip.

JOEY: Jeff Blashill. The Red Wings aren’t expected to make the playoffs, but I think they get off to an ugly start.

ADAM: I think it Paul Maurice’s time is going to run out in Winnipeg. That team faded last year and looks like it is setting up for a really tough season given the RFA drama and the state of their defense. He has been there long enough that a slow start could be it for him.

FREE AGENT BUST

SEAN: Stralman’s offense has steadily declined since 2014-15, his first year in Tampa, and now at 33 he’s on the back nine of his career. That makes it all the more odd that Dale Tallon decided to give him a three-year deal in the summer, especially coming back from a lower-body injury that caused him to miss most of last season.

JAMES: Tyler Myers is closer to a third-pairing defenseman than a $6M one.

JOEY: Tyler Myers in Vancouver. When it’s all said and done, that’s going to be a pretty nasty contract. He’s a good depth defenseman, but not someone you commit big dollars to.

ADAM: Have to go with Tyler Myers. Just do not see the plan in Vancouver and the amount of money they spent on him.

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