NHL burning questions: Revisiting every team's biggest issues at the end of the regular season
Do we finally have definitive answers to the 31 questions we posed during preseason?
Before this NHL season got underway,faced as they began a new campaign. With the regular season now behind us, it's time to revisit those questions and see what answers we have.
After 82 games, some of those questions have clear answers, while others are still a bit more open-ended. Let's get to it.
How healthy was Ryan Kesler?
Kesler battled injury and was a shell of himself in 2017-18, putting up just eight goals and 14 points in 44 games. He played more games this year (60) but somehow his production was even worse. The 34-year-old forward finished with just five goals and eight points on the year. He's clearly not gotten back to the player he once was and you have to start wondering if he ever will.
How has Alex Galchenyuk looked?
The Coyotes' biggest offseason splash was the blockbuster acquisition of Galchenyuk from Montreal and it was believed that a fresh start could significantly benefit the forward, especially if he was given steady minutes at center. He didn't exactly work out at center, but his production wasn't terrible. He finished third on an offensively anemic Coyotes team with 19 goals and 41 points in 72 games.
Has depth been an issue?
It was to start the year as the Bruins' offense was largely carried by their top trio of David Pastrnak, Patrice Bergeron and Brad Marchand. However, as the year went on, Boston got more offensive contributions from secondary pieces. David Krejci tied a career high with 73 points. Jake DeBrusk weathered a slow start and finished with 27 goals in his sophomore season. The Bruins also added Charlie Coyle and Marcus Johansson at the trade deadline in an effort to bolster their lineup down the stretch. In the end, they finished with the 11th best offensive unit in the league and their 107 points in the standings were enough to tie for second in the league, so depth wasn't a major issue.
Just how big has their jump been?
The Sabres were the worst team in the league last season, but they were expected to make some progress in their rebuild after adding some nice pieces -- including top overall pick Rasmus Dahlin, veteran winger Jeff Skinner and netminder Carter Hutton. The team got off to a strong start, going 17-6-2 in their first 25 games and shooting to the top of the Atlantic division following a 10-game winning streak. They were still in a playoff spot at the midway point, but they went 11-26-4 in the second half and finished with just 76 points -- fifth-worst in the league. So, the jump wasn't too big.
Has James Neal fixed their scoring woes?
After finishing last season 26th in goals scored, the Flames attempted to add a spark plug to their front six by signing James Neal to a big deal in free agency. The good news: Calgary averaged over 3.5 goals per game and finished second in scoring behind only the Tampa Bay Lightning. The bad news: Neal scored just seven goals in 63 games, marking the first time in his 11-year career that he didn't hit the 20-goal mark. Not a great start to that contract.
Has their goaltending improved?
Yup, even if the improvement didn't come from the guys you expected. Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney combined to hold down the fort in net for Carolina, with Mrazek posting a .914 save percentage in 40 games and McElhinney recording a .912 save percentage in 33 games. Newfound stability in net is a big reason that the Hurricanes are making their first playoff appearance in 10 years.
What has been of Corey Crawford?
Crawford finally returned to the Blackhawks' starting lineup in mid-October after finally fully recovering from a concussion suffered last year. He played in 23 games and had a modest .902 save percentage before suffering another concussion in December. His outlook seemed grim at that point but fortunately the 34-year-old was not only to return in February, but he was very good down the stretch, posting a .919 save percentage in 16 appearances the rest of the way.
Can they get back to the playoffs?
Yes! After a surprising Avalanche bounce-back season last year, Colorado is back in the postseason. Once again, the unfortunate news: They're once again the eight-seed and will draw the West's top team. They're still largely carried by their explosive top line in Nathan MacKinnon, Gabriel Landeskog and Mikko Rantanen but have slightly more to them this year and are heading in the right direction.
Columbus Blue Jackets
What's going to happen with Artemi Panarin?
He's still in Columbus, at least for now. It still seems like he's unlikely to sign an extension with the Blue Jackets and will likely become an unrestricted free agent this summer, but the Blue Jackets decided to hold onto him rather than sell at the deadline. In fact, Columbus decided to buy...and aggressively. Ultimately, they wanted to make a playoff push and needed to keep their leading scorer (28-59-87) to do so.
How has the team adjusted to Jim Montgomery?
