Last year, the Eastern Conference was looked at as a gauntlet to get, especially following the trade deadline. Is it still? We'll try to answer that and some fantasy questions along the way in our 2023-24 Fantasy Hockey Eastern Conference Preview!
Last season, all of the contending teams seemed to make significant additions to support their roster. It looked like a coin flip as to who would be the East representative in the Stanley Cup Finals. Somehow, the 8-seed Florida Panthers made easy work of the conference on their way to hoisting the Prince of Wales Trophy.
Contained the storm. pic.twitter.com/BytacWX6vq
— Florida Panthers (@FlaPanthers) May 25, 2023
Following last year's chaos, what can we expect from the teams contending for the Prince of Wales Trophy?
Below, you will find all of the teams listed in order of the betting favorite to win the conference down to the team with the lowest chance of winning. As we head into preseason hockey, the Carolina Panthers look to be the favorite to reach the Stanley Cup Finals this season.
Shall we get into it? Let's look ahead in the 2023-24 Fantasy Hockey Eastern Conference Preview!
2023-24 Fantasy Hockey Eastern Conference Preview
The Carolina Hurricanes head into the 2023-24 season as the odds-on favorite to win the Eastern Conference. Is this going to be the year that it all comes together for the Canes from start to finish?
Last season, Carolina looked like they had a clear path to the Stanley Cup Finals following the shocking exit by the Boston Bruins. Unfortunately, they were eliminated in a shocking sweep by the Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference Finals. Following the exit, the Canes bring in two new players, Michael Bunting and Dmitry Orlov. Both players should make an immediate impact and add important depth they lacked last season. They will continue to rely on the play of their stars like Sebastian Aho, Martin Necas, and Andrei Svechnikov.
No matter how they decide to line up their top-six forwards, you should be giving them a look during your fantasy draft. Their offensive strategy for years has been to produce as many shots as possible from anywhere on the ice. These extra numbers put up nightly can be what separates you from your opponent this year!
Rod Brind'Amour and company will look to continue their Metropolitan Division dominance this season with a fourth straight title.
New Jersey Devils
Embed from Getty Images
Coming off of a break-out season last year, the New Jersey Devils are looking to prove that they are here to stay amongst the top teams in the conference.
Last season was a coming-out party for star Jack Hughes, who finished the season with 99 points. He will work to build off that season, along with the likes of Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, and Dawson Mercer. They may have lost out on players like Tomas Tatar and Yegor Sharangovich to free agency but were able to bring in Tyler Toffoli who is capable of putting up 30 goals. If Toffoli finds himself on a line with Hughes and Bratt, expect all three to be extremely valuable when drafting.
The strong goalie duo of Vitek Vanacek and Akira Schmid should be able to relieve some pressure on their young defensive core, as they were a key reason for last year's success. Look for this team to try and knock the Hurricanes off of their Metropolitan Division title streak.
Toronto Maple Leafs
— Leafslatest (@Leafslatest) September 21, 2023
If you are a Toronto Maple Leafs fan, you are thrilled that you have finally won a playoff series and got a taste of the second round. Now that they have gotten past this long-standing roadblock, it's time for this core to prove that they have what it takes.
You can look at the Leafs as the team that won this offseason's free agency. Ultimately, they swapped Justin Holl for John Klingberg, Ryan O'Reilly for Max Domi, and Michael Bunting for Tyler Bertuzzi. If you can get a healthy split between Ilya Samsonov, Martin Jones, and Joseph Woll between the pipes, this team can be primed for postseason play.
Expect Auston Matthews to return to his superstar form coming off of a down season based on his standards. The duo of Matthews and Marner should comfortably reach the 100-point plateau this upcoming season, and they will be able to carry the offense to a successful season. Oh, and Bertuzzi might be rounding out the line making it look like one of the best lines for fantasy hockey.
Ah, the Boston Bruins. Last year's record-setting team exited the playoffs in the first round at the hands of the 8-seed Florida Panthers. What can you expect from this team following the massive failure?
