The best and worst case scenario for each NHL team in 2018-19

Both Mark Scheifele and Blake Wheeler spoke with members of the media after the Winnipeg Jets beat the Edmonton Oilers in pre-season action.

When the puck is dropped on the 2018-19 NHL season next Wednesday, every team and its fanbase will head in with some kind of optimism. Some have Stanley Cup hopes, others just want to get to the playoffs, while the rebuilders just want to see some promise from their kids.

But even the best laid plans often go awry.

Each team has a range of outcomes in a league full of parity. Here is our look at the best, and worst, case scenario for each team.


Best case: Scott Darling returns to form and posts a save percentage far closer to his career average when he was a backup for three years in Chicago (.923) than what he mustered last season with the Hurricanes (.888). Sebastian Aho blows up as a star, rookies Valentin Zykov and Andrei Svechnikov are at least in semi-contention for the Calder Trophy to help offset the loss of Jeff Skinner and improve last season’s 23rd-ranked offence. Canes get to the playoffs for the first time in a decade.

Worst case: Darling struggles again and confirms he’s a backup goalie counting for $4.15 million against the cap. Backup Petr Mrazek also continues to struggle in his first year with the team and is no safety net. Goals continue to be hard to come by, Carolina can’t hang with the top four teams in their division, and miss the playoffs yet again.

Best case: Alexander Wennberg and Cam Atkinson bounce back from down years and return to form as 60-point players. Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky sign long-term deals, or at least aren’t traded by the deadline, and continue to post award-worthy numbers. Seth Jones returns healthy after missing the start of the season and is in the running for the Norris Trophy. The team’s power play operates as a top-12 unit as it did from Jan. 1 onwards rather than as the 25th-best unit it finished over the full season. They win the division and take a run at the Stanley Cup.

Worst case: The pending UFA situations for Panarin and Bobrovsky become a distraction and, when it becomes apparent neither will sign, they are dealt before the deadline and the players or pieces coming back are sharp downgrades in the immediate future. No bounceback seasons mean Washington, Pittsburgh and Philadelphia excel to finish ahead of Columbus, while plucky New Jersey, Carolina, Montreal or Buffalo stay in the picture long enough to nab wild-card spots, leaving the Jackets on the outside looking in.

New Jersey
Best case: Now fully healthy after playing through a hand injury in his rookie year, Nico Hischier improves and has a Mat Barzal-type season as a sophomore, helped at least partially by Taylor Hall producing at a similar career-best level. Also healthy, Marcus Johansson returns to a level where he scores north of 50 points, and helps secure a passable secondary scoring unit. More importantly, Cory Schneider works his way back to full health from hip surgery and returns to form as a top-10 goalie in the league.

Worst case: Schneider struggles or misses a large chunk of the season, and Keith Kinkaid’s save percentage falls back even a little from the .913 he posted in 41 games last season, which was good enough for 18th in the league. Hall’s 2017-18 shooting percentage (14) falls back closer to his career average of 10.9 and he drops off by 25-30 points. This has a ripple effect through the rest of the lineup, especially on the top unit. Sophomores Jesper Bratt and Will Butcher can’t match their first-year totals. The Devils miss the playoffs and actually challenge the New York teams for last place in the Metro.

NY Islanders
Best case: Barzal experiences no second-year setback and actually improves by a couple points to be among the league leaders. Josh Bailey maintains close to his 71-point performance even without John Tavares as his centre and Anders Lee scores 40 times again. Meanwhile, Ryan Pulock breaks out as a PP star, while kids such as Kieffer Bellows, Josh Ho-Sang and defenceman Sebastian Aho — none of whom will start the season with the team — earn call-ups and perform at a level that doesn’t allow GM Lou Lamoriello to send them back down. Robin Lehner secures the starter’s job so well he gets a multi-year extension and the Islanders hang around the playoff race until the very end.

Worst case: After allowing the most shots and goals against last season, the Islanders defence remains just as porous and the offence takes hits all over with the absence of Tavares and even a minor second-year decline from Barzal. The bottom six, with additions Leo Komarov, Matt Martin and Valtteri Filppula is built for a different era and can’t keep up with the pace of the modern game. The Isles bottom out, finish last in the league, and lose the lottery to end up picking fourth overall.

NY Rangers
Best case: At 36, Henrik Lundqvist puts together one more incredible season and is in the Vezina Trophy discussion, setting the table for the Rangers to overachieve. Kevin Shattenkirk doesn’t experience any setbacks from knee surgery and plays close to a full slate, giving a boost to a power play that already finished 14th last season.

