John Dietz's NHL predictions
Western ConferenceCentral Division1. Nashville Predators
Last year: 47-29-6, 100 points, first in Central
Playoffs: Lost in 6 games to Dallas in first round
Dietz's thoughts: The defensive-minded Preds aren't perfect, but they ought to be able to squeak out another division title behind Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm, Ryan Ellis and 37-year-old netminder Pekka Rinne. Nashville did lose P.K. Subban but added Matt Duchene, giving coach Peter Laviolette one of the strongest set of centers in the league. All Nashville has to do is up its power play success from 12.9 to something like 18-20 and another 100-point season is on the horizon.
2. Colorado Avalanche
Last year: 38-30-14, 90 points, fifth in Central
Playoffs: Lost in 7 games to San Jose in second round
Dietz's thoughts: Colorado is absolutely loaded with high-end talent in Nathan MacKinnon (41 goals), Gabriel Landeskog (34) and Mikko Rantanen. They also made an impressive add by trading for Nazem Kadri (80 goals last three seasons), and added depth scoring in Andre Burakovsky and Joonas Donskoi. If the defense improves -- and the D-men contribute more -- don't be surprised if the Avs end up kings of the Central mountain.
3. Dallas Stars
Last year: 43-32-7, 93 points, fourth in Central
Playoffs: Lost in 7 games to St. Louis in second round
Dietz's thoughts: The Stars already have plenty of scoring power in Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov and Jamie Benn. They also own perhaps the most impressive D-man in the division in Miro Heiskanen. (He scored 12 goals and averaged more than 23 minutes as a rookie). With the addition of veteran Joel Pavelski and Ben Bishop still in net it's easy to see why the Stars should put together another impressive campaign.
* 4. Chicago Blackhawks
Last year: 36-34-12, 84 points sixth in Central
Playoffs: Did not qualify
Dietz's thoughts: Almost nobody is predicting the Hawks to make the playoffs. And that's fine. But -- as long as they stay relatively healthy -- I think they'll be wrong. This team is better than the one that finished on a 100-point pace over last season's final 50 games and -- perhaps more importantly -- the coaching staff is better and more prepared to get the most out of this roster. If the stars buy in -- TRULY BUY IN -- to the way Jeremy Colliton expects them to play, there's no reason the Hawks can't win 43-48 games. Colliton, however, also must be prepared to make some tough decisions on veteran players. Will he sit Brent Seabrook for a few games? Will he lower Duncan Keith's ice time? Will he take Jonathan Toews off the penalty kill for a while? Keeping these veterans fresh might just be the key to a surprising campaign that produces a playoff berth.
5. St. Louis Blues
Last year: 45-28-9, 99 points, third in Central
Playoffs: Won the Stanley Cup
Dietz's thoughts: At first glance this prediction looks ridiculous. The Stanley Cup champs are going to finish in fifth place? Even after adding Carolina defenseman Justin Faulk? Well, while it's completely plausible that I end up with egg on my face, don't forget the Blues couldn't get out of their own way for about half of last season. Jordan Binningham (.927, 1.89 GAA) was phenomenal in 32 games, but there's no way he duplicates those numbers. The Blues will be tough, but will have plenty of ups and downs.
6. Winnipeg Jets
Last year: 47-30-5, 99 points, second in Central
Playoffs: Lost in 6 games to St. Louis in first round
Dietz's thoughts: A complete catastrophe was avoided last week when Winnipeg came to terms with restricted free-agent holdouts Patrik Laine (2 years, $13.5 million) and Kyle Connor (7 years, $50 million). Dustin Byfuglien is still mulling retirement, though, and the Jets are trying to get over the loss of three other blue-liners in Tyler Myers, Ben Chiarot and Jacob Trouba. If any team's ripe for a fall, it's this one.
7. Minnesota Wild
Last year: 37-36-9, 83 points seventh in Central
Playoffs: Did not qualify
Dietz's thoughts: The aging Wild are in deep trouble this season … and for the foreseeable future. Somehow this team has 35-year-old Zach Parise signed until 2024-25 at a $7.54 million cap hit; 32-year-old Mats Zuccarello signed until 2023-24 at $6 million; and 34-year-old D-man Ryan Suter signed until 2024-25 at $7.34 million. Oh, and they all have no-movement clauses. In two years, Minnesota will be the Ottawa Senators.
