Aldinger: My heart leads me to say the Vegas Golden Knights will take the Pacific by surprise. Coming off a tough Stanley Cup loss to the Washington Capitals last season, this Golden Knights team returns with plenty of confidence and experience.
Prior to the season starting, the Golden Knights acquired from Montreal forward Max Pacioretty, a major goal-scorer. In addition to this, the Golden Knights still have three-time Stanley Cup champion Marc Andre-Fleury in net.
Two more scoring leaders return to the Golden Knights. William “Wild Bill” Karlsson, who had 43 goals and 35 assists last season, and Jonathan Marchessault, who tallied 27 goals and 48 assists.
This Golden Knights team came out last season, took the Pacific by storm, and came close to winning the cup in their inaugural season, so look for them to come out with more experience and determination this season. Vegas will take the Pacific with 103 points.
Dorsey: The Pacific will be a fun division to watch this year, as the top four teams will battle until the last week of the season. It would be foolish to pick any team other than the Anaheim Ducks to claim the Pacific crown this year.
The Ducks won the Pacific five years in a row before finishing second to the Golden Knights last season.
Led by eight-year captain Ryan Getzlaf, they have a well-rounded forward corps consisting of Rickard Rakell, Jakob Silfverberg, Ondrej Kase and Adam Henrique. Even though assistant captains Corey Perry and Ryan Kesler are currently on injured reserve, the Ducks have a deep enough roster to withstand this hit.
This will be the year John Gibson morphs into a top ten goaltender. Gibson will put up one of the strongest seasons by an American goaltender in recent memory, given the defense in front of him consists of rising Brandon Montour and dependable Cam Fowler.
The Ducks will win the Pacific with 105 points.
Whitney: The Pacific is shaping up to be really competitive this year, following the loud arrival last season of the Golden Knights as they cleanly dominated regular season play out on the West Coast.
Following the Knights trip to the Stanley Cup Final, other teams in the Pacific began making moves to challenge the dominance of the NHL’s newest expansion team. The best offseason out West, and arguably in the NHL, belongs to the San Jose Sharks. This offseason will ultimately deliver the Pacific crown to the Sharks.
Though the Sharks had a quiet early offseason, it concluded with the acquisition of the biggest trade target in the NHL, two-time Norris Trophy winning defenseman Erik Karlsson.
Karlsson joins an already stacked defensive core in Sharks, which consists of famed defenseman Marc-Edouard Vlasic and fellow Norris Trophy winner Brent Burns.
With an accompanying forward group consisting of players like Evander Kane, Joe Thornton, Joe Pavelski and Logan Couture, as well as Martin Jones in net, the Sharks will take the Pacific with 104 points.
Aldinger: The Dallas Stars fell short of their expectations last season, nearly finishing last in the Central. The Stars completed last season with 92 points.
This year the Stars are a sleeper to win the Central, and it will take solid leadership from Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn for the Stars to end up on top.
In addition to Seguin and Benn, the Stars added goaltender Anton Khudobin most likely to upgrade from Kari Lehto. They also signed Roman Polak, a top-four defenseman in a one year contract.
The Stars will also benefit from other factors outside their organization. The Minnesota Wild seem to find themselves playing inconsistent year after year.
The Stars will win the Central with 105 points.
Dorsey: The Winnipeg Jets have to be not only the most complete team in the Central, but the most complete in the league. That means little in perhaps the most competitive division in hockey, where any team can lay a legitimate claim to win the Central.
The Jets fell 3 points short of the division crown last year, and return an offense containing Patrick Laine, Mark Scheifele, Blake Wheeler and Kyle Conner.
With defenseman Dustin Byfuglien able to chip in as a fourth forward, and a well-rounded defensive corps in front of Vezina finalist Connor Hellebuyck, teams are going to struggle to keep up with the Jets’ combination of size and skill.
The Jets will win the Central with 118 points, and by extension also take the Presidents’ Trophy.
Whitney: Last season saw the collapse of the dynastic Chicago Blackhawks in the Central, and the Nashville Predators rose to replace them, winning the Presidents’ Trophy in the process.
This offseason, the Predators stayed quiet. Little moves were made, both on the free-agent and trade markets.
The lack of any offseason moves makes sense, given the elite team the Predators already possess. Their elite defensive corps consists of P.K. Subban, Roman Josi, Mattias Ekholm and Ryan Ellis. Up front, the Predators are led by Ryan Johansen, Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson. In net is 2018 Vezina Trophy winner Pekka Rinne.
