2019-20 NHL PREVIEW: Is it time to crown a new champion?

The storyline for the 2019-20 NHL season is one of great anticipation and theatre. Last season, it was the St. Louis Blues, who came out of nowhere to deliver their first Stanley Cup. They’re ready to celebrate on Wednesday by helping open up the new year by hosting the former ’17-18 champion Capitals.

Conn Smythe winner Ryan O’Reilly, captain Alex Pietrangelo, Vladimir Tarasenko, Jaden Schwartz, Jordan Binnington and the rest of the Blues will get their Stanley Cup rings. That includes coach Craig Berube, who took over in January and guided them from one of the league’s worst teams into a winner. They had to go through both Winnipeg and Dallas the first two rounds. Then, overcame the Bruins with an amazing Game Seven win in Boston to avenge a Cup loss to Bobby Orr and Boston in 1970.

It’s a brand new season and with that comes change. That includes some more mind numbing rules like teams having the option on which side they want the face-off to start a power play. What’s the point? Offense increased plenty. Instead of focusing too much on the new variations, we’re excited to bring in a new era of young potential franchise players. The Hudson Rivalry should get a jolt with Devils’ top pick Jack Hughes and Rangers’ second pick Kaapo Kakko entering the newest chapter.

Keep an eye on rookie defensemen Quinn Hughes of Vancouver and Cale Makar of Colorado. Noah Dobson also made the Islanders, who said goodbye to well respected veteran Thomas Hickey on Monday. They also placed former first round pick Josh Ho-Sang on waivers. Maybe he winds up finding a new home. There’ll be other first-year players who excite hockey fans. Is Thatcher Demko this year’s Binnington in Vancouver?

Of course, you always have plenty of roster turnover due to free agency and shocking trades like the one the Devils pulled off with Nashville to land the game’s biggest personality, P.K. Subban. He certainly will add a lot to the rivalries with the Rangers and Flyers. Wayne Simmonds also traded in a Flyers jersey for a Devils one. How will he be received by Flyer fans?

You also have Kevin Hayes and Alain Vigneault on the Philadelphia side of the rivalry with the Rangers. They already met twice in preseason, and Hayes scored versus his former team. He’s getting paid a lot to make a difference for a coach who knows him well. How they do depends largely on Carter Hart.

Perhaps the biggest move was made by the Maple Leafs. They acquired defenseman Tyson Barrie from the Avalanche, who got center help by getting Nazem Kadri. Toronto was also able to add Alexander Kerfoot, who should add more depth to a star laden core that features Mitch Marner, Auston Matthews, John Tavares, William Nylander and Morgan Rielly.

Nashville cleared space by moving Subban to the Devils so they could sign Matt Duchene. Is that enough to boost the Predators out of a topsy turvy Central that includes the Blues, Stars, Avalanche and Jets, who’ll be without Dustin Byfuglien, who’s debating his future. At least both Kyle Connor and Patrik Laine are back. They’ll score a lot, but could give up more minus Byfuglien and Jacob Trouba, who’s now a Ranger.

The Blue Jackets were raided in the summer losing star forward Artemi Panarin to the Blueshirts, top flight goalie Sergei Bobrovsky to the Panthers, and Duchene to the Predators. Can the Bread Man bring a revamped Rangers back to the playoffs? What about Bob in Florida, who believe the two-time Vezina winner along with new coach Joel Quenneville can finally bring postseason hockey back.

The Penguins made a big change by moving Phil Kessel to the Coyotes for already injured Alex Galchenyuk. They added gritty former Jet Brandon Tanev, hoping the moves will make Pittsburgh fans forget a humiliating first round sweep to the Islanders. Are the Isles overlooked? They let Robin Lehner go to Chicago and replaced him with Semyon Varlamov. Anders Lee remained loyal despite a run at Panarin. Jordan Eberle and Brock Nelson also are back. Is having the same nucleus enough to stay in the playoffs?

What of the Hurricanes, who kept Petr Mrazek and lost valuable leader Justin Williams, who’s taking the year off? Jake Gardiner is added to arguably the best blueline in the Metro. They finally traded Justin Faulk, who lucked out in St. Louis. Joel Edmundson came back to a D featuring Jaccob Slavin, Dougie Hamilton, Gardiner and Brett Pesce. Veteran forwards Erik Haula and Ryan Dzingel were added to a nucleus of Sebastian Aho, Jordan Staal, Teuvo Teravainen, Andrei Svechnikov and Nino Niederreiter. They should challenge the Capitals for the division.

It’ll be odd to see Joe Pavelski in a Stars jersey after being Mr. Shark. His addition along with Vezina favorite Ben Bishop lead a very good Dallas team that could contend. Are the Oilers the same old team boasting superstar duo Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, or can the astute hire of Dave Tippett turn things around? Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen need defensive help. Tippett should add structure.

Is there enough offense in Calgary again to overcome new iffy tandem David Rittich and Cam Talbot? They’ll light the lamp plenty. The Golden Knights get a full season of Mark Stone. They should be locked and loaded. Joe Thornton is back in teal for one more year. They took a huge risk with Erik Karlsson, who’s an old 29. It’ll only work if Martin Jones holds up in net.

Perhaps the biggest question is how the Lightning respond to their first round stunner against Columbus. They’re hoping Kevin Shattenkirk has something left. He won’t have any pressure thanks to Victor Hedman, who’s the best defenseman in hockey. Nikita Kucherov looks to repeat for the Hart, but he’d trade it for a Cup. So would Steven Stamkos, Brayden Point and Tyler Johnson. Andrei Vasilevskiy is the best goalie in the East.

Can the Bruins recover from that crushing Game Seven loss on home ice to the determined Blues for Lord Stanley? They’ll be good. Charlie Coyle is the third line center behind Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci. Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak form a great line with Bergeron. Both Coyle and Torey Krug are in contract years.

These are some of the storylines hockey fans will be following.

Coming Next: Division and Conference Rankings and Predictions

About Derek Felix

Derek Felix is sports blogger whose previous experience included separate stints at ESPN as a stat researcher for NHL and WNBA telecasts. The Staten Island native also interned for or hockey historian Stan Fischler and worked behind the scenes for MSG as a production assistant on New Jersey Devil telecasts. An avid New York sports fan who enjoys covering events, writing, concerts, movies and the outdoors, Derek has covered consecutive Staten Island Yankees NY Penn League championships in '05 and '06. He also scored Berkeley Carroll high school basketball games from '06-14 and provided an outlet for the Park Slope school's student athletes. Hitting Back gives them the publicity they deserve. In his free time, he also attends Ranger games and is a loyal St. John's alum with a sports management degree. The Battle Of Hudson administrator and chief editor can be followed below on Twitter and Facebook.
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