It's been about 10 months since we last saw regular season NHL hockey, and though we did have a full playoff in the summer, this January return leaves us with many questions and uncertainty on where certain teams are at.
On this week's episode of 31 Thoughts: The Podcast, Jeff Marek and Elliotte Friedman drilled in on each of the 31 teams. Here, we've compiled some of the highlights on how Elliotte views each of these teams, with the puck set to drop Wednesday night.
For the full scope and conversation, listen to the full episode to get every detail.
"There's a ton of respect for the Bruins and what they do and the culture they've created and what they've built up there. But what has happened this off-season has thrown a lot of that into 'what exactly is going on here?'
Some of it was the Bruins took a long look at 'OK do we have to start preparing for the changing fo the core?' One of their most important cultural players is gone now (Chara). Who knows where we're going to be with a couple others after this season?
I think for the first time in a long time, people are looking at Boston and saying: What do we have here? Where are they going here?"
In almost any other division I might pick them to surprise. I just don't like them in this division. Two really good teams are going to miss the playoffs at least. I like the moves Buffalo made. I think they're on paper a better team. I like the (Taylor) Hall move. I like the Eric Staal move. I think it's really important that Dahlin take a big step this year. Eichel took that big step last year. People look at Eichel differently now. I think that same thing now has to happen with Dahlin.
New Jersey Devils
"One of the guys I'm fascinated to see this season is P.K. Subban. All of a sudden P.K. Subban is one year away from his contract being up. He's in the second-last year of that long deal. I think he changed his workout routine. They're in such a brutal spot. They could have the No. 1 pick again. So this year you're looking at guys like Jack Hughes, does he take the next step?
"I like the Islanders' culture a lot. I like their group a lot. And I'm really curious to see (Ilya) Sorokin because I've heard really good things about him as a goalie. The reviews on him are excellent. One of the reasons I liked them in the return to play was because they have structure. You always know what they are. I didn't know they would go to the Eastern Conference Final last summer, but I did think they would be a problem just because in a chaotic time they always know what their roles are. I think that works in chaos. So when I see them now in a really difficult time...I think it plays into their strengths."
"I like them. The question is: last year they surprised people. People weren't ready for them. This year it's going to be different. People are going to be ready for them. The goaltending is different for the first time in 15 years. Is it going to be a vacuum because it's going to be different without (Henrik Lundqvist)? I don't see any reason this team can't win the division. I just think now, last year nobody thought anything of them. How will they handle expectation?
"I like the Flyers a lot. I think the respect for them has really grown. They got a lot of players, they got a lot of prospects and they've developed everybody the right way. They've given these guys a chance to earn their mistakes, learn from them. Provorov I saw was basically 500:1 to win the Norris -- would anybody be surprised if that guy wins the Norris this season? Carter Hart is a burgeoning star. Konecny, Laughton. All these guys coming. For so many years Philly was Giroux and Voracek dragging everybody into the fight and hopefully we're there. Now it's, I don't want to call them support players, but it's not solely on them anymore. It's not just about those guys dragging everyone to the fight.
"I have no idea what to expect from these guys this year. They could finish first, they could finish sixth and it wouldn't surprise me. I don't like to bet against Crosby. I don't know what to expect. They came into the bubble last year they had no juice. They just weren't there. They made changes, the GM loves to make changes, I know they felt Matt Murray wasn't the guy any more.
"Of all the teams in the league they're the toughest one for me to look at and say they're going to be this. If I was to rank them all from 1-31 on how I have a feel for them, they'd be 31."
"I like them. I do believe in the goalie. I think (Ilya) Samsonov is a good goalie. I'm concerned about the backup right now. They've got Craig Anderson there. It wouldn't surprise me if they go out and get someone else at some point. I look at that team top to bottom especially with Chara there, I think they're going to be really hungry. I think they could win it all this year. I really do. To me the other guy who's gotta come back is Kuznetsov. Any Capitals fan will tell you one of the major reasons they won the Stanley Cup is Kuznetsov was a horse. He has got to get back there.
"I think the Hurricanes are pretty good. It's going to be interesting because they have two big negotiations to come: Svechnikov, who's already turned down a massive deal from them. $60 million. Said no. I think he wants to bet short term then long term. And they've gotta do Dougie Hamilton, too, and I think he wants a big deal, too, and his numbers have shown he's going to get it. Whether they give it to him or not, he's gonna get it. So this is a big year for Carolina. They're going to have some big decisions to make after this. I'm not crazy about their goaltending, but I like their team."
