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The Puck Starts Here - Eastern Conference

As the 2019-20 NHL season begins, here's what you need to know for each team in the Eastern Conference

by Bob Condor / @NHLSeattle_ / NHLSeattle.com

SEATTLE -- The NHL regular season rolls out the red-line carpets Wednesday with four matchups: the Ottawa Senators and Toronto Maple Leafs face off at 4 p.m. PT. Then, Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals, the 2018 Stanley Cup champs, visit the 2019 Cup-winning St. Louis Blues at 5 p.m.

Out in our time zone, the Vancouver Canucks vs. Edmonton Oilers begins at 7 p.m. (admittedly we're rooting for former NHL Seattle senior hockey ops advisor and new Oilers coach Dave Tippett in this one) before the San Jose Sharks travel to Vegas to finish the evening. 

Want to watch Opening Night with fellow fans? You're invited to join NHL Seattle for a watch party featuring all four games on Wednesday at The Angry Beaver in the Greenwood neighborhood.

Before we get to the previews, check back each Monday of the season for a weekly look-ahead to highlight what to watch, what to know, how to impress your hockey friends and a quick look back at magical games over the weekend, plus some surprises. Tell your friends, tell your family, tell your linemates/school mates/teammates/co-workers.

Here are some quick hitters about what you can expect from teams in the 2019-20 season.

 

EASTERN CONFERENCE

The argument could be made that the Eastern conference is the deeper conference as of late. Consider that Tampa Bay racked up 128 regular season points. Plus, it required 98 points in the standings to make the playoffs in the East while Colorado nabbed the eighth spot in the West with just 90 points.

Up first: the Atlantic Division and the Eastern Conference champions:


 
 

Boston Bruins

Last season: 107, Eastern Conference champs. Lost Game 7 in Stanley Cup Final to St. Louis.

Who's that? Coach Bruce Cassidy enters his third full season behind the B's bench. He took over the job mid-season 2016-2017, going 18-9 the rest of the way. Taking Boston to the Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final earned "Butch" (that's what GM Don Sweeney calls him) a multiyear contract extension. Consistency reigns and this team is good enough to win the East again and take its chances. If you're looking for the Sundance Kid, an outlaw loved by his own inner circle, one of the NHL's most consistent performers, center Brad Marchand, is the pick.

This season: Some key Bruins are hitting the mid-30s testing ground (42-year-old D-man and captain Zdeno Chara certainly proved out) but younger players like Torey Krug on the backline and David Pastrnak on right wing have already arrived as next-gen stars. Boston's mid-30s goalies, Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak, would be heartily welcomed on any NHL roster.

Outlook in five words or less: Only Tampa Bay looks better.

 

Buffalo Sabres

Last season: 76 points, miss playoffs by 11 to 13 wins.

Who to watch: Center Jack Eichel is a cornerstone, fan fave and captain at 22. He will score more than 30 goals and 60 assists this season without injuries. He embraces the captaincy and, importantly, the Buffalo community.  

This season: Coach Ralph Krueger, 60, gets an NHL second chance after one work stoppage-shortened season with Edmonton, where young players protested when Krueger was fired. Krueger is a successful coach in international play and has some stellar performers, such as Jeff Skinner up front and young stud Rasmus Dahlin on D. The goalies are young but GM Jason Botterill, from the Jim Rutherford GM tree, will build a winner by 2021-22 that allows Krueger to prove his NHL mettle.

Outlook in five words or less: On the rise for 2020-21

 

Detroit Red Wings

Last season: 74 points, missed playoffs by 12 to 14 wins.

Who's that? Hall of Famer and Wings legend Steve Yzerman takes over as GM (future Hall of Fame GM Ken Holland was hired quickly by Edmonton). He built Tampa Bay into a regular-season powerhouse, but it will take a while up north.

This season: Center Dylan Larkin is a bright spot and likely future captain for a team destined for the Draft Lottery. Stevie Y will build around him while bringing in smart veterans on short-term deals to exemplify the Wings Way, such as Valtteri Filppula, 35, who as a rookie played with Yzerman.

Outlook in five words or less: Defense is a problem.



 

Florida Panthers

Last season: 86 points, five to six wins from playoffs.

Who to watch: Joel Quenneville, three-time Cup winning coach of Chicago during the last decade, moves to FLA with friend Dale Tallon. He will immediately improve the Panthers with his system, player relationships and overall win-with-purpose presence. It won't hurt that Tallon signed top goalie Sergei Bobrovsky as a free agent.