New coach Dan Quinn increases Pavel Buchnevich’s role and he crosses 20 goals and 50 points, while at least one of the rookie centres — Lias Andersson (sent down) or Filip Chytil (still up) — play and contribute key top-six minutes. Chris Kreider sees an increase in minutes and bounces back from his blood clot scare last year to score 30 goals. The Rangers become the Avalanche-type surprise team and sneak into the playoffs.

Worst case: After allowing the second-most shots against last season, the defence gets no better and Lundqvist, who hasn’t been a top-15 goalie by save percentage the past two years, really is on the downslope. Pending UFAs Mats Zuccarello and Kevin Hayes are traded for futures, which is a big negative to this year’s team and the kids just aren’t ready. The Rangers could bottom right out and finish last in the division.


Best case: Not only does the first-line stay on track, but a second unit led by Nolan Patrick rises to elite relevance. Ivan Provorov blows up and arrives as a No. 1 NHL defenceman, while the addition of James van Riemsdyk to the net-front role on the power play vastly improves last season’s 15th-best unit. One of the goalies — even if it’s rookie Carter Hart, takes the reins and doesn’t look back, stabilizing the position.

Worst case: After being such a great story in 2017-18, the Flyers’ first line falls off a cliff: Couturier returns to the sub-40-point offensive levels we had come to expect from him at this level, and Claude Giroux recoils to the 60-70 point level he had been at in each of the three seasons prior. After a relatively healthy rookie season (73 games) Patrick has the same problems staying on the ice he had in junior. Neither Brian Elliott nor Michal Neuvirth find consistency and the ever-present goalie concerns in Philly linger to pull them out of the playoffs.

Best case: Sidney Crosby is amped up and motivated following a summer of watching Alex Ovechkin party with the Stanley Cup. Matt Murray’s glove hand is improved and he returns to a .920 save percentage and the Penguins ice a top-three offence again, but also finish among the 10 best teams in goals against.

Worst case: The Penguins made a mistake keeping Murray and his shortcomings become a target for the league that he can’t answer to. Phil Kessel doesn’t come especially close to matching his career-best numbers from 2017-18 and none of the cheap wingers — Daniel Sprong, Dominik Simon, Jake Guentzel — end up securing a top-six role season-long. The Pens still have the star power to reach the playoffs, though, but a first-round loss is a step back from their 2018 finish.

Best case: After losing his job by playoff time, Braden Holtby bounces all the way back to Vezina form. Alex Ovechkin socres 50 goals for the eighth time and Evgeny Kuznetsov stays on track as an elite scorer and goes even higher than last season’s 83 points. Michal Kempny’s playoff effectiveness is not a mirage and he becomes a defender whom coach Todd Rierden can play near 20 minutes a night with confidence. Jakub Vrana, a 22-year-old first-round pick who has shown flashes, fully arrives as a top-six player and the Capitals, with no pressure at all, match the rival Penguins as repeat champions.

Worst case: The Stanley Cup hangover is a thing. No longer in a contract year, John Carlson’s play tails off and he doesn’t touch the Norris conversation at $8 million a season. Holtby slips, but rather than have an elite backup behind him, Pheonix Copley with his two career games played isn’t able to play well enough to spell Holtby for long. Losing Barry Trotz has a greater impact than first thought and the Capitals fall down towards the playoff bubble. The worst outcome for the Capitals? Reaching the playoffs, and being eliminated by the Penguins again as they head on a path to reclaim the Stanley Cup.

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Best case: The first line is as good or better than it was in 2017-18, while Ryan Donato takes a run at the Calder Trophy following his nine-point performance in 12 late-season games. Zdeno Chara has another monstrous season in him at 41 and they finish as the best defensive team in the league, making for a hard matchup against their division’s highest-scoring squads.

Worst case: The one major advantage the Bruins had on division rival Toronto and Tampa Bay, their stifling defence, isn’t able to measure up to what it was a season ago. Patrice Bergeron’s nagging back issues linger all season, either forcing him out for a long period of time, at multiple junctures, or just negatively impacts his performance as he fights through. Danton Heinen was a flash in the pan, Jake DeBrusk doesn’t score in seemingly every Saturday game and the secondary scoring vanishes. Boston is passed by not only Toronto, but Florida too and becomes a fringe playoff team.

