Top Five NHL 19 Franchise Sleeper Teams

NHL 19

You’ve booted up NHL 19 and now you’re trying to figure out which team you’re going to take to the Stanley Cup Finals. You could pick an easy team like the Tampa Bay Lightning, Toronto Maple Leafs or Nashville Predators. Those teams are loaded with stars in almost every position.

A good General Manager takes a team that’s not loaded – like the Ottawa Senators – and brings them from the bottom to the top through meticulous drafting, trading and free agent signing.

Today we’re going to go through my top five NHL teams that will require a good General Manager to bring them (back) to their glory and win a Stanley Cup or three.

Criteria: 

  • A teams overall doesn’t really matter when it comes to something like this. Ideally, you’d like to see the bottom teams here, but some bottom teams don’t have everything you’d want in a franchise (young players, good prospects, cap room).
  • More emphasis has been put on cap space. Without cap space, you’re not going to be able to do much in terms of player movement in the offseason.
  • Prospects are important.

NHL’s rosters have always been a pain for those looking for a true simulation. The lack of diverse ratings means that in a couple years, you’re going to have a logjam of 80s sitting in free agency. I’ll get more into that in a different post.

For this article, I’ll be using the latest online roster update (as of September 29, 2018) and going from there.

1. Arizona Coyotes

The Arizona Coyotes have always been the red-headed step-child of the NHL. They were Gary Bettman’s baby and the NHL moved a prominent Canadian franchise to the Southwest in the hopes of “growing the game”.

The Core

What the Coyotes have going for them is youth. Clayton Keller is one of your key, core players who will flourish in Arizona for years to come. In NHL 19, Keller has everything going for him. He is on the last year of his rookie contract (915k) before becoming a restricted free agent (RFA). He is an 84 rating that should quickly move up to the low 90s.

Alex Galchenyuk is another guy that will help you win games. Like Keller, he’s also an 84 with elite potential. Unlike Keller, he has a two-year contract that will pay him an AAV of $4.9M per season but he will keep his RFA status.

On defense is Oliver Ekman-Larsson. OEL is currently slotted as a “Top 2 Defenseman” role with an exact elite potential. At 27 years old, OEL is going to captain your Coyotes until his career is over. Attribute-wise, OEL is stacked with mid-90s offensive attributes like passing and puck control and high-80 defensive attributes like defensive awareness (90) and shot blocking.

The Cap

Arizona’s salary cap position is great. During the 2018-2019 season, Arizona has $11,721,000 in cap space while only needing to give Keller, Christian Dvorak (22, 82 overall), Jakob Chychrun (20 years old, 81 overall) extensions. Without those extensions, the Coyotes are sitting pretty at over $25,000,000 in 19-20 and that includes OEL’s $8.25M AAV extension.

The Kids

We touched on Keller, but the Coyotes also offer some extremely talented youth. Christian Dvorak is a potential top 6 forward (medium) and 82 overall at 22. His puck skills, skating and shooting are rated five stars with passing, offensive awareness and shot power being the standouts.

Dylan Strome is another young center that will help the Coyotes. While only rated a 78, Strome has elite (medium) potential and will certainly bypass the “depth forward” role he’s currently in. His contract is 915K per season for 18-19 and 19-20 and should be a nice trade chip if he doesn’t seem to be working out.

Lastly is defenseman Jakob Chychrun. Chychrun is in the last year of his rookie deal ($925K) and is already at an elite potential (medium). His role as a top 4 defenseman will more than likely change to a top 2 defenseman as he matures. Chychrun will need to develop defensively (3.5 stars) but his skating and physical attributes (5 stars) should make up for the defensive mistakes.

2. Buffalo Sabres

The Buffalo Sabres are in a battering ram of a division. They have to deal with Tampa, Toronto, and Boston multiple times over the season and haven’t gotten over the hump since the Ryan Miller era.

Captain Jack

While Buffalo hasn’t had much success in the NHL, but they can in NHL 19. When you think about the core of the Buffalo Sabres, your brain goes to Jack Eichel. Eichel was a standout at Boston University and has continued his success in the NHL. Eichel’s elite potential will push him into the 90s in no time while his contract won’t limit you from making moves.

The Cap

This is because Buffalo has cap space – and lots of it. In 18-19, the Sabres are looking at about $10,000,000 for the season. That’s pretty good when you consider that Eichel, alone, is making $10,000,000 per season. What’s really nice is the $29,848,000 they’ll have in 2019-2020 without many key free agents.

Sam Reinhart (elite potential [med], 22 years old, 83 overall) will be a key piece for the Sabres and is an RFA in 2019-2020. If you believe in defenseman Jake McCabe (top 6 D potential [med], 24 years old, 80 overall) than you can also throw a few bucks his way without breaking the bank.

Everyone else (Jason Pomenville, Nathan Beaulieu, Zegmus Girgensons [RFA]) could be traded away or let walk away without impacting the team much.

3. Edmonton Oilers

When you think of General Manager incompetence, you have to think of Peter Chiarelli’s job with the Edmonton Oilers. You can just look back at the Taylor Hall trade for some laughs (or cries) if you’d like.

The Good

Centers Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins provide a ton of offensive firepower for you to keep the lamp lit. They’re also signed for at least three years which will keep your core group together for a good run.

Oscar Klefbom and young bashing defenseman Darnell Nurse will be able to anchor your defense for a long time too. Only Nurse is a free agent out of the pair and he’s a very GM friendly RFA.

