2018-19 Eastern Conference Preview

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The puck drops next month on the 2018-19 National Hockey League season with four games on Wednesday, October 3 to kick things off and once again HockeyClan has got you covered with part one of our two-part series previewing the Eastern and Western Conference.

Here are team-by-team previews letting you know what’s new, who’s where and where they’re going:

EASTERN CONFERENCE

Atlantic Division

Nikita Kucherov #86 of the Tampa Bay Lightning celebrates after scoring a goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins in Game Five of the 2016 Eastern Conference Final in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Tampa Bay Lightning

The Lightning — the top scoring offense in the NHL last season with 290 goals-scored (3.54 goals-per-game) — return a nearly identical product on the ice, albeit without Steve Yzerman as General Manager after his surprise exit was announced last week. But even without Stevie Y gazing down from the rafters, the Hall of Famer’s fingerprints are all over this squad which returns a healthy core in Steven Stamkos (27-59-86) and Nikita Kucherov (39-61-100), Norris Trophy winner Victor Hedman (17-46-63) on defense and Andrei Vasilevskiy (44-17-3, 2.62 GAA, .920 Sv%) in between the pipes. Despite no real off-season additions, Tampa Bay remains the team to beat in the division.

Key Additions: None

Key Losses: Chris Kunitz, Peter Budaj, Andre Sustr

Toronto Maple Leafs

The Leafs made the biggest off-season splash bringing hometown boy John Tavares back to Canada’s largest city. While offense (270 goals-for, 3rd) or the power play (25%, 2nd) wasn’t the problem in Toronto last season, the allure of dressing the Mississauga native in blue and white was too much for management to pass up. Defense and goaltending continue to be an issue, but the Leafs are hoping a great offense is the best defense.

Key Additions: John Tavares, Tyler Ennis

Key Losses: James van Riemsdyk, Tyler Bozak, Leo Komarov, Matt Martin, Dominic Moore, Roman Polak, Tomas Plekanec

Charlie McAvoy #73 of the Boston Bruins waits for a faceoff against the Toronto Maple Leafs in Game Four of the 2018 Eastern Conference First Round Stanley Cup playoffs at the Air Canada Centre on April 19, 2018 in Toronto, Ontario. (Photo by Claus Andersen/Getty Images)

Boston Bruins

The Bruins were one of the hottest teams after the All-Star break last season en route to 112 points and a second-place finish one point behind Tampa Bay in the division. Defensively, one of the stingiest teams in the league yielding a fourth-best 211 goals-per-game (2.57), Boston has a young, up-and-coming mobile core led by Charlie McAvoy (7-25-32) and Torey Krug (14-45-59) in front of goaltender Tuukka Rask (34-14-5, 2.36 GAA, .917 Sv%). Once again, the B’s will contend for the division title.

Key Additions: John Moore, Jaroslav Halak

Key Losses: Rick Nash, Brian Gionta, Riley Nash, Anton Khudobin, Austin Czarnik, Nick Holden, Tommy Wingels, Tim Schaller, Adam McQuaid

Buffalo Sabres

Optimism is back in Buffalo after GM Jason Botterill wheeled and dealed his way to bring eight new faces to the locker room in addition to number one overall draft pick, Rasmus Dahlin. It was clear the culture needed change and Botterill succeeded in finding a trade partner with St. Louis sending center Ryan O’Reilly to the Blues for a nice return package that included veterans and draft picks to build with. Buffalo also added long-time Hurricanes’ forward Jeff Skinner (24-25-49) who should help burden the load of franchise player Jack Eichel (25-39-64). There is a resurgence in the Queen City, but the Sabres fall just short of the playoffs in 2018-19.

Key Additions: Jeff Skinner, Carter Hutton, Tage Thompson, Patrik Berglund, Vladimir Sobotka, Scott Wedgewood, Matt Hunwick, Conor Sheary, Rasmus Dahlin

Key Losses: Ryan O’Reilly, Josh Gorges, Robin Lehner, Chad Johnson, Viktor Antipin, Benoit Pouliot

Jonathan Huberdeau #11 celebrates his first-period goal with Keith Yandle #3 of the Florida Panthers against the Montreal Canadiens at the BB&T Center on March 8, 2018 in Sunrise, Florida. (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images)

Florida Panthers

Roberto Luongo and the Panthers put together a nice run post-All-Star break, but collapsed late finishing 44-30-8 last season just one point back of the New Jersey Devils for the final playoff spot in the East. The line of Aleksander Barkov (27-51-78), Vincent Trocheck (31-44-75) and Jonathan Huberdeau (27-42-69) rivals any in The League and Florida added former Ottawa Senators’ forward Mike Hoffman (22-34-46) during the off-season.

