The 2023/24 NHL season gets underway Tuesday with a triple header that includes Connor Bedard's first game, where he will face off against Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Now is the time to start making some predictions for the season. Today we will be looking at potential division winners in the Metropolitan, Atlantic, Central and Pacific.
The metro is looking like it's going to once again be a two-team race to win the division between the New Jersey Devils and Carolina Hurricanes. Carolina and New Jersey finished in the top two spots in the metro division last season with Carolina narrowly winning by a one-point margin with 113 points to New Jersey's 112. It's a bit of a coin flip between these two teams, but the Devils have the advantage heading into the regular season.
New Jersey's lineup is stacked on paper. They have an excellent forward group that finished 4th in the NHL in goals scored last season, led by Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, and Jesper Bratt. Now add a full season of Timo Meier and former Flame sniper, Tyler Toffoli. This Devils team is going to be electric in the offensive zone.
On the back end they are adding two of the best defensive prospects in hockey to their lineup in 2021 4th overall pick, Luke Hughes, and 2022 2nd overall pick, Simon Nemec. That group already features high end defensemen like Dougie Hamilton, Jonas Siegenthaler, and John Marino.
The only cause for concern might come in the goaltending department. New Jersey will need one of Vitek Vanecek or Akira Schmid to step up and play high quality minutes.
Despite the goaltending, this is a Devils team that is poised to dominate the regular season. The question will become can they translate their high-flying offence into playoff success? Only time will tell.
The Atlantic division is the Toronto Maple Leafs to lose. Boston legends, Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci, both retired in the offseason. Tampa Bay is going to be without Andrei Vasilevskiy for at least the first two months of the season. Florida will be without their top two defensemen Arron Ekblad and Brandon Montour to start the season. That puts the Toronto Maple Leafs in the driver’s seat.
The Leafs are bringing back a very similar team to last season that finished 4th in the NHL and 2nd in the Atlantic. And that was with an Auston Matthews who had a "down year" statistically scoring 40 goals and 85 points in 74 games. Imagine what this Leafs team can accomplish in the regular season with a healthy Matthews? Now add Tyler Bertuzzi and Max Domi to that forward group. The sky is the limit for this Leafs team in the regular season.
Building a contending team in the NHL is an extremely difficult task. A winning lineup requires a lot of different factors like elite talent, a number one defenseman, a legitimate starting goalie, veteran leadership, young skilled players, and depth.
The Dallas Stars have all those components and more. That starts with elite forward talents like Jason Robertson, Roope Hintz, and Joe Pavelski. They have a minute munching, stud, number one defenseman in Miro Heiskanen. And they have one of the better goalies in the NHL in Jake Ottinger.
Jamie Benn, Tyler Seguin, Matt Duchene and Ryan Suter will provide strong play on the ice and veteran leadership off it. Wyatt Johnston, Logan Stankoven, and Mavrik Bourque will provide youthful energy and skill to the Dallas forward group.
There are no weaknesses on this roster. It's a better team on paper than last season when they finished one point behind Colorado in the standings. That's why I'm picking them to win the Central.
The LA Kings are poised to take the next step in their evolution as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender this season.
General Manager, Rob Blake, has done a great job rebuilding the Kings since the 2018-19 season. This team is deep, especially down the middle of the ice with Anze Kopitar, Pierre-Luc Dubois, and Philip Danault. They have a Norris calibre defenseman in Drew Doughty. And they have some underrated, high-end players like Adrian Kempe, Kevin Fiala and Mikey Anderson who don't get talked about enough around the NHL.
This season is a good time for the Kings to send a message to the rest of the league that they've arrived. Vegas might have a bit of a Stanley Cup hangover. Edmonton doesn't care about dominating the regular season, they have their minds set on the Stanley Cup. Those factors could play a role in in LA announcing themselves as a powerhouse in the Pacific Division.
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