It seems like just days ago that Alexander Ovechkin was wobbling around atop a bus through the nation’s capital holding the Stanley Cup over his head. This past season in the National Hockey League was one of firsts. After starting off the first round in the playoffs with a perfect 1.0 winnings percentage, the Las Vegas Golden Knights made it all the way to the Finals, prior to losing the series 4-1 to the top-ranked Washington Capitals.
For the Capitals, rankings don’t normally mean much, as they once had a sad reputation for choking in the playoffs. This year was different though, and 32-year-old Conn Smythe Winner, Alexander Ovechkin was finally able to break his playoff drought. It was an entertaining series, with the Knights coming out firing at home to take the first game prior to the Capitals winning the next four to clinch the Cup.
This year, both of these teams look to be back in full force and hungry for more. Something to look out for as a resident of the Carolinas is a new-look Hurricanes squad. This summer, the Canes dealt Elias Lindholm, Noah Hanifin and Jeff Skinner for a new cast of characters. The Golden Knights, in only their second year of existence and with a track record of success, have cap space and nothing to lose. Look for them to be bold in both trade transactions and throughout this entire season. Additionally, the Capitals look to continue building on their new foundation of success. There is always some attrition after winning the championship, but if they can nail down their top guys, they have a good shot at a repeat.
The Tampa Bay Lightning will be playing this year with something to prove, having gone to the Eastern Conference Final for the third time in four seasons but coming home empty handed once again. Additionally, they have a whole host of characters that are in need of a big contract and probably only have one more year left together due to the salary cap. In the Western Division, the Presidents Cup champions, the Nashville Predators, and the team which handed them their second round loss, the Winnipeg Jets, look to be back in business and on a revenge tour. In the Eastern Division, look to the Boston Bruins and the Pittsburgh Penguins to duel it out with the Lightning for the top spot in the East. Both teams are offensively minded and ready for a good year.
Some teams that will have make-or-break years include the San Jose Sharks and the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Sharks currently only have nine players under contract for the 2019-2020 season, meaning that this year will be a defining year for this organization. If they want to win with their current roster, the time is now and they will need a healthy Joe Thornton to do so. The Columbus Blue Jackets’ largest question mark is on Artemi Panarin, who appears to be a viable trading option for many teams. They need to lock him down, and fast, if they want to continue to succeed. They need further scoring depth behind him, but his talent and skills can’t leave the city in order to win.
Overall, this looks to be another great year of hockey in the National Hockey league and for fans across North America. Will the Capitals reign supreme again this year? Can someone from the East or West topple the sitting champions? Lots more storylines are to come as we start preseason hockey on Sept. 15 with the Boston Bruins taking on the Calgary Flames in China, no less. I couldn’t think of a better time than when hockey and football collide into the fall; hope everyone is ready.