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Usual Suspects Atop Preseason Metropolitan Division Futures

Dominated by the Washington Capitals the past two seasons, the Metropolitan Division has a new favorite for the start of the 2017-18 campaign and you won’t be surprised to hear that it’s the two-time defending Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins who occupy the top spot on the board.

Preseason betting odds at online shop BetOnline opened the Pens as +225 faves with the Capitals (+300), Blue Jackets (+450), Rangers (+450), Islanders (+1200), Hurricanes (+2000) and Devils (+2500) filling out the next six spots.

Also atop the Stanley Cup futures board, the Penguins have heavy expectations this season in their search for a third straight championship. That said, Sidney Crosby’s shoulders are more than capable of carrying that burden and the defending Conn Smythe winner is still hungry for more.

Crosby finds himself once again surrounded by some of the most talented forwards the NHL has to offer and he’s found himself a potential superstar linemate in Jake Guentzel.

Combine Pittsburgh’s lethal attack with a potential Vezina-winning goalie in Matt Murray and you’ve got the necessary ingredients for a division title.

Washington is the only team with the talent to keep up with the Pens in the Metro but the Caps didn’t really improve in the offseason. If Pittsburgh is able to find some continuity on the blue line and Kris Letang stays on the ice for the majority of the season, Pens head coach Mike Sullivan will see his first Metropolitan banner raised to the roof of the PPG Paints Arena.

Looking down the list, there’s not much else to like and +225 on Pittsburgh actually feels like good value. I think the Hurricanes offer the most upside at +2000 but they’ve got a long way to go before they usurp the likes of the Caps and Pens.

Metropolitan Division Futures

Odds as of September 20 at BetOnline

  • Pittsburgh Penguins +225
  • Washington Capitals +300
  • Columbus Blue Jackets +450
  • New York Rangers +450
  • New York Islanders +1200
  • Philadelphia Flyers +1400
  • Carolina Hurricanes +2000
  • New Jersey Devils +2500

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Washington continues to impress in the nation’s capital and with the addition of Kevin Shattenkirk, the Caps are in even better shape than they were a week ago as they now hold a seven-point lead in the otherwise crowded Metropolitan Division.

Their odds over at Bovada to win the division have moved to -500 after their deadline dealings and with just 20 games remaining, it’s unlikely Barry Trotz allows his NHL-leading team to relinquish its hefty lead.

Another division title for the Alexander Ovechkin-led Capitals would be their seventh in the last 10 seasons and at this point, it’s all over but the crying. Pittsburgh (+600) is too banged up to regain the ground it has lost, Columbus (+650) is fading down the stretch and New York (+2500) is simply not good enough to make a run.

Although the Rangers are one of the highest-scoring teams in the league (3.24 goals per game), their goal differential for the year is just .60 per game and .23 since the all-star break. With 12 of their remaining 19 games coming on the road, the Blueshirts will be lucky to qualify for the playoffs in one of the three division spots.

I don’t see a wager here that I love but if anyone has a chance, it’s the Penguins. They’ve struggled with Kris Letang out of the lineup this season so when the 30-minutes-a-game blue-liner gets healthy, he’ll provide a much needed two-way presence and give the defending Stanley Cup champs a chance in a practically unwinnable race.

Metropolitan Division Futures

Odds as of March 2 at Bovada

  • Washington Capitals -500
  • Pittsburgh Penguins +600
  • Columbus Blue Jackets +650
  • New York Rangers +2500

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Not in a million years would I, or anyone else, have guessed that through 40 or so games played this year, the Columbus Blue Jackets would be leading the best division in hockey. That, however, is our current reality and, if you ask me, it's the strongest evidence that we are in fact living in a computer simulation.

Online shop Bet365 has set odds for the Metropolitan Division and has pegged the Jackets as their favorite at +210. Let me get this started by saying I still have some serious reservations about this hockey team and the man who’s bossing their bench. With 10 back-to-backs remaining, the Blue Jackets have one of the most difficult second-half schedules and as teams like Pittsburgh and Washington start to lock down into playoff mode, they should easily surpass Columbus as the Jackets fade down the stretch.

The Capitals and Penguins, for me, are the two best teams in hockey right now. When you compare their rosters to those of the Jackets and Rangers, it’s not close. Both teams are heating up right now and should duke it out the rest of the season for Metro supremacy. Pittsburgh is offering you a little more value right now at +250 and for what I think is pretty much a coin flip between the two sides – that’s not a bad bet at all.

Of course, there is always the possibility that I’m flat wrong and that Columbus could contend for the Stanley Cup as one of the elite teams in the NHL. The more likely answer, however, is that they rode a hot goaltender and a historically good power play to an incredibly lucky 16-game winning streak.

At their best, the Jackets are a much worse interpretation of the 2015-16 Penguins and the probability they are swiftly eliminated from the playoffs – given they make it that far – is high.

Metropolitan Division Futures

Odds as of January 13 at Bet365

  • Columbus Blue Jackets +210
  • Washington Capitals +220
  • Pittsburgh Penguins +250
  • New York Rangers +400
  • Philadelphia Flyers +5000
  • Carolina Hurricanes +17500
  • New York Islanders +60000
  • New Jersey Devils +60000

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The race for the Metropolitan division is once again expected to be one that involves just two horses. One of those horses is returning as the defending Stanley Cup champion and the other will try to rebound from choking in the playoffs after recording one of the best regular seasons in the history of the league.

Pittsburgh has been bumped by the Blackhawks as Stanley Cup favorites but I think that’s more than a little unfair. The Penguins are basically the exact team that won the cup last year, excluding some minor moves, and have possibly the best goaltending tandem in the NHL. They aren’t getting phenomenal value to win the Metropolitan, though, as it’s basically a coin flip who will win between themselves and the Capitals. A little public service announcement – Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and Kris Letang are all under 30 and are all signed until at least 2022.

The Capitals are a great regular season team that has a hard time getting it done in the postseason. They kept their turnover to a minimum in the offseason but should expect to face some more stiff competition from the defending NHL champs in the Metropolitan division. Since it was formed in 2013-14, no team has repeated as Metropolitan champion but the last time the Caps won a division consecutive times, they did it four years in a row (2007-2010).

The boys from the Big Apple are expected to drop off significantly this year as they have an aging roster that could struggle at the back end. They did manage to land highly touted free-agent winger Jimmy Vesey but he’s unlikely to help keep pucks out of the Ranger net. At +600, that’s an inflated price for this big-market team. Steer clear.

Philly at +1200 is probably your best bet if you’re looking for a long shot. Claude Giroux is still a world-class centerman and I expect Jakub Voracek to have a comeback season. They will be a little exposed behind their own blue-line with the tandem of Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth not inspiring barrels of confidence, but expect this team to overtake the Rangers this year and possibly make a late push for the division.

The Devils, Hurricanes and Blue Jackets still have a lot of work to do but of the three, New Jersey has the best core and by far the best goalie in Cory Schneider. They will climb out of the basement this year and should even be able to sneak into the playoffs.

Metropolitan Division Futures

Odds as of September 26 at Bovada

  • Pittsburgh Penguins +180
  • Washington Capitals +195
  • New York Rangers +600
  • New York Islanders +700
  • Philadelphia Flyers +1200
  • Carolina Hurricanes +1600
  • New Jersey Devils +1600
  • Columbus Blue Jackets +2000