After a successful 2022-23 season, the New Jersey Devils should be hungry for further success in 2023-24. As the Devils have arguably improved their forward group during the summer (the jury is still somewhat out on the defense and goaltending), the hope is they continue to make progress to get closer to the team’s fourth Stanley Cup. To do this, they will need to conquer the other 31 NHL teams, starting with their own Eastern Conference Division, the Metropolitan. Today, we take a glance at which teams may pose more of a threat than last season, as much of one, or less of one due to regressions or loss of personnel.
If we want to talk about teams that got better, one could make the argument for Carolina, although some may say they’re about the same. They did add one of the better free agents in Dmitry Orlov, making what was already a formidable defense even better. One could detract from them, however, as they brought back the same goaltending tandem, albeit a year older. The Columbus Blue Jackets also look like an improved squad after their moves during the draft and free agency. They added a great prospect in Adam Fantilli and brought in Ivan Provorov and old friend Damon Severson to bolster their defense. While I don’t think they will be as bad as last season, I also don’t think they’ve improved enough yet to challenge for a playoff spot in a tough division.
Now for the middling tier, I think we can pop Our Hated Rivals in here. While I know everyone would like to think/hope/see that they got worse, the pieces that they lost over the summer weren’t really important to them. I also don’t think the additions of Blake Wheeler, Nick Bonino, and Jonathan Quick make them any better either. They’ll be carried by the same group for last year and barring any improvements from their youngsters, they probably sneak into the playoffs and flame out in the first round again.
I think two other teams fall in the stayed the same grouping with them being the New York Islanders and the Pittsburgh Penguins, though they’re both here for different reasons. The Penguins core is aging, and while Erik Karlsson is a big name addition, I’m not sure how much impact he has in Pittsburgh. Plus the aging Penguins core has to start faltering soon, and I think with the lack of depth they have, it could be as soon as 2023-24. The Islanders, meanwhile, did pretty much nothing this offseason, so they come into this season with roughly the same roster. A full season of Bo Horvat isn’t enough in my mind to get the Isles back in the contender conversation. The Isles staying the same (or even dropping off a bit) just puts them even further away from the playoff picture.
Last, we have the teams that got worse. I think the Capitals fall into this category, as they also didn’t make any large additions (I don’t consider Max Pacioretty one anymore) and they’re an even older core than the Isles. If any of their big names miss time or regress, they could be battling for the bottom of the division. The Flyers (who at this point in time I feel don’t even deserve the label of “Second Rate Rivals”) appear to be going into a full rebuild, and are kind of a general mess right now. They’ve sold off some players, will probably look to sell more at the deadline, and should be out of the contention picture for at least a few seasons barring some sort of miracle.
So the Devils, barring a catastrophe (knock on wood) this season, should need to take roughly he same path as last to get back to the postseason. I don’t think the Metro as a whole has really gotten easier or more difficult this season, as it seems like some teams are rising while others are fading, but no one really made any moves that would equate to a big jump in the standings. Maybe the Jackets surprise or the Penguins exceed expectations and one of them looks to push for a wild card spot, but I honestly think we might see the same crop from the Metro in the playoffs again.
What are your thoughts on the difficulty of the Metropolitan Division in 2023-24; do you think it’s about the same difficulty? Do you thin the group as a whole got easier or tougher? Is there one or more teams that you think differently than I do about their chances or how good they’ll be this season? Leave any and all comments below and thanks as always for reading!