With this preview, besides looking at the teams, we will also cover each clubs Over/Under wager for season points in the standings and their odds to win their division and conference. The latter two odds are present by Intertops.
Pittsburgh did not win a third straight Stanley Cup, but that does not mean they will not be vying for one again. While the analytics crowd wants to throw 30-year old forwards out with the garbage, 31-year old Sidney Crosby and ancient 32-year old Evgeni Malkin are doing well as elder statesmen. GM Jim Rutherford made moves for more offensive balance, which he hopes spreads the scoring around. The defense was leaky, especially the first half the season when played Penguins played like a tired club that had won a pair of Lord Stanley trophies. Expect the defense to improve, goalie Matt Murray to be more consistent and the Pens in the hunt for more hardware.
Finally, Washington went from a great regular season team that petered out in the playoffs to Stanley Cup champions. The Capitals will return 11 of their top 12 forwards, their best four defensemen and Braden Holtby, who started their postseason run with the Caps down 0-2 to Columbus in the first round. But not everything is the same, as Barry Trotz walked and his top assistant and first-year head coach Todd Reirden takes over. Now that Washington knows how to win in the postseason, will their focus change in the regular season after winning three straight division crowns? And what will motivate the Capitals after ending years of frustration?
Philadelphia made a nice 10-point improvement last season, as Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and Jakub Voracek had career seasons and the Flyers finished at 3.04 goals a game (12th). Bringing back James van Riemsdyk should only make the Philly offense that much more potent. The defense has speed and a great of youth, thus, the potential for getting better is real. Philadelphia has vets in the net with Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth, but all Flyers fans want to see is top prospect Carter Hart in the goal crease. Goaltending will decide this team's fate either way.
After going from 76 to 108 points, it stood to reason Columbus would retreat some last year. But that was not the worst thing because they went back to the playoffs in consecutive years for the first and were knocked out by the eventual Cup champion both times. This is arguably the biggest year in franchise history with goalie Sergei Bobrovsky and LW Artemi Panarin both free agents after this season. The players behind them are solid, but these are the Blue Jackets stars. Adding Riley Nash adds center depth. If C Brandon Dubinsky has a comeback season, Columbus can surpass points total and be a true contender for a division crown.
No team saw more change at the top than Carolina. A new owner, general manager and head coach. Owner Tom Dundon has no interest in seeing the Hurricanes non-postseason streak extend to 10 seasons and wants to win now. Carolina was one the top puck position teams in the NHL last season, but that did not translate into goals, listed 23rd overall. If the Hurricanes are to make the playoffs and surpass points projection, the players on board have to be more snipers and fewer puck handlers. Adding Dougie Hamilton and Calvin de Haan shores up the defense, but goalie Scott Darling handled the No.1 netminder poorly last year. Improvement is possible and the players need to respond.
New Jersey Devils | +1200 to win Metropolitan and +2800 to win the Eastern Conference
After being the worst club in the East in 2016-17, expectations were meager for New Jersey. Instead of floundering, the Devils generated a 27 point improvement and reached the playoffs for the first time in six seasons. Nearly every rookie and young player played a part in the remarkable campaign. Left winger Taylor Hall was sensational and won the Hart Trophy. Hall had 93 points and if New Jersey is going to improve or even stay at the same level, their second-best point producer cannot have 52 points (Nico Hischier). The Devils did let some veteran role players depart via free agency and are counting on all their youngsters take the next step in the progression. Take a wait and see attitude with New Jersey.
N.Y. Rangers | +1600 to win Metropolitan and +3300 to win the Eastern Conference
The New York Rangers pulled the plug last season and decided the future was not now, but in the distance. GM Jeff Gorton dismantled the roster starting in late February and moved on. The one bit of good news is top scorers Mika Zibanejad and Mats Zuccarello returned, but not many other playmakers. The blue-line situation was a mess after finishing 28th in GAA and there are no immediate signs of improvement. What a 36-year old Henrik Lundqvist is expected to do with this defense is anyone's guess. Bad news in the Big Apple.
N.Y. Islanders | +1800 to win Metropolitan and +4000 to win the Eastern Conference
The Islanders could not stop anything, literally. First, the Isles were dead last in stopping the puck in giving up 3.57 goals a game and later they lost their franchise player in John Tavares to Toronto. New York moved forward signing several roster-ed players with their cash freed up. Overall, the Islanders are trending downward. To help slow the sinking, Barry Trotz, who left Washington after winning the coveted Stanley Cup, will look to implement his system and shore up the defense. Returning between the pipes is Thomas Greiss and he will be joined by Robin Lehner, to see who will be the No.1 goaltender. A long season ahead for Islanders fans.