"We haven't been able to say this about Chicago in a long time, but it's probably them and Detroit at the bottom of the division.
Now you're looking at Dach and a high pick and DeBrincat -- is that your next core of the Blackhawks?"
"I really assume (a potential Pierre-Luc Dubois trade) was going to be an in-season deal or an at end of season deal and that Jarmo Kekalainen was going to take his time. I heard, and I really believe it, I think some teams have really stepped up.
"I heard Jarmo Kekalainen was surprised at some of the things that were being thrown his way. I think there are some teams saying we're willing to talk about some good players..I do think he's been thinking about it more in the past few days than he thought he was going to."
"They're the first team to be shut down. I was re-listening to Tyler Seguin's interview with us on the podcast and what does he talk about? He talks about the roller coaster year they had last year and they handled it because they're a really mature group. They went through a lot and they could really handle it. So I think that bodes well for them right now...I think they're going to be fine. As long as everybody stays to the same level as they were last year. The goaltending holds. Heiskanen I think has a chance to win the Norris Trophy this year. I think they're going to be fine.
"The thing that last year I think Steve Yzemran said was it's too easy here. It's too easy to play against us. If we're going to lose we have to hold ourselves to a higher standard. When you look at their team now, they're just a better team. Are they going to finish higher than seventh? I don't know about that. But they're going to be better."
"The thing here is that they wanted to change their culture. They feel it's too easy there. What have they done? They've made a lot of changes. It looks like Keith Yandle's games played streak, which is the fourth-longest in NHL history and the longest among current players, is going to end. Very tough spot for Yandle. I think the Panthers are a team that is saying it's been too easy here and we're going to change that.
"I think the Panthers looked at their roster and said 'we need to create more competition for jobs here.' And I think that's one of the kinds of things they've said is that if you were here and you had a job, it's not guaranteed to you anymore. I think that's why they traded (Vincent) Trocheck.
"The big one is going to be Bobrovsky. He just has to be better this year."
"The interesting thing about Nashville is the whole time in the off-season, they made a couple moves at the beginning, they signed Mark Borowiecki and they signed Matt Benning for depth on the blue line. They went out on draft day and traded for Luke Kunin. They signed Brad Richardson. So they went for depth. Everybody kept on saying they've got one big move coming. We kept waiting, waiting, waiting. They were in on (Anthony) Duclair. I think they were in on (Mike) Hoffman. They re-signed Granlund. I think what Nashville has done is they've said to their biggest guys 'you've gotta carry the load. We pay you this much money for a reason.' I think they're challenging their top forwards."
"I don't worry about these guys. I rewatched some of their games from the playoffs and you know what they did that they didn't get enough credit for? There were nights they said 'we'll let you dictate the tempo. You play how you want to play.' And they beat you at that game.
"I think (John) Gibson could win the Vezina. I like their D. The question is are they going to get some scoring? Rakell was not himself last year. He can't be like that again. (Max) Jones has gotta take the step. (Danton) Heinen's gotta take the step. All of a sudden this is the last year of Ryan Getzlaf's contract. He's really tied at the hip with Bob Murray. Getzlaf is the one guy Murray really talks to there. They discuss everything together. I like them from goaltending out. Can they score? I don't know if they can score. But if you believe the defence can win you enough games to get in, in the regular season, I think Anaheim could be that team."
"They're another team you just don't know top to bottom. All off-season they talked about moving out money and stripping it down and it didn't happen. They've got great goaltending. I think some of their young players have taken steps. (Jakob) Chychrun. (Conor) Garland. (Barrett) Hayton, you hope he'll take a step this year. They've got two guys there who you're looking at and saying 'guys, it's time' and that's Clayton Keller and Nick Schmaltz. Regardless of how Arizona does, if those two guys take steps this year it's a win.
"It's Stanley Cup or bust. They're going for it, they're in all the way and I wouldn't be surprised if they add."
"I think you're kind of in the middle (of the rebuild) now. Doughty, I love Doughty, I wish everyone was like Doughty. He's mad he's not on Team Canada rosters. How does he play? I think this team is going to make life difficult on some opponents because if you get them on a night where all their kids are going, they're going to be a lot to handle, but there are going to be nights when not all of their kids are going."