This season: The Eastern Conference is as much a bear as Coach Q, but the playoffs are possible. Forward Aleksander Barkov is an elite two-way center all postseason teams need and there's lots of scoring power in the top six to nine forwards. Keith Yandle and Aaron Ekblad are formidable D-men

Outlook in five words or less: Q will grade out A.

 

Montreal Canadiens

Last season: 96, missed the playoffs by the value of one win.

Who's that? Center Max Domi, 24, was the club's pick to participate in the early September Player Media Tour. Good choice: Smart guy, loves the game, appreciates his teammates and the history associated for playing in a hallowed city of hockey (after soaking up Maple Leafs tradition as a child when his dad played for rival Toronto). He is surrounded up front with talented, if lesser known, teammates.

This season: Carey Price, 32, is king here and typically the first goalie picked in fantasy drafts. He's the rare goaltender who plays a ton of games (66 of the 82-game schedule) and delivers (35 wins and 6 ties = 76 team points). His defensive crew is solid, so contending for the playoffs is expected. Top prospects (Cole Caufield, Nick Suzuki, probably Ryan Poehling) will be stellar members of this squad in 2021-22.

Outlook in five words or less: Playoff bound if Price healthy.

 

Ottawa Senators

Last season: 64 points, out of playoffs.

Who to watch: Thomas Chabot is an elite defenseman at 22 and you hope he gets some reinforcements soon enough. But this season is likely a slog. Brady Tkachuk comes from a hockey-rich family and will turn some heads up front as he adjusts positively to the NHL.

This season: The future is not now for Ottawa. But they do have five picks in the first two rounds of next summer's NHL Draft. It probably won't be enough to contend much earlier than 2021-22 and likely longer than that. Veteran pickups will help get the team point total past 70.

Outlook in five words or less: Wait for three more seasons.

 

 

Tampa Bay Lightning

Last season: 128 points, swept in first round of playoffs.

Who to watch: The whole team. The coach. Last-in Columbus eliminated TBL in four games. Coach Jon Cooper has endured postseason disappointments before, but no cliff fall like this one. Eyes will be on his demeanor and line combinations.

This season: Cooper is wise enough to know his players will rebound-and not just on saved shots. This group features all-world scorer Nikita Kucherov (128 points), Steve Stamkos (98) and newly-signed-extended Brayden Point (92). Patrick Maroon, last seen with Cup in native St. Louis and reliable defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk join for veteran ballast while Victor Hedman and Ryan McDonagh expertly patrol on D. Andrei Vasilevskiy, who won the top goalie Vezina Trophy, is too good to doubt even with a mediocre to shaky 2019 postseason.

Outlook in five words or less: Final 4 in East at worst.

 

Toronto Maple Leafs

Last season: 100 points, lost to Boston in seven games in first round.

Who's that? Toronto losing to Boston is a spring tradition this hockey-mad town would like to shake. Re-signing Mitch Marner (though possibly for a bit over-market) will help develop the stability and playoff prowess that Boston possesses. The 22-year-old rang up 94 points last season playing alongside fellow 22-year-old elite playmaker Auston Matthews, who begins the season facing disorderly conduct charges from a summer incident back home in Scottsdale, AZ.

This season:  This offense is so good; John Tavares is just one star on a long-term contract that might catch up with this roster by Seattle's first puck drop. For now, the Leafs are a playoffs team and serious contenders to win the East, looking to break the Boston hold on beating this franchise in seven-game series. Goalie Frederik Andersen is doubted by some but the POV here: He's one of those guys who learns from adversity and gets better.

Outlook in five words or less: Deep playoff run into June.

 

And now for the Metropolitan Division:

 

Carolina Hurricanes

Last season: 99 points, Eastern Conference Final.

Who's that? Nineteen-year-old Andrei Svechnikov is a sensational player who could be the difference between making the playoffs and taking a serious run at the Cup.

This season: Coach Rod Brind'Amour was a tough-nosed NHL player and is the same behind the bench. He knows if the second-half playoffs run and deep dive into the 2019 postseason is followed by anything short of more April-May-June success, "it's going to take longer to dig out." The Canes signed solid players to add to a core that includes superior D-man Jaccob Slavin and a defenseman's defenseman Brett Pesce.

Outlook in five words or less: Legitimate contender for final four.
 


 

Columbus Blue Jackets

Last season: 98 points, swept Tampa in first round, exited second round.