Best case: The Jack Eichel-Jeff Skinner combo is a match made in heaven — Eichel scores 100 points and Skinner approaches 40 goals again as he did two seasons ago. The secondary scoring is led by Sam Reinhart, who continues the great pace he finished last season with: 39 points in his final 44 games. Rasmus Dahlin is not only NHL-ready, but becomes an instant star. Playoffs, here we come.

Worst case: A career backup, Hutton is a shaky starter and the Sabres have to use Linus Ullmark in more games than they planned. Dahlin struggles against top competition and the Sabres defence that was bottom-10 in shot suppression last season doesn’t improve at all. It becomes clear Skinner won’t sign an extension before July 1 and has to be traded. Another hyped-up pre-season leads to the disappointment of another playoff whiff.

Best case: Each of the under-25 forwards breaks through with career years. Andreas Athanasiou scores 20 goals and 50 points with another increase in opportunity. Dylan Larkin takes yet another step up from 63 points, and Anthony Mantha becomes a 30-goal scorer. Meanwhile, Filip Zadina makes the team and makes each team that passed him over at the draft feel instant regret by winning the Calder. A Jimmy Howard-Jonathan Bernier tandem is good enough to not sink Detroit’s season and Ken Holland’s “don’t call it a rebuild” is ahead of schedule.

Worst case: Already without Mike Green to start the season, Detroit’s blue line becomes a black hole in front of an iffy goaltending duo. The scoring depth doesn’t extend beyond one line, if that, and the Wings actually head into full-rebuild mode by hitting rock bottom in the standings.

Best case: There are zero problems off the ice with Mike Hoffman in the room and he hits 30 goals for the first time – put him next to Vincent Trocheck and the Panthers’ top-two lines become two of the best, hardest to play against units in the league. Meanwhile, the third line is a skill unit with Henrik Borgstrom and Denis Malgin that provides above-average offence. Roberto Luongo stays healthy and follows up last season’s .929 save percentage with a similar number to hang around the Vezina conversation.

Worst case: Neither goalie stays healthy for long, which sinks them in a division loaded with offensive teams. Florida finished third-worst in shot suppression last season and gets no better in 2018-19, making a dire goalie situation even worse. They end up playing closer to the 17-16-5 start they had a year ago than the wild 24-8-2 finish and are overtaken by other bounceback stories in Montreal and Buffalo.

Best case: Carey Price takes back the “best goalie in the world” mantle and his play creates a high-level baseline the Habs won’t fall below. Jesperi Kotkaniemi sticks and continues to look as good as he has in the pre-season, allowing Max Domi to move back to his natural spot on the wing. Brendan Gallagher and Tomas Tatar are the primary and secondary snipers to complement playmakers in Domi and Jonathan Drouin. The Habs are a tough team to play against and hang around the playoff bubble until the very end.

Worst case: Kotkaniemi doesn’t stay for the season, Domi plays centre and has similar challenges to what Alex Galchenyuk had there. The defence, which allowed 32.3 shots against last season, starts even worse without Shea Weber for the first few months, and this creates too heavy a workload for the 31-year-old Price. Injuries are bound to hit, exposing a lack of depth, and it’s another long, playoff-less season in Montreal.

Best case: All the negative press and expectations around the team has a positive impact on the players as they play the written-off underdog role Vegas assumed last season. Playing for big contracts, Matt Duchene and Mark Stone have career years, while Brady Tkachuk comes in and has an even bigger impact on offence and emotion than his brother Matthew had as a Flames rookie. Following a down season, Craig Anderson yo-yos back as he has many times before and the Senators shock everyone the same way they did two years ago, and make the playoffs.

Worst case: This is obvious isn’t it? Everything comes crumbling down. Stone and Duchene have to be traded and don’t return a winning amount. The projected problems come through and Ottawa crashes to the bottom of the standings, win the lottery, and have to hand Jack Hughes to Colorado.

Tampa Bay
Best case: Everything on offence is just as good as a season ago, but a full 82-game slate with Ryan McDonagh on the back end improves the shots against totals, which were bottom-third in the league. Danick Martel, an undrafted late-bloomer waiver pickup, finds his way into the lineup and becomes the latest great diamond in the rough find. Everything clicks and they win the Stanley Cup.

