The NHL had its most unpredictable postseason in history last season, with all four division winners losing in the first round.
The Stanley Cup was lifted by a St. Louis Blues team that was at the bottom of the league standings in January.
With an offseason to prepare, here’s one hockey writer’s projected standings in each division this season (last season’s record in parentheses):
1. San Jose Sharks (46-27-9)
The Sharks lost captain Joe Pavelski in free agency, but they had 101 points last season while recording the NHL’s worst save percentage (.889). An average season from 29-year-old starter Martin Jones (.912 career save percentage) could make them the team to beat.
2. Golden Knights (43-32-7)
The Knights have a formidable top six and a Hall of Fame goaltender in Marc-Andre Fleury, but there’s questions about blue-line and forward depth. An improvement over last season’s 93 points still seems likely.
3. Calgary Flames (50-25-7)
Last season’s division winners are basically running it back after a first-round exit in the playoffs. The Flames remain talented, but they appear bound to take a step back after so many players had career seasons.
4. Arizona Coyotes (39-35-8)
Is this the season the Coyotes get back to the playoffs for the first time since 2012? It’s possible with elite offensive weapon Phil Kessel in the fold. The question is whether goaltender Darcy Kuemper can repeat his career season or Antti Raanta can bounce back from injury.
5. Vancouver Canucks (35-36-11)
There’s a lot of potential on the roster with center Elias Pettersson (the Calder Trophy winner for best rookie), right wing Brock Boeser (2018 Calder runner-up) and defenseman Quinn Hughes (potential 2020 finalist). But it’s uncertain whether those three have enough help.
6. Edmonton Oilers (35-38-9)
Superstar center Connor McDavid scored a career-high 116 points last season, but it wasn’t enough to get the Oilers into the playoffs. New general manager Ken Holland is rebuilding the roster, and adding former Knight James Neal in the offseason was a good start.
7. Anaheim Ducks (35-37-10)
All-Star goaltender John Gibson kept the Ducks moderately afloat for much of last season. But with little scoring on the roster, signs point toward a rebuilding season.
8. Los Angeles Kings (31-42-9)
Things got ugly in Los Angeles last season, as the Kings sported a minus-61 goal differential, worst in the league. There’s only a few teams that arguably have less talent.
1. Nashville Predators (47-29-6)
The Predators will be fighting for a third straight division crown after trading former Norris Trophy (best defenseman) winner P.K. Subban and signing center Matt Duchene. The shake-up could help the team with its woeful power play (12.94 percent, worst in the NHL).
2. St. Louis Blues (45-28-9)
The reigning champs largely stood pat after awarding goaltender Jordan Binnington a two-year, $8.8 million contract. The 26-year-old now needs to show he can perform for a full season after being promoted late last year.
3. Colorado Avalanche (38-30-14)
The Avalanche acquired depth this offseason after advancing to the second round, so their all-everything line of Gabriel Landeskog, Nathan MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen should have more help. But the roster is young and could have some growing pains.
4. Dallas Stars (43-32-7)
The Stars reached the second round last season and added Joe Pavelski and former Hart Trophy (MVP) winner Corey Perry. There’s a chance they disappoint after scoring only 93 points last year despite a massive season from goaltender Ben Bishop.
5. Chicago Blackhawks (36-34-12)
The Blackhawks were surprisingly decent last season after strong performances from veterans Patrick Kane and Jonathan Toews. The defense still looks too leaky for a playoff berth.
6. Winnipeg Jets (47-30-5)
The Jets have plenty of issues and look primed for a step back.
7. Minnesota Wild (37-36-9)
The Wild’s offseason turned bizarre when they fired GM Paul Fenton in July and replaced him with Pittsburgh Penguins assistant GM Bill Guerin in August. Minnesota shouldn’t be at the bottom of the league standings, but the Central is a tough division.
1. Tampa Bay Lightning (62-16-4)
The Lightning tied an NHL record for most wins in a season and also the record for fewest playoff wins (0). Despite getting swept in the first round, this team remains loaded.
2. Boston Bruins (49-24-9)
The Bruins are as deep as any roster in the league and should return hungry after losing in Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final. The only thing that could hold Boston back is the brutal division in which it plays.
3. Toronto Maple Leafs (46-28-8)
The Maple Leafs have their young core of Auston Matthews, Mitch Marner, William Nylander and Morgan Rielly locked up. They sacrificed depth to do it, but they’re counting on that group to lead them to a playoff series win for the first time since 2004.
4. Florida Panthers (36-32-14)
The Panthers scored the ninth-most goals in the NHL last season, but their defense and propensity to turn the puck over held them back. New goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky and coach Joel Quenneville should help with that.
5. Montreal Canadiens (44-30-8)
The Canadiens finished two points out of the playoffs and should be in the hunt again. Their offseason was pretty quiet after an attempt to acquire Carolina Hurricanes center Sebastian Aho via offer sheet failed.
6. Buffalo Sabres (33-39-10)
Still no playoff trips for the Sabres since 2011. It’s hard to see this being the season that changes unless 22-year-old captain Jack Eichel and defenseman Rasmus Dahlin suddenly receive more help.
7. Detroit Red Wings (32-40-10)
The Red Wings are entering rebuild mode with new general manager Steve Yzerman, who won three Stanley Cups with the franchise as a player and another one as an executive.
8. Ottawa Senators (29-47-6)
The Senators scored a league-low 64 points, seven fewer than the next closest team. Las Vegas sportsbooks project them to score around 70 this season.
1. Pittsburgh Penguins (44-26-12)
The Penguins were swept out of the first round, but they still have enough talent to contend. They need future Hall of Famer Evgeni Malkin to have a bounce-back season and goaltender Matt Murray to be more consistent.
2. Washington Capitals (48-26-8)
The Capitals shook up their roster outside of their core after losing in the first round. The 2018 Stanley Cup champions still have enough firepower for another run if center Evgeny Kuznetsov stays out of trouble.
3. New Jersey Devils (31-41-10)
The Devils were last in the division, but they added No. 1 overall pick Jack Hughes, P.K. Subban and Russian winger Nikita Gusev to an improved roster. Former Hart winner Taylor Hall is expected to be healthy after undergoing knee surgery in February.
4. Philadelphia Flyers (37-37-8)
The Flyers have a nicely developed pipeline of young players and might have found a goaltender they can build around in 21-year-old Carter Hart. That could help them make a playoff push in general manager Chuck Fletcher’s first full season.
5. Carolina Hurricanes (46-29-7)
The “Bunch of Jerks” rallied together to make the Eastern Conference Final, but it’s hard to maintain that kind of momentum. The defense should remain solid, but offense could be an issue.
6. New York Islanders (48-27-7)
The Islanders were a surprise success, but, like the Hurricanes, it’s hard to tell whether they have staying power. Losing Vezina Trophy (best goaltender) finalist Robin Lehner in free agency could set them back.
7. Columbus Blue Jackets (47-31-4)
The Blue Jackets loaded up at the trade deadline for a playoff run, then were pillaged in free agency. There’s still talent in right wing Cam Atkinson and defensemen Seth Jones and Zach Werenski.
8. New York Rangers (32-36-14)
The Rangers signed Blue Jackets star Artemi Panarin in free agency and drafted right wing Kaapo Kakko No. 2 overall as part of a successful offseason. The future looks bright.
NHL playoff predictions
Eastern Conference wild cards: Panthers, Canadiens
Western Conference wild cards: Stars, Coyotes
Eastern Conference final: Lightning over Penguins
Western Conference final: Predators over Sharks
Stanley Cup Final: Lightning over Predators