This elite team, combined with what still looks to be a relatively weak division, will take the Central crown with 108 points.
Aldinger: The Tampa Bay Lightning have been a team for several years now that has been knocking on the door to win the Stanley Cup. They have also dominated the Atlantic division several years in a row. Last year the Lightning finished first place in the Atlantic. But, quite frankly if they have more points than Boston and Toronto, most of the other teams in the Atlantic are not on the competitive level like the Lightning have been.
With players like Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos leading the team for the Lightning, who accumulated 186 points combined they are the most complete team in the Atlantic to finish in first place this season.
Dorsey: The Atlantic is clearly dominated by three teams. At the top of the Atlantic sits the Tampa Bay Lightning, one of the most consistent teams of the last five years.
The Lightning contain two Rocket Richard finalists in Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov and have a core leadership group including Tyler Johnson and Ondrej Palat. They are supported by a deep cast of younger stars.
The defense has a potent one-two punch in Norris Trophy winner Victor Hedman and elite defenseman Ryan McDonagh, as well as the developing Mikhail Sergachev. With Vezina finalist Andrei Vasilevskiy, they will be a very competitive team.
The Boston Bruins rely on a top-heavy first line and the Toronto Maple Leafs struggle to find competent defensemen, and are dealing with a delicate salary cap situation with William Nylander.
The Lightning will win the Atlantic with 114 points.
Whitney: The Toronto Maple Leafs managed to do what thirty other NHL teams could not, signing the free agent of this offseason John Tavares.
A young team that has already proven to be a tough competitor in the Atlantic, which is dominated by teams with strong but aging veteran corps in the Lightning and Bruins, the addition of Tavares has accelerated their process tenfold.
In addition to Tavares, Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner are essential pieces of the Leafs forwards corps. Frederik Andersen has proved very reliable in net for the Leafs over the past few years.
Though the Leafs have yet to resign forward William Nylander, they will still be a force to be reckoned with. Upon signing Nylander, they should far and away be the favorites to win the Atlantic.
Ultimately, the Leafs will take the Atlantic crown with 112 points along with the Presidents’ Trophy.
Aldinger: By far the most competitive and toughest division in the NHL and this year the Pittsburgh Penguins will win the Metropolitan. It’s very easy and most people believe the Washington Capitals will win the metro yet again this year.
But, the Penguins are a team with great chemistry with head coach Mike Sullivan, and younger talents such as Bryan Rust, Jake Guentzel, and Zach Aston-Reese playing with superstar Sidney Crosby is developing these younger players. This is not the first year these players are on the Crosby line, so the experience they have built will propel them to first place in the metro.
Returning goalie Matt Murray is the main man in net for the Penguins, but if needed Casey DeSmith is available and has played enough to be a good goalie.
There can be a case made for either the Penguins, Capitals and the Philadelphia Flyers.
Penguins win the metro with 102 points.
Dorsey: The Metropolitan is a two-horse race between the Pittsburgh Penguins and the Washington Capitals. The slimmest of margins goes to the Penguins, as they return virtually the same roster as last year and are also not dealing with a new head coach.
Led by superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins are going to have one of the most potent offenses in the league. Even with a shaky defense outside of Kris Letang and Justin Schultz, goaltender Matt Murray will steal enough games to make it a moot point.
While the Capitals return almost the same roster that won them a Stanley Cup, coach Barry Trotz left the team for the New York Islanders. The Capitals won’t experience a dramatic drop in quality, but it will ultimately cost them a fourth consecutive title.
This is the year the Capitals’ reign as Metro champs will come to an end. The Penguins will take the Metro crown with 112 points.
Whitney: The Metropolitan is the most competitive division in the NHL. Though a case can be made for the dark horse Philadelphia Flyers, the Metro is really a fight between the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals. The reigning Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals will win the Metro for the fourth consecutive year.
The Capitals have managed to retain nearly its entire Stanley Cup winning roster. This includes goal-scoring powerhouse and Conn Smythe winner Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, TJ Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov. Their defense is led by John Carlson, along with Brooks Orpik, Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen. Braden Holtby returns in net this year as well, having won the Vezina in 2016 and being a finalist in 2017.
Despite losing Barry Trotz as head coach, the Capitals showed they are still a force to be reckoned with in their season opener, a 7-0 victory against the Boston Bruins.
The Capitals will again take the Metro with a final total of 103 points.
President Trophy Picks
Aldinger: Dallas Stars (105)
Dorsey: Winnipeg Jets (118)
Whitney: Toronto Maple Leafs (112)