The Washington Capitals have finally won a Stanley Cup. Are they primed to make another deep run in 2018-19? The ESPN power panel -- a group of 25 writers, editors and TV personalities -- is already looking ahead to next season with a way-too-early edition of the NHL Power Rankings. Here's how we think the league will stack up in 2018-19.
Note: These rankings reflect which teams the voters think would win head-to-head matchups. Higher-ranked teams would be favored against lower-ranked teams. ESPN Stats & Information contributed the following "what defined them" information.
2017-18 record: 54-23-5
What defined them: The Lightning advanced to the Eastern Conference finals for the third time in four seasons, but the ultimate prize eluded them again. They set franchise records for wins (54) and points (113), but their lasting memory will be getting shut out by the Capitals in Games 6 and 7 of the conference finals.
What could change: Ryan Callahan said the Lightning played Game 6 against Washington like they knew they had a Game 7 left. Tampa Bay also knew that this group has one more year together to make another a Cup run before Nikita Kucherov, Brayden Point, Ryan McDonagh, Anton Stralman and others all need new contracts.
2017-18 record: 53-18-11
What defined them: The Predators won the Presidents' Trophy for the first time in franchise history, earning 23 more points than they did the season before. A second-round playoff exit at the hands of the Winnipeg Jets left a sour note in Music City, though -- especially after the Preds reached the Stanley Cup Final in 2017.
What could change: They were excellent in 2017-18, but then they fizzled out in the playoffs. Perhaps GM David Poile will look to make some small tweaks, but there's no reason to doubt this team as a serious contender again next season.
2017-18 record: 52-20-10
What defined them: After missing the 2017 playoffs by seven points, the Jets had the league's second-best record and advanced to the Western Conference finals this year. Not bad for a franchise that didn't even have a playoff win before this season. Patrik Laine has already scored 80 goals in his first two NHL seasons -- and he only turned 20 in April.
What could change: Everything points to the Jets being a team to beat over the next four or five seasons. All of the pieces are there (though a lot of them will need to be paid). Winnipeg should grow as a result of its 2017-18 success and playoff run.
2017-18 record: 49-26-7
What defined them: After so many years of underachieving in the playoffs, the Capitals exorcised plenty of demons. In the nation's capital, the certainties include death, taxes and Alex Ovechkin winning the Rocket Richard Trophy. The latter has happened seven times, five more than anyone else.
What could change: It will take some finagling, but if the Capitals can re-sign John Carlson, this team could contend for another Stanley Cup next season. In an alternate universe, the Capitals suffer another early playoff ouster in 2019 and players like Nicklas Backstrom end up on the trading block.
2017-18 record: 51-24-7
What defined them: After a season that exceeded their wildest expectations, it could be an interesting summer for the Golden Knights. James Neal, David Perron and Ryan Reaves will all be unrestricted free agents -- and William Karlsson will get a big raise. But the team has lots of cap space.
What could change: Owner Bill Foley has indicated that the Golden Knights' meteoric rise to the Western Conference title won't be a one-and-done situation, which means Vegas could potentially use its bevy of draft picks over the next three seasons and considerable cap space to take a run at everyone from Erik Karlsson to John Carlson to John Tavares.
2017-18 record: 50-20-12
What defined them: The Bruins' top line of Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand and David Pastrnak might be the league's best. All three players scored at least 30 goals, but no one else on the team had more than 17. Despite a second-round loss to the Lightning, this team felt good about its 50-win season.
What could change: Bergeron, Marchand and David Krejci are all in their 30s. Zdeno Chara is 41. But the Bruins' combination of these veteran players and dynamic youngsters like Pastrnak and Charlie McAvoy will make them a title contender in 2018-19.
2017-18 record: 47-29-6
What defined them: Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are signed long term, so the Penguins should once again be in the hunt for Lord Stanley's Cup. Pittsburgh became the first team since the 2003-04 Lightning to have three players finish among the top 10 in scoring (Malkin, Phil Kessel and Crosby).
What could change: They didn't three-peat, but after a summer of rest (something they're not used to of late), expect Crosby and Malkin to come back as strong as ever. Goalie Matt Murray is poised to rebound after a somewhat shaky 2017-18.