"I'll be tuned in to Minnesota's first game to see (Kirill Kaprizov). I'm as eager as anyone else to see this guy play this year and see where it goes. This is a guy they're not only hoping he's good, but they're hoping he can breath new life into their franchise. They got stale. He's there to breath life in there as much as anything else. Their D is really good. They've got a great defence. I don't know what to make of the goaltending. I don't know how much they're going to score. Does Kaprizov have enough around him? He's going to be the target. Does he have enough around him that's going to help him score?"
"You look at (Evander) Kane who's signed for five years including this one. You look at (Erik) Karlsson who's signed for a long time at $11.5 million. You look at (Brent) Burns who's signed for five years including this one. (Marc-Edouard) Vlasic six years including this one. (Martin) Jones four years including this one. As much as anything else you need those guys to play. You need them to be themselves. Those are not movable contracts in this day in age. You simply have to say 'OK we need those guys to be who they're going to be.' The tough thing for San Jose is they're not starting the season at home. They're the one NHL team not starting the year in their market."
St. Louis Blues
"It's a tough road. They've gotta go through Vegas and Colorado. But i don't disrepect a team that's a year and a half removed from winning the Stanley Cup. It'll be interesting to see without Pietrangelo how does that change things? He may not be the biggest talker, but he was a big part of that group."
"I like their group a lot. It was a difficult off-season there. I think they've calmed it down. There were players who were upset. They didn't like all the rumours. (Nate) Schmidt was a popular teammate, they hated to see him go. But then you get Pietrangelo and it's like woah, that's a hell of a player. Fleury/Lehner, they got good goaltending. They have a lot of good players. I think they've got a really good team."
"I think (Jacob) Markstrom is going to do great things for them. I think (Chris) Tanev is going to do very good things for them. (Juuso) Valimaki, that's a big one. He was trending in the right direction, got hurt, you just want to see that he's back himself. I see Hanifin, I see Gaudreau, I see Monahan, you need those guys to be your flag bearers. I just think you need them to be better. Your biggest improvement needs to come internally."
"Well obviously the goaltending. You look at that and say are they going to have enough goaltending to win? They're going to be a fascinating team. They have elite elite talent, are they going to keep the puck out of the net? I want to see how much (Evan) Bouchard plays.
"What an advantage in this time to have an owner who says 'go spend money.' In a lot of sports there's a lot of owners who are saying 'no you can't do that right now.' The only thing I wonder about with Montreal, and I kind of wonder about it with Toronto too is, if you look at their team they have so many players. I remember Bruce Boudreau in 2010 the Capitals go out and at the deadline they added Eric Belanger, Joe Corvo, Scott Walker and Boudreau said I have too many players. He said it affected us in the playoffs. Guys were mad and it affected the group. That's the only thing. Is there a chance you could have too many guys?"
"You look at Josh Norris and Drake Batherson, they're with Brady Tkachuk. You look at Stützle and he's with two NHLers, Stepan and Dadonov. Those are two pretty good lines. It's a challenge for Norris and I'm looking forward to seeing him get it. Connor Brown. Anisimov. Tierney. Paquette. Galchenyuk. They have a lot of pros there. Their blue line is big. Gudbranson. Coburn added to that group. A big key is Matt Murray. He's gotta regain his confidence."
"They're the queen of Canada right now in the pre-season market. Most people I know are picking them. I like Brodie with Rielly. I think Rielly is going to get in-game rest he didn't always get. And I don't think Thornton is going to play every shift of every game with those guys. I think you're going to see moments with Hyman or someone else out there. There's going to be someone on that team, whether its Robertson or Barabanov -- there's going to be someone right now not starting in that top six who's going to end up there."
"No. 1 for me is the goaltending. No. 2 -- their depth worked for them in the playoffs last year. Beagle, Sutter they really battled. I just wonder if they're as deep this year. I think there's some holes there in and around the lineup. Toronto is deep, Montreal is deep. I think they have some holes in their lineup. Who's going to step up and fill them? Someone has to grab the net. We all talk about you have to have a tandem. I don't believe that. Someone has to be your No. 1 goalie."
"The Jets have been through an awful lot. You know what they need? A quiet year. Just play. If I could root for something for the Jets this year it'd be for a quiet year. It's a team with really good players. The reason Jack Roslovic wants out is he cannot play top six and maybe not top nine on this team. They have good players."