A new NHL season always brings a lot of questions that need to be answered, from the who the contenders and pretenders are, to potential coaching changes, to free agent finds and flops to identifying the breakout players. We dig into all of those areas — plus many more — as we ask 25 important questions about the 2019-20 NHL season. 1 of 25
What will the Blues do for an encore?
For the first time ever, the St. Louis Blues are entering a season on top of the NHL’s mountain, defending the Stanley Cup. General manager Doug Armstromg strengthened the roster just before the start of the season by trading for Justin Faulk from the Carolina Hurricanes, adding to an already strong defense. A lot of the season will rely on Jordan Binnington’s ability to repeat his second half — and postseason — performance. 2 of 25
Will the Avalanche match the hype?
Big things are expected in Denver this season, and for good reason. The Avalanche advanced to Round 2 of the Stanley Cup Playoffs a year ago, have as much young talent as any team in the league, bolstered their depth over the summer and still have the salary cap space to add much more help if needed. They are poised to make a serious championship run right now. But with great expectations comes great pressure, and they will definitely not be sneaking up on anyone this season. 3 of 25
How will the Lightning bounce back from their latest postseason disappointment?
Of all the postseason disappointments the Lightning have had over the past five years, their Round 1 loss to the Columbus Blue Jackets was by far the worst. They won 62 games and tied a league record, seemed destined to return to the Stanley Cup Final and then failed to win a single playoff game. They are still the best team in the league on paper, but expectations are going to be through the roof to finally get over the hump. The Blues and Washington Capitals eventually shook their postseason disappointment labels…now it is up to the Lightning to shake theirs. 4 of 25
Will Mike Babcock and the Maple Leafs finally do something that matters?
It may seem like a harsh question to ask, but so far the Babcock era in Toronto has produced a lot of hype and nothing but a bunch of third-place finishes and Round 1 losses in the playoffs, including two in a row to the Boston Bruins. Yes, the division is tough at the top. Yes, the Leafs lost two Game 7s to a great team. But they should have higher expectations by this point while a Babcock-coached team has made it to the second round just once in more than a decade. That cannot continue to be acceptable. 5 of 25
Will anyone challenge Alex Ovechkin?
Ovechkin is the most dominant goal scorer in the history of the league and is not slowing down. He has won the league’s goal crown in seven of the past eight seasons and has rarely been challenged. Can anyone top him this season? Look for John Tavares, Patrik Laine, Auston Matthews, David Pastrnak and Steven Stamkos to be the closest. 6 of 25
Connor McDavid or Nikita Kucherov for the scoring title?
These two have been the top point producers in the NHL over the past three seasons and seem destined to hold their places at the top for the near future and continue to compete for the Art Ross Trophy. Who takes it this year? McDavid managed to overtake Kucherov with a late surge two years ago, while Kucherov bounced back in 2018-19 with a 128-point season that was one of the best offensive seasons of the modern era. 7 of 25
Are the Jets finished as contenders?
It is just really difficult to see a path for them to compete. Their defense was already decimated, and with the uncertainty around Dustin Byfuglien’s future (will he retire or won’t he?) it could quickly get worse. Add in the fact St. Louis, Colorado Dallas, and Nashville all made big moves around them to try and get better, and this is a season that could be really ugly, really fast. 8 of 25
Which coaches are on the hot seat?
ou know at some point multiple teams will make a coaching change. It could be a bad team that has run out of answers and has no other card to play, or it could be a contender that is off to a slow start and looks to shake things up. Some names to watch: Bruce Boudreau in Minnesota, Paul Maurice in Winnipeg and Jeff Blashill in Detroit. 9 of 25
Which top rookie will win the Calder Trophy?
This year’s rookie class looks to be exceptionally deep with potential impact players all over the league. The top two picks in the draft, Jack Hughes and Kaapo Kakko, will help reignite the Devils-Rangers rivalry, while young defenders Cale Makar and Quinn Hughes should make big impacts in Colorado and Vancouver. Those four seem to be the preseason favorites, but who else will emerge? 10 of 25
Which free agent signings will work? Which ones will flop?
Free agency is always a massive gamble, and there were some pretty significant contracts signed this summer. The early front-runner for most successful signing would seem to be Artemi Panarin in New York, while Joe Pavelski could be just what the Stars need. Sergei Bobrovsky may become an issue five years from now in Florida, but in the short term he should be solid. At the opposite end of the spectrum, Kevin Hayes in Philadelphia, Brandon Tanev in Pittsburgh and Tyler Myers in Vancouver all look like investments who are destined to end in a trade or a buyout. 11 of 25
Will the Blackhawks get back to the playoffs?
Not long ago they were the NHL’s most successful team, but they enter this season riding a two-year postseason drought and are still clinging to the hope that their veteran core has a chance to still compete. The offense is there, but did they do enough to address the defense? And if they did not, will they think about moving on from longtime general manager Stan Bowman? 12 of 25
Will the Islanders regress?
No performance was more unexpected last season than the one-year turnaround of the Islanders, going from 31st in the league in goals against to first and overcoming the free agent departure of John Tavares to advance to the second round of the playoffs. But there were a lot of red flags in that performance and the table seems to be set for a regression this season, especially if Semyon Varlamov cannot match Robin Lehner’s performance in goal. Can they find the magic again? Most teams in this situation do not. 13 of 25
Are Panthers a playoff team?
Honestly, there is no reason why they shouldn’t be. They already have some key pieces in place — the biggest being Aleksander Barkov — and they made some huge additions in the offseason with the hiring of a future Hall of Fame coach ( Joel Quenneville) and the signing of a franchise goalie. The latter was the biggest missing piece they had, and for the money they spent and the core they have in place, the playoffs should be a bare minimum expectation this season. 14 of 25
Will the Sabres show any progress?
When the Sabres started to rebuild way back in the Tim Murray era, the expectation was that the process would eventually produce positive results. Those results should have started by now. The Sabres are entering the season riding an eight-year postseason drought (the NHL’s longest) and have stuck in place for most of that time. They have two franchise players (Jack Eichel and Rasmus Dahlin) but not much else around them. They have topped 81 points in a season just once since 2011. They still seem to be light years behind the top teams in their division. 15 of 25
What is the Hurricanes’ ceiling?
Every year the Hurricanes were always a preseason sleeper pick in the NHL, and every year for one reason or another they would find a way to underwhelm. That has all changed and after their trip to the Eastern Conference Final, they will be entering this season with real expectations. Their defense is as deep as any other unit in the league, they have an underrated group of forwards led by Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, Nino Niederreiter and Andrei Svechnikov and an exciting style of play that makes them a must-see team. They are for real, and they are not going away. 16 of 25
Will Evgeni Malkin bounce back?
This is the big question in Pittsburgh. Even though his final point total from the 2018-19 season was strong, it was clearly one of Malkin’s toughest years in the league. He slowed down considerably after a fast start and never seemed to be happy with his game. He arrived in camp motivated and with a chip on his shoulder, ready to show he is still one of the game’s best. If he does, the Penguins could once again be tough to beat.
By: Adam Gretz