2017-18 record: 45-27-10
What defined them: The Sharks have produced 98, 99 and 100 points, respectively, in their past three seasons under coach Peter DeBoer. For the second consecutive summer, they'll have a decision to make on franchise stalwart Joe Thornton, who didn't play after Jan. 23 because of a torn ACL and MCL.
What could change: The window is wide open for the Sharks next season to win their first Stanley Cup. Then things get really interesting, as they only have nine players (!) currently under contract for 2019-20, pending a few free-agent deals this summer. Both Logan Couture and Joe Pavelski will be unrestricted free agents in 2019.
2017-18 record: 45-30-7
What defined them: The good news? The Blue Jackets reached the postseason in consecutive years for the first time in franchise history. The bad news? They're still looking to get past the first round. Columbus' biggest summer concern is top scorer Artemi Panarin (27 goals, 82 points), who is entering his free-agent walk year.
What could change: The Blue Jackets need to do two things this offseason: lock in Panarin and acquire depth scoring. The development of Pierre-Luc Dubois bodes well for this team, which is still on the cusp of breaking out.
2017-18 record: 46-24-7
What defined them: The Maple Leafs continued their upward trajectory, posting franchise records in wins (49) and points (105). New general manager Kyle Dubas, 31, will have a busy summer, which could include contract extensions for Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner.
What could change: Is there a rift between coach Mike Babcock and Matthews? Will the Leafs make a pitch for an elite-level defenseman? Can Dubas run the show himself, now that former GM Lou Lamoriello and former assistant GM Mark Hunter took their pucks and went home after Dubas was promoted? So many questions remain in the Centre of the Hockey Universe.
2017-18 record: 44-29-9
What defined them: After finishing last in the Eastern Conference in 2016-17, the Devils snapped a five-year playoff drought this season. Their 27-point improvement, helped by a career-high 39 goals from Hart Trophy finalist Taylor Hall, was the largest in franchise history.
What could change: There's no reason these 2017-18 overachievers should regress next season. As long as GM Ray Shero makes defensive depth a priority, and other scorers not named Taylor Hall emerge, we're looking at another playoff team.
2017-18 record: 45-29-8
What defined them: The Kings mustered just three goals in getting swept by the Golden Knights in the first round of the playoffs. Anze Kopitar was a Hart finalist, but he was one of just three Kings to score at least 20 goals. Norris Trophy finalist Drew Doughty is entering his walk year.
What could change: Some of us would love to be a king for a day. Doughty will likely be a King for life after the massive contract extension that he and the team are discussing comes to pass.
13. Minnesota Wild
2017-18 record: 45-26-11
What defined them: The Wild's third consecutive first-round departure in the playoffs cost GM Chuck Fletcher his job after nine seasons. His replacement, Paul Fenton, will inherit a roster that will likely be "retooled" but not "rebuilt."
What could change: This is a team that has been on the verge of a breakthrough for some time. Perhaps Fenton -- who cut his teeth as an assistant GM with the Predators -- will add the right pieces (and subtract the wrong ones) to get the Wild over the hump.
2017-18 record: 43-30-9
What defined them: The Avalanche had an NHL-best 47-point improvement from 2016-17 and made the playoffs this year on the final day of the regular season. Hart Trophy candidate Nathan MacKinnon led the surge with 97 points, the most by any Avs player since Joe Sakic (100) in 2006-07.
What could change: A shockingly decent team last season, the Avalanche will still be young in 2018-19. The worst may be over for Colorado, but the bar is so much higher than it was last season that we're not sure they can meet it.
15. St. Louis Blues
2017-18 record: 44-32-6
What defined them: Even after they dealt center Paul Stastny to Winnipeg at the trade deadline, the Blues still made a run at the postseason, going 8-1-0 in mid-March. They still had a chance to make the playoffs on the final night of the regular season, but lost 5-2 to the Avalanche.
What could change: We expect the Blues to be aggressive in free agency and pursue a top-line center, as well as a scoring winger. The only problem? There aren't a ton of great names available, especially if St. Louis whiffs on John Tavares. The Blues may be in a stalemate.
