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 – This is easy, despite the Oilers’ struggles. McDavid is the Mike Trout of hockey – supreme talent on a mediocre organization.
John Tavares, Toronto – If the Leafs are to take a run at the Stanley Cup, the hometown star is likely to be leading the way.
Mark Stone, Vegas – Finally out of Ottawa, more of the NHL is going to realize how good this rugged forward is.
Top West forwards
Connor McDavid, Edmonton – Incomparable speed and offensive ability.
Nathan MacKinnon, Colorado – Will be in the MVP discussion if Avalanche are Stanley Cup contenders.
Johnny Gaudreau, Calgary – Electrifying offensive player who plays on one of the NHL’s best lines.
Mark Scheifele, Winnipeg – The Jets might be slipping, but Scheifele will keep them more than respectable.
Patrick Kane, Chicago – Kane is getting older, but it’s not affecting his on-ice performance at all.
Top East forwards
Nikita Kucherov, Tampa Bay – The reigning NHL MVP has gotten progressively better.
John Tavares, Toronto – The pressure of returning home to Toronto didn’t bother Tavares, at all.
Sidney Crosby, Pittsburgh – There hasn’t been much of a decline in Crosby’s game.
Auston Matthews, Toronto – There will be pressure this season, but Matthews appears to be capable of handling the Toronto media circus.
Patrice Bergeron, Boston – The ultimate professional on a very professional, tough-minded Bruins’ team.
Top West defensemen
Mark Giordano, Calgary – The NHL is fully realizing how good Giordano is at both ends of the rink.
Brent Burns, San Jose – Didn’t mesh entirely well with Erik Karlsson last season, but maybe it’ll be different this season.
Drew Doughty, Los Angeles – Is getting older, but still is such a force with the puck on his stick.
Roman Josi, Nashville – Josi hasn’t received major headlines playing in Nashville, but he’s one of the NHL’s best.
Alex Pietrangelo, St. Louis – After a so-so regular season, was outstanding in the Stanley Cup playoff run.
Top East defensemen
Victor Hedman, Tampa Bay – Should be in the Norris Trophy discussion for many years running.
Seth Jones, Columbus – The Blue Jackets took personnel hits, but should be OK with this young star.
Zach Werenski, Columbus – Ditto what was said with Jones. The Grosse Pointer is evolving into a special player.
Morgan Rielly, Toronto – Took a big step in his development on and off the ice last season.
Charlie McAvoy – It might be time to include McAvoy into this discussion.
Top West goalies
Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas – Right about now, Pittsburgh might be regretting leaving Fleury unprotected in the expansion draft.
Pekka Rinne, Nashville – Maybe not as prolific as earlier in his career, but Rinne inspires confidence.
Ben Bishop, Dallas – Has been an elite goaltender for a long time and makes the Stars dangerous.
Martin Jones, San Jose – Rebounded from a subpar regular season to carry the Sharks in the playoffs.
Jordan Binnington, St. Louis – Give the youngster his due, he carried the Blues to a Stanley Cup.
Top East goalies
Andrei Vasilevskiy, Tampa Bay – Whatever weaknesses Tampa has, Vasilevskiy covers them up.
Carey Price, Montreal – Reclaimed his spot among the NHL’s very best.
Sergei Bobrovsky, Florida – Bobrovsky going to the Panthers makes them instant contenders.
Tuukka Rask, Boston – It was mind-boggling how good Rask was as the playoffs wore on last spring.
Frederik Andersen, Toronto – Playing under a demanding coach and with a playoff-caliber team, Andersen become of the NHL’s best.
Jack Hughes, New Jersey – The No. 1 overall pick seems perfectly suited for today’s speed-driven, creative NHL game.
Kaapo Kakko, N.Y. Rangers – Many analysts believe Kakko is capable of scoring over 20 goals already this season.
Cale Makar, Colorado – Makar made an immediate impact in a short playoff showing last spring.
Coaches on the hot seat
Bruce Boudreau, Minnesota – The Wild are declining, and GM Bill Guerin is new and will want to bring in his own guy.
Mike Babcock, Toronto – If the Maple Leafs don’t advance deep into the playoffs, Babcock likely will be in trouble.
Peter Laviolette, Nashville – The Predators don’t have a large window to remain competitive, and last season was a disappointment.
Paul Maurice, Winnipeg – Similar to Nashville, the window is closing and the head coach might be the scapegoat.
Jeff Blashill, Detroit – A new GM (Steve Yzerman), a roster that’s changing over, three consecutive playoff misses. The odds might be against Blashill.
Vegas – Balanced, experienced team, with a goaltender who knows how to win.
Tampa Bay – This talented roster seems bound to win a Stanley Cup eventually.
Toronto – The roster reshuffling over the summer might finally produce a winner.
St. Louis – The Blues look entirely capable of repeating as champions.
Boston – Don’t discount this veteran, tough-minded team.
Dark horse teams
Florida – Can easily see this team get hot at the right time in the playoffs.
Calgary – If the goaltending holds up, this team has enough everywhere else.
Carolina – Petr Mrazek in net is a question mark, but the Hurricanes have the talent everywhere else.
Ottawa – There’s a sliver of hope, but the Senators are a long way from respectability.
Detroit – The future looks promising, but the present remains cloudy.
Los Angeles – The Kings are growing older, and the depth isn’t nearly good enough.
Minnesota – The Wild appear to be sinking in a hurry.
N.Y. Rangers – The Rangers got better, but there are still holes to fill.