The 2023-24 NHL season nears closer, with training camps and preseason games starting in the coming weeks.
So, here are my projections for the Metropolitan Division final standings for the upcoming season.
1) Carolina Hurricanes
After winning the division last season by only one point, I believe the Hurricanes will win again for the fourth time in a row. This team reminds me of what the Washington Capitals were like before they won the cup. It’s a team stuck in purgatory, always having a good regular season but would choke in the playoffs.
This is a make-or-break season for the Canes, as several big names are free agents after this upcoming season. Such as Teravainen, Necas, Martinhook, and Skjei. I expect their key players to perform well, including goaltender Fredrick Anderson, who may be a dark horse for Vezina.
Out of all the teams in the division, I believe the Hurricanes are the most well-rounded in all areas of the game.
2) New York Rangers
Following a third-place finish in the division last year, I project the Rangers to finish second. They have arguably the best goalie in the league in Igor Shesterkin, who won the Vezina two years ago, and one of the greatest ever to back him up in Jonathan Quick. The Rangers made big moves at the deadline last year to get Tarasenko (now with the Senators) and Kane (still a free agent) for a playoff run that ended in misery.
The Rangers did add Blake Wheeler from the Jets during free agency to help improve their forward core. With the majority of their big names locked into long-term deals, the Rangers will be one of the best teams in the division for years to come.
3) New Jersey Devils
There is no question that the Hurricanes, Rangers, and Devils are the three best teams in the division by a long shot. I believe the Devils have less star power than the Canes and Rangers, making them third on this list. The addition of Tyler Toffoli will help this issue.
Without any superstars on the team, the Devils still have a solid forward and defensive core, but their biggest problem will be goaltending. I do not believe that Vitek Vanecek or Akira Schmid would be able to backstop this team past the first round. New Jersey will be good enough to make the playoffs, but not much farther.
4) Washington Capitals
After missing the playoffs for the first time since 2014, I project they will miss again for the 2023-24 season. They will be better than last season, where they were sixth in the division with eighty points. But the Atlantic division has more playoff caliper teams who will take both wild card spots in the Eastern Conference.
The old guard is still in Washington, which includes Ovechkin, who could pass Gretzky’s all-time goal record by season’s end. I project the Capitals will have a better season than last year but will miss the playoffs for a second year.
5) New York Islanders
The Islanders are a team that I am not sold on. They can do better than where I am forecasting them, but I do not think they have the talent in place. They have several big-name forwards, but their defense will be the biggest issue. They lack talent on the blue line, which will affect their superstar goalie in Ilya Sorokin. He will not be able to stop everything, and this lackluster defense will draw his game down.
The Islanders could surprise me, go on a run, and easily pass the Capitals if Washington has issues. But no matter how many goals the offense scores, New York’s defensive unit will be their biggest weakness.
6) Pittsburgh Penguins
Every Flyers fan loved to see Ron Hextall destroy the Penguins just like he did to the Orange and Black. But I project that was only the beginning of the end in the steel city. Bringing in a bunch of thirty-plus-year-olds to have potentially one last go-around with the aging core will not work.
They will be the oldest team in the league for a second straight year. They have experience with Crosby, Letang, and Malkin and bringing in veteran blueliner Erik Karlsson. But they have no young talent ready to bust into the NHL. Their only bright spot is goaltending with Tristan Jarry and Alex Nedelijkovic. It may be a long couple of seasons in Pittsburgh, as it looks like the Penguins are on the verge of a rebuild.
7) Columbus Blue Jackets
Going into last season, it looked as if Columbus was going to be a playoff team. They signed a superstar in Johnny Gaudreau and already had one in Patrick Laine. This year does not look much better; their biggest move was to improve the defense by trading for Ivan Provorov. The Blue Jackets do have an all-star caliber goalie in Elvis Merzlikins, whose season was plagued with injuries and substandard performances after signing a long-term deal last offseason.
I project that the Blue Jackets will be better than last season due to the offensive talent they have, a re-energized blue line, and a bounce-back goalie.
8) Philadelphia Flyers
It is not looking good. We are at the start of a long rebuild, where the key will be to add to and develop our prospects. Kevin Hayes and Ivan Provorov were major losses and were replaced with two veterans whose main goal is to be a leader in Garnet Hathaway and Marc Stall. I project/hope Farabee, Sanheim, and Hart have bounce-back seasons. And the breakout stars from last season in Tippett and Frost build on their success.
The main changes from last season would be the hope of having a healthy Couturier and Atkinson. But all we can hope for is the proper development of the Flyers’ recent first-round picks in Matvei Michkov, Oliver Bonk, and Cutter Gauthier and that the Phillies and Eagles do well again.
Photo: Betting News