The first quarter of the 2019-20 NHL season is in the books, and we are starting to get an idea of where every team stands, what they need to improve on and what they might be capable of. Here we take a look at every NHL team's biggest question through the first quarter of the season.
This is not a playoff team, and it was probably never supposed to be a playoff team this season. But the Ducks still have some major issues when it comes to scoring goals. They were 31st in the league in goals scored a year ago and are only marginally better this season. The core that once made them a contender is older or has moved on, and they need some young players and new faces to step forward.
The Coyotes are off to a great start and have put themselves in a position to get back in the playoffs for the first time since the 2011-12 season when they went on a surprise run to the Western Conference final. They have a solid defense and two outstanding goalies who are helping to drive them there. The big question is whether they can score enough to maintain it. They have a pretty balanced lineup with a lot of different people who can contribute, but they are still lacking a true impact, go-to player up front. Phil Kessel was supposed to be that player, but he has not yet produced at that level.
Honestly, this team is as solid as it can get, and there really is not a huge weakness to worry about. The top line is amazing, the depth is better than it was at the start of last season, the defense is great and the goaltending duo is as good as it gets in the NHL. Pastrnak is trying to put an end to Alex Ovechkin's reign at the top of the goal scoring leaderboard and with 25 goals in his first 27 games, it looks like he has a great chance to do it. His current pace of more than 70 goals seems unsustainable, but 50 is absolutely within striking distance and maybe even 60 goals if everything goes right for him.
They have already cooled off after their hot start, and for the second year in a row the Sabres look to be in danger of crushing their fans by wasting an amazing start. Jack Eichel is a legitimate superstar, but the rest of the roster around him is filled with question marks. This team is hanging around but still needs a lot of improvement to end this playoff drought that is closing in on a decade.
Gaudreau is the foundation of the organization and the most impactful player, but so far this season he has been relatively quiet. Some regression had to be expected for this team, and maybe even some of the individual players, but Gaudreau seemed to be a safe bet to maintain his scoring pace from a year ago. So far it has not happened, and if the Flames are going to make any noise this year he needs to return to that level.
The presence of Niederreiter for a full season was supposed to be one of the big game-changers for the Hurricanes this season. The team itself is fine overall and right on track to be a contender in the Eastern Conference again, but Niederreiter has just three goals and 10 points in his first 28 games this season. If he gets going offensively the way he did at the end of last season, it would make a massive impact for the Hurricanes.
The Blackhawks' attempts to fix their blue line over the summer have failed, and they remain one of the worst defensive teams in the league. Add in the fact they have an aging roster, a coach who might not be the answer and a terrible salary cap situation, and this is one big mess for general manager Stan Bowman — assuming he is the one who gets to try and fix it.
There are not many questions on this team. When healthy, it might be one of the five best rosters in the NHL with an elite top-line, improved scoring depth and an outstanding young defense. The biggest question might be whether Grubauer is the goalie to take them to a championship. He has not been bad, but if you were looking for a weak link right now it might be here.
The free agency exodus has definitely caught up to them, and while they miss the offense of Artemi Panarin, they still have no real long-term solution in goal. Both Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins seem like backup options instead of starters, and there does not seem to be much immediate help coming through the organizational pipeline.
The scoring depth is still a concern, but the thing that makes the Stars a contender is the play of their top players. Tyler Seguin and Jamie Benn may face criticism (often times internally), but they have been the best players on the team for years. So far this season their numbers are down a bit, and it is especially true for Benn. Is it just an early slump, or a sign that his career is finally starting to slow down?
He had to know this was going to be a huge job when he took it, but it might be even more daunting than Yzerman first realized. So far he has not made many roster moves as Red Wings general manager, but he has some big decisions to make, including the future of head coach Jeff Blashill. The record is not his fault, but at some point you might need a new voice. This team is on track to be historically bad this season.
If we are being honest, it still seems unlikely. The offense is completely dependent on Connor McDavid and Leon Draisaitl, which is the same story as in the past three years. The only change so far this year is that the goaltending of Mike Smith and Mikko Koskinen has masked all of the other many flaws this team still has.
It was always going to be a long-term question, but the assumption was that they would at least get a few solid years and some playoff appearances out of Bobrovsky before his career declined. So far, the Panthers have not even been able to get one good year out of him. He has performed poorly, been benched and is owed $10 million per year over the next six seasons.
What to do with Ilya Kovalchuk is a big question, but it seems his time with the team is already done. The concern is when the Kings actually start rebuilding this organization. Seriously, it is time. To be blunt, they are not good and even with a strong farm system, their short-term outlook looks rough. The team is going nowhere as currently constructed and is long overdue for a real rebuild that involves the team trading significant pieces to look toward the future. They have been dragging their feet on this for years, and the longer they wait the harder the rebuild will be once they actually start it.
At this point it seems to be a matter of when, and not if, a coaching change is made. The Wild are headed toward a second straight non-playoff season, they are one of the worst teams in the Western Conference, and first-year general manager Bill Guerin is almost certainly going to want his own coach. Boudreau would get another job quickly if the Wild decide to make a change, which seems inevitable at this point.
This team has been mired in mediocrity for years and seems to be regressing this year. That has to put both general manager Marc Bergevin and head coach Claude Julien on the hot seat a little. The Canadiens have a ton of salary cap space and have been looking to add an impact player since the start of the offseason. Do they make a bold move to try and salvage the season?