Worst case: After finishing as a Vezina Trophy finalist, Andrei Vasilevskiy is less than awesome in 2018-19. The .905 save percentage he posted from Jan. 1 to the end of the season is closer to the norm for him, which exacerbates their shot suppression issues. They still make the playoffs — it’s hard to see them falling short — but exit quickly against one of the more complete teams.

Best case: Not only does Frederik Andersen start off strong, but he maintains a high level into the post-season and steals a series or two for the Leafs. The power play, led by an absurd top unit, improves on an already high 25 per cent conversion rate Toronto scored at on the man advantage last season. Nikita Zaitsev returns to his first-year form and the overall defensive play from the forwards improves. A parade is planned — and marched in June.

Worst case: It becomes apparent that Andersen is overworked as coach Mike Babcock starts him in 66-plus games again and he tires down the stretch and into the playoffs. The blue line really does become an issue, allowing a ton of shots against and the Leafs give up three goals a game, just as last season’s Penguins did. William Nylander goes unsigned until Dec. 1 and doesn’t play this season. Toronto still makes the playoffs, but only in a wild-card spot, and gets booted in Round 1 again. The ensuing cap crunch ends the Leafs’ best shot at the Cup.


Best case: A healthy Corey Crawford changes the whole equation. If he can play a full season or close to it, the Hawks return to playoff relevance. Duncan Keith, 35, doesn’t take until Feb. 15 to score his first goal, and gets on the board more than twice all season, which helps Chicago’s power play to recover from its 28th-place finish. Nick Schmaltz stays on course as solid No. 2 centre.

Worst case: Crawford can’t stay healthy, forcing the Hawks to lean on Cam Ward who hasn’t seen a playoff game since 2009. No bouncebacks on the way for either Patrick Kane or Jonathan Toews, who turn 30 and 31 this season. They continue to lose ground in a tough division and finish well off the pace for last place two years in a row.

Best case: Philipp Grubauer quickly wins the starting job from Semyon Varlamov and doesn’t relinquish it, securing the spot now and for the future. Nathan MacKinnon maintains a high level of output and easily crosses 100 points, elevating others on his line. Tyson Jost, 20, earns the second-line centre spot out of camp and becomes a solid secondary producer — Jost was better than a point-per-game player in his only NCAA season two years ago. This moves Carl Soderberg back to the third line, where he better fits as a checker.

Worst case: Last season was a mirage. MacKinnon still scores, but not at such an elite level and this impacts everyone else. The secondary scoring struggles and they don’t improve at all on their 33.3 shots against per game from last season, which was bottom-five in the league. The Avalanche are somewhere in between what they were last season and two years ago, and are a firmly “mushy middle” team. Ottawa makes the playoffs, so the Avs don’t get a lottery pick.

Best case: New coach Jim Montgomery, who wants to play a fast-paced game that leans on his horses, finds the sweet middle ground between Lindy Ruff’s river hockey and Ken Hitchcock’s clamped-down defence to bring out the best in a team full of potential. Valeri Nichushkin returns from the KHL and tops his NHL-best 14 goals and 34 points. Radek Faksa becomes a Selke finalist, Miro Heiskanen makes everyone realize why GM Jim Nill was reticent to put him in an Erik Karlsson trade and the Stars take a run at the division title.

Worst case: They just get buried in a division full of Stanley Cup contenders and fringe contenders desperate to break through. Nashville and Winnipeg will claim two playoff spots here. St. Louis upgraded at the important centre position, while Minnesota and its front office are as motivated as any team to do something to ensure progress. Outside of the top line, the highest-scoring Dallas forward last season had 34 points — and if that doesn’t improve, Dallas gets left behind.

Best case: There is almost no fallback from last season’s best producers (Eric Staal, Mikael Granlund, Jason Zucker) and there is bounceback from those who have been key contributors before (Nino Niederreiter, Zach Parise, Charlie Coyle). At the same time, we start to see some young players such as Joel Eriksson-Ek, who had a terribly unlucky 4.8 shooting percentage last season, and Jordan Greenway, a second-round pick in 2015. An already deep team on paper gets deeper and finally goes on the long playoff run it hasn’t had since 2003.

Worst case: Ryan Suter, coming off a broken ankle, just isn’t the same. Staal and Parise, both 34, and Mikko Koivu, 35, start declining down the stretch of their careers. The old core isn’t as effective as it’s been in recent years. The summer hiring of new GM Paul Fenton is just the start, and as the team struggles, he decides it’s time to re-tool and the Wild miss the playoffs for the first time since 2012.