Key Additions: Mike Hoffman

Key Losses: Radim Vrbata, Harri Sateri

Detroit Red Wings

The youth movement is in full effect in Motor City with the Red Wings possibly opening up with the line of Tyler Bertuzzi-Dylan Larkin-Anthony Mantha. “You have three real good players, you have good pieces in the sense that Bert is an F-1 (first forward) on the forecheck, and he’s a net-front guy,” coach Jeff Blashill said. “That allows the other two – not that they’re not hard on the forecheck – but it allows them to use their skill. Putting them together can make a real good line.”

Key Additions: Jonathan Bernier, Thomas Vanek, Filip Zadina

Key Losses: Jared Coreau, Xavier Ouellett

Carey Price #31 of the Montreal Canadiens makes a glove save in Game Five of the 2015 Eastern Conference Semifinals against the Tampa Bay Lightning during the NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Bell Centre on May 9, 2015 in Montreal, Quebec. (Photo by Minas Panagiotakis/Getty Images)

Montreal Canadiens

Carey Price’s eight-year, $84M extension kicks in — and just in time too – after a career-worst 16-26-7, 3.11 GAA, .901 Sv% campaign. He will be without the services of Shea Weber (knee surgery) until at least December and the club also traded away two of its top-five scoring forwards in Max Pacioretty and Alex Galchenyuk. For a team that finished 29th in goals-for (207, 2.52 GPG), including a league-worst 2.24 goals-per-game on the road, les bleu, blanc et rouge are in for a long, long season.

Key Additions: Tomas Tartar, Nick Suzuki, Max Domi, Joel Armia, Xavier Ouellett, Tomas Plekanec

Key Losses: Max Pacioretty, Alex Galchenyuk, Ales Hemsky

Ottawa Senators

Lean times in Ottawa after the less-than ideal handling of the Erik Karlsson trade to San Jose. The trade was inevitable and the return wasn’t completely awful, but the subsequent way the Senators brass went about it was surely puzzling. It was recently confirmed, Ottawa is still a team in the National Hockey League, so there’s that. Bottom line, fans are in for some serious growing pains. 37-year old Craig Anderson will face a firing squad on a team that allowed a second-worst 284 goals last season.

Key Additions: Chris Tierney, Josh Norris, Mikkel Boedker, Brady Tkachuk

Key Losses: Erik Karlsson, Mike Hoffman, Alexandre Burrows

Related: 2017-18 Eastern Conference Preview

Metropolitan Division

Evgeni Malkin #71 of the Pittsburgh Penguins celebrates with Kris Letang #58 after scoring a goal against Martin Jones #31 of the San Jose Sharks during the first period in Game Five of the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Final at Consol Energy Center on June 9, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)

Pittsburgh Penguins

Sid and the kids have to steaming seeing the Washington Capitals hoist Lord Stanley’s Cup in 2017-18. Pittsburgh will almost surely be out for revenge this season and any team playing with a purpose is a dangerous team to face. The Penguins brought aboard defensive-minded Jack Johnson to shore up liability defensively, a solid addition to a team that finished third offensively (270 goals-for), but 20th in goals against (248). With all three — Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang — seemingly healthy, Pittsburgh has a real shot at reclaiming sport’s greatest trophy

Key Additions: Jack Johnson, Matt Cullen, Jimmy Hayes

Key Losses: Matt Hunwick, Tom Kuhnhackl, Conor Sheary

Washington Capitals

Congratulations to the 2017-18 Stanley Cup Champion Capitals. Kudos to GM Brian MacLellan who did his best to keep the team intact, too. Yes, the team lost head coach Barry Trotz and backup goalie Philipp Grubauer, but the team retained defensemen John Carlson and Brooks Orpik, its biggest off-season priorities. Along with Dmitry Orlov, Matt Niskanen and Michal Kempny, the Capitals anchored one of the top offensive teams in The League led by Alexander Ovechkin (49-38-87), Evgeny Kuznetsov (27-56-83) and Nicklas Backstrom (21-50-71).

Key Additions: Nic Dowd

Key Losses: Philipp Grubauer, Jay Beagle, Alex Chiasson

Sergei Bobrovsky #72 of the Columbus Blue Jackets makes a save on a shot from Andrew Cogliano #7 of the Anaheim Ducks during the first period at Honda Center on October 28, 2016 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)

Columbus Blue Jackets

Sensing a pattern here. Once again, the BJax enter the season with promise. Once again, they make the playoffs — albeit by the skin of their teeth — and once again, fall flat. Sergei Bobrovsky (37-22-6, 2.42 GAA, .921 Sv%) continues to carry this team further than it should go, but Columbus lacks that second wind, that second offensive surge to propel Ohio’s team among the upper echelon in the East. Seth Jones (16-41-57) continues to make great strides, both offensively and defensively, and Artemi Panarin (27-55-82) is a world-class talent, but they need help.

