NHL 2018-19 predictions: our writers call the winners, losers and also-rans

Will the Capitals repeat? Can anything top the Knights’ first-year miracle? Our NHL writers on what’s coming up this season

I’m most looking forward to ...

Gary Bettman. Still part-way through his tenure as league commissioner, his induction into the Hockey Hall of Fame this summer was odd. But a close second might be how things play out just down the road from the Hall. It’s there that John Tavares will take the ice as a Toronto Maple Leaf. The 28-year-old Tavares, an area native and childhood Leafs fan, is somewhat the embodiment of the current team: very nearly great, but as yet unproven. There is such potential in both Tavares and the Leafs, can they finally exceed it together? Yes? Maybe? CH

The Washington Capitals’ defense of their championship. They entered so many campaigns with immense hopes of winning it all. When the pressure was on, they never even qualified for the final. Suddenly, when their chances were dismissed, they were able to bring the Cup back to the nation’s capital. All the integral pieces are back on the ice, but there’s a new coach behind the bench with Barry Trotz now on Long Island. Can Alexander Ovechkin and co repeat with new leadership? MC

How things come together, if at all, for the Buffalo Sabres. After a roster overhaul, there’s a lot of intrigue in Buffalo. General manager Jason Botterill has tried to put his stamp on this team, one stuck in perennial rebuild mode. After finishing last place in the Atlantic Division in four of the last five seasons, it can’t get any worse ... can it? The division is top-heavy and I won’t be shocked if the Sabres sneak into the playoffs. JK

One bold prediction ...

The Golden Knights won’t make the playoffs. As expectations rise, so do the chances of a sophomore slump. The Knights may have a good 2018-19 season on balance, but now that teams are accustomed to playing this previously unknown squad, have had time to examine their strengths and faults – and as the quasi-phantom “Vegas flu” has worn off – the Knights may find it more difficult to grab wins, especially at home. Meanwhile, other teams in the West have made changes over the summer (San Jose), or welcomed back key injured players (Minnesota), that could make getting a top-eight spot all the tougher. CH

Ilya Kovalchuk will prove he’s still one of the game’s elite wingers, if not close to it. Now 35, he last played in the NHL during the 2012-13 campaign, one year after he helped lead the New Jersey Devils to the Stanley Cup final. After five seasons playing in the KHL over in Russia (and a long-awaited Olympic gold medal), Kovalchuk is back. This time, he’s with the Los Angeles Kings, who handed him a three-year deal carrying an average value of $6.25m, the kind of contract that calls for plenty of scoring punch. He tallied a whooping 83 points (37 goals) during his last extended play in North America. In LA, he’ll be surrounded by the kind of players who could help him light up the league once again. MC

Carey Price will be traded. Predictably down on their luck in a tough division, the heat surrounding GM Marc Bergevin will only ramp up as the season progresses. In an attempt to keep his job, and to prove that he can make a deal that won’t blow up in his face much later, Bergevin does just that. The return will include more than five players, including a goaltender, and a first-round pick, and there will be little doubt that the rebuild will be on in Montreal. (Spoiler: the trade will probably blow up in his face.) JK

What would top the Knights’ run last season?

The only thing left to happen in the NHL that could be as unexpected and wondrous as the Knights’ 2017-18 run (even more than a repeat one-upped by a Cup victory) – and which must occur soon, before the onset of either an apocalyptic nuclear war unleashed by Donald Trump in a final bid to win a Twitter spat with a bot disguised as Michael Avenatti, or the complete collapse of civilization from a climate change-fueled war for fresh water – is for a Canadian team to win the Cup again. Then, maybe, we can all die happy. (Unless it’s the Leafs.) CH

The Ottawa Senators winning the Cup after a legendary amount of chaos swirled around the locker room. The involved parties have been jettisoned from the Canadian capital, but that means the Sens are now without franchise player Erik Karlsson. Also gone: Mike Hoffman, who was at the center of the locker room turmoil. His fiancée was accused in court of a targeted harassment campaign against Karlsson’s wife. The Sens are expected to sit at the bottom of the standings. MC

