The NHL season starts tomorrow and while repeating the disclaimers about the difficulties of the crystal ball being cloudy this far out from our last season preview still in tact, let’s give it a go in the Penguins’ home division.
For reference, the Eastern Conference collected a total of 1,491 points for an average of 93 points per team in 2022-23. The Metropolitan Division totaled up 730 points (91 point average) last season.
2023-24 Metropolitan Division Predictions
- New Jersey Devils (52-24-6, 110 points)
- Carolina Hurricanes (50-24-8, 108 points)
- New York Rangers (47-30-5, 99 points)
- Pittsburgh Penguins (44-32-6, 94 points)
- New York Islanders (41-33-8, 90 points)
- Washington Capitals (36-36-10, 82 points)
- Columbus Blue Jackets (32-40-10, 74 points)
- Philadelphia Flyers (32-44-6, 70 points)
(This nets to 732 total points, up the slightest amount from the division compiling 730 last season)
Most expect it to be a two horse race at the top of the division, and looking at team strengths it’s difficult to disagree. New Jersey and Carolina should be two of the top teams in the whole league with significant talent and depth throughout the lineup. Both were active in the off-season to add even more pieces, but the Devils adding Tyler Toffoli (34 goals and 73 points last year) plus getting a full season out of Timo Meier (40 goals, 68 points) could figure into being the added firepower needed to take first place.
Down a notch, the Rangers are being praised for some smart depth adds in Blake Wheeler (55 points last season) and Erik Gustafsson (40 points) to help round out their team. They do look vulnerable to being one Igor Shersterkin injury away from disaster — and the talented the goalie has never played more than 58 games in a season so far, which makes one wonder how 25ish games of ancient Jonathan Quick is going to go.
The Pens could be the most hyped team that almost everyone realizes is likely to be somewhere in the middle of the division after adding Erik Karlsson and Reilly Smith to an already aging core.
The Islanders will hope a full season of Bo Horvat and a return to health for Mat Barzal will pump some talent into a roster that could use it as they look to find a way to scratch and claw their way back into the playoffs. The Islanders are constantly in the middle, having finished 4th or 5th in the division in five of the last eight seasons (and only once above that level). They’re bound to be the pesky team that isn’t an easy out, but not built to climb very high.
The only number that seems to matter in Washington now is 73; as in the number of goals that Alex Ovechkin needs to surpass Wayne Gretzky. The Caps are limited and aging otherwise, with encouraging signs of life from Nicklas Backstrom looking more like his old self against the league at pre-season speed. Can he keep it up when everyone else ratchets it up a level? Even if not, he and John Carlson can satisfy their side mission of feeding No. 8 in the real quest that matters in DC these days.
Good old Columbus finished with only 59 points last season, and had the Mike Babcock redemption angle blow up in their faces. They’ve added some new players and have some hope on the horizon, but the organization at large is unsteady and unstable as ever. That usually doesn’t portend to success during games.
Then we get to the bottom-dweller Flyers, who bid adieu to four of their top-10 point scorers last season and replaced them with little more than the hopes that Sean Couturier and Cam Atkinson will be healthy this season. It’s designed to be another bleak year in Philly as they get their pieces in place from the last few drafts while looking to bottom out and attempt to build it up right.
Here are the current DraftKings over/under bets for each team’s point totals. Perhaps foolishly, I did not take into account or seek out this information prior to making (from above, in parenthesis)
- Carolina: 109.5 (108)
- New Jersey: 105.5 (110)
- NY Rangers: 103.5 (99)
- Pittsburgh: 97.5 (94)
- NY Islanders: 92.5 (90)
- Washington: 83.5 (82)
- Columbus: 72.5 (79)
- Philadelphia: 75.5 (70)
One main item that stands out is that the bookmakers are placing NJD and NYR very close together. We could see the Devils far out-pacing the Rangers in certain scenarios, but Pensburgh is high on NJ and a bit soft on the Blueshirts by the books.
The Blue Jackets are getting almost no respect with a number even lower than the Flyers to start the season. That could be a result of last season’s total, but a lot of pieces are different in Columbus. Things could go off the rails and another season slip away from them, but clearing an over/under number of 72.5 looks pretty realistic for them, even if they still won’t be a relevant team for the playoff chase by the time the Christmas decorations are taken down.
Pittsburgh’s number of 97.5 should give hope for a bullish year for the Pens. (Then again, last year the line was 101.5 and the Pens ended up with just 91. As always in the gambling space: buyer beware). Still, if the Pens can make a run towards their betting line this year, it will likely mean a playoff run.
Coupled with the Atlantic preview, here’s what we’ve got for the 2024 post-season:
New Jersey vs. Pittsburgh
Carolina vs. NY Rangers
Toronto vs. Buffalo
Boston vs. Tampa
We’re seeing both wild card teams (Pittsburgh and Buffalo) rise up from not making the dance last season and NYI and Florida taking a seat. The real challenge for the Penguins is that the odds say they are almost certain to play one of Carolina/New Jersey/Atlantic champion based on finishing in 3rd-5th place in the division. Making the playoffs is seen only as a starting point, but chances are it will be an extremely difficult matchup based on the playoff format as the reward for even qualifying.
That’s a sobering thought at the beginning of a long season, but NHL campaigns are never easy and rarely ever looking like a path that a team will survive through. Now in the latter days of the Sidney Crosby/Evgeni Malkin era, the Pens will load up and see just what they can do over the many grueling days, weeks and months that lay in front of them.