It's been up and down. There were issues raised over on-ice mentality, and Dallas' two biggest stars got publicly blasted by the team's CEO for "not getting the job done" toward the beginning of the year, but Montgomery has done a good job leading a second-half turnaround to get the Stars are back into the playoffs. They finished the regular season as the second-best defensive team in hockey in terms of goals allowed per game, though their Vezina candidate in net (Ben Bishop) certainly helped too.
Detroit Red Wings
Has Dylan Larkin been a bona fide No. 1 center?
Yup. Larkin was great in the role for a Red Wings team that struggled for much of the season and finished as one of the league's worst teams. The 22-year-old posted a career-best stat line of 32-41-73 and showcased he's worthy of being the centerpiece of this team for years to come.
Have they bounced back?
Nope!. Despite 100-point seasons from both Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, the Oilers missed the playoffs again and finished as the second-worst team in the West. The silver lining is that things finally got bad enough for the team to fire Peter Chiarelli, who effectively dismantled the club over the past few years. Hopefully they'll have better luck under the new GM.
Have they hung strong in the Atlantic?
Nope. It seemed the Panthers were primed for at least a wild card spot in the Atlantic if they were able to get enough out of Roberto Luongo and James Reimer in net, but the goaltending came up short again. The Panthers finished second-worst in the league in collective save percentage (.891) and it spoiled what was a really solid offensive year for Florida. Now we'll have to see what they can do next year under Joel Quenneville.
Los Angeles Kings
How good has Ilya Kovalchuk been?
It was a decent but pretty underwhelming first season back in the NHL for Kovalchuk. After signing a big contract with LA following an extended stint in the KHL, Kovalchuk came into the season as one of the most intriguing players to watch because we didn't really know what to expect from the 35-year-old in Los Angeles. He finished the season with 16 goals, which doesn't seem like much...but it was good enough for third-most on a terrible Kings team.
Will their playoff streak be snapped?
When we initially posed that question, it had two different interpretations. The Wild have made the playoffs in each of the past six seasons. Will that continue? And if it does, will they be able to get past the first round for the first time in four years? As it turns out, it's a "no" across the board. The Wild finished on the outside of the playoff picture and seem headed for a soft rebuild.
Have they scored any goals?
Yes! After finishing 29th in scoring last season and then trading two of their four leading goal-scorers (Alex Galchenyuk and Max Pacioretty) over the summer, the Canadiens somehow managed to rank T-13th in offense this year. The offseason acquisition of Max Domi has paid big dividends, as Domi had a career year offensively (28-44-72).
What can we expect from Pekka Rinne?
The reigning Vezina winner had another solid season in net, though he won't be defending his title as the league's best goalie. The 36-year-old posted a .918 save percentage over 56 games, which is certainly serviceable. Regular Season Pekka still inspires confidence, but the biggest question still lies with Postseason Pekka. Will this be the third straight season in which his performance takes a devastating dip during a crucial period of the postseason?
New Jersey Devils
Has Taylor Hall gotten more help?
Nope. After almost single-handedly dragging the Devils to the postseason (and winning the Hart Trophy in the process) last season, Taylor Hall wasn't able to double down on the one-man show this season. He only played in 33 games, posting a 11-26-36 stat line. As a result, it's not surprising that New Jersey ended up at the bottom of the Metro division. The good news is they were bad enough to win the draft lottery, meaning they'll be picking first for the second time in three years. Maybe Jack Hughes will be of some help next year.
New York Islanders
How much has the loss of John Tavares hurt them?
Uh, it's actually helped them...somehow? Without their former superstar, the Isles stunned many and finished second in the Metropolitan division with 103 points in the standings -- a 23-point jump from last year. The team has thrived under new coach Barry Trotz and were the league's top-ranked defensive squad this season.
New York Rangers
Who's next out of town?
The Rangers announced last season that they're entering into a rebuilding period, then traded some significant names from their roster -- including Rick Nash and Ryan McDonagh. Considering New York only came into this season with only forward under contract beyond next season, it was inevitable pieces got moved. Eventually, Mats Zuccarello got traded to Dallas. Kevin Hayes went to Winnipeg. Adam McQuaid went to Columbus. Ryan Spooner got moved. So, yeah, it was a busy year in New York.
Do they even have a plan?
What kind of numbers has JVR put up?