The Maple Leafs winning the Stanley Cup. Because really, what else could top one of the most improbable stories in hockey history? It would be the Maple Leafs winning their first Stanley Cup in 53 years, a task once thought impossible to pull off. For years, there’s been plenty of talk throughout the city about a parade to be planned, but we might not even get there: If there were ever a city that would implode out of sheer euphoria before the parade itself, it’s Toronto. JK

Connor McDavid
Edmonton Oilers center Connor McDavid is coming off a season where he led the NHL in scoring with 108 points ... and he’s only 21. Photograph: Candice Ward/USA Today Sports

Your Hart Trophy winner is...

Look, if Connor McDavid keeps being Connor McDavid and the rest of the Edmonton Oilers continue being the rest of the Edmonton Oilers, who other than Connor McDavid deserves this? CH

McDavid led the NHL in scoring last season with 108 points. As scary as it sounds, he’s still just 21. Now entering his fourth season, he figures to somehow raise his level of play, and if he can drag the Oilers into the playoffs, he’s a shoo-in for the league’s most prestigious award. MC

Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado Avalanche. There’s a bit of room in the Central Division to jump up the standings a bit, but that will only happen if MacKinnon has another stellar season. Yes, he has a supporting cast, including Mikko Rantanen, but MacKinnon can stay healthy, he’ll be the only player who can come remotely close to Connor McDavid in the scoring race. And on a team that will finish higher than the Oilers in the standings, MacKinnon’s contributions to the Avalanche won’t go unnoticed. The last three winners have been different 1st overall draft picks. It’s MacKinnon’s turn. JK

Metropolitan Division winners

Pittsburgh Penguins CH

Pittsburgh Penguins MC

Pittsburgh Penguins JK

Atlantic Division winners

Toronto Maple Leafs CH

Tampa Bay Lightning MC

Tampa Bay Lightning JK

Central Division winners

Winnipeg Jets CH

Winnipeg Jets MC

Winnipeg Jets JK

Pacific Division winners

San Jose Sharks CH

San Jose Sharks MC

San Jose Sharks JK

Eastern Conference finals prediction

Washington Capitals over Toronto Maple Leafs CH

Tampa Bay Lightning over Toronto Maple Leafs MC

Tampa Bay Lightning over the Pittsburgh Penguins JK

Western Conference finals prediction

San Jose Sharks over Winnipeg Jets CH

San Jose Sharks over Winnipeg Jets MC

San Jose Sharks over Winnipeg Jets JK

The Stanley Cup winners will be …

San Jose Sharks over the Washington Capitals, four games to three, because why not? I feel like predicting the Sharks will win anything other than a couple early playoff rounds is to welcome ridicule, but darned if I’m not convinced by Erik Karlsson. Paired likely with Marc-Edouard Vlasic, Karlsson could be what the Sharks finally need to reach the elusive Cup. San Jose has already proven they can reach a Final (2017), they maintain deep scoring capabilities, a mostly solid first-string goalie, and enough experience (certainly with the addition of Karlsson) to make a legitimate run. But I guess that’s what we always say. CH

With Erik Karlsson joining mainstay Brent Burns, the Sharks now boast the most impressive collection of puck-moving blueliners in the league. Add in a full season from trade deadline pickup Evander Kane, and San Jose seems destined to hoist their first-ever Cup. The Lightning are the most creative club, but the Sharks are physical and should outlast them in seven games. MC

The Tampa Bay Lightning, 4-2. For what feels like the past 10 years, I picked the Capitals to finally win it all before I gave up on them ... last year. After making it to the conference finals in three of the last four seasons, I have to believe the Lightning are due, and will finally get over the hump as the Capitals did last season. From top to bottom, there’s just too much talent on that roster. Victor Hedman keeps getting better and better, and his performance will only bring back the debate on whether or not a true stud defenseman is needed to win a Cup. For this season at least, it looks as if that will be true. JK


Colin Horgan, Mike Coppinger and Joshua Kloke

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