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Tuesday, 11 December, 2018

Back San Jose Sharks to savage Pacific Division rivals

NHL season preview

Erik Karlsson could prove a key addition for the San Jose Sharks
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Season preview

Western Conference
The National Hockey League can be unpredictable. That was illustrated last year when ante-post favourites Edmonton failed to make the playoffs, while rank outsiders Vegas made it all the way to the Stanley Cup finals.

Thanks to the salary cap, the teams are well matched and small margins can make a big difference, even over an 82-game season.

This year, though, a number of teams begin the campaign already looking unlikely to trouble the playoff picture.

Ottawa, for example, ended last season 29 points short of the playoff places and during the offseason they have lost some key players including talismanic captain Erik Karlsson.

The Swedish defensive dynamo has gone to San Jose, who look in good shape to make a bold bid for a first Stanley Cup in their 27-year history.

The Sharks reached the Cup final in 2016 and look a decent bet to top the Pacific Division.

Vegas are favourites in that section, but they were rated 500-1 chances for the Cup last season for a reason.

The Golden Knights have made some decent moves during the summer, but 19 of their players posted career-best points tallies last term and there is every chance they could bounce.

Eastern Conference
Buffalo have failed to reach the playoffs in each of the last seven seasons but things are finally starting to look up for the Sabres.

Young forward Jack Eichel goes from strength to strength while the addition of first overall draft pick Rasmus Dahlin will be a huge boost  to the defence.

A number of other summer roster moves have freshened up the team and they should prove much stronger than division-mates Montreal, Ottawa and Detroit.

Those three were not very good last year and have managed to get even weaker on paper over the offseason.

That should put Buffalo in contention for a wildcard spot at least and they look overpriced for an overdue return to the playoffs.

Washington and Pittsburgh have won the last three Stanley Cup titles between them and they are understandably expected to fight it out at the top of the Metropolitan Division.

However, an improving Philadelphia side could give them something to think about and may be a spot of value to top the division.

The Flyers are a mixture of talented youngsters and established stars still capable of producing - captain Claude Giroux was the second-highest scorer in the league last season.

Goaltending is a concern, as it often has been for the Flyers, but their fearsome offence could see them top the Metropolitan pile.

San Jose to win Pacific Division
2pts 3-1 Betfair
Buffalo to make playoffs
1pt 10-3 Paddy Power
Philadelphia to win Metropolitan Division
1pt 6-1 general

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San Jose look in good shape to make a bold bid for a first Stanley Cup in their 27-year history
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