WINNIPEG, MB – After taking a look at the Atlantic Division, this week I’ll be continuing through the Eastern Conference to the Metropolitan Division. A couple of the teams in this division have made big strides this off-season, so it’s quite possible we’ll see a bit of a shakeup from last year.
Carolina Hurricanes may have forgotten that free agency opened at all this year. Finishing near the bottom of the NHL last season, and making no discernable effort to get better since the playoffs ended, it feels safe to assume that they will once again be in the cellar in the coming year.
Most of the discussion surrounding this team seems to be speculation about what they do with former cornerstone players like Cam Ward and Eric Staal. Whether they extend them, or start to look to the future, there will certainly be some interesting choices for the franchise over the next year.
Columbus Blue Jackets for years, the Blue Jackets have been one of those teams that look like they’re about to turn the corner. Their core seems to be ready for the challenge, with players like Nick Foligno, Ryan Johansen, and Sergei Bobrovsky entering their prime.
The additions of Brandon Saad and Gregory Campbell add some depth, as well as some playoff experience. If the roster can stay healthy, this should be a team that contends for a playoff spot this season.
New Jersey Devils similar to the off season had by the Hurricanes. And by saying that, I mean, they seemed to have missed the memo that you should attempt to improve the terrible team you had the last year. Their biggest move was signing Adam Larsson to a six year extension, for some unknown reason.
While Lou Lamoriello may be past his prime, he was still an integral part of the Devils franchise. Allowing him to walk to another franchise while New Jersey is in the middle of a rebuild is ridiculous. This combined with a terrible off season, have made the Devils a strong contender for first overall in next June’s draft.
New York Islanders with John Tavares locked up to arguably the best contract in the NHL (sorry Pacioretty), they seem to have most of the piece in place for a legitimate push this year. Having Johnny Boychuk, Nick Leddy, and Travis Hamonic provides stability on the back end as well.
If the Islanders can keep the secondary scoring up, they can certainly compete with the top teams in the Metro Division. Personally, I cannot wait to watch Tavares light it up again this year. As long as it’s not against the Canadiens, obviously.
New York Rangers coming of last year’s President’s Trophy win, the Rangers will be expected to contend yet again. Losing Cam Talbot, Martin St. Louis, and Carl Hagelin will hurt the team. They managed to pick up Viktor Stalberg and Emerson Etem, but they are both downgrades over the players that left the team.
The time to win for the Rangers is now. Henrik Lundqvist’s contract becomes a bit of an anchor near the end of the term, as he will be pushing 40 by the time it expires. As much as we admire the idea of team loyalty, (never leave the Habs, Carey Price. Never.) the decline of most goaltenders near the end of their career is real. Just look at the last couple of seasons of Martin Brodeur’s career.
Philadelphia Flyers are another team on the cusp of being really, really good. With the core of Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds, and Sean Couturier locked up for the foreseeable future, this is a team that should compete for the next four or five years.
The backend is a little troublesome, as Andrew MacDonald is their top defenseman. And that’s probably not the best way to build a perennial contender. If everything falls into place, we could see the Flyers sneak in to the playoffs. More likely, however, is another few years of struggle as the defense finds it’s legs, and watching the team contend in two or three seasons.
Pittsburgh Penguins currently, their plan seems to be “score all the goals”. They don’t really seem to have a great plan for defense, or goaltending. But when you have Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel, maybe you don’t need to be anything more than league average on the backend.
That being said, I am expecting the Penguins to make a solid push for the division crown this season, as that offense should be spectacular. This is another team that I am excited to watch play, as long as it’s not against the Habs.
Washington Capitals I love Alexander Ovechkin. It may be irrational and it may be blinding, but I love watching the Great 8 play. The only problem with this kind of blinding love for a player is that you miss the rest of the roster. Until writing this piece, I had no idea how good the Washington Capitals could be.
When a team has a superstar like Ovechkin, it seems reasonable for a large part of their success to fall on that player’s shoulders. But when you take a look at the Capitals, they also have a strong set of supporting players. Niklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie, and Marcus Johnasson are fantastic players to round out the Top 6 with. Evgeny Kuznetsov looks like he is ready for a breakout, and could develop into a great player in the NHL.
Yes, they have some problems down the middle at centre. And their defense is only okay, and certainly overpaid. But if the offense clicks, and Holtby has another solid season, I believe that they could wind up as the team to beat in the Metropolitan Division this season.
My problem in attempting to predict the outcome in the Metro is that the top four teams are so close to each other. Washington, Pittsburgh, and both New York teams should all make the playoffs this season. Columbus looks like they might, and could surprise a lot of people with a really strong season. Carolina, New Jersey, and Philadelphia will be golfing early.
I think that the Capitals will win the division title, followed closely by the Penguins, Islanders, and then Rangers. The Eastern Conference is definitely going to be a tight race this season, and should provide some thoroughly entertaining hockey down the stretch.
Who do you think the favourite is at the start of the season? Feel free to comment below!