Part Four of the 2019-20 season preview will finish the Metropolitan Division and move on to the Central Division. You can view Part One, Part Two and Part Three of the series, which has covered the Atlantic Division and most of the Metropolitan, if you haven’t already done so.
New Jersey Devils
2018-19 Finish: 31-41-10 record, 15th in the Eastern Conference
Noteworthy Losses: Drew Stafford
Strengths: The Devils made a splash in the off-season with the acquisitions of Subban and Gusev from Nashville and Vegas, respectively. New Jersey’s retooled roster also got a lift from the signing of Simmonds and the drafting of Hughes with the first-overall pick. The return of Taylor Hall from injury will provide a jolt as well alongside Kyle Palmieri, Nico Hischier and Travis Zajac. The Devils have an intriguing offensive group now after tying for 25th in the league with 2.67 goals for game last year. The power play ranked 21st overall in 2018-19, but it should improve this campaign with the assortment of talent that the team can put on the ice. Generating scoring chances was a big problem for the Devils last year, but the team’s improvements have the potential to turn that around and make offense an area of strength in 2019-20.
Weaknesses: Subban will help a team that struggled in their own end last year. The defense corps has some work to do, but they should be able to hold up. The team’s goaltending situation is the biggest question mark going into the year. Keith Kinkaid started the majority of New Jersey’s games in 2018-19 prior to being traded to Columbus. Cory Schneider and Mackenzie Blackwood split time in the crease afterward. They combined for a .912 save percentage in the final 20 games of the year and will compete for starts in 2019-20.
Player to Watch: Gusev has plenty of sleeper appeal going into his first NHL season. The 27-year-old was a star in the KHL and could make an immediate impact with the Devils. He is expected to occupy a top-six forward spot, which will likely put him on a line with Hughes or Hischier.
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2018-19 Finish: 47-29-6 record, first round loss to Dallas (4-2)
Noteworthy Gains: Matt Duchene
Strengths: Despite the off-season trade of Subban, Nashville has a superb defense corps. Roman Josi, Ryan Ellis and Mattias Ekholm make up an outstanding top-three group. The team will be looking at prospect Dante Fabbro to progress in his first full NHL campaign and he could step in to replace Subban. The Predators also play in front of one of the better goalie tandems in the league with Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros guarding the crease. Nashville had the fourth-best save percentage (.916) in the league last year and the team tied for third in the NHL with 2.59 goals against per game.
Weaknesses: Nashville’s offense took a hit last season because of injuries to Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson, but the club still needs more secondary scoring. The signing of Duchene will help in that regard and a more settled Mikael Granlund should benefit the team as well. That could give Nashville some much-needed scoring depth. They may also be able to provide a spark to the power play, which finished last in the league last year (12.9%). Nashville went 33-for-255 with the man advantage during the regular season and 0-for-15 in the playoffs.
Player to Watch: Granlund’s play was largely forgettable with Nashville after he was acquired from Minnesota. He only registered one goal and four assists in 16 regular-season outings and he followed that up with two points in six playoff contests. However, he could be a solid contributor for the Predators this campaign. Granlund flirted with the 70-point plateau in 2016-17 and 2017-18 before slipping to 54 points last year.
2018-19 Finish: 47-30-5 record, first round loss to St. Louis (4-2)
Noteworthy Gains: Neal Pionk
Strengths: Winnipeg has plenty of offensive firepower, especially on the team’s top-two lines. Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele and Kyle Connor shined last year. Patrik Laine still managed to score 30 goals despite going through some troubles in his third NHL campaign, while Nikolaj Ehlers had 21 goals and 37 points in 62 appearances. The Jets ranked seventh in the league with 3.29 goals for per game. Winnipeg also ranked fifth in the NHL with 62 power-play goals and placed fourth overall in power-play percentage (24.8%).
Weaknesses: The Jets got thinner on the back end following the departures of Trouba, Myers and Chiarot. Myers and Chiarot left the team via free agency, while Trouba was traded to the New York Rangers in a deal that brought back Pionk. The team will have to lean on Josh Morrissey and Dustin Byfuglien, while hoping that Sami Niku and/or Tucker Poolman can make the jump to being full-time NHLers. Winnipeg allowed the fifth-most shots against (2,741) last season and Connor Hellebuyck struggled to repeat the success he enjoyed in 2017-18. He will have to be better, especially if the changes on defense result in more scoring chances against.
Player to Watch: Morrissey generated 31 points in 59 games last season and has great all-around potential going into the 2019-20 campaign. As previously mentioned, his role on the team is expected to increase with Trouba and Myers playing on different teams. Morrissey might be a good source of points, blocks and hits, but he will have to step up his shot production.
St. Louis Blues
2018-19 Finish: 45-28-9 record, won Stanley Cup against Boston (4-3)
Noteworthy Gains: N/A
Noteworthy Losses: Pat Maroon
Strengths: St. Louis’ Stanley Cup-winning roster remains mostly unchanged going into the 2019-20 season. Maroon left for Tampa Bay via free agency and the team still has to sign Ivan Barbashev, who is threatening to bolt to play overseas. However, most of the team is still intact and that’s a good thing based on the way they played in the second half and during the playoffs. The Blues re-signed goaltender Jordan Binnington, who was a star player in the team’s turnaround, to a two-year contract in the summer. He helped the Blues place fifth in the league with 2.68 goals against per game. Binnington is betting on himself and has a strong supporting cast around him to help make him a dependable starter.
Weaknesses: Prior to the team’s hot play under coach Craig Berube, St. Louis was having trouble at both ends of the ice. The Blues finished 15th in the league in goals for per game (2.98) despite improvements as the season progressed. Brayden Schenn and Jaden Schwartz didn’t exactly shine offensively and the Blues only had three players top the 20-goal plateau. More consistency will be expected from several players. Still, this is a team that has depth, which was evident during their Stanley Cup run, and they will be looking for several players to take strides forward in 2019-20.
Player to Watch: Robert Thomas is a popular pick for St. Louis to take steps forward. Unfortunately, he isn’t guaranteed to have a top-six forward role. That will probably limit his fantasy value, especially in standard leagues, but he has the tools to be a reliable player and offensive upside that deserves to be monitored.
2018-19 Finish: 43-32-7 record, second round loss to St. Louis (4-3)
Strengths: The Stars were backstopped by an excellent goaltender duo last season. Ben Bishop had some injury issues, but finished as the runner-up in Vezina Trophy voting, while backup netminder Anton Khudobin filled in nicely when called upon and had strong numbers despite a 16-17-5 record. Dallas surrendered the third-fewest even-strength goals against (157) and finished second in the league with a .923 save percentage.
Weaknesses: The Stars have a great top line with Tyler Seguin, Alexander Radulov and Jamie Benn, who has plenty of bounce-back appeal in 2019-20. However, the club struggled mightily in the goal department last year. Dallas tied Arizona for the third-worst goals for per game in the league at 2.55. The Stars also tied Los Angeles for the fourth-fewest even-strength goals for (160). Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry were added in the off-season with the hope of providing some much-needed secondary scoring.
Player to Watch: Roope Hintz had the hockey world buzzing when he dazzled onlookers with his speed and scoring ability in the playoffs. He is in line to center Dallas’ second line this campaign, which could give him exposure to Pavelski, Perry, Seguin, Benn or Radulov.