NHL bold predictions Way-too-early division picks Stanley Cup winners for 2018-19 season

Cody Benjamin: The Atlantic is absolutely packed up top, and the Lightning should be the favorites, but Tavares added to an already explosive Toronto unit is just too tempting to pass up.

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Theres nothing quite like a good partner to make a defender better. Even on the stupidly deep Sharks defense, Karlsson will set himself apart and win another Norris Trophy in his first season with San Jose.

Todd McLellanwill be the first coach to be fired.

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Would you look at that? Its already October and the puck drops on another NHL season on Wednesday night. The new campaign opens up with a slate of games that includes the defending championWashington Capitalsraising their first Stanley Cup banner to the rafters before playing host to theBoston Bruins.

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Both Todd McLellan and Peter Chiarelli seem to be on the hot seat in Edmonton heading into this season. After a promising campaign that saw them win a playoff series a few years ago, theOilershad a disastrous follow-up season in 2017-18. Theres not a lot of reason to think it can get much worse for the Oilers this year but, considering they didnt really do much this summer, theres also not a ton of reason to believe its going to get better. If the team struggles early on in the season, desperation could trigger Chiarelli to give McLellan the boot and see if someone else can right the ship behind the bench.

Benjamin: Predators over Maple Leafs

At some point the Lightning have to finish the job, right? Despite consistently entering as legit contenders over the past handful of years, theyve been struck down by injuries and bitter playoff finishes. If they dont lift the Cup soon theyre in danger of inheriting the Capitals label as postseason busts.

KevinSkiver:Between the Lightning, the Bruins and the Leafs, this division should be the toughest in hockey. But only one team added one of the better players in hockey in Tavares, so Im going with theMaple Leafscoming off a solid 2017 season.

With each new season brings countless way-too-early predictions, some bolder than others. Its hard not to stand at the starting line without envisioning what might take shape over the coming months, so weve gone ahead and put our picks down on paper before the seasons opening puck drop. (Well, not technically on paper unless you print out this out, but you get the point.)

Last years postseason served as something of a coming-out party for Jets center Mark Scheifele. Anyone who wasnt aware of his talent level was quickly put up on game as Scheifele tallied 14 goals and 20 points in 17 playoff games. Entering his eighth NHL season, Im predicting the 25-year-old to build on that momentum and explode into the leagues elite ranks, leading a dangerous Winnipeg team in points. His offensive production coupled with his strong two-way capabilities will land him atop the Hart voting as league MVP.

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Benjamin:The Capitals returned their core, but the Penguins seem destined to rebound after their curiously sloppy and slow start from a year ago. We havent seen the last ofSidney Crosbysreign just yet.

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Pete Blackburn:The Atlantic seems to have a three-headed monster at the top. The Leafs got better with the addition ofJohn Tavareswhile, for the most part, theLightningand Bruins stayed about the same. Still, Tampa has the most complete roster on paper and I like them to defend their division title.

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Benjamin:The Pacific truly could be wide open depending on how much Vegas regresses, if at all. This writers riding the blue-line hype train and assuming that Erik Karlsson and Co. will wreak havoc for a spicy playoff contender out of San Jose.

NHL bold predictions: Way-too-early division picks, Stanley Cup winners for 2018-19 season

Skiver:Sometimes when youre the best, all you have to do is stand pat. The defending Stanley Cup champs didnt do much to get demonstrably better, but they did lock upJohn Carlsonbefore he hit free agency. TheFlyersimproved by signingJames van Riemsdyk, and they could leapfrog the Penguins in the standings for it, but they could end up giving up a lot of goals this season with weak defense and weak goal-tending.

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Everyones drooling over the Sharks right now, and rightfully so. But dont forget that Nashville can also play defense and boasts some of the best depth in the NHL. Oh, andRyan Johansenis back. Toronto could easily be swapped out for Tampa Bay here, but either way, the East is going to be represented with some goal-scoring firepower.

Blackburn:Mark Scheifelewins the Hart.

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NHL bold predictions: Way-too-early division picks, Stanley Cup winners for 2018-19 season

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Lets take a crack at guessing who will come away as division champs and Stanley Cup victors at seasons end, plus some bold predictions to top it all off.

The Maple Leafs lost in seven games to the Bruins last year, but this is the year that they break their 50-year curse. The Lightning are this teams biggest obstacle in the East once again, but the Maple Leafs adding this years prized free agent will make all the difference.

Whos taking the division? Whos winning the Stanley Cup? Its early, but weve got picks

NHL bold predictions Way-too-early division picks Stanley Cup winners for 2018-19 season

Blackburn:Considering theSharkscan theoretically have at least one ofErik KarlssonBrent BurnsandMarc-Edouard Vlasicon the ice for a majority of time this season, it makes them very difficult to pick against. This a team that fought its way to the second round last year despite a bevy of injuries, then went out and added one of the best defensemen of this generation. Pretty strong case for a division title.

Benjamin:ThePredatorsstill seem like a safer bet than the Jets, but who can match Winnipegs upside?Patrik Lainealone makes them an obvious terror.

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Blackburn:This is really a toss-up between the Preds and theJets, but I have more faith in Nashville from start-to-finish. Theyre the reigning Presidents Trophy winners with an outstanding defensive corps and the reigning Vezina winner in net. Theyre going to needPekka Rinneto be every bit as good this year because theres not a lot of room for error in that tough division.

Skiver:This is kind of a coin flip between the Jets and the Predators. The Preds are the defending Presidents Trophy winners, and they didnt really do, well, anything. The problem is, the Jets didnt do much either. They lostPaul Stastny, whom they traded for at least years deadline and who was a nice second-line player, but other than that there werent really any major transactions in Winnipeg.

This team is markedly better from last season, and this bold prediction is slowly becoming so popular that its less bold by the day. The Panthers were quietly a point away from missing the playoffs last year. They have the hallmarks of a Cinderella team, and adding Mike Hoffman has only improved them.

Pete Blackburn is from Boston, so theres a good chance you dont like him already. He has been a writer at CBS Sports since 2017 and usually aims to take a humorous and light-hearted approach to the often…Full Bio

Erik Karlsson will win his third Norris Trophy.

Blackburn:The Caps have won the Metro in three straight seasons and theyll be returning most of their Stanley Cup-winning roster, so that makes them an enticing pick. But combine a short, booze-fueled summer with the fact that the Caps got a new coach behind the bench and I think theres a chance they have some kinks to work out during the regular season. Pittsburgh should see a bounce-back campaign fromMatt Murrayand thePenguinsstill have a couple of the best players in the world.

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Skiver:Its an absolute arms race on the West Coast right now, as it feels like every transaction comes down to the Sharks or theGolden Knights. Adding Erik Karlsson was a fun late-offseason surprise, and it improves what already may be the best defensive depth in theNHL.

Benjamin: ThePantherswill make the playoffs.

Florida came very close to cracking the postseason a year ago, but predicting that *any* team emerges from a division that houses the Bruins, the Lightning and the Maple Leafs is bold, if you ask me. And this is the Panthers were talking about! Bob Boughner is only entering Year 2 of a young, rebuilt regime, and Florida has made the playoffs just twice in almost two decades. Theyve got some first-line talent, however, andMike Hoffmanshould help their offense play spoiler late in the year.

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Skiver: The Panthers will win a playoff series.

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