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NHL 2021: Here's a look at every team as a very unusual season begins

Helene Elliott, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Hockey

— Carolina: Sebastian Aho (38 goals in 68 games last season), Andrei Svechnikov (24 goals, 61 points) and Teuvo Teravainen (63 points) are dazzling. The Hurricanes’ defense is capable, but the question is whether goalies Petr Mrazek and James Reimer can do their part over the long haul.

— Columbus: Max Domi gives the Blue Jackets a solid No. 2 center behind Pierre-Luc Dubois, who has been rumored to want a trade. Defensemen Seth Jones and Zach Werenski are impact players at both ends. Goalie Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins are underrated and a reason Columbus defies doubters.

— Dallas: Last season’s surprise West champions are hurting: Leading scorer Tyler Seguin (hip surgery) and goalie Ben Bishop (knee surgery) are expected to be out until March or April. In their absence the Stars will look for scoring and leadership from Jamie Benn and continued excellence from goalie Anton Khudobin (2.22 goals-against average, .930 save percentage).

— Nashville: Norris Trophy winner Roman Josi and Ryan Ellis are franchise players and forward Filip Forsberg has scored at least 20 goals for six straight seasons, but the Predators’ trademark defensive play sagged last season. They need Matt Duchene (13 goals, 42 points in 66 games) to step up.

— Florida: Goalie Sergei Bobrovsky started his seven-year, $70 million contract with some of the worst numbers of his career (3.23 goals-against average, .900 save percentage). Jonathan Huberdeau was a standout with 23 goals and 78 points in 69 games, but losing Mike Hoffman and Evgenii Dadonov to free agency means the Panthers will have to rely too much on Huberdeau.

— Chicago: Stalwart team captain Jonathan Toews missed camp because of an unspecified illness and there’s no timetable for his return. Forward Alex Nylander underwent knee surgery that will keep him out long-term, and prospect Kirby Dach injured his wrist at the world junior championship and will be out at least four months. Play the kids and hope for luck in the draft lottery.

— Detroit: A difficult climb continues for the Red Wings, who last season ranked last overall (17-49-5, 39 points) and in goal differential (minus -122). They won’t be much better while they wait for the draft lottery. Kudos for signing free-agent forward Bobby Ryan to impart wisdom and maintain a good work ethic.

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East division

 

— Philadelphia: Carter Hart is the Flyers’ best goaltending find since Ron Hextall repelled pucks and opponents three decades ago. Hart gives his teammates noticeable confidence. That security, plus a group of rugged and experienced forwards and core of mobile defensemen, should boost the Flyers to first place and take them beyond last season’s second-round Game 7 playoff exit.

— Washington: The Capitals hoped goalie Ilya Samsonov would be backed up by veteran Henrik Lundqvist, but Lundqvist required season-ending heart surgery. Alexander Ovechkin shared the NHL goal-scoring lead last season with 48 and has a lot left to give a veteran team that hired turnaround specialist Peter Laviolette as coach. It will be strange to see longtime Bruins defenseman Zdeno Chara, 43, in a Capitals uniform.

— Boston: Losing Zdeno Chara and Torey Krug to free agency left big gaps on defense. Top-line winger David Pastrnak (hip surgery) will miss the first few weeks, but winger Brad Marchand (sports hernia surgery) might be ready opening night. Patrice Bergeron was a fine choice to succeed Chara as captain. Tuukka Rask and Jaroslav Halak form one of the NHL’s top goaltending tandems.

— New York Islanders: They solved a major problem late in camp by re-signing center Mathew Barzal, who led them in regular-season scoring and had 17 points in 22 playoff games as they reached the East final. Coach Barry Trotz always has good defensive teams, and that should continue.

— Pittsburgh: A team with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on board should be a sure Cup contender every year, but the Penguins have been eliminated in the first round each of the last two seasons. They should have better scoring balance after acquiring Kasperi Kapanen, but their defense is iffy.

— New York Rangers: Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good: The Rangers won the draft lottery and chose phenom Alexis Lafreniere No. 1. He will have a big adjustment to make, especially in a compact schedule against a lot of heavy hitters. Defense remains their weakness, but goalie Igor Shesterkin was impressive last season in a small sample size.

— Buffalo: The Sabres pulled off a surprise by signing free-agent forward Taylor Hall for a year. He should provide the support long craved by Jack Eichel (career-best 36 goals last season). Player to watch: forward Dylan Cozens, the top goal scorer (eight) while representing Canada at the recent world junior tournament.

— New Jersey: The rebuilding Devils were jolted when goalie Corey Crawford, who signed as a free agent, retired during camp. That leaves the job to Mackenzie Blackwood, who had a 2.77 goals-against average and .915 save percentage for a weak team last season. The Devils hope 2019 No. 1 pick Jack Hughes can improve on his seven-goal, 21-point season.

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