NHL 2018/19 season preview

The Washington Capitals ended 44 years of hurt last season by finally getting their hands on the Stanley Cup. Few would begrudge modern day great Alexander Ovechkin enjoying his moment in the sun, having gone so close to in the past.

However, that moment is far in the rearview mirror with the new NHL campaign nearly upon us. The first puck drops on October 3 and as many as nine teams appear to have genuine championship credentials, in what could be the most competitive season in living memory.

Nashville playing the right tune

The Predators were latest victims of the curse of the Presidents Trophy last term as they finished atop of the regular season standings with 117 points, only to crash out of the play-offs in the second round against Winnipeg. Only one team in the last decade has gone on to win the Stanley Cup after lifting the Presidents Trophy, the Chicago Blackhawks bucking the trend in the 2012-13 season.

Nashville have made the play-offs the past four years, going all the way to the Stanley Cup finals in 2016-17, and have once again managed to keep the majority of the same squad together, the only notable addition being defenceman Dan Hamhuis. He should improve a backline that conceded the second fewest goals in the regular season as they seek to get over their play-off hump.

The Preds have strength in depth through the middle while big things are expected of young winger Eeli Tolvanen, adding to arguably the best roster in the NHL. The only doubt is goaltender Pekka Rinne, who won the Vezina Trophy but went missing when it came to play-off time.

Concerns over Swiss veteran Rinne could see Juuse Saros get more game time and he showed glimpses of having the makings of a top goalie last season.

The Preds are taken at 11.00 to end their play-off hoodoo and clinch their first-ever Stanley Cup.

Flyers to soar in the East

The Philadelphia Flyers made a strong run towards the end of last season to secure a play-off berth, before falling at the first hurdle at the hands of Pittsburgh.

That extended their winless run in the play-offs to six years but the young squad assembled by GM Ron Hextall should take another step forward in 2018, especially with the addition of winger James van Riemsdyk, who plundered 36 goals in Toronto last season.

Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov are two of the best defencemen in the NHL and, much like the Preds, their main area of concern comes in the form of goaltender Brian Elliott, who will start the season until prospect Carter Hart is ready.

The Flyers offer value at 12.00 to win the Eastern Conference with the Maple Leafs having seen their odds shorten to 5.00 after the big off-season capture of John Tavares. They are joint favourites with the Tampa Bay Lightning, with the Boston Bruins at 6.00 and the Penguins at 7.00.

Sharks on the hunt in Pacific

The Sharks caused a splash by landing top defenceman Erik Karlsson during the summer, adding to a team very much in ‘win now’ mode. They finished third in the Pacific last year behind the Vegas Golden Knights and Anaheim Ducks, but both those teams are expected to regress.

San Jose are the 3.50 favourites to win the division and it is tough to look pass them given the strength in depth in defence, while Martin Jones is developing into a top goalie. If Joe Thornton can overcome his ACL injury, then this is a Sharks team that will certainly go far.