Ted Kulfan of The Detroit News previews the NHL season with a look at the top players, championship contenders and more.
Top Hart Trophy candidates
Connor McDavid, Edmonton – An electrifying, entertaining star poised to win a Stanley Cup.
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh – His position in NHL history is secure, but Crosby’s desire to win remains strong.
Auston Matthews, Toronto – Likely to enter MVP consideration, conversation very soon.
Top 5 West forwards
Connor McDavid, Edmonton – The way McDavid does everything at high speed is amazing.
Jonathan Toews, Chicago – One of the NHL’s greats, but showed a bit of mileage last season.
Leon Draisaitl, Edmonton – Forms a formidable combo with McDavid on a championship-caliber team.
Patrick Kane, Chicago – Blackhawks will be leaning on Kane and Toews heavily.
Jamie Benn, Dallas – Stars have a loaded roster, and Benn is poised to break out into stardom.
Top 5 East forwards
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh – Always seems to raise his game at the most important time.
Auston Matthews, Toronto – Difficult to imagine how Matthews can top an unbelievable rookie season.
Evgeni Malkin, Pittsburgh – Crosby is lead dog in Pittsburgh, but Malkin is a Hall of Fame talent.
John Tavares, N.Y. Islanders – Will Tavares be a free agent July 1? It’ll be the story of the season/summer.
Alex Ovechkin, Washington – At his point, Ovechkin is holding off some outstanding younger talent.
Top 5 West defensemen
Brent Burns, San Jose – Possesses one of the game’s hardest shots and is an elite skater.
Ryan Suter, Minnesota – Plays major minutes, rarely makes mistakes, and leads an upcoming team.
P.J. Subban, Nashville – Is thriving away from the spotlight of Montreal.
Drew Doughty, Los Angeles – Don’t let the Kings’ downfall take away from Doughty’s all-around brilliance.
Duncan Keith, Chicago – There’s a lot of miles here, but Keith still plays Norris-caliber major minutes.
Top 5 East defensemen
Erik, Karlsson, Ottawa – Always has been a star, but last season Karlsson took his game to otherworldly.
Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay – Hedman’s game is still evolving, and few players have his size and skating ability.
Ryan McDonagh, N.Y. Rangers – A steadying force on an evolving Rangers’ roster, he’s always in Norris consideration.
Kris Letang, Pittsburgh – It’s actually mildly shocking Pittsburgh won the Cup with Letang injured.
Shea Weber, Montreal – Weber is getting older but he remains one of the game’s foremost defenders.
Top 5 West goalies
Devan Dubnyk, Minnesota – Dubnyk resurrected his career with the Wild, with a non-flashy brand of goaltending.
Cam Talbot, Edmonton – Was outstanding his first season in a hockey-mad market, showing elite poise.
Corey Crawford, Chicago – A Stanley Cup-winning goalie who doesn’t get rattled and played so many big games.
Jonathan Quick, Los Angeles – Needs to rebound after an injury-marred season.
Martin Jones, San Jose – Jones will be under pressure this season on a Sharks roster that is getting older.
Top 5 East goalies
Carey Price, Montreal – The Canadiens made changes in the offseason, but Price remains the key star.
Sergei Bobrovsky, Columbus – Slipped in playoffs after a Vezina-winning regular season on surprising Blue Jackets.
Braden Holtby, Washington – One of many Capitals who are elite during regular season — then slip in playoffs.
Matt Murray, Pittsburgh – Two consecutive Stanley Cup-winning seasons put Murray among the best.
Henrik Lundqvist, N.Y. Rangers – The playoffs showed Lundqvist can still be a game-changer.
Top 3 rookies
Nico Hischier, New Jersey – June’s No. 1 overall pick reminds scouts of Pavel Datsyuk.
Mathew Barzal, N.Y. Islanders – Promising offensive star could push Islanders into playoff contention.
Mikhail Sergachev, Tampa Bay – The Lightning traded one potential star (Jonathan Drouin) for another (Sergachev).
5 coaches on hot seat
Barry Trotz, Washington – How many more epic collapses can the Capitals have?
Randy Carlyle, Anaheim – Is the window closing for the Ducks to win another Stanley Cup?
Joel Quenneville, Chicago – Quenneville didn’t seem thrilled with summer moves, which weakened the Blackhawks.
Jeff Blashill, Detroit – Is presiding over a roster that many analysts believe is in decline.
Jared Bednar, Colorado – Tough to judge his coaching because the roster is so terribly bad.
5 championship contenders
Pittsburgh – Suffered some personnel losses, but still enough here to win a third consecutive Stanley Cup.
Edmonton – The pieces appear in place for the Oilers to take over the West.
Tampa Bay – This group should be motivated after last season’s disappointment.
Toronto – There’s too much pure talent here not to think they’ll be right in the hunt.
Dallas – GM Jim Nill has constructed a team that looks ready to make a big jump.
3 dark horses
Calgary – Goaltending is a question, but the Flames are deep everywhere else.
Minnesota – The Wild don’t have major weaknesses on paper.
Columbus – Can the Blue Jackets can another significant step forward after last season’s rise.
5 bottom feeders
Vegas – An expansion team that will suffer a lot of losses — but shouldn’t be completely awful.
New Jersey – The Devils will lose a lot, but there are some intriguing pieces here.
Vancouver – Don’t want to admit they are in a rebuild.
Colorado – With all these high-end draft picks, the Avalanche are still awful.
Detroit – Strange to put Red Wings in this category, but this roster appears to be slipping.
Pressure is on
Washington Capitals – Always a regular season powerhouse, and bitter playoff disappointment.
Joe Sakic, Colorado – After such a terrible season, Avalanche didn’t make major changes.
Chicago Blackhawks – GM Stan Bowman made some daring moves to keep this machine rolling.