By Andrew Nelson
“Is it October yet?” This is a question many hockey fans find themselves eagerly asking while they await the first puck drop of the 2018-2019 NHL season. But before next season is looked at, let’s remember the Washington Capitals’ magical run, breaking their championship drought by winning their first Stanley Cup ever since joining the league in the 1974-1975 season. The Vegas Golden Knights also had an incredible run, defying all odds as the first expansion franchise in the NHL to make the Stanley Cup Finals in their first year of existence. The Nashville Predators, who won the Presidents’ Trophy for having the most points at the end of the regular season with 117 points, had high hopes for the playoffs only to be eliminated in the second round by the Winnipeg Jets.
The offseason has brought some excitement with the NHL Entry Draft and NHL free agency. There are a few teams and fanbases eagerly awaiting to see their offseason additions take the ice, such as the Buffalo Sabre’s number one overall draft pick Rasmus Dahlin or John Tavares, who signed a 7-year, 77-million dollar deal with his favorite childhood team, the Toronto Maple Leafs.
The preseason schedule starts with the Boston Bruins taking on the Calgary Flames in Shenzhen, China on Sat., Sep. 15 and then four days later those teams will meet again in Beijing, China for the 2018 O.R.G. NHL China Games. The NHL and NHLPA are doing this to help grow the game of hockey globally. A few dates to put on your calendar are Wed., Oct. 3, which is the first day of the 2018-2019 NHL season. Four games are scheduled that night: the Canadians at the Maple Leafs, the Flames at the Canucks, the Ducks at the Sharks and the defending Stanley Cup champion, Washington Capitals are at home to take on the Boston Bruins.
Other dates include Wed., Oct. 10 when the Capital play host to the Golden Knights in a rematch of the 2018 Stanley Cup finals. This should be an exciting game to see how these teams matchup now that some roster changes have been made in the offseason.
On New Years Day, the Chicago Blackhawks and Boston Bruins will meet at Notre Dame Stadium to battle it out in the NHL Winter Classic. The last time the Blackhawks played in the Winter Classic was in 2017 where they lost to the St. Louis Blues 4-1 at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, and for the Bruins, they played in the Winter Classic one year earlier where they lost to the Montreal Canadiens 5-1 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro.
On Jan. 26, the NHL’s best will meet in San Jose for the annual All-Star Game. The popular 3 on 3 formats will return again after finding success in the last 3 All-Star Games. On Sat., Feb. 23, the Penguins and Flyers will play each other at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia for the 2019 NHL Stadium Series.
Now looking ahead to next season, who are the possible Cup contenders? Washington looks to be just as strong as last year and could possibly repeat. The Toronto Maple Leafs also look to be strong favorites with their addition of John Tavares, who will add even more offense to a very strong lineup containing Auston Matthews, William Nylander, Mitch Marner and more.
Tampa Bay has one of the better lineups in hockey with a good mix of youth and veterans and all four lines can produce offensively. Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos are one of the best Center/Wing duos in the league. If they can do what they did last year and stay hot in the playoffs Tampa might find themselves planning a parade in mid-June. Boston was one of the surprise contenders last year because there were too many uncertainties surrounding the youth and whether they could perform and the youth delivered. Charlie McAvoy, Jake Debrusk, Danton Heinen, Sean Kuraly all were big for Boston last year. Ryan Donato was yet another youngster for Boston fans to be excited about.
If they can all elevate their game to that next level, the Bruins will have big things to look forward to for years to come. Pittsburgh is coming off of a 2nd round exit at the hands of the Capitals but shouldn’t hang their heads, they still have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin at center for their top two lines, Phil Kessel is still putting up very good numbers and Jake Guentzel is a very good, young star with many years ahead of him, the Penguins are still one of the top teams in the east and don’t look to be slowing down anytime soon.
Those are the possible teams that could come out of the Eastern Conference. As for the Western Conference, the Nashville Predators have all the pieces for a Stanley Cup Champion they definitely have a shot next year with Pekka Rinne in the net and P.K. Subban playing on that top defensive pair. Nashville is very close, they just need to be able to keep going throughout the playoffs and not crap out early.
The Winnipeg Jets were a nice surprise after not making the playoffs the past 2 years they took down the Predators and managed to get to the Western Conference Finals where they lost to the Golden Knights. Winnipeg definitely should be back in the playoffs and competing again with goalie Connor Hellebuyck anchoring the team and Finnish phenom Patrik Laine working his magic out on the ice along with Captain Blake Wheeler.
What else is there to say about the Vegas Golden Knights, what they did was stunning. Marc-Andre Fleury minding the net for most of the year having one of his best seasons yet. William Karlsson broke out onto the scene putting up incredible stats and showing off his magic with the puck. Vegas could definitely go deep in the playoffs again with their speed and size. Those few teams are all very strong contenders for the Western Conference Champions.
This year looks to be very fun and exciting and should have lots of memorable moments.