The Boston Bruins will have a new look this season as they say goodbye to Patrice Bergeron and David Krejci who have been with the franchise since 2003 and 2004. They will also be without players like Taylor Hall, Nick Foligno, Dmitry Orlov, and Tyler Bertuzzi who helped them get to last season's historic record. As far as additions go, they went free-agent shopping in the 'Veterans' aisle adding James van Riemsdyk, Kevin Shattenkirk, and welcoming back Milan Lucic.
It'd be hard to replicate anything that this team did last year, but can a roster with this much turnover even make the playoffs? It'll depend heavily on last year's Jennings Trophy winners Linus Ullmark and Jeremy Swayman. Following last year's playoff exit, it became evident that these two work best when in a rotation. If you plan on drafting one in fantasy, just know that they may not see as many games as other top goalies in the league due to the split in games played!
New York Rangers
Embed from Getty Images
Some can see last year's season for the New York Rangers as a failure. Heading into the season, they were a popular choice to hoist the Stanley Cup. Ultimately, they became a first-round playoff exit to the rival New Jersey Devils.
The Rangers head into the new season with a new coach Peter Laviolette. Patrick Kane and Vladimir Tarasenko, acquired at last year's deadline, won't be returning but they did work to bring in some other veteran help. Blake Wheeler and Nick Bonino were added via free agency, along with a new backup goalie in Jonathan Quick. It'll be interesting to see if this team has enough firepower to compete with the likes of Carolina and New Jersey for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division.
This deep roster will certainly be tested but could feel less pressure if Igor Shesterkin can get back to what he is capable of doing. If he can, you can likely expect him to be a top-five fantasy option in goal.
Last year's playoff Cinderella story came to a devastating end for Panthers fans when Florida was defeated by the Vegas Golden Knights in the Stanley Cup Finals. Are they built to prove that last year's run wasn't a fluke?
Looking back, you can attribute the playoff run to Sergei Bobrovsky's re-emergence. You could also point to Matthew Tkachuk's Conn Smythe-worthy run. Fortunately, both of these players will be back and looking to continue what they did in the playoffs. Unfortunately, the Panthers will be doing this without players like Anthony Duclair, Radko Gudas, and Marc Staal who played valuable minutes throughout the entire playoff run.
Free agency was kind to Florida, as they were able to bring in some depth to the offense with Evan Rodriguez and Steven Lorentz. Their defense will also have more support with the likes of Mike Reilly, Dmitry Kulikov, and Oliver Ekman-Larsson.
If they roll into this season with a similar game plan to last, their offense can be one of the best in the league. 2022-23 saw the Cats have the third-highest shot total in the league and fifth-highest goal total. All of their top-six forwards will be great fantasy options with their "shoot first" mentality.
The competition in the Atlantic Division will remain close throughout the season, but Florida should have the tools to compete once again. Can they have a repeat of last year's miracle run? We will have to wait and see.
Tampa Bay Lightning
I'm sure many of you are like me and are ready for the Tampa Bay Lightning's reign of dominance to come to an end. Is this the year when Tampa's long playoff run will be halted?
The Lightning core will remain intact with the exception of long-time forward Alex Killorn who has a new home in Anaheim. Brayden Point, Nikita Kucherov, and Steven Stamkos are still fully capable of carrying this team to success offensively. All three should remain valuable fantasy plays this season as they haven't shown any signs of slowing down.
Defensively, we are going to see a different type of Tampa Bay team. Victor Hedman and Mikhail Segachev are two very capable defenders in today's NHL, but there is a steep drop-off after these two when looking at the defensive core. Nick Perbix and Erik Cernak will have to make a massive jump for the team.
If they do not, Andrei Vasileskiy will have to be the team's best defenseman. You can expect him to see more shots this season increasing his save numbers. As a result, you may also see a few less wins from him.
Hello Pittsburgh Penguins Erik Karlsson pic.twitter.com/d67sSuhu0L
— Sidney Crosby Enthusiast (?) (@CrosbyForMVP) September 12, 2023
Father Time may finally be catching up to the core of the Pittsburgh Penguins. But will adding the reigning Norris Trophy winner shows that this team still has more to give?
