The NHL Playoff race will be stacked this season, and the Florida Panthers may need some late-season heroics again to make it to the 2024 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
NHL Vegas odds from a Canadian bookie show as many as 26 teams with a legitimate shot of making the NHL playoffs, leaving the San Jose Sharks, Montreal Canadiens, Anaheim Ducks, Philadelphia Flyers, Arizona Coyotes, and Columbus Blue Jackets on the outside looking in.
But what’s even more interesting has to be the conference breakdowns and how the competition will vary in the East and West this season.
Let’s take a look at what’s sure to be a dogfight in the Eastern Conference:
The Carolina Hurricanes, Toronto Maples Leafs, and New Jersey Devils are projected to reign over the Eastern Conference next season.
All three teams either maintained their cores or improved upon them with some wheeling and dealing.
The Devils are perhaps the more intriguing of the trio, having burst onto the scene last year as a potential perennial powerhouse. They’re expected to take an even more significant step this season as their top youngsters improve.
They’re followed by the Florida Panthers, New York Rangers, Boston Bruins, Buffalo Sabres, New York Islanders, Ottawa Senators, Washington Capitals, and the Pittsburgh Penguins. This is where things will get incredibly interesting.
There would only be five spots available for the nine teams listed above, and it’s expected to hit another level from last season.
The Florida Panthers squeaked into the NHL Playoffs last season with a meager 92 points, and looking at the way the Eastern Conference has improved in general, you can expect teams to need close to 96 points to make the spring dance this year.
So, where does that leave teams like the Florida Panthers this season?
Well, the Panthers should still be in the mix. Still, they lost some heart and soul players in defenseman Radko Gudas (free agency), forward Patric Hornqvist (retirement), and a sniper in Anthony Duclair (trade).
The younger players must step into those leadership roles and help form a new identity if the Panthers hope to defend their Eastern Conference crown and take another shot at hoisting Lord Stanley.
It is always possible to beat the odds, as we saw last season, with the Devils, Kraken, and Wild jumping up well beyond where they were expected to land.
It will be an absolute fight from Game 1, but the Panthers can still finish in those 6-8 slots and even better if they can withstand not having defensemen Brandon Montour and Aaron Ekblad for at least the first month of the season.