The Bad

Thanks to Chiarelli’s inability to make a contract, you’re riddled with a bad cap and some dead weights. Be thankful that EA’s rosters are incredibly kind to Milan Lucic (83 overall) because he’s the type of player that should flourish with McDavid. The unfortunate side of this is that you have him under contract until 2022-2023.

The same goes for Kris Russell (79 overall). Russell has a very unfriendly team contract but his Top 6 D potential (exact) should provide enough depth that he won’t be a pylon on the virtual ice for you.

The Ugly

The biggest knock against using the Oilers will be their cap space. In 2018-2019, the Oilers have $4.270M to spend. Thankfully that will get better in 2019-2020 and rise to $20.115M, but unlike some of the other teams, the RFAs are hanging around here.

Nurse, Jesse Puljujarvi (20, 79 overall, elite potential [med]), and Pontus Aberg (24, 78 overall, top 9F potential [med]) are just some of the 7+ free agents that Edmonton will have to deal with. This doesn’t include their issues at goaltender, where all three of their tendies will need new contracts after the first season is complete.

So why are they here? 

After reading all of this, you’re probably wondering why Edmonton is even on this list. Well, they have some talent. McDavid, Draisitl, Nugent-Hopkins, Nurse, Klefbom, Talbot, Puljujarvi and even a guy like Lucic can win games.

The challenge is keeping it sustainable given their contracts. If you can bring Edmonton to a Stanley Cup, you’re doing it right.

4. Vancouver Canucks

Gone are the Sedins, Burrows and Luongo and in their place are guys like Bo Horvat (who hates Fortnite), Brock Boeser and Chris Tanev. So let’s look at why Vancouver could be your up-and-coming franchise.

Young, Affordable Players

In your first year as GM of the Vancouver Canucks, you’re going to see you have a wealth of young, affordable talent. Boeser (85, elite [med]), Jake Virtanen (79, top 9 f [med]), Nikolay Goldobin (78, top 9 f [med]), Derek Pouliot (79 top 4 d [med]), Troy Stecher (79, Top 6 D [med]), Markus Granlund (79, Top 9 F [low]) and Ben Hutton (82, Top 4 D [low]) are all restricted free agents in 19-20. This means you have a ton of leverage when it comes to offering them contracts, trading them or cashing in offer sheets.

While the Canucks are loaded in every position like the Sharks or Golden Knights, they’re still a really deep team. When those clubs start to decline, Vancouver is young enough that they’ll be on the up and up.

Cap Space

In 2018-2019, the Canucks’ cap space is $15.780M which isn’t terrible. You’ll be able to make some free agent signings if you need to and you’ll also have the room to bring your AHLers up and down when someone is injured.

What really sets the Canucks apart is in 2019-2020 when they will be over $30,000,000 in cap space. Thirty freaking million dollars. That’s a lot of loonies, my friends. A lot of your cap space will go towards making sure Brock Boeser, Derek Pouliot, Ben Hutton and Jake Virtanen return. In the case of someone like Boeser, you may want to make sure he never leaves.

Still, that’s a lot of money when you look at a team that has 3 UFA (Alex Edler [82, Top 4 D [exact]], Anders Nilsson [79, fringe starter [exact]] and Michael Del Zotto [79, top 6 d [exact]]) and 10 RFA.

Your Focus

Where you’ll want to focus for Vancouver is goaltending and defense. While EA Sports has Jacob Markstrom at an 82, he’s nothing special and his attributes don’t indicate that he’ll be a guy you’ll want to rely on between the pipes.

5. New York Islanders

Oh, the Islanders. They lost out on John Tavares and many think they didn’t even have a chance. If you choose the Islanders, you have your work cut out for you but I believe a good GM can pull them out of their funk. They have a window, albeit, not a real wide one.

Your Offense is Pretty Good

Offensively your team is pretty damn good. The Islanders are led by rookie standout Matt Barzal who already holds one of the highest ratings on the team (85) and has a elite potential. You also have left wings Josh Bailey and Anders Lee who can score at will. They’re close to 30 years old, sure, but with how NHL 19 rates their players and how they deal with progression, they’ll be rated well for the next four-plus seasons.

Jordan Eberle is also a guy that will produce some points for you at 85 overall and an exact elite potential.

To round off the offense, New York has four other 80s that will provide some much-needed depth. Valtteri Filppula is a good third line center that has some pop while youngster Anthony Beauvillier can dish to a guy like Lee or Eberle and provide consistent secondary scoring.

Behind Your Blueline Is…A Thing

The issue with the Islanders is their goaltending. Robin Lehner and Tomas Greiss don’t inspire confidence. Sure, both of your goalies are rated 80+ with Lehner your highest at 83, but he’s not a guy you want between the pipes all the time. With a durability of 80, you need a solid backup in case he gets hurt and Greiss isn’t the solution.

The Islanders defense is getting old, led by Johnny Boychuck at 34 years old (82, Top 4 D [exact]) and Thomas Hickey at 29 (82 overall, Top 6 D [exact]). Your standout defenseman is Nick Leddy who is 27, has an elite [exact] potential and is signed through 2021-2022.

Cap Space

New York’s saving grace is their cap space. In 2018-2019, the Islanders will have 15.060M dollars in cap space and over $30 million in 2019-2020. That will come at a cost, however.

Guys like Eberle and Lee will be hitting the open market and Lee will want more than his $3.750M per year. Thankfully, he will sign an extension to stay on the island. Eberle has indicated he will not.

There are also some really good RFA that may want a larger sum of money like Beauvillier, Brock Nelson and Josh Ho-Sang.