NHL 2019-2020 season preview: Why the Golden Knights, like every year they've existed, can win it all
Vegas was robbed in the playoffs by a bad call
With another NHL season rapidly approaching, it's time to gear up with our 2019-2020 preview week. We'll be taking a look around the league, division by division, and providing a snapshot of all 31 teams. In addition to top-to-bottom rankings, we'll give you reasons to believe in every team and, for the pessimists, reasons to doubt them as well.
To kick things off, let's have a go at the Pacific Division out west.
(Last season: 93 points, 3rd in Pacific)
Reason to believe: Vegas opened up as betting favorites in the Western Conference and for good reason. They're stacked up front and should have one of the best top-sixes in all of hockey with the likes of William Karlsson, Mark Stone, Jonathan Marchessault, Max Pacioretty, Paul Stastny and Alex Tuch/Reilly Smith.
They started to put it together at the end of last season and it's hard not to look back and wonder how far they would have advanced had they not been gotten the short end of the stick on Sharks before subsequently falling apart and getting eliminated. There's plenty of reason to believe they could have made it back to (and won) the Stanley Cup Final had refs seen that sequence for what it was.in Game 7 against the
That being said, they look primed to build on that momentum they've built over their first two seasons and be one of the West's best this year.
Reason to doubt: Their defensive group on the blue line still won't blow anyone away (though their forwards are good enough defensively that it helps to limit the back end's importance); Marc-Andre Fleury is approaching 35 and came back down to earth last year after a superb 2017-2018 season in Vegas. Their power play ranked 25th in the league last season.
2. San Jose Sharks
(Last season: 101 points, 2nd in Pacific)
Reason to believe: They widened their Cup window a bit with the extension of Erik Karlsson, and they were a 100-point team last year despite league-worst goaltending, which is a truly incredible accomplishment that speaks to just how good the roster was. (The goaltending can't possibly be as bad this year, right?)
They were the league's best possession team a year ago and still have some real firepower up front in Logan Couture, Tomas Hertl and Timo Meier, who emerging as a stud. Plus, just a couple of Norris winners on the back end in Karlsson and Brent Burns. There's no doubt that they've got high-end talent.
Reason to doubt: They were able to keep Karlsson on a long-term deal but it cost them quite a bit of depth. Joe Pavelski has been integral to the club for years and he's now in Dallas. Joonas Donskoi left in free agency as well and Justin Braun was traded to free up money. Again, their goaltending tandem of Martin Jones and Aaron Dell was worst in the league last year, and they're back for another season.
(Last season: 107 points, 1st in Pacific)
Reason to believe: They've got a really good young core, especially on the front end. Several of their stars are coming off of career years -- including Johnny Gaudreau (99 points), Sean Monahan (82 points), Matthew Tkachuk (77 points) and Elias Lindholm (75 points)...and all of those guys are 26 years old or younger. They've got a very solid back end that's led by Mark Giordano, who won the Norris as the league's best defenseman last season. Finished last season with a plus-62 goal differential, second-best in the league.
Reason to doubt: You wonder if at least some of those forwards who had career years might regress a little bit, and can a 36-year-old Giordano maintain his Norris-caliber form? Their depth is a little questionable, especially after giving up on James Neal after one season and bringing in...Milan Lucic. And maybe most concerning of all -- the goaltending. Dave Rittich was solid last year (.911 save percentage) but is he the answer in net? He struggled at the end of last season and ultimately lost playoff duties to Mike Smith. If Rittich doesn't pan out, Calgary's faith will be placed in the hands of new backup Cam Talbot.
(Last season: 86 points, 4th in Pacific)
Reason to believe: The Yotes nearly made the playoffs last year despite some major offensive struggles (T-3rd worst in the league in goals per game) and significant injury woes. The addition of Phil Kessel, who is reunited with Rick Tocchet, should help them score some more goals and could help spike the production and confidence of some of the younger guys Kessel may play alongside.
Their defense and penalty kill were solid last year and they finished the year tied for fifth in team save percentage, thanks in large part to a breakthrough year from Darcy Kuemper. Their goaltending duo of Antti Raanta and Kuemper could be huge.
Reason to doubt: Their offense and power play is still a bit concerning, even with the additions of Kessel and Carl Soderberg. They're relying on plenty of other guys with histories of inconsistency, and that's a risky endeavor. They're really going to need Clayton Keller to step up and bounce back after a sophomore season in which he regressed and only tallied 47 points.
(Last season: 81 points, 5th in Pacific)
Reason to believe: They've got an exciting young core of players that continue to grow alongside one another. Elias Pettersson established himself as one of the most electric and promising young players in hockey last season before fading in the second half. Brock Boeser has put together back-to-back seasons in which he's approached 30 goals despite missing a hearty chunk of time. Bo Horvat is coming off a year in which he set career-highs in both goals (27) and assists (34). Quinn Hughes is ready. They have the pillars in place.
Reason to doubt: They still seemed to be stuck in no man's land in this rebuild. They've got the young stars, but they continue to give out bad contracts to mediocre players and they still have too many average to below-average guys filling out their lineup and possibly taking opportunities away from younger players coming up through the system.
(Last season: 79 points, 7th in Pacific)
They did make a nice move to turn Milan Lucic into James Neal, who is coming off a lousy year but still has a much higher ceiling than Lucic. Maybe Neal bounces back and becomes a much-needed competent scoring threat on the wing in Edmonton.
Reason to doubt: Everyone else around those guys.
In all seriousness, the Oilers got 100-point campaigns from both McDavid and Draisaitl last year and still missed the playoffs because the rest of their roster construction was so bad. They didn't improve a whole lot this offseason and their forward group still has far too many cases of "uh, who?" in the lineup. A 37-year-old Mike Smith could be their starting goalie behind a pretty bad defense. Not great.
(Last season: 80 points, 6th in Pacific)
Reason to believe: John Gibson. He showed last year he's good enough to carry an otherwise pretty awful team, at least for about half the year.
Reason to doubt: They finished last season as the league's worst offensive team and it's probably not going to get a whole lot better this year. They've got some good young players (Sam Steel, Max Comtois, Troy Terry) who should get plenty of opportunity to establish themselves this year, but there will undoubtedly be major growing pains as this team heads into a needed rebuild.
(Last season: 71 points, 8th in Pacific)
Reason to believe: None.
Reason to doubt: They're still old. They're still slow. They've still got way too much money tied up in old, slow players. They probably won't be able to score. They may have to trade Tyler Toffoli around the deadline. This team is probably heading towards a bottom one or two finish this season.
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