Key Additions: Anthony Duclair, Riley Nash

Key Losses: Matt Calvert, Ian Cole, Mark Letestu, Thomas Vanek

Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers brought back James van Riemsdyk (36-18-54), whom they drafted second overall in 2007. JVR is a welcome addition to a team that finished in the middle of the pack offensively with 249 goals-for (12th). Along with Claude Giroux (34-68-102), Jakub Voracek (20-65-85), Sean Couturier (31-45-76), Broad Street should see a lot of red lights this season. Goaltending, is an annual problem, it seems, but the Flyers seems content to continue to roll with Brian Elliott (23-11-7, 2.66 GAA, .909 Sv%), who delivered mixed results in his first season. If Philly can provide some sort of relief in front of him, the Flyers reach the post-season for the second year in a row.

Key Additions: James van Riemsdyk

Key Losses: Valtteri Filppula, Brandon Manning, Petr Mrazek, Johnny Oduya, Matt Read

New Jersey Devils center Brian Boyle (11) has words with a Tampa Bay Lightning player in Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round on April 18, 2018, at the Prudential Center in Newark, NJ. (Photo by Rich Graessle/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

New Jersey Devils

Instant chemistry between Hart Trophy Winner Taylor Hall (39-54-93) and 2017 first overall pick Nico Hischier (20-32-52) guided the Devils to the post-season for the first time since 2011-12. It was not expected to come together so quickly for New Jersey, but the emergence of players like Hischier, Will Butcher, Jesper Bratt and Miles Wood along with valuable role players like Brian Boyle and Drew Stafford got the Devils off to a hot start. GM Ray Shero did little tinkering this off-season but if the defense continues to take the next step and Cory Schneider can turn in another vintage season in between the pipes, New Jersey should once again be skating this postseason.

Key Additions: Eric Gryb

Key Losses: Brian Gibbons, Michael Grabner, Jimmy Hayes, Pat Maroon, John Moore

New York Rangers

The blueshirts waived the white flag last season, effectively declaring a fire sale at the trading deadline that saw a number of really popular veterans including J.T. Miller, Ryan McDonagh, Michael Grabner and Rick Nash walk out the door. “King Henrik” Lundqvist remains but it remains to be seen exactly what he has left in the tank at 36-years old. New York will give Pavel Buchnevich, Jimmy Vesey and Alexandar Georgiev every opportunity to soak up as much ice as they are able in what should be a rebuilding season at The Garden.

Key Additions: Adam McQuaid, Fredrik Claessen

Key Losses: Paul Carey, Ryan Sproul, David Desharnais

Carolina Hurricanes right wing Justin Williams (14) skates with the puck during a game against the Ottawa Senators at PNC Arena in Raleigh, NC on March 24, 2018. (Photo by Greg Thompson/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Carolina Hurricanes

Trading away Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin while letting franchise player Jeff Skinner and franchise goalie Cam Ward walk this off-season wasn’t exactly out of the manual. It’s hard to see how this is an improvement for an organization that hasn’t made the playoffs in 10 years. Sebastian Aho (29-36-65), Teuvo Teravainen (23-41-64), Justin Faulk (8-23-31) and the ageless Justin Williams (16-35-51) will burden the brunt most nights until first round draft pick Andrei Svechnikov is ready. Can’t get too exited about a Scott Darling-Petr Mrazek goaltending tandem.

Key Additions: Calvin De Haan, Michael Ferland, Dougie Hamilton, Petr Mrazek, Andrei Svechnikov

Key Losses: Jeff Skinner, Noah Hanifin, Marcus Kruger, Elias Lindholm, Joakim Nordstrom, Lee Stempniak, Cam Ward, Derek Ryan

New York Islanders

The Islanders found themselves in a Catch-22 with franchise center John Tavares and in the end shot themselves in the foot as JT walked with virtually nothing in return. To make matters worse, New York thought it was a good idea to bring in Robin Lehner to solve their goaltending woes. With a career 2.82 goals-against average, Lehner hasn’t won more games than he lost since 2012 and the outlook isn’t promising this season either. Mathew Barzal (22-63-85), Anders Lee (40-22-62), Jordan Eberle (25-34-59) and Josh Bailey (18-53-71) bridge the next generation, though it remains to be seen how they will perform sans Tavares.

Key Additions: Valtteri Filppula, Leo Komarov, Tom Kuhnhackl, Robin Lehner, Matt Martin

Key Losses: John Tavares, Calvin De Haan, Jaroslav Halak, Nikolai Kulemin, Shane Prince, Alan Quine, Dennis Seidenberg

 

Projected Finish

Atlantic: 1-Tampa Bay. 2-Toronto. 3-Boston. 4-Buffalo. 5-Florida. 6-Detroit. 7-Montreal. 8-Ottawa

Metropolitan: 1-Pittsburgh. 2-Washington. 3-Columbus. 4-Philadelphia*. 5-New Jersey*. 6-NY Rangers. 7-Carolina. 8-NY Islanders

*Designates Playoff Wild Card

 

Main Image: Alex Ovechkin #8 of the Washington Capitals celebrates after scoring a goal in the third period against the Boston Bruins in Game Six of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals during the 2012 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Verizon Center in Washington, DC. (Photo by Patrick McDermott/Getty Images)

 

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