Best case: Not only does Pekka Rinne stay in Vezina form, but young backup Juuse Saros plays at a high level that allows the soon-to-be 36-year-old to rest a bit and be fresh for playoffs. Not much has changed with the Predators, it’s no secret what the goal is here, so the best-case scenario is clear: Win the Stanley Cup.

Worst case: The Predators were 21st in the NHL last season averaging 32.4 shots against per game and that doesn’t improve while, at the same time, Rinne plays average and Saros can’t fill in with consistent play. The highest-scoring blue line falls back a few spots and last season proves to be Nashville’s best regular season. The Predators won’t miss the playoffs, but failing to go further than Winnipeg in the post-season again would be frustrating.

St. Louis
Best case: Ryan O’Reilly is a massive upgrade on the second line, becomes a Selke Trophy finalist or winner and the Blues’ forward depth rivals the best teams in the league. The power play improves from last year’s 30th-place finish, their collection of blueliners score the most from the position league-wide, and the Blues get back to the playoffs, where they prove a tough out and go on a run.

Worst case: Jake Allen, who has struggled with consistency and seen his numbers fall off two years in a row, doesn’t recover and backup Chad Johnson doesn’t provide nearly the same safety net as Carter Hutton last season. After finishing 24th in goals scored last season, the Blues don’t improve there and so both sides of the puck stay in neutral. Everyone around them in the division maintains pace or improves and, like Minnesota, St. Louis is left in the dust.

Best case: Last season was the start of something special and these Jets return better, deeper, more experienced and with a chip on their shoulder. Jack Roslovic sticks on the roster and works his way into a permanent centre role, perhaps even pushing Bryan Little back to the third-line role he occupied when Paul Stastny arrived. The Jets’ depth is absurd and even when injuries hit, young fill-ins such as Sami Niku, Brendan Lemieux or Mason Appleton don’t miss a beat. The Jets win the Presidents’ Trophy and the Stanley Cup.

Worst case: No longer in a contract year, Connor Hellebuyck’s season isn’t as smooth as it was when he was a Vezina finalist and he reverts back to something similar to what he was in 2016-17. Regression hits Kyle Connor (16.1 shooting percentage) and Mark Scheifele (18.4) and no one fills the loss of Stastny well enough, leaving questions at second- and third-line centre. Instead of building on last year’s playoff run, the Jets are ejected in Round 1 or 2 and the cap crunch closes the door on their best chance to win it all.

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Best case: John Gibson stays healthy, wins the Vezina, and is crowned the best goalie in the world. Ondrej Kase moves up the lineup and scores 25-30 goals, an improvement over what Corey Perry has offered in recent seasons. Coach Randy Carlyle gets his team playing a faster game which, coupled with the heavy hockey the Ducks can play, makes them a beast to match up against. Ryan Kesler doesn’t suffer any setbacks to his health and the Ducks take a run at the Cup.

Worst case: Rather than adapt, the Ducks double down on their “heavy” style and end up closer to the team that was 16th in the NHL through Jan. 1 than the one that was 26-11-5 in the second half. They miss the playoffs altogether and the entire organization has to consider what the best path forward is.

Best case: Antti Raanta plays all season like the guy who was top-two in GAA and save percentage for the last three months, while Alex Galchenyuk isn’t out too long and returns to being a 30-goal player again. Vinnie Hinostroza comes to fruition as a breakout player, giving some real pop outside of the top line. Arizona proves its start last season was indeed due to getting used to a new coach and the Coyotes stay in the playoff picture until the bitter end — and make it.

Worst case: The reason why all their second-half numbers looked so strong is because there was no pressure and they faced many backup goalies, so there’s no real growth here. Galchenyuk’s “week-to-week” injury nags all season, both special teams finish bottom-third in the league and goal scoring is hard to come by. The Coyotes yet again finish low in the standings with high lottery odds.

Best case: James Neal is the perfect addition and gives the Flames two solid scoring lines, while Michael Frolik excels on the third line. This, in turn, vastly improves last season’s 29th-ranked power play, which becomes a top-15 unit. The breakup of the failed T.J. Brodie-Travis Hamonic pair is best for the both of them, who fully reach the potential for which they were acquired. Calgary returns to the playoffs and finishes the regular season looking like a contender.

Worst case: At 36 years old, Mike Smith’s play begins to tail off, nullifying any other improvements in the lineup. Without Dougie Hamilton, Mark Giordano’s effectiveness starts to wane at 35 years old, while Elias Lindholm doesn’t match the offence put up by Micheal Ferland on the top line. The Flames watch Edmonton recover to relevance, but stay put themselves and miss the playoffs again.

Best case: Connor McDavid scores 130 points and Ty Rattie is a beautiful fit on his right side, while Ryan Nugent-Hopkins has a career year on his left. At the same time, Jesse Puljujarvi arrives as a 20-25-goal scorer next to Leon Draisaitl and coach Todd McLellan never feels enough pressure to have to turn back to pairing Draisaitl and McDavid on a 5-on-5 unit. Cam Talbot returns to .919 save percentage form in a contract season, Darnell Nurse breaks out as a productive top-pair defender and the Oilers win the division.

Worst case: God forbid anything happen to McDavid like it did in his rookie season. Basically, none of the above comes to fruition and the team is forced into making another trade under the gun (perhaps involving RNH) that doesn’t help matters. Beyond McDavid they prove too slow for the modern pace, miss the playoffs, and a new GM and coach have to find a way forward in the summer.

Los Angeles
Best case: Ilya Kovalchuk joins Anze Kopitar’s line and looks just like the player he was the last time he played a full NHL season, scoring 37 goals. A full season of Jeff Carter brings another 30-goal scorer, while even Tyler Toffoli has the potential to hit that mark following back-to-back sub-10 shooting percentage seasons. Los Angeles, 16th in goals last season, becomes a top-10 offence, and Jonathan Quick makes it impossible to score. The Kings win the division and look like a contender again.

Worst case: They’re just too slow and built for the NHL of five years ago. Kovalchuk looks like a 35-year-old who hasn’t played in the NHL in five years and his $6.25-million contract becomes another troublesome cap hit. The Kings get passed by younger, quicker teams in the Pacific and some hard questions have to be asked next summer after their third playoff miss in five seasons.

San Jose
Best case: With Erik Karlsson and Brent Burns paired with some great scorers up front, San Jose’s power play passes Toronto and Pittsburgh from last season and becomes historically great. Both of their top defencemen end up point-per-game players. The top line excels, while at least two of Timo Meier, Joonas Donskoi and Kevin Labanc have standout seasons of their own. Joe Thornton stays healthy all season and playoffs and he follows Alex Ovechkin’s footsteps to his first Stanley Cup.

Worst case: Remember the 2003-04 Colorado Avalanche? Not every team that appears stacked on paper works out. Without Chris Tierney the centre depth takes at least a bit of a hit and Thornton remains an injury risk, so there is a potential issue there. Martin Jones is a fine starting goalie but say the Sharks – with their newfound toys and a need to play faster to adapt to last year’s playoff loss to Vegas – lean too much on offence at the expense of defence? That could put too much on the goalie and the Sharks finish off as a disappointment.

Best case: The kids all excel: Brock Boeser keeps ascending and scores 40 times, Elias Pettersson steps seamlessly into the league and performs at a Barzal level as a second-line centre and Thatcher Demko works his way back to the NHL, where he plays so well he takes over No. 1 duties. Does all this mean they make the playoffs? Likely not, but it could give some optimism, bring people to the rink, and put them on track for success sooner than later.

Worst case: Pettersson’s slight body just isn’t ready for the rigours of an 82-game NHL schedule and he doesn’t stay up for the entire thing. Offence is a real problem so they bottom out in 31st-place, forcing coach Travis Green into a defensive shell that is almost unwatchable. The rebuild stays on track, but it’s a long, slow, boring season that no one feels good about.

Best case: William Karlsson actually is a 40-goal scorer and shoe-in Selke candidate centring an explosive top line. Meanwhile, the Stastny-Max Pacioretty stack turns into a highly productive unit that rivals the best complementary lines in the league. Shea Theodore instantly becomes a No. 1 defenceman who approaches 50 points in his first 82-game season and the Golden Knights, even if they don’t win the division, are a better team in Year 2. The Stanley Cup is a possibility.

Worst case: Marc-Andre Fleury is just one season removed from a .909 save percentage and turning 34 years old he shows signs of slowing down. This time, he’s not saved by miraculous efforts from backups and it becomes a real problem for Vegas to keep the puck out of the net. Karlsson’s production does collapse, so the top line becomes a de facto second unit that struggles to produce — Reilly Smith himself managed only 37 points in 2016-17. Vegas misses the playoffs and the honeymoon period comes to a screeching halt.

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