2017-18 record: 42-26-14
What defined them: Captain Claude Giroux delivered a strong bounce-back season with 102 points -- becoming the first Flyer to hit the century mark since Eric Lindros in 1995-96. Although they returned to the playoffs after a one-year absence, the Flyers haven't won a postseason series since 2012.
What could change: How soon can Carter Hart play? The stud prospect could be the key to Philadelphia's long-standing goaltending woes. Hart is not far off, but will likely start next season in the AHL, especially considering GM Ron Hextall's perpetual patience.
2017-18 record: 33-39-10
What defined them: The Blackhawks had their fewest points in a season during the Patrick Kane-Jonathan Toews era (76) in 2017-18. Their 3.07 goals-against average was the team's worst since 2005-06 (3.35).
What could change: Let's assume that goalie Corey Crawford is back. Things can't get worse than they were in 2017-18. (If they are, expect a huge shake-up by Christmas.) We're confident that Toews will rebound and that enough youngsters can help plug in and spark this lineup.
18. Edmonton Oilers
2017-18 record: 36-40-6
What defined them: The Oilers finished with 25 fewer points than they did in 2016-17, which was the second-worst point differential in the Western Conference this year. Yet, Connor McDavid played every game and won the Art Ross Trophy with 108 points, the most by an Oilers player since Mark Messier in 1989-90.
What could change: The Oilers are still in the hunt for an elite defenseman to fill out their blue line, among other items on the agenda as Edmonton tries to reverse course from a lackluster season and contend again.
19. Anaheim Ducks
2017-18 record: 44-25-13
What defined them: The Ducks were wounded for much of the season, but Anaheim overcame numerous injuries to make the playoffs for a sixth consecutive year. Only the Penguins (12) have a longer active streak. Anaheim didn't stay long, however -- the Ducks were outscored 16-4 in a four-game sweep by San Jose.
What could change: The Ducks need what the Capitals had this season: an aggressive infusion of youth and fresh perspectives behind the aging talents of Ryan Getzlaf, Corey Perry and whatever is left of Ryan Kesler. But at least they have a blue line and a goalie to build on.
20. Dallas Stars
2017-18 record: 42-32-8
What defined them: On March 11, as the Stars started a six-game road trip, they were three points ahead in the wild-card race. Then an 0-4-2 trip and two more home losses all but ended those playoff dreams.
What could change: It's hard to gauge who the Stars will be, considering they're adapting to their third head coach in as many seasons. It might not be pretty at first, as new coach Jim Montgomery implements his style.
2017-18 record: 35-37-10
What defined them: The bad news: The Islanders were last in goals against, with 293, in 2017-18 -- the most they had surrendered in a season since 1995-96 (315). The good news: Mathew Barzal's 63 assists tied an Islanders rookie record, and his 85 points were the most by an NHL rookie since Evgeni Malkin in 2006-07.
What could change: Lamoriello is running the show now. This team isn't very far off if Tavares returns. The Islanders need a goalie and a few defensemen, but they could win next season. If Tavares leaves ... well, then there will be some dark days ahead.
2017-18 record: 36-35-11
What defined them: The Hurricanes were in postseason position in mid-February but finished 9-14-2 to fall out of the playoffs. Scott Darling had the worst save percentage (.888) of any goaltender to appear in 40 games this season.
What could change: After nine years of missing the playoffs, expect a roster shake-up as Carolina commits to a culture change. That means it might get worse before it gets better. Oh, and they need to figure out if Darling can be their No. 1 goalie.
23. Florida Panthers
2017-18 record: 44-30-8
What defined them: The Panthers' 52 points (25-8-2) were tied with the Predators for the most after the All-Star break, but it was not enough to reach the playoffs. Aleksander Barkov and Vincent Trocheck were the first pair of Panthers with at least 75 points in a season.
What could change: The core of the team is locked up through 2022, including 39-year-old goalie Roberto Luongo, although we doubt he'll be earning that $1 million base salary in the final year of that contract. The point is: The Panthers know what they're building around, so can GM Dale Tallon fill in those blanks?
24. Calgary Flames
2017-18 record: 37-35-10
What defined them: The Flames missed the playoffs for the seventh time in the past nine seasons, thanks in part to scoring a league-worst 1.9 goals per game from Feb. 27 on. The slump cost coach Glen Gulutzan his job.