1. Calgary -- The Flames shocked everyone last season by winning the division and should repeat behind Johnny Gaudreau, Sean Monahan, Matthew Tkachuk and D-man Mark Giordano.
2. Vegas -- There's firepower everywhere, the home-ice advantage is ridiculous and Marc-Andre Fleury is still one of the best goalies in the league.
3. San Jose -- Loss of Joe Pavelski will hurt, but addition of Erik Karlsson huge. Sharks still one of the best in the West.
* 4. Arizona -- The defensive-minded Yotes have a chance to surprise, especially if Nick Schmaltz returns from injury and puts up a 60-point season.
5. Vancouver -- An impressive young core is surrounded by too much mediocre talent.
6. Edmonton -- Not even Connor McDavid can save this sinking ship.
7. L.A. Kings -- Drew Doughty ($11M), Anze Kopitar ($10M), Ilya Kovalchuk ($6.25M), Dustin Brown ($5.875M) and Jeff Carter ($5.27M) are eating up $38.4 million worth of cap space and have an average age of 33.5. This team's going nowhere fast.
8. Anaheim -- Unless the bumbling Ducks can somehow win a slew of 2-1 and 3-1 games, they're headed for the cellar.
Eastern ConferenceAtlantic Division
1. Toronto -- There's an ugly cloud over this franchise thanks to Auston Matthews' actions last May, but that should all be forgotten by November.
2. Tampa Bay -- Uber-talented Lightning should learn from last year's playoff debacle. Predicting a slow start, but still another 110-point campaign.
3. Montreal -- With 96 points, the Canadiens nearly made the playoffs last season, and as long as Carey Price and Shea Weber stay healthy, they should clear that hurdle come April.
* 4. Boston -- A fourth-place finish is nothing to cry about in a division as top-heavy as the Atlantic. The Bruins are still stacked and could make another deep run.
5. Florida -- There's plenty to like here with the additions of goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, D-man Anton Stralman and coach Joel Quenneville. Panthers should be right in the race until the end.
6. Buffalo -- Jack Eichel (four straight 24-plus goal seasons) is a nice player, but there's just not enough around him.
7. Ottawa -- Brady Tkachuck (22 goals as a rookie) should flirt with 30 goals, but Sens need at least 2-3 more years to turn itself around.
8. Detroit -- New GM Steve Yzerman has his hands full with a franchise that used to be the model for success around the league.
1. Washington -- Alex Ovechkin has 287 goals over the last six seasons. Sidney Crosby (208), John Tavares (207) and Patrick Kane (207) are 2-3-4. Until Ovi slows down, there's no slowing down the Caps.
2. Pittsburgh -- Losing Olli Maatta will hurt the blue line, but it will be interesting to see if former Blackhawks F Dominik Kahun can post a 20-goal season playing with Sidney Crosby. Pens strong enough to stay near top of a weak division.
3. Carolina -- There's lots of talent here, but who's manning the net? Petr Mrazek and James Reimer? Yikes.
* 4. New Jersey -- Devils hit the jackpot by grabbing generational talent Jack Hughes with the No. 1 pick and also added P.K. Subban. They'll impress this season, then REALLY take a jump up in 2020-21.
5. N.Y. Islanders -- Awful decision to let goalie Robin Lehner walk and sign Semyon Varlamov, but Barry Trotz is a magician and will keep this team from sinking too far.
6. N.Y. Rangers -- New York won the Artemi Panarin sweepstakes and grabbed Kaappo Kakko with the second overall pick. Still, there are too many holes.
7. Philadelphia -- Although they overpaid for Kevin Hayes (7 years, $50 million), he's a nice add. Still, it won't be enough to compensate for a leaky defense and mediocre power play.
8. Columbus -- Kudos to the Blue Jackets, who went for it all last season, but it left the cupboard awfully bare for a while.
Western Conference final: Vegas over Nashville
Eastern Conference final: Tampa Bay over Washington
Stanley Cup Final: Vegas over Tampa Bay