Who's that? Blue Jackets management is putting a lot of faith in unproven Euro goalies Joonas Korpisalo (Finland) and Elvis Merzlikins (Latvia). The CBJ season will be defined by whether former CBJ backup Korpisalo grows into the No. 1 goalie or if the Merzlikins comes on strong as a newcomer to the NHL standard-size ice sheet, which is smaller than European rinks. 

This season: There are lots of Jackets doubters with the free agency double-gut punch loss of Artemi Panarin's goals and assists and Sergei Bobrovsky's saves. But outstanding defenders Seth Jones and Werenski remain in the fold

Outlook in five words or less: Tough conference, need fast start.

 

New Jersey Devils

Last season: 72 points, far from making the playoffs.

Who's that? Jack Hughes, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2019 Draft, arrives after storied run with U.S. Development team and playing for Team USA in world championships. Top-level defenseman P.K. Subban arrives in a trade via Nashville salary clearing. Devils go from 72-points bottom feeder to one of the most intriguing teams in one June weekend.   

This season: The team will improve and certainly be more fun to watch. But fans shouldn't expect a 25-point jump in one season.

Outlook in five words or less: On the rise, could surprise.

 

New York Islanders

Last season: 103 points, impressive sweep of Pittsburgh in first round, exited second round.

Who's that? Matthew Barzal, the former Seattle T-birds star, is firmly in place as a franchise piece. Anders Lee re-signed for the Brooklyn-Long Island home game split and is another big part of this team developing the postseason habit while the team awaits a brand-new arena at Belmont. Semyon Varlamov is the most recent cornerpiece, bringing his goalie skills to the team.

This season: Varlamov was sharing his job in Colorado and might have faced reduced playing time this season. He will have something to prove and big pads to fill as Vezina Trophy finalist Robin Lehner moved on to Chicago. Expect Cup-winning coach Barry Trotz to the get the most out of his roster, as usual.  Outlook in five words or less: Balanced postseason team, tough conference.



 

New York Rangers

Last season: 78 points, missed the playoffs.

Who's that? This is going to be fun. Young scoring star Artemi Panarin signs a free agent, a Russian who dreamed of playing in New York. No. 2 overall 2019 draft pick and Finnish right wing Kaapo Kakko is slated to challenge goalies and spell checks for seasons to come. Kakko is regarded as even more NHL-ready than New Jersey's Jack Hughes or Chicago's Kirby Dach (No. 3) due to Kakko's play against grown men in Finland's highly respected pro league.   

This season: Henrik Lundqvist returns as the primary goaltender. There are doubters but expect a solid season.

Outlook in five words or less: More fun, but probably a year away from playoffs

 

Philadelphia Flyers

Last season: 82 points, missed the playoffs.

Who to watch: Goalie Carter Hart burst onto the scene last season. The former Everett Silvertips star played 18 AHL games, then got called up to the big club. He figures to get more playing time but veteran goaltender Brian Elliott is deserving as well.

This season: The major off-season signing was Kevin Hayes to fill in at the second-line center. But there is more work to be done on this roster. Claude Giroux and Sean Couturier are bonafide NHLers, but this team is probably a year away from postseason contention.

Outlook in five words or less: Work in progress.

 

Pittsburgh Penguins

Last season: 100 points, swept in first round.

Who's that? There is no better pair of NHL players to observe for skill sets than Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Both are superior playmakers, clutch scorers and multiple Cup winners. Crosby has turned himself into a high-class defensive forward in recent seasons.

This season: Goalie Matt Murray needs a bounce back season. GM Jim Rutherford always stocks his rosters with a balance of veteran leadership and young players with major upsides. It's possible getting swept by the Islanders last spring will both fire up the Penguins and afford a certain type of recovery after deep postseasons in 2017 and 2018 grinding to back-to-back Stanley Cups.

Outlook in five words or less: Third Cup in four seasons?
 


 

Washington Capitals

Last season: 104 points, won division, lost in seven games in first round to Carolina. 

Who's that? Until he retires, center Alex Ovechkin, 34, will always be worth watching. His highlight reel grows like tomatoes in consistent sunlight. 

This season: The Caps believe they have another Cup in their sights with Ovie under contract for two more seasons before he retires or returns to play back home in Russia. This season is go-time with playmaker Nicklas Backstorm, 32,  and goalie Braden Holtby, 30,  eyeing  perhaps their last major contracts during free agency next summer. Evgeny Kuznetsov is a top 50 NHL player (includes all positions) and way beyond the Ovechkin protégé stage. John Carlson is top 20 and among the loftiest defensemen-and he's lived up to the promise and hype that started several seasons ago for the U.S.-born star.

Outlook in five words or less: Why doubt another Cup run?

 

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