(photos via nhl.com)
With training camps set to open up in just a few days, I figured I would begin the season by taking a look at each conference and identifying three stories I’ll be keeping an eye on for the upcoming season.
Starting with the Western Conference and one team that had a wildly successful offseason.
RISE OF THE COYOTES?
I really like what GM John Chayka did this summer. The big move was the acquisition of winger Phil Kessel from the Pittsburgh Penguins. Kessel has scored 70+ points in each of the last three seasons and now he’ll come to Arizona and be re-united with Rick Tochett who was called ‘The Kessel Whisperer’ during the pairs time in Pittsburgh.
Kessel will help so will the addition of Carl Soderberg, who should handle a lot of the defensive responsibilities and allow franchise centre Clayton Keller to thrive in an offensive role. They will also have Nick Schmaltz back in the lineup. After being acquired from the Hawks last season in the Dylan Strome trade, Schmaltz was almost a point per game player in his 17 games with the Coyotes before going down with an injury. I think he could be in a spot to have a really strong season.
The offence looks good, the d-core has some good veterans and a handful of younger players with upside, and perhaps most importantly they have two goalies who have shown that they can be starting NHL goaltenders at different points.
On top of all of that, they play in a division that I don’t expect will be very good in 2019/20. All signs are pointing to a return to the playoffs for the Arizona Coyotes this season.
WHO BOUNCES BACK?
Last season, we saw a handful of perennial Stanley Cup contenders take massive steps back. The Chicago Blackhawks, LA Kings, and Anaheim Ducks all struggled mightily at different points and missed the playoffs.
Is it simply the result of ageing cores? Or, will these teams find ways to bounce back in 2019/20?
I believe that with the league getting faster and younger, it will be incredibly hard for any of these teams to climb their way back into the playoffs this season but if I had to put money on one of them, it would be the Hawks.
The LA Kings hired Todd McLellan to be their new Head Coach, but apart from that, they really didn’t do anything substantial to improve their roster. They’ll be banking on rebound seasons from the like of Kovalchuk, Carter, and even Anze Kopitar.
The Ducks moved on from Corey Perry and might get Justin Faulk from Carolina but nothing they did this summer really inspires me to believe that they’ll be much better than they were last season. At the same time, they have some good looking young forwards and they’re playing in what I perceive to be a bad division. I give them a bit of a chance.
As for the Hawks, they did some interesting stuff. They gave themselves a hell of a one-two punch between the pipes by signing Robin Lehner to split time with Corey Crawford. They acquired Olli Maata and Calvin De Haan to freshen up their blueline as well. Up front, I worry a little bit about their ability to score goals but at the same time, it’s tough to doubt a team with Patrick Kane.
Out of the three teams that took steps back last season, the Hawks might be best positioned to return to the playoffs.
THE EFFECT OF RFA HOLDOUTS?
Now, there is a chance that all of Patrick Laine, Kyle Connor, Matt Tkachuk, and Mikko Rantanen return to their respective teams before the start of the season and this isn’t a storyline at all, but, all four of those teams are crucial to their team’s success. If they miss 10-20 games to start the year and take another 10 games to catch up to their competition, it could drastically change their teams playoff chances.
As of right now, it’s quite on the RFA front for all four of those names and while things can change quickly, the biggest story as camps open is the status of these four young stars.
(photos via nhl.com)