Last season, we saw the Penguins miss the playoffs for the first time in 17 seasons. Their core of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang will still be relied on heavily next season, but there are plenty of question marks surrounding these guys. Offensively, they were able to bring in some depth forwards like Noel Acciari, Lars Eller, and Reilly Smith.
Defensively, they made a statement by bringing in Erik Karlsson who is coming off of his third Norris Trophy season. Ryan Graves was also signed to a long-term deal as the Pens hope to have their defenseman of the future. Both love to jump into the play offensively so they will continue to be important when putting together your fantasy hockey defensive core.
The Penguins may benefit from the lack of high-end teams in the Metro Division and their veteran group can likely give them enough to make a return to the playoffs this season.
Fans quickly fell in love with last year's Buffalo Sabres team due to their young core and high-flying offense. Is this the year they can put it all together and end their league-longest playoff drought?
Buffalo will be returning many of their key players like Tage Thompson and Rasmus Dahlin who will continue to grow into stars in the league. They have also made additions to help their defense, which struggled last season allowing the fifth most goals in the league. Free agency saw the team bring in Erik Johnson from Colorado and Connor Clifton from Boston, who can support the team on the defensive front.
The team will also rely heavily on rookie Devon Levi between the pipes, the two-time winner of the Mike Richter Award given to the most outstanding goaltender in college hockey. There are high expectations for the 21-year-old, and many believe that he has the potential to be one of the top goalies in the league. Last year's seven-game sample certainly backed that up, so make sure you are giving the kid a look when drafting this season.
We will see if the Sabres can finally put it all together and make their long-awaited return to the playoffs.
Embed from Getty Images
Many have the Ottawa Senators as one of the teams that are sitting on the bubble of a possible Wild Card berth this upcoming season. Will they have enough to beat out those other teams on the edge?
The Sens made a big move this offseason, dealing Alex DeBrincat to the Detroit Red Wings and receiving Dominik Kubalik and a future first-round pick. They were able to bring in a free agent who could replicate DeBrincat's production in veteran Vladimir Tarasenko. The team was also able to find a stable option in the net when they went out and signed free agent Joonas Korpisalo to a five-year contract.
Fantasy-wise, the Senators were very middle of the pack in terms of most offensive categories. This may hurt when trying to draft these players for fantasy, but the hope for this season is that they will take the next step in their offensive production.
If Ottawa can get healthy seasons out of players like Thomas Chabot, Jakob Chychrun, and Josh Norris, this team should have more than enough to get them into postseason play. You can also expect another jump in production from their two young stars Brady Tkachuk and Tim Stutzle.
New York Islanders
The New York Islanders were not very active when it came to roster changes this offseason. What can you expect from this team, who seem to be running it back with a new, first-time head coach?
The Islanders will have a similar gameplan to last season, and ride goaltender Ilya Sorokin as far as they can. The 28-year-old has cemented himself as one of the league's top goalies and potentially the most valuable fantasy goalie. They will continue to rely heavily on their strong defensive core which has remained intact over the past few seasons.
In an offseason that saw many of the Eastern Conference teams grow stronger, it was odd to see the Islanders only make two small offseason signings (Julian Gauthier and Karson Kuhlman). They could remain one of those teams that sits on the Wild Card bubble, but only if the goaltending can get them there.
Detroit Red Wings
Alex DeBrincat looks natural in that Red Wings sweater ?
— Woodward Sports Network (@woodwardsports) July 10, 2023
The "Yzerplan" is fully underway, as the Detroit Red Wings made a number of offseason changes. Their biggest addition is bringing in former 40-goal scorer Alex DeBrincat, but will this be enough to get the Wings back to the playoffs?
The Atlantic Division remains the most competitive division in the league, and the Red Wings knew how important this offseason was. Along with Alex DeBrincat, the team bolstered their offseason with players like J.T. Compher, Daniel Sprong, and Christian Fischer. Shayne Gostisbehere and Jeff Petry were also signed to help add support to a team that has struggled defensively for years.
