SportsPulse: USA TODAY’s hockey insider Kevin Allen details the story lines that you should pay attention to this season.
USA TODAY Sports
The last time the Edmonton Oilers claimed a division championship Wayne Gretzky won the NHL scoring championship with 183 points and Kevin McClelland and Steve Smith combined for 403 penalty minutes.
It was 1987. Ronald Reagan was president, gas cost 89 cents a gallon and a new Ford Escort could be purchased for $6,895.
Last season, Connor McDavid, 20, was the only NHL player to reach 100 points, and he’s the primary reason the Oilers could win their first division crown in 30 years.
USA TODAY Sports is projecting that all four divisions will have new champions this season. The Pittsburgh Penguins will win the Metropolitan, the Tampa Bay Lightning will finish first in the Atlantic and the Nashville Predators will capture the Central.
The Lightning are one of last season’s non-playoff teams that we believe will qualify this season. The others: the Carolina Hurricanes, Dallas Stars and Los Angeles Kings. We also have the New York Rangers, Montreal Canadiens, San Jose Sharks and Arizona Coyotes on the periphery of the postseason.
Here is a quick overview of the division races:
It’s still a mystery that the Tampa Bay Lightning missed the playoffs last season, but they have the look of a contender this season. They added Dan Girardi and prospect Mikhail Sergachev to a defense that includes stars Victor Hedman and Anton Stralman. They also picked up Chris Kunitz. … The Ottawa Senators, meanwhile, are a team built for the playoff grind. They are a plucky bunch who believe they can will their way to victory. Defenseman Erik Karlsson’s recovery from surgery could hamper their start, but this is an impressive group. … You have to go back to the 1960s to find a Toronto Maple Leafs team that generated this much excitement. Auston Matthews can do as much for the Leafs as McDavid is doing for the Oilers. … GM Don Sweeney hasn’t received enough credit for the job he’s done keeping the Boston Bruins competitive. Keep an eye on young defenseman Charlie McAvoy. Zdeno Chara is a still a factor at 40. … The Montreal Canadiens are the X factor in the Atlantic. Goalie Carey Price always gives them a shot to contend, but their defense doesn’t…