Part Two of the 2019-20 season preview will complete the remaining teams in the Atlantic Division and start with the top-two clubs from the Metropolitan Division, per last year’s standings. You can view out Part One of the series here if you haven’t already done so.
2018-19 Finish: 33-39-10 record, 13th in the Eastern Conference
Noteworthy Losses: Jason Pominville, Alexander Nylander
Strengths: Buffalo is starting assemble a strong core of talent in the hopes of ending the NHL’s longest active playoff drought. The addition of Jeff Skinner, who led the team with 40 goals last year, gave the Sabres some much-needed scoring. He was signed to an eight-year contract worth $72 million to prevent him from testing free agency. Along with career years from Jack Eichel and Sam Reinhart, Buffalo had a potent top line in 2018-19. 2018 first-overall pick Rasmus Dahlin, who provided 44 points in 82 contests, also impressed in his rookie year and more than lived up to expectations.
Weaknesses: Despite having a strong first line, Buffalo finished 23rd in goals for per game (2.70). The team’s lack of offensive depth resulted in the signing of Johansson and the acquisition of Vesey, but that may not be enough. Victor Olofsson, who played well during a short stint with the Sabres last year, and 2019 first-round selection Dylan Cozens are worth monitoring, especially in keeper formats. Buffalo’s .901 save percentage tied the team for 22nd in the league and the club’s minus-45 goal differential tied them for 26th overall. It was a combination of poor defense and weak goaltending. New head coach Ralph Krueger will seek to add more structure to the team, while the additions of Miller and Jokiharju will provide help in the transition game.
Player to Watch: Colin Miller was acquired from the Vegas Golden Knights in the off-season. He had three goals and 29 points in 65 games last year after he had 10 goals and 41 points in 82 matches during his first campaign with Vegas. Miller expects to get a larger role with the Sabres and the possibility of that will increase if Rasmus Ristolainen is traded. He could see time in Buffalo’s top-four defense group and earn power-play time on the top unit alongside Dahlin.
Detroit Red Wings
2018-19 Finish: 32-40-10 record, 14th in the Eastern Conference
Noteworthy Losses: Thomas Vanek
Strengths: Dylan Larkin has emerged as a stud center and offensive catalyst for the Red Wings. Anthony Mantha displayed plenty of promise and expectations are higher for Tyler Bertuzzi following his hot finish to the 2018-19 campaign. They could form a productive trio for Detroit in 2019-20. Andreas Athanasiou, who was a 30-goal scorer, can contribute secondary scoring, but the team needs other players to step up. Filip Zadina, Joe Veleno and Taro Hirose should see NHL action this season because they all possess offensive upside.
Weaknesses: Detroit ranked 27th in the league with 3.32 goals against per game. Jimmy Howard had a rough year between the pipes and the defense corps was in shambles for most of the year due to injuries. Detroit posted a .901 save percentage, which tied the team with Buffalo for 22nd in the league. The Red Wings also had trouble holding onto leads in 2018-19. The club led the league with nine losses when leading after the first period and had the second-most overtime defeats (six) when leading after the first period.
Player to Watch: Filip Hronek is poised for a larger role with the Red Wings in 2019-20 after he left a very good first impression with the team last year. He collected five goals, 23 points, 73 shots and 66 hits in 46 games with Detroit. Hronek may have to compete with Mike Green for power-play action, but Green has been bothered by injuries and could be traded at some point.
2018-19 Finish: 29-47-6 record, 16th in the Eastern Conference
Strengths: It’s been a rough ride for the Senators over the past two seasons. The team has lost valuable contributors, including Erik Karlsson, Mike Hoffman, Mark Stone, Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel. It’s hard to find positives, but the departures have provided younger players with the opportunity to seize starring roles. Thomas Chabot broke out last season as the team’s go-to offensive threat from the back end. Rookie forward Brady Tkachuk also impressed in 2018-19 and could be Ottawa’s top point producer in his sophomore campaign. Drake Batherson, Erik Brannstrom, Alex Formenton, Logan Brown and Vitaly Abramov will get chances to seize regular spots with the big club in 2019-20.
Weaknesses: Ottawa’s offense may be a problem this season after the team's top 2018-19 producers were traded before the end of the year. The Senators had major issues defensively last campaign. The team allowed a league-high 301 goals and posted an NHL-worst 3.67 goals against per game. Ottawa also surrendered the most 5-on-5 goals (219), while permitting the most shots against per game (35.7). They certainly didn’t make life easy for the goaltenders and the team’s .897 save percentage ranked 26th overall. New Senators bench boss D.J. Smith has his work cut out for him in his first season as an NHL head coach.
Player to Watch: Connor Brown was acquired from Toronto in the off-season in the Zaitsev-for-Ceci swap. He mostly occupied a bottom-six forward role with the Maple Leafs and he fell just short of the 30-point mark in each of the last two years. However, Brown displayed some offensive promise during his rookie campaign, with 20 goals and 36 points in 82 contests. He is expected to get a shot at a larger role with the Senators and could occupy a spot in one of Ottawa's top-two lines. Brown's familiarity with new head coach D.J. Smith from their days with Toronto could work in his favor as well.
2018-19 Finish: 48-26-8 record, first round loss to Carolina (4-3)
Strengths: Washington ranked fifth in the league in goals for (3.34) last season. Alex Ovechkin led the NHL with 51 goals and the Capitals had six other forwards who surpassed the 20-goal plateau. Washington was excellent at converting their opportunities despite ranking 27th in the league in expected goals for and 26th with a 44.9 percentage of high-danger scoring chances in their favor.
Weaknesses: The Capitals permitted the fifth-most high-danger scoring chances against, but the team managed to overcome that. Washington’s opponents converted just 12.4% of those opportunities into goals, which ranked the team sixth in the league. The defense, which underwent some changes in the off-season, will have to be better. A healthy Michal Kempny would help after he finished the 2018-19 campaign on the sidelines with a torn hamstring.
Player to Watch: Tom Wilson netted 22 goals and added 18 assists in 63 games last season. He is known for his propensity to step over the line and get suspensions, but he has become an effective presence on the top line of the Capitals. If Wilson can continue to produce points at a high level then he has tremendous fantasy value in leagues that also value hits and penalty minutes.
New York Islanders
2018-19 Finish: 48-27-7 record, second round loss to Carolina (4-0)
Noteworthy Gains: Semyon Varlamov
Strengths: The Islanders became a stingy defensive team in 2018-19 under head coach Barry Trotz. New York allowed the fewest even-strength goals against (146) and had the best team save percentage (.925). Lehner and Thomas Greiss were superb in the crease and they won the William M. Jennings Trophy together.
Weaknesses: The Islanders were strong in their own end, but struggled offensively in 2018-19. The team ranked 20th in even-strength goals for (184) and 22nd in goals for per game (2.72). New York tied Los Angeles for 29th in the league in shots for per game (28.8). The Islanders prevented top-six forwards Jordan Eberle, Anders Lee and Brock Nelson from testing the open market as unrestricted free agents, but need much more from them. Mathew Barzal, who will look to bounce back as well, led the team with 44 assists and 62 points last year.
Player to Watch: New York lost Lehner to free agency and signed Varlamov as a replacement. It will be interesting to see if he can excel with the Islanders like Lehner and Greiss did a year ago. Varlamov has dealt with injuries and inconsistency over the last three seasons, but could have some value if he stays healthy and forms a successful goalie tandem with Greiss.