With the 2019-20 season opener on Oct. 2 one month away, we interrupted the holiday plans of our writers to ask them to provide the storyline that most excites them about the upcoming season.
Here are their answers:
Tim Campbell, staff writer
The relevancy of Canada-based teams: The yearning for a Canadian team to win the Stanley Cup for the first time since the Montreal Canadiens in 1993 must be satisfied at some point. Can this be the season? Chances look like they're increasing. The Calgary Flames, Toronto Maple Leafs and Winnipeg Jets each made the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, and there seems to be some foundation for hope for a return to the playoffs in Montreal and maybe even for the Vancouver Canucks. There's always debate about windows opening and closing, but there appear to be more opportunities north of the border this season.
Nick Cotsonika, columnist
The rise of the Florida Panthers: With Joel Quenneville in as coach and Sergei Bobrovsky in goal, the Panthers have a chance to take a huge step forward. Will Quenneville and Bobrovsky bring out the best in the talented core? Can the Panthers become contenders in the stacked Atlantic Division? Can they make the playoffs for the third time in 19 seasons?
Video: 31 in 31: Florida Panthers 2019-20 season preview
William Douglas, staff writer
A full season of Carter Hart in goal for the Philadelphia Flyers: Inconsistency and injury have been hallmarks of Flyers goaltending for decades, and last season exemplified the situation. An NHL-record eight goalies started at least one game, including Hart, a goalie of the future who became the goalie of the present. Hart, selected in the second round (No. 48) of the 2016 NHL Draft, played well (16-13-1, 2.83 goals-against average, .917 save percentage) after joining the Flyers from Lehigh Valley of the American Hockey League on Dec. 17, 2018. It will be interesting to see how the 21-year-old develops during an entire NHL season.
Tom Gulitti, staff writer
The encore of the Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes were the talk of the NHL last season with their Storm Surge celebrations after each home win during the regular season, including simulating baseball, basketball, bowling and a boxing match with Evander Holyfield. Not everyone was a fan, but they added to the buzz Carolina created on its way to returning to the playoffs for the first time since 2009 and advancing to the Eastern Conference Final before losing to the Boston Bruins. It remains to be seen if the Hurricanes will bring back the Storm Surge this season and what new ideas they can create. Regardless, the Hurricanes should be exciting to watch with most of their team returning and Sebastian Aho a year older following a breakout season when he set NHL career highs with 30 goals and 83 points.
Video: 31 in 31: Carolina Hurricanes 2019-20 season preview
Pete Jensen, senior fantasy editor
Arizona Coyotes ending long playoff drought: I'm ready to witness the revival of the Coyotes, who have missed the playoffs the past seven seasons, after the acquisition of right wing Phil Kessel. They haven't had a player with 80 points since Keith Tkachuk had 86 in 1996-97, the first season in Phoenix after moving from Winnipeg. But now the Coyotes have more talent than they've had at any point in more than a decade. Bounce-back seasons from forwards Clayton Keller and Nick Schmaltz, defenseman Oliver Ekman-Larsson, and goalie Antti Raanta likely would lead the Coyotes back into the postseason, and it's worth noting they could have one of the best goalie situations in the NHL with Raanta and Darcy Kuemper. The desert should have a pretty cool winter with the Coyotes back in playoff contention, and it would be great to see another nontraditional market catch playoff hockey fever.
Adam Kimelman, deputy managing editor
The Central Division battle: Are the Stanley Cup champion St. Louis Blues the Central favorite? Or is it the Nashville Predators, with Ryan Johansen and newly signed Matt Duchene as their one-two punch through the middle? Or the Winnipeg Jets and their offensive firepower? What about the Colorado Avalanche with Nazem Kadri acquired to anchor a second line behind their super-charged top group of Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen and Gabriel Landeskog? Or the Dallas Stars and Vezina Trophy candidate Ben Bishop? Whoever emerges from the division could be battle-tested enough to win the Stanley Cup.
Mike G. Morreale, staff writer
Jack Hughes vs. Kaapo Kakko : The Hudson River Rivalry got a much-needed adrenaline boost at the 2019 NHL Draft when the New Jersey Devils chose Hughes No. 1 and the New York Rangers selected Kakko second. Now it's time to sit back and appreciate the skill, desire and playmaking ability each forward has to offer. I expect at least 60-plus points from each rookie this season. Their first game, at Prudential Center in Newark on Oct. 17, will fuel what should prove to be a memorable rivalry for years to come.
Video: Jack Hughes stands atop the Top Prospects List
Tracey Myers, staff writer
Jeremy Colliton's first full season in Chicago: The Chicago Blackhawks made a lot of changes this offseason, and I'm sure Colliton can't wait to put his stamp on this team from the start of training camp. Colliton did what he could in implementing his ideas after he was hired to replace Joel Quenneville on Nov. 6. By the end of the season, you saw the impact as the Blackhawks nearly made the playoffs. With a full season, could Colliton guide the Blackhawks to the playoffs after a two-season absence?
Rob Reese, fantasy editor
The Canadiens making playoff noise: Every season, there's a team that seems to defy odds and preseason critics to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs. My bet is on the Canadiens this season, especially with captain Shea Weber and star goalie Carey Price expected to be healthy to start the season. Their young core formed chemistry last season, led by forward Max Domi, who had 72 points (28 goals, 44 assists) in 82 games, and right wing Brendan Gallagher, who scored an NHL career-high 33 goals. Don't be surprised when second-year forward Jesperi Kotkaniemi is among their leading scorers this season en route to a playoff berth.
Dave Stubbs, columnist
Rebound of the Tampa Bay Lightning: I bumped into Lightning coach Jon Cooper and his wife, Jessie, the night before the NHL Awards in Las Vegas in June and showed them a small button of Canadiens legend Jean Beliveau on my suit jacket. "I needed him in April," Cooper said. He was joking, of course. Like everyone in hockey, Cooper still was trying to make sense of the Lightning's four-game loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets in the Eastern Conference First Round after their historic regular season. I can't wait to see how the heavily loaded Lightning will use that bitter disappointment for fuel this season.
Mike Zeisberger, staff writer
The P.K. Subban era in New Jersey: Subban started his career in Montreal, where you're a rock star if you're a Canadiens player. Then it was off to Nashville, where all the world's a musical stage (or seems like it). Now he's in New Jersey, part of the New York-area spotlight, where no personality is too big. Since coming to the Devils, Subban received a special Ric Flair-type robe during a fan event, got engaged to former Olympic skier Lindsey Vonn, and was a presenter at the MTV Video Music Awards at Prudential Center. I can't wait to see what's next.
Video: Hradek offers his thoughts on Subban, Devils
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