With outside teams like Buffalo and Ottawa improving, we aren't sure that these signings are going to be enough to push them into the playoffs this season. But what if the combination of DeBrincat and Dylan Larkin click? They could make for one of the best fantasy duos in the Atlantic, and anything is possible in this division.
The championship window may have come to a close for a team like the Washington Capitals, but anything is possible when they have potentially the greatest goalscorer of all time!
The Caps' offseason consisted of adding veteran support with the likes of Joel Edmundson via trade and Max Pacioretty who likely won't play until midway through the year. They will continue to run the same core group as they have over the past few seasons, and they will expect production to come from players like Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, and Ovi. You can also expect bounce-back seasons from guys like T.J. Oshie and Tom Wilson, who spent most of last season on injured reserve.
It sure feels like the Caps are in cruise control for the foreseeable future while allowing Ovechkin to burn through ice time catching Wayne Gretzky's goal record. Given his pursuit and expected shots on goal numbers, Ovi remains one of the best fantasy hockey options.
Anything can happen, but this season doesn't feel like one to remember for Capitals fans.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Adam Fantilli had a 5-point game and a hat trick, including this beauty ?
— B/R Open Ice (@BR_OpenIce) September 16, 2023
One of the more fascinating teams heading into the 2023-24 season could be the Columbus Blue Jackets. With a reinforced defense and a young offensive core, can we expect much of this team this season?
The Blue Jackets will see an immediate improvement to their defense when they welcome back Zach Werenski who was injured 13 games into last season. Their Top 4 will also feature their latest signings, Damon Severson and Ivan Provorov.
Offensively, you can expect an increase in production from the team's top line. Johnny Gaudreau, Boone Jenner, and Patrick Laine will likely be at it for a second year with hopes they can build chemistry to put up numbers. These three may be overlooked when it comes to drafting fantasy, so be sure you keep them in mind! They'll be thrown on the ice for many offensive faceoffs and will be producing many shots across the board.
Columbus will likely be outside of the playoff picture but many eyes will be on the team's third overall draft pick, Adam Fantilli. He will get a lot of playing time this year as the team hopes he is a key piece to the future of the franchise. You can likely find him on a line with his former college linemate, Kent Johnson.
The Philadelphia Flyers are well into their rebuild, and they hope that this upcoming season is a step in the right direction when building the future foundation of the organization.
Philly parted ways with long-time forward James van Riemsdyk but was able to add a couple of other veteran pieces to the lineup like Garnet Hathaway and Marc Staal. Production will continue to rely heavily on the shoulders of players like Travis Konecny and Scott Laughton, but they do have a few young names worth keeping an eye on. Joel Farabee, Noah Cates, Morgan Frost, and Owen Tippett look like they could be the future of the organization, and the hope is that all make a significant jump this season.
Embed from Getty Images
The Montreal Canadiens will be looking to expand on their few bright spots from last season. The playoffs may not be in their sights for the upcoming season, but there is still plenty to keep an eye on with the Habs.
The Canadiens' season may not be as competitive as their fellow Atlantic Division rivals, but it will still be just as important. The team will continue to rely on the play of Nick Suzuki and Cole Caufield, who are both hoping to progress and develop into stars. Expect both of these players to have a high minutes total on even strength along with powerplay, so fantasy totals should see a rise.
Juraj Slafkovsky will be back for his second NHL season. His rookie campaign was cut short due to injury, so many eyes will be on the Slovakian to see how he develops. They were also able to bring in Alex Newhook via trade, and he is working to build off back-to-back 30-point seasons in Colorado.
The goal for the Montreal Canadiens this season may not be to win, but it surely will be to create a winning culture for the future. This young group will have the tools to create a future that Montreal fans can be excited about.
Disagree with anything in the 2023-24 Fantasy Hockey Eastern Conference Preview? Be sure to let me know in the comments!
Be sure to get all of your Fantasy Hockey advice from the F6P team.