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Season Preview

18 storylines to watch entering 2018-19 season

Capitals' repeat hopes, new homes for Karlsson, Tavares, Kovalchuk among highlights

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / Senior Writer

The 2018-19 NHL season begins with four games Wednesday, including a banner-raising ceremony in Washington and the debuts of a few star players who changed addresses during the offseason.

Here are 18 storylines that will play out throughout the 2018-19 season.

1. Four more rounds in Washington

The Washington Capitals won their first Stanley Cup championship last season, defeating the Vegas Golden Knights in five games. Along the way they got past the Pittsburgh Penguins, who had won the previous two titles. Washington returns 18 of the 20 players who dressed in their Game 5 victory. The big change is behind the bench, where coach Todd Reirden replaces Barry Trotz, who now is coaching the New York Islanders.


2. Window in Vegas wide open

There's only one way for the Golden Knights to top their historic inaugural season, and that's to win the Stanley Cup. It's not farfetched to think they can. A year ago the Golden Knights were brand new and expectations were low. Then they finished first in the Pacific Division with 109 points and defeated the Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks and Winnipeg Jets in the playoffs. Vegas is primed for another run this season, especially with the additions of center Paul Stastny and left wing Max Pacioretty.

Video: Previewing the Golden Knights' second season


3. Tavares' return to his roots

If they were holding a parade in Toronto before the season, center John Tavares would be the homecoming king. He's the local boy who slept on Toronto Maple Leafs sheets and grew up being inspired by his hometown team, who spurned offers from other teams, including the Islanders, to sign a seven-year, $77 million contract with the Maple Leafs. Tavares, though, signed with the Maple Leafs to help bring a parade to the city after the season. His homecoming will be judged on that.


4. Karlsson goes west

The new chapter in defenseman Erik Karlsson's award-winning career begins Wednesday, when his new team, the Sharks, host the Anaheim Ducks at SAP Center (10:30 p.m. ET; NBCSN). The two-time Norris Trophy winner was traded from the Ottawa Senators, where he had played since 2009-10 and was captain since 2014-15, to San Jose on Sept. 13. Karlsson, 28, is in the final season of his contract and can become an unrestricted free agent July 1.


5. Kovalchuk goes Hollywood

Los Angeles Kings left wing Ilya Kovalchuk's first NHL game in more than five years will be against Karlsson and the Sharks at Staples Center on Friday (10:30 p.m. ET; SN360, FS-W, NBCSCA, NHL.TV). Kovalchuk, 35, signed a three-year, $18.75 million contract with the Kings on July 1 after playing for SKA St. Petersburg in the Kontinental Hockey League the previous five seasons. He has 816 points (417 goals, 319 assists) in 816 NHL games. Will he be the same player he was when he left the NHL five years ago?

Video: Kovalchuk slips through the Vegas defense and scores


6. Trotz, Lamoriello take on New York

Lou Lamoriello, the three-time Stanley Cup winning general manager, has taken on a new challenge as Islanders GM and president of hockey operations. Lamoriello, who was the GM in charge of restoring the Maple Leafs to respectability the previous three seasons, hired Trotz as coach. Tavares is gone, and the Islanders are starting over with two veteran winners in charge.


7. Oilers looking for rebound

Connor McDavid led the NHL with 108 points (41 goals, 67 assists) last season and the Edmonton Oilers still missed the playoffs by 17 points. Edmonton was 31st on the power play at 14.8 percent last season despite having McDavid. Edmonton's captain is expected to do his part again, but the Oilers must revamp their special teams (their penalty kill was 25th at 76.7 percent), and goalie Cam Talbot has to bounce back (31-31-3, .908 save percentage, 3.02 goals-against average, 67 games) if they're going to be a playoff contender.


8. Chicago's primary concern

Blackhawks goalie Corey Crawford is trying to come back from a concussion that kept him out for the final 47 games last season. He isn't expected to be ready for the Blackhawks' opener against the Ottawa Senators at Canadian Tire Center on Thursday (7:30 p.m. ET; TSN5, RDS, WGN, NHL.TV). Cam Ward and Anton Forsberg are the backups, but neither has impressed enough in training camp to warrant optimism if Crawford misses a chunk of time.