The Predators are an outstanding 5-on-5 team this season but are getting crushed when it becomes a special teams game, currently sitting near the bottom of the league on the power play and penalty kill. The power play struggles are a carryover from last season when they were one of the worst teams of the modern era, but the penalty kill issues are new and largely related to a poor performance in net from Pekka Rinne and Juuse Saros. Fix these things, and this team becomes a Stanley Cup contender again.
This team actually has a lot of question marks right now and narrowing it down to the biggest is difficult. They still need a goalie, and after firing John Hynes they now need a head coach. They also have to figure out what to do with Taylor Hall, who remains an unrestricted free agent after this season. Can they re-sign him? How long will they try to make that happen? Or do they trade him?
The Islanders are showing their 2018-19 performance was no fluke and in a lot of ways look even better. They still could use another scorer up front to make a serious run at the Stanley Cup, and they have the salary cap space to make it happen. Do they go after some extra help?
A huge offseason raised expectations, but this is still a long-term process in terms of a rebuild. The Rangers are currently a bubble playoff team that is kind of in the race but also still kind of out of it. How do they balance trying to make the playoffs while still keeping their eye on the long-term goal?
The Senators are still a long way from being a playoff team, let alone a contender, but they have been a little better than expected at the start of the year. They have played hard, won some games and have some encouraging young pieces in place. But this is still a total rebuild, and more trades are going to be coming. Jean-Gabriel Pageau? Anthony Duclair? Vladislav Namestnikov? Connor Brown? Craig Anderson? Any or all could be traded before the trade deadline, with Pageau being the biggest trade chip they have to work with.
It is a vague question, but it is the only one that really matters with this team. Sometimes they look like a playoff team. Other times they look like a lottery team. They have some high-end players at the top of the lineup and some question marks throughout. At any time they are capable of winning 10 games in a row or losing 10 games in a row. The only way to figure out what they are is to watch them play for 82 games and see where they stand.
It's the only question for this team. When they are reasonably healthy and have most of their lineup in place, they have played some of their best hockey in three years and look like a Stanley Cup contender again. The problem is they are without four, five, or even six key players at a time. It is the biggest thing that can potentially hold them back this season. If they get everyone back at once, they could be a championship-level team.
The duo of Martin Jones and Aaron Dell was their biggest weakness a year ago and one of the worst goaltending duos in the league. The Sharks stuck with it all of last season and gave it another shot at the start of this season. So far the gamble has not paid off. How much of a leash will they give Jones and Dell before they look outside the organization for more help at the most important and impactful position?
The Blues have played incredible ever since losing Vladimir Tarasenko to injury, but a lot of their success has come from their power play. They are still struggling to score goals at even strength, and a power play can only carry a team so far. Eventually they will need to generate more at even strength. Will a trade be on the horizon at some point?
After getting so close the past few years only to keep falling short, the pressure is on Cooper to get this team back to the Stanley Cup Final. The talent is still absolutely there, but if they do not get things turned around or take the next step, the coach is the likely change to happen.
Firing Mike Babcock was overdue and needed. The test now is whether Keefe can get this team to play the way it was built and designed to play. The Leafs were too focused on trying to grind out 1-0 wins under Babcock, when they are built to play fast, with skill and offensively. Keefe has experience coaching a lot of these players in the AHL, has won with a lot of them and now has the opportunity to do so on hockey's biggest stage.
There is a lot to like about this Canucks team. Elias Pettersson, Brock Boeser, J.T. Miller, Bo Horvat and Quinn Hughes form an excellent core to build around, and they are doing their part to keep the team competitive. But the secondary scoring is a big issue and the one thing that might hold them back when it comes to trying to end their current playoff drought.
The Flower played 61 games a year ago and is on track for a similar workload this season. That is entirely too many games (especially for a second year in a row) for a 35-year-old goalie. The problem for the Golden Knights is they do not really have a reliable backup behind him. Throughout Fleury's career he has had his best postseason performances after having a lighter regular-season workload, while some of his worst playoff performances followed a high regular-season workload. Either Malcolm Subban needs to get a lot better, or the Golden Knights need to look elsewhere for some goaltending help behind their starter.
The Capitals do not have many flaws. They look like a Stanley Cup contender, are one of the most complete teams in the league and are as solid from top to bottom as they have been at any point over the past five or six years. So we are really reaching for question marks here. But if there is one, it might be the play of Holtby, their longtime starting goalie. He is still capable of rising to the occasion in big games, but his play the past few years has not been as consistent as it has been previously in his career. He is one of two key unrestricted free agents after this season (joining Nicklas Backstrom), and a decision will have to be made on his future.
The Jets are without a doubt one of the NHL's biggest surprises so far given all of the obstacles they have had to overcome. They have a makeshift defense thanks to trades, free agent departures and Dustin Byfuglien's unsettled future and their offense has not been quite as dynamic as it has been in the past, but they are still winning games and competing thanks almost entirely to the play of goalie Connor Hellebuyck. He has been outstanding, but if the Jets do not do something to rectify a defense that is one of the worst shot suppression teams in the league, you have to wonder if he will get worn down and not be able to keep carrying them.