What could change: This is going to be one of the most fascinating case studies in the NHL. Was Bill Peters hamstrung by bad goaltending and personnel moves in Carolina, only to thrive in Calgary as the Flames' new head coach? Or is it Calgary's system that doesn't work?
25. New York Rangers
2017-18 record: 34-39-9
What defined them: When the Rangers were eliminated on March 27, Henrik Lundqvist played meaningless games for the first time in his career. From Feb. 1 on, the Rangers had the second-worst record in the NHL (a .344 points percentage) behind only the Blackhawks, which contributed to coach Alain Vigneault losing his job.
What could change: Let the rebuilding begin. With new coach David Quinn at the helm, the Rangers are going to commit to a total infusion of youth -- expect a big showcase for top prospects like Filip Chytil and Lias Andersson -- before they are ready to contend again.
2017-18 record: 30-39-13
What defined them: The Red Wings missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since a five-season span from 1978-79 to 1982-83. They did get three draft picks, including a 2018 first-round pick from Vegas for Tomas Tatar, who had six points in 20 games with the Golden Knights.
What could change: GM Ken Holland is staying in Detroit, somewhat surprisingly, to get this rebuild going. When Red Wings president Chris Ilitch uses words like "it's going to be a process," well, buckle up for some bumpy rides during the next few years. And is Mike Green coming back, or what?
27. Buffalo Sabres
2017-18 record: 25-45-12
What defined them: The Sabres finished last in their division for the fifth time in the past six seasons and had the worst record in the NHL for the third time in the past five seasons. The good news is they'll pick first in the NHL draft for the first time since 1987 (when they took Pierre Turgeon).
What could change: The 18-year-old Swedish defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, Rasmus Dahlin, Rasmus Dahlin, Rasmus Dahlin, Rasmus Dahlin, Rasmus Dahlin, Rasmus Dahlin, Rasmus Dahlin, with Rasmus Dahlin and, of course, Rasmus Dahlin. Oh, and the Sabres are probably going to trade Ryan O'Reilly after he revealed he lost his smile.
2017-18 record: 29-40-13
What defined them: The Canadiens lost 40 games in regulation, their most since 2000-01. Montreal's success usually is driven by Carey Price's play, and this year was no different, as he finished with career-worsts in save percentage (.900) and goals-against average (3.11)
What could change: While casting an eye at the John Tavares derby, the entire focus of the Canadiens' offseason appears to be what, if anything, will happen with captain Max Pacioretty, including a potential sign-and-trade as he enters the last year of his previous contract.
2017-18 record: 31-40-11
What defined them: The Canucks have had the worst record in the Western Conference the past three years (.441 points percentage). Now they have to replace Henrik Sedin and Daniel Sedin, who played in 82 and 81 games, respectively, this season at age 37.
What could change: The rebuild is on* and it's spectacular! (*Please note that any celebration about the rebuild is on hold until we see if the Canucks do something forward-thinking and proactive with their seventh overall pick in the draft. Sigh ... as least Elias Pettersson is going to show when he gets to the NHL.)
30. Ottawa Senators
2017-18 record: 28-43-11
What defined them: The Senators went from being one goal away from the Stanley Cup Final last June to finishing with their fewest points (67) since 1995-96 (41). Erik Karlsson is the only defenseman with 45 assists in each of the past five seasons, but will he remain in Ottawa?
What could change: We could know the fate of Karlsson by July 1, when the Senators hand him what's expected to be a frugal offer -- and Karlsson will have to decide whether to remain in Ottawa or seek a better deal elsewhere. Alas, poor Senators fans, while the billboards worked in Brooklyn, they did not yet for Eugene Melnyk.
31. Arizona Coyotes
2017-18 record: 29-41-12
What defined them: The Coyotes have missed the playoffs each of the past six years since losing to the Kings in the 2012 Western Conference finals. From Feb. 8 on, however, the Coyotes had a 17-9-3 record, which was better than the Golden Knights (16-10-3) and just behind the Capitals (18-9-2).
What could change: Oliver Ekman-Larsson appears ready to sign a long extension, but the work is just starting for GM John Chayka: everything from what to do about restricted free-agent winger Max Domi to whom to draft fifth overall in Dallas later this month.