NHL regular season officially underway: Top hits from around the league for 2018-19 season

Matt Rushforth, Sports Editor

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Hockey fans across America are finally done waiting as the 2018-19 National Hockey League (NHL) season is officially under way. Almost every team in the league has new faces as we are in store for another historic season.

The season kicks off with an opening night matchup between the reigning Stanley Cup Champions, the Washington Capitals, against the Boston Bruins, a team that also saw themselves as Cup contenders just last season.

The Capitals broke their franchise curse and were finally able to lift the Stanley Cup last spring. Many years of finding themselves eliminated in the second round of the playoffs made the victory so special to longtime teammates Alex Ovechkin and Nikolas Bakstrom.

Both forwards have spent their entire careers with the Capitals and come into 2018 in an unfamiliar position as the reigning Stanley Cup Champions.

OFF-SEASON NEWS

With an unusual off season seeing multiple big names travel to different teams, all the hype around each franchise seems to have everyone excited for puck drop. Many stars decided to find a new team to chase an exclusive Stanley Cup ring.

The biggest off-season move has to be veteran center John Taveras, who left the New York Islanders after 9 seasons, four of which he served as team captain, to join his hometown team the Toronto Maple Leafs. Taveras signed a multi-year deal with Toronto on July 1st. The signing of Taveras makes the Leafs offense a lot more dangerous, especially with third year center Auston Matthews, who has shown to prove himself as an elite goal scorer in his first years in the pros.

Another big free agency signing comes from a player who left the league many years ago to play back in his home of Russia. Winger Ilya Kovalchuk officially makes his NHL return after signing a three-year deal with the Los Angeles Kings this past summer. Kovalchuk left the New Jersey Devils to return home back in 2013 prior to signing a 17-year deal worth $102 million with the Devils.

The last big player to move cities in this historic summer came just weeks ago, as defenseman Erik Karlson was traded from the Ottawa Senators to the San Jose Sharks. It was known Karlson wanted out of Ottawa, but the veteran defenseman being added to a dangerous Sharks squad leaves the western conference questioning how dangerous the Sharks will now be.

AROUND THE DIVISIONS

Atlantic Division

The Atlantic division is known for breeding Stanley cup caliber teams on a yearly basis. The Toronto Maple Leafs, the Tampa Bay Lightning and the Boston Bruins look to be the power house teams of this division, and the three teams that will most likely be representing the Atlantic when the playoffs come.

The Detroit Red Wings, the Florida Panthers, and the Montreal Canadians all watched last year’s playoffs from home, as they look to share some of the Atlantic division spotlight in this year’s regular season. The Panthers were just few points away from a post-season berth as they finished ninth in the Eastern Conference last year (top eight make post-season).

The Buffalo Sabres and Ottawa Senators have not done much to add more talent to their rosters this past off season. The shipping of captain Erik Karlson to the west coast and the lackluster offense of both squads keeps the future questionable.

My pick to win Atlantic – Toronto Maple Leafs.

Metropolitan Division
 
Arguably the most competitive division in the NHL, a Metropolitan division team has won each of the last three Stanley Cups. The metro is always known to send a quiet, low seeded team to a league title.

Looking to lead the division is of course the defending Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals, who hope a summers worth of drinking will not get in the way of chasing another title.

The always-dangerous Pittsburgh Penguins, who won back to back titles in 2016-2017, look to get themselves back in the spotlight after an off season involving little moves.

The 2018 playoffs also saw the Columbus Blue Jackets, the New Jersey Devils and the Philadelphia Flyers. The Blue Jackets were just one win away from advancing to the second round but blew a 3-1 series lead against the Capitals, who went on to win the Cup. The Devils and Flyers were the two wild card teams in the East last year who both were eliminated in the opening round. All three teams look to find themselves back in the playoff picture and finally show that the Capitals and Penguins are not the only elite teams from this division.

The Carolina Hurricanes, the New York Islanders and Rangers find themselves in the back of the pack. The Islanders look to rebound from losing star captain Taveras and the Hurricanes look to end the longest playoff drought in the NHL after not making the post season in nine years.

The Rangers find themselves in the biggest rebuilding period the team has seen in years after trading multiple players and a 34-39-9 season a year ago.
My pick to win Metro – Pittsburgh Penguins.

Central Division

The Central division out West is entering a year where every team could spark a playoff run. Every roster in this division has talent known around the league.

The Winnipeg Jets, Nashville Predators, and Colorado Avalanche remain the Central’s top teams after noticeable playoff appearances. All three squads have favorable Stanley Cup odds fans should be happy about.

The Dallas Stars, St. Louis Blues, Minnesota Wild, and Chicago Blackhawks all have the potential to win but enter this season with much to show if they plan to compete with the front-runners.

My pick to win Central – Winnipeg Jets.
 
Pacific Division

The Pacific finds itself up for grabs in 2018-2019. As usual, the attention is on the California teams (the Los Angeles Kings, San Jose Sharks, Anaheim Ducks), but a historic inaugural season from the Vegas Golden Knights have kept people humble about who will take this division.

Up north in Canada the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers find themselves with young talent who had record breaking seasons last year. The Flames Johnny Gadreau and the Oilers Connor McDavid return in hopes to give their fans a long-waited Stanley Cup run and title.

The Vancouver Canucks and the Phoenix Coyotes find themselves entering this season in familiar positions with such little depth and much to prove.
My pick to win Pacific – San Jose Sharks.

The Championship

My pick to win the Stanley Cup – Toronto Maple Leafs.