Last season, despite winning the Eastern Conference and the Presidents’ Trophy for the second year in a row, the Washington Capitals fell apart in the playoffs, leaving their great rivals the Pittsburgh Penguins a path to victory via the Nashville Predators. But with a new season comes new opportunities for all teams, and even though the Penguins won the Stanley Cup for the second year running, they may not win their division this year.

Here we’ll break down the favorites to win each division, why they’re a front-runner, and which teams may sneak into the top spot if the favorites should fall behind.

Eastern Conference

Source: Washington Capitals, via Twitter

Hosting the most hotly contested division in the NHL (Metropolitan Division) the Eastern Conference looks set to give the eventual Stanley Cup champions passage to the playoffs once more this season. Last season, the Washington Capitals topped the conference and the league with 118 points, but second place in the conference won the cup.

In 2017/18, the reigning champions are expected to win the Eastern Conference at +400. Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin will lead the team barring a serious injury, and if Kris Letang can stay fit for a season, the Penguins will also boast one of the premier defensemen in the NHL. The Penguins did, however, lose long-time goalie Marc-Andre Fleury to the Vegas Golden Knights during the offseason, and even though Matt Murray had effectively usurped him, there will be a big, Fleury-shaped hole in the Pittsburgh dressing room – especially when Murray hits a poor spell.

The Washington Capitals come in as second favorites to win the Eastern Conference, still boasting what is very likely the best team in the NHL. With odds of around +500 to win the conference, the Caps make a great use of the best available free bet due to the sheer might of their roster. Goaltending is covered by one of the best in the league, Braden Holtby, the defense hosts great defensive talents who are also handy at the other end of the ice, and their forwards will struggle to not score multiple goals in every game. The added fact that star-scorer Alex Ovechkin has ended his hopes of going to the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang is also a huge boost to the team – albeit upsetting for the Russian sniper – as more of their top players would have likely accompanied him in South Korea.

The dark horse is an Atlantic Division resident and a team that didn’t make it to the playoffs last season. The Tampa Bay Lightning were caught between goaltenders and were, once again, without their superstar captain Steven Stamkos. But this season, the goalie situation has been cemented, and Stamkos has looked very strong in the preseason, so they come in at +750 to claim the conference crown.

Western Conference

Source: Edmonton Oilers, via Twitter

Last season, the Edmonton Oilers finally made the big leap forward that ice hockey fans had been waiting for for years; convincingly making it to the playoffs. Behind Connor McDavid’s 100-point season, the Oilers team stuffed with young talent looked strong in all areas, and will only continue to improve. Despite coming fourth last season, the Oilers are expected to win the division at +600, showing the huge sums of money put into McDavid and his sidekick, Leon Draisaitl, were well worth the money.

Always a major contender in the west, the Chicago Blackhawks are rated at +650 to win the Western Conference. The ongoing dynasty team have struggled in the post-season in recent times, but are never shy of climbing to the peak during the regular season. Trading away Artemi Panarin to bring back Bandon Saad was a great move which will only enhance to potency to the team, likely leading to another run at the top spot.

Outsiders to win the conference despite being Stanley Cup finalists just a few months ago are the Nashville Predators. With their offense finally constructed on top of their consistently solid defense and goaltending corps, the Predators were able to go all the way to the finals and managed to keep that team intact for this upcoming campaign. The additions of Pittsburgh’s Nick Bonino and bruiser Scott Hartnell will make Nashville that much harder to beat, but they will certainly miss the injured Ryan Ellis, whose injury certainly influenced their +700 odds to win the conference.

With the top teams in either half of the NHL either staying strong or improving their teams, the top spot in the Eastern and Western conferences are set to be heated battles. However, based on the magnitude of their roster, it’s hard to look past the Washington Capitals to not only win the Eastern Conference but to also top the regular season standings.