Despite only playing in 66 games, James van Riemsdyk still put up decent numbers. He scored 27 goals in his first season back in Philly, adding 21 assists as well. The Flyers failed to make a return to the playoffs this season but JVR's production in the first year of his deal wasn't a reason why.
Has Matt Murray bounced back?
Yup. After battling some health issues and inconsistency for Pittsburgh last season, Murray had a solid campaign in net behind a shaky defense in Pittsburgh. Almost as importantly, he was able to stay healthy. In 50 games this season, Murray had a .919 save percentage and 2.69 GAA. The stat line isn't quite as sexy or impressive as it was in his first couple of seasons but, again, neither is the Pens' blue line. Overall, a solid return to form for Murray.
St. Louis Blues
Has Jake Allen dragged them down?
He did his damn best. Allen got another shot in net for St. Louis to begin the year and the veteran goaltender struggled mightily as the Blues fell all the way to the league's basement. He was sub .900 in the first half of the year and finished at .905. Luckily, St. Louis found its savior in net with rookie Jordan Binnington, who helped lead a stunning second-half turnaround and get the Blues into the playoff picture with a third-place division finish.
San Jose Sharks
How much better has Erik Karlsson made them?
Karlsson struggled to stay healthy and only played in 53 games, but the Sharks were a better team with him on the ice. Karlsson was the team's top possession driver at 5-on-5 and San Jose went from middle-of-the-pack offensively last season to the second-highest scoring team in the league in 2018-19. Their power play also made a jump into the top ten. They managed to finish as the West's second-best team despite league-worst goaltending, which is insanely impressive. They've done quite okay since adding Karlsson, but they'll need him to stay healthy during the postseason.
Tampa Bay Lighting
Are they still the best team in the Atlantic?
Uh, yeah. In fact, they were the best team...period. And historically good at that. Tampa finsihed with 128 points in the standings and tied the 1995-96 Red Wings for the most wins in a season (62). They captured their first-ever Presidents' Trophy and will head into the postseason as the team to beat.
Toronto Maple Leafs
Has the blue line held them back?
The Leafs still certainly have issues on their blue line, especially on the right side. But it's a bit more complicated than that. The Leafs' offense was largely great but the whole team struggled with consistency issues -- even after acquiring Jake Muzzin from the Kings -- and, as a result, they once again finished third in the division and will face Boston in the first round of the playoffs. Toronto's offense is highly talented and capable of carrying them to victory in high scoring games, but there are still concerns about whether they're well-rounded enough to make a push for the Cup.
How good has Elias Pettersson been?
He lit the league on fire out of the gate, but his numbers began to trail off as the year went on. Still, the 20-year-old Swede lead the Canucks in points (28-38-66) despite only playing in 71 games. He also showcased an ability to be a human highlight reel and one of the most electric young players in the game, so that's a strong bonus for a Canucks team on the rebuild. This was a very good rookie campaign and there's a lot of reason to be excited about what Pettersson can bring over the course of his NHL career.
Vegas Golden Knights
Has there been regression?
Yes, obviously. Given how improbable and insane Vegas' inaugural season was, I think we all expected them to take a step back in the sophomore campaign. They got off to a slow start this season and have struggled with consistency, but they finished with 93 points -- good enough back in the playoffs with the three-seed in the Pacific. First-year additions like Mark Stone, Paul Stastny and Max Pacioretty have been solid contributors in an impressive front-six. They may not be as sexy as last year but this is still a team that's worth fearing as we head into the playoffs.
Has there been a Stanley Cup hangover?
Not really. Even after a booze-fueled summer, the Capitals still won another Metropolitan division title. Alex Ovechkin is somehow better than ever at age-33, scoring 51 goals and capturing his eighth Maurice "Rocket" Richard Trophy. They finished fifth in offense and could be in line for another strong playoff run as they defend their title with largely the same team they had last spring.
Will they need another second line center?
Yup. As expected, the Jets' top line was very strong this year but they were in the market for a secondary playmaker in the middle to help beef up their depth (and possibly also help out on their PK) at the midway point. This is the way we saw things play out last season before the Jets went and acquired Paul Stastny at the trade deadline. They upgraded in that area once again this year by going out and getting Kevin Hayes, who had five goals and 13 points in 20 games for the Jets down the stretch.
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