by Bruce Marshall, Goldsheet.com Editor

It is no secret that many professional sports handicappers believe some of the best edges can be found in the NHL.  We concur, which is why for the past few years we have been offering our featured hockey selections on TGS NHL, available Monday thru Saturday at goldsheet.com.  With the first pucks to be dropped October 3 for the 2018-19 NHL season, we wanted to provide a few of our best “over/unders” for the campaign (in the case of the NHL, it’s over/under season points) as presented below.  The following NHL Regular Season Points are provided by Stations Casinos.  

EASTERN CONFERENCE: By last May, the Pittsburgh Penguins (102 ½) looked a tired team, having played into mid-June the previous two years while winning back-to-back Stanley Cups.  The Caps made sure there would be no three-peat.  We suspect the Pens are back in Cup mix next spring, but Sidney Crosby & Co. might be morphing into an NHL version of some of Gregg Popovich’s recent NBA Spurs teams that would do just enough to qualify for the playoffs but make sure to be peaking for the postseason.  Winning the President’s Trophy is not important in Pittsburgh; keeping Crosby, Kris Letang, and others in one piece into April is the focus.  We’re also not sure about the situation in the net, with GK Matt Murray off of a tough campaign and backups a bit more than a bit wanting after Marc-Andre Fleury moved to Vegas.  We look “under” at PPG Paints Arena...  Not much love from the masses for the New Jersey Devils (91 ½), more than bit discounted after an unexpected playoff appearance last spring.  But a young core of talent featuring Hart Trophy (MVP) winner Taylor Hall and last year’s rookie sensation Nico Hischier on the same line remains in tact, while Sami Vatanen strengthened the defense.  Meanwhile, Cory Schneider and Keith Kinkaid are a solid 1-2 combo in goal.  Look "over" at Pru Center.

No one is expecting much from the New York Islanders (83 ½) after John Tavares bolted for Toronto in the offseason.  Thus, even the addition of a Stanley Cup-winning coach (Barry Trotz) and a respected GM (Lou Lamoriello) is not expected to save the day.  But if the Isles pick up the Trotz style and begin to muck things up at center ice, they could quickly turn into a root canal for various opponents.   Trotz will have to upgrade production at the blue line, and FA addition Robin Lehner might not solve a decades-long problem in goal.  But center Matthew Barzal won the Calder Trophy (Rookie of the Year) in 2017-18, and would not shock if Trotz makes this team competitive while he and Lamoriello look for a way forward into the new arena coming in a couple of years at Belmont Park.  “Over” at Barclays Center and the old (but upgraded, with reduced capacity) Nassau Coliseum, where the Isles return for almost half of their home schedule this season...A repeat for the Washington Capitals (98 ½) is not out of the question, as almost everyone returns from that magical Stanley Cup run last spring.  Finally shed of the underachiever label, the Caps and Alex Ovechkin can finally proceed with a bit less pressure.  There is one main absence from a year ago, however, as the under-appreciated Barry Trotz moves to his new gig behind the bench of the Islanders, replaced by assistant Todd Rierdan.  Even Cup-winners, however, need some freshening of their rosters, and not sure the Caps did enough of that in the offseason.  The emotion from last may and June will be hard to replicate, at least for a while, and a Cup hangover might make it tough to get to 100 points.  “Under” at Cap One Arena... The pressure on the Montreal Canadiens (80 ½), who collapsed to one of their worst seasons in recent memory a year ago.  Injuries didn’t help, but neither did some of the moves (or non-moves) made by GM Marc Bergevin.  Disgruntled mainstays Alex Galchenyuk (to Arizona) and Max Pacioretty (to Vegas) were finally moved in the offseason, though the returns netted by Bergevin are  not likely to be of as much immediate help as what was lost in the deals.  And then there’s GK Carey Price, who at his best has been Vezina-caliber in the past but at his worst looked like he did last season, when his .849 save percentage on the penalty kill was awful, contributing to the Habs’ NHL-worst 30th rank on the kill.  Key defender Shea Weber also starts the season on the injured list and might not return until at least December.  Not good.  And the fan base could get very restless now that it lives in a world in which the hated Maple Leafs are much better than the Canadiens.  “Under” at Molson Centre.  
WESTERN CONFERENCE: Good luck trying to stop the San Jose Sharks (97 ½) on the power play; with Brent Burns and recently-added Erik Karlsson taking turns at the blue line, opponents might be advised to wear bullet-proof vests instead of pads.  Wisely, GM Doug Wilson inked winger Evander Kane, added at the deadline from Buffalo and who bypassed free agency after fitting like a glove on Joe Pavelski’s line, which was the NHL’s most productive after Kane’s arrival.  If Jumbo Joe Thornton is beyond last season’s injuries, San Jose could lift the Cup.  “Over” at the Shark Tank... Has the title window closed for the Minnesota Wild (95 ½)? The roster is aging and injury-prone, with ace defender Ryan Suter’s ankle still a concern, and LW Zach Parise off of another difficult campaign.  With new GM Paul Fenton on the job, how long is HC Bruce “The Thumb” Boudreau going to last?  “Under” in St. Paul...Partly because of so much “buy” pressure from the locals, the point total for the Vegas Golden Knights (100 ½) has zoomed into triple digits, creating lots of unnatural futures liability for the local sportsbooks.  While VGK was “born good” as it remarkably reached the Stanley Cup finals, some regression is likely, even though recently-added Max Pacioretty and the cultured center Paul Stastny should add more firepower to the mix.  Goalie Marc-Andre Fleury is still playing at a high level, but Gerard Gallant might be apt to provide a bit more rest to his vet netminder, and more than a few insiders believe Vegas does well to simply get back to the playoffs. “Under” at T-Mobile Arena. 

The Dallas Stars (94 ½) looked like a playoff team for most of last season before a disastrous extended March road trip that roughly coincided with an injury to GK Ben Bishop changed the trajectory.  Veteran HC Ken Hitchcock’s one-year experiment thus ended, but Hitchcock’s defense-first style was never quite a proper fit.  Successor Jim Montgomery, fresh from success (including the 2017 national title) in the college ranks at Denver, might work better with the existing talent on hand, including two potent lines featuring Jamie Benn and Jason Spezza.  It's a  healthy Bishop, however, who can get the Stars to the postseason.  Look “over” in Big D....This time last year the chic pick to make it all of the way to the Finals out of the West were the Edmonton Oilers (91 ½).  A lot can change over twelve months, however, and now the Oilers are in bounce-back mode after badly undershooting last season.   They’ll have to improve the power play, which ranked last in the league at a barely 14% conversion rate, and someone emerging as the quarterback at the blue line would help.  But barring injury, Connor McDavid remains a perennial MVP threat, and Leon Draisaitl anchors what should be a potent second line.  In his contract year, GK Cam Talbot can be expected to improve, too.  A slow start might doom HC Todd McLellan, but if things look more like two seasons ago, that might not be a concern.  “Over” at the Rogers Place.        

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