The defense of the Stanley Cup begins
It took more than a decade into Alex Ovechkin’s career for the Capitals to finally capture the Cup, a hallmark moment for the player and organization that led to a rowdy celebration on the streets of D.C. But can the Capitals refocus to repeat? Their key contributors are all back, and the adjustment to a new coach in Todd Reirden should be seamless since he was already on staff. Still, the pursuit is never easy — especially if there’s a slow start from a summer hangover.
Is Vegas Another one-hit wonder?
Expectations might have been low a year ago for the expansion Golden Knights, but they won’t fly under the radar this season — not after impressing all the way to the Stanley Cup Final. How the team regroups for Year 2 will be telling. Management certainly made moves in the offseason to give Vegas another chance for a lengthy playoff run, but missing defenseman Nate Schmidt for the first 20 games of the season for a performance-enhancing drug violation will hurt. A drop-off from last season wouldn’t be surprising, but neither would a respectable encore that slots Vegas near the top of the Western Conference.
Keep an eye on the trade market
It’ll be hard to top the magnitude of the Erik Karlsson trade from Ottawa to San Jose last month, but more turnover could be on the way. The Senators have a few other players on expiring contracts such as forwards Mark Stone and Matt Duchene. Same with the Blue Jackets, as winger Artemi Panarin and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky are in the final seasons of their deals. If re-signing any of these players isn’t an option, the landscape of the NHL could change dramatically if teams decide to trade them.
Will offenses continue to FLourish?
Young talent keeps combining with proven stars to fill each night’s boxscores with goals. The NHL averaged almost six goals a game last season, the most since 2005-06, and another spike could be on the horizon. Goalies will wear smaller chest protectors this season, cutting back on the boxy look that many have adopted over the years.
Several Rebuilds could show progress
Parity continues to define the league, so a recent bottom-feeder could once again make a leap up the standings — just as the Avalanche and Devils did last season — and there are plenty of candidates. The Sabres seem primed to improve with the No. 1 draft pick Rasmus Dahlin patrolling their blue line. Out West, the Coyotes would be making major strides if they pick up from where they left off as one of the NHL’s better second-half teams. And although the Rangers’ rebuild is just getting started, the team still has enough experience in its lineup to be competitive.