9. Dahlin's debut in Buffalo

All eyes will be on rookie defenseman Rasmus Dahlin when the Buffalo Sabres open their season against the Boston Bruins at KeyBank Center on Thursday (7 p.m. ET; MSG-B, NESN, NHL.TV). Dahlin, the No. 1 pick in the 2018 NHL Draft, has a chance to be the best defenseman in Sabres history, at least since Phil Housley, who is his coach, played for Buffalo from 1982-90.

Video: Sabres draft D Rasmus Dahlin No. 1


10. Svechnikov's arrival in Raleigh

Carolina Hurricanes fans are champing at the bit to find out what they have in rookie forward Andrei Svechnikov, the No. 2 pick in the 2018 draft. Svechnikov arguably is the most exciting Hurricanes prospect since the arrival of Eric Staal 15 years ago as the No. 2 pick in the 2003 NHL Draft.


11. Other rookies to watch

If Dahlin or Svechnikov aren't going to win the Calder Trophy, Vancouver Canucks center Elias Pettersson might be the best bet. Pettersson, the No. 5 pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, has had a strong preseason and could make Canucks fans quickly get over the absences of the retired Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin. Dallas Stars defenseman Miro Heiskanen also could make a strong case for the award, as could New York Rangers center Filip Chytil, Detroit Red Wings forward Filip Zadina and Senators forward Brady Tkachuk.


12. College coaches graduate to NHL

Jim Montgomery is coach of the Dallas Stars after spending the past five seasons at the University of Denver, where he led them to the 2017 NCAA championship. David Quinn is the Rangers coach after spending the past five seasons at Boston University. The Philadelphia Flyers' Dave Hakstol (University of North Dakota) is the last coach to make the jump from college to the NHL. He did it in 2015 and made the playoffs in his first season.


13. Fluke or for real?

The Colorado Avalanche made the playoffs last season with 95 points after finishing last in the League in 2016-17 with 48 points. The New Jersey Devils made it last season with 97 points after finishing last in the Eastern Conference with 70 points in 2016-17. Neither won a round, nor did they make massive changes during the offseason. Yet expectations are higher this season for each team. Will they be met? Or will either team regress?

Video: Nathan MacKinnon lands at No. 11 on the list


14. Canadiens banking on Price

Montreal Canadiens goalie Carey Price, 31, is in the first season of an eight-year contract. He went 16-26-7 with a .900 save percentage and 3.11 goals-against average in 49 games last season, and the Canadiens finished 26 points out of a playoff spot. Blame for the failures last season can be laid throughout the organization, including with Price, who must revert to his old form if the Canadiens want to be a postseason contender this season.


15. Futures of 'Bread Man' and 'Bob'

The Columbus Blue Jackets need their No. 1 goalie, Sergei Bobrovsky, and forward Artemi Panarin, their leading scorer last season with 82 points (27 goals, 55 assists), to have big seasons if they want to reach the playoffs for a third straight season. It's not clear if Bobrovsky and Panarin will play the full season in Columbus. Each can become an unrestricted free agent after the season. The Blue Jackets want to re-sign each of them, but if they determine that they can't, it's possible one or both could be traded.


16. Ottawa's answer

Karlsson is gone and external expectations for the Senators have dipped to the point where it's hard to remember they were an overtime goal away from reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2016. The Senators, though, are trying to remain hopeful. Forwards Matt Duchene and Mark Stone can become unrestricted free agents after this season. Signs of a bright future could convince them to want to re-sign. Defenseman Thomas Chabot, 21, showed promise last season with 25 points (nine goals, 16 assists) in 63 games. He should get more ice time and a chance to grow. Tkachuk also is a player to watch.


17. Hughes Watch

Jack Hughes, the 17-year-old center with USA Hockey's National Team Development Program under-18 team, is projected to be the No. 1 pick in the 2019 NHL Draft. Last season he had 116 points (40 goals, 76 assists) in 60 games with the NTDP U-17 and U-18 NTDP teams last season. He was one point away from tying Toronto Maple Leafs center Auston Matthews' single-season program record of 117 points in 2014-15. Hughes will be the big prize for one team in June.


18. Seattle Watch

One of the biggest news stories this season could involve Seattle. The NHL Board of Governors will meet Tuesday, and the executive committee will hear a presentation from the ownership group trying to bring a team to the Pacific Northwest. Approval has been granted for a $700 million renovation of KeyArena. The next step is for the BOG to vote on granting an expansion team to Seattle.

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