As the calendar turns to April, division races in the NHL are heating up. Within three of the four divisions in the NHL, the top three seeds are very much up for grabs as teams jockey for postseason positioning.
In the NHL, where a second or third-place finish in your division gets you a strong divisional rival, these races are huge down the stretch. The NHL only takes two wild card teams from each conference in their postseason, with the top three teams in each division being guaranteed a spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
This season especially, it seems as though there is a bit of a drop-off between the top three teams in the respective divisions and the teams chasing for the final wild card spots. This puts that much more emphasis on winning the division, with a chance to play one of the weaker Wild Card teams as opposed to a grueling seven-game series against a division rival that knows you well.
With that, below are how I would rank the remaining division races as we head into the last month of the regular season, as well as which team I see finishing with the top spot.
2023 NHL Division Races, Ranked
1. Metropolitan Division
In terms of Stanley Cup contenders, the Eastern Conference has become the haves and the have-nots. The Metropolitan Division has the biggest concentration of contenders in the east. This is of course assuming anyone can beat the Boston Bruins, who have already locked up the Presidents’ Trophy in the Atlantic Division.
The Carolina Hurricanes and New Jersey Devils have been two of the best teams in the NHL all season long. Not far behind now are the New York Rangers, who were one of the most aggressive teams at the trade deadline.
Down the stretch, the Rangers have become one of the hottest teams in the division as those pieces acquired at the trade deadline begin to gel. However, it might still be too little too late to impact postseason seeding as they currently sit three points out of the second-place New Jersey Devils.
Seeding in a two versus three match-up in this division could still be huge though, as home ice between two long-time rivals, the Rangers and Devils, could be the difference in a seven-game series.
Predicted Winner: Carolina Hurricanes
Going with the more experienced team in this division. The Devils might be a year away from truly contending still as their young core develops. The Rangers will be a tough out in the playoffs, but I don’t think they can make up the points needed to win the division.
2. Pacific Division
The NHL’s Pacific Division might be the deepest in the league as the Seattle Kraken are the strongest of teams currently at fourth in their respective division. While they are probably too far behind to make much noise in the division standings, they will be a team that no one in the division wants to face down the stretch, putting them in a prime spoiler role.
ARE YOU READY, EDMONTON?! 🟠🔵
— NHL (@NHL) April 2, 2023
The Vegas Golden Knights, Edmonton Oilers, and Los Angeles Kings are playing good hockey down the stretch and are only separated by three total points. Off all the teams the Oilers appear to be the hottest ones, currently on a four-game win streak but remaining two points back of the Vegas Golden Knights.
Predicted Winner: Edmonton Oilers
With three of their final five games against either the San Jose Sharks or Anaheim Ducks, I like the Edmonton Oilers to get the points needed to overtake the Golden Knights, who have some tough games against the Kraken and Kings.
3. Central Division
This race is intriguing because it involves last year’s Stanley Cup Champion, the Colorado Avalanche. When healthy, they are still one of the most talented teams in the NHL, but if they were to play their first two rounds without home ice it could be difficult for them to have a deep playoff run.
The Dallas Stars have seemed to be the class of the division for most of the year, holding onto the top spot until recently. The Minnesota Wild have been the hottest team in the league in March and as a result, currently hold the top spot in the division by a point.
Predicted Winner: Colorado Avalanche
The defending champs seem to be getting hot at the right time. I think the Wild will come back to earth a bit, especially as they wait for Kirill Kaprizov to come back from injury.
READ MORE: Who has the best new jerseys in the NHL?
4. Atlantic Division
As mentioned earlier, the Boston Bruins have not only wrapped up this division but the Presidents’ Trophy as well for the best record in the league. The only thing worth paying attention to in this division now is the battle for the second spot, between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Tampa Bay Lightning.
Main Image: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports