The NHL’s Metropolitan Division has become one of the most competitive divisions in professional hockey today. Most of these teams have all faced one another in the playoffs a time or two whether in recent or distant memory. The Metropolitan Division includes several major US markets that have some of the most loyal and passionate hockey fans.
From top-to-bottom, the Metropolitan Division is one of the tighter divisions in the NHL. Four of the eight teams in the Metropolitan Division made the 2015 NHL playoffs (NY Rangers, Washington Capitals, NY Islanders, Pittsburgh Penguins). The two Metropolitan teams that just missed the playoffs by less than fifteen points were Columbus and Philadelphia. New Jersey and Carolina finished seventh and eighth respectively in the Metropolitan Division, but they both won at least ten games against their division opponents.
There are not any cupcake games inside the Metropolitan Division. From the teams near the top to the teams at the bottom, each team has a chance to win against their division rival in every contest.
Metropolitan Division 2015-16 Preview:
Most of the Metropolitan Division teams have had busy summers this year. The Washington Capitals certainly have made a fair share of moves of their own. So where do the Capitals stack up against the rest of these clubs for the upcoming season?
I have come up with standings predictions for the upcoming 2015-16 season. Here is how I think the Metropolitan Division will play out next season:
- *NY Rangers
Analysis: The Rangers are still the king of the Metropolitan Division. I do believe that their 12 point gap they had over the second place Capitals will shrink a little bit, but the Rangers are still the favorite to win the division. The Rangers had a pretty quiet summer overall – gone is speedster Carl Hagelin to Anaheim and he is replaced by former Ducks forward Emerson Etem. The Rangers also added forward Viktor Stalberg to add to their already speedy team. Rangers forward Derek Stepan also received a very nice long-term extension over this summer. The Rangers are one of the most balanced teams in the NHL from top to bottom which is why I think they will finish at the top of the Metropolitan Division. I do not envision them finishing worse than second in the division. This club is deep at every position, so they will have a lot of success for the immediate future.
- *Washington Capitals
Analysis: The Capitals were a little slow out of the gates last season when they were still learning the Barry Trotz system. This year, it will be a slightly different looking Capitals team. They will have more speed and skill with the additions of T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams. Evgeny Kuznetsov should continue making strides as a player who developed into the Capitals second line centre last season. Yes, the Capitals lost some players like Mike Green, Eric Fehr, Joel Ward, and Troy Brouwer. However, this Capitals team should be able to score a few more goals this year and they should not have to rely on Ovechkin as much to bail them out in games. In addition to their forward moves, the Capitals also re-signed franchise goaltender Braden Holtby to a long-term deal at an affordable price and they re-upped Marcus Johansson for another year for added forward depth. I expect the Capitals young stars such as Andre Burakovsky and Tom Wilson to take positive strides in their development and they should have career seasons in point totals. If there is one team that may challenge the Rangers for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division, it is the Washington Capitals.
- *NY Islanders
Analysis: This will be an exciting season for the Islanders as they begin playing at the Barclays Center in Brooklyn. Overall, the Islanders did not do anything earth shattering this summer and they remained fairly quiet. They signed veteran goaltender Thomas Greiss to a two-year deal to backup Jaroslav Halak in net. They also gave minute-munching defenseman Thomas Hickey a three-year extension at a very affordable price. I could see the Islanders slip a little bit and not reach their 101 points that they achieved this past season. But this is still a very good capable group that is well-coached. John Tavares should still be near the top of the NHL in the points race and I expect his teammate Kyle Okposo to have a rebound season. The Islanders are one of the scrappier teams in the Metropolitan Division, so they should be around barring any major injuries or goalie meltdowns. Their defense still concerns me a little bit and I still believe they need to add another piece to it.
Analysis: It was an off-year in Pittsburgh in 2014-15. The injury bug always seems to float over the Penguins’ heads in recent memory. The Penguins have had a pretty busy summer and they have revamped their roster. They went out and made a big deal with the Toronto Maple Leafs and they got sniper Phil Kessel off their roster. In addition to Kessel, they traded Brandon Sutter to the Vancouver Canucks and got back forward Nick Bonino and defenseman Adam Clendening in the trade. The Penguins also added to their bottom-six depth and signed former Capital Eric Fehr to a three-year deal. The Penguins defensive core is still very young and inexperienced and I feel they could add another veteran to the group to make them better. Marc-Andre Fleury was very good in net for them last season and I am confident he can have another good season to help propel them back into the playoffs. With Kessel added to the mix, the Penguins should have a top five powerplay unit in the NHL once again which will pay off for them.
- *Columbus Blue Jackets
Analysis: I am a believer in the Columbus Blue Jackets for the upcoming season. But two things will have to happen first. The defensive core has to play better and Sergei Bobrovsky has to have a rebound year. I believe that the Jackets have a good forward group. They made a big trade this summer and got Brandon Saad from the Chicago Blackhawks. The Blue Jackets have established a good young forward nucleus. Saad will join fellow youngsters Ryan Johansen, Alexander Wennberg, and Boone Jenner and this group will be awesome to watch for years to come. The Blue Jackets fought the injury bug early last season and it really hurt them in the long run. But they finished the 2014-15 regular season with an impressive 9-0-1 record in their last ten games. If the Jackets can get off to a quicker start than they did last year, they should be sniffing around the playoffs come early April 2016. The Blue Jackets should try to add two more defenders at some point to the season, especially if they are still in the hunt at the upcoming NHL Trade Deadline. I believe that they can be this year’s Cinderella story like Ottawa was last season.
- Philadelphia Flyers
Analysis: The Flyers were surprisingly quiet this summer and did not make any significant moves. It is very un-Flyer-like to not try to counteract major trades made by Pittsburgh and Washington. The Flyers will have a new bench boss this year with former University of North Dakota head coach Dave Hakstol added to the fold. Flyers GM Ron Hextall gave a huge eight-year extension to forward Jake Voracek who had a career year in 2014-15. Hextall also re-signed defenseman Michael Del Zotto and Sean Couturier to contract extensions. He also bolstered the goaltending depth by adding former Capital Michal Neuvirth to back up Steve Mason for the next couple of seasons. I feel the Flyers are simply not there yet and they still have a little ways to go. They are still in the process of developing their blueline for the future. The Flyers could also use a little bit more depth up front. They have tried moving forward Vincent Lecavalier, but there have been no takers for his services. R.J. Umberger and Matt Read are two players that the Flyers desperately need more production from because their production is low for their contract price tags. Overall I expect the Flyers to finish right where they were this past season, and I feel they could possibly have a slight decline in points.
- Carolina Hurricanes
Analysis: The Hurricanes continue to build through the draft and through trades. They have been quiet for most of the summer. At the 2015 NHL Draft, they selected the highest rated defensive prospect out of Boston College Noah Hanifin. In addition to their Hanifin selection, the Hurricanes made a couple of transactions. First, they acquired goaltender Eddie Lack from the Vancouver Canucks in exchange for a couple of picks. After the Lack deal, they sent goaltender Anton Khudobin to the Anaheim Ducks in exchange for defenseman James Wisniewski. At the beginning of free agency, the Hurricanes bought former Capital Alex Semin out of his contract. While the Hurricanes did not make any big free agent splashes, they re-signed some of their own talent with players like Riley Nash, Justin Shugg, and Zach Boychuk. The talk surrounding the Hurricanes to begin the 2015-16 season will be the status of Eric Staal. He has an expiring contract and has a desire to stay in Carolina. Do the Carolina Hurricanes have Eric Staal in their future plans? If Staal does not re-sign with Carolina leading up to the NHL Trade Deadline, do the Hurricanes decide to move him to a contender? Hurricanes goaltender Cam Ward will also be up for a contract extension after the season concludes. He has battled through injuries through his career. Is Eddie Lack poised to take the starting goaltender job in Raleigh? It will be interesting to see how this season unfolds in Raleigh, but I still think the Hurricanes will finish second-to-last in the Metropolitan Division.
- New Jersey Devils
Analysis: The Devils have gone through some sweeping changes over the past few months. New Devils General Manager Ray Shero is trying to get younger in New Jersey. The Devils now have a new bench boss with John Hynes as the man in charge. At the 2015 NHL Draft, the Devils took centre Pavel Zacha with the sixth overall pick. They also made a nice deal at the NHL Draft and acquired Kyle Palmieri from the Anaheim Ducks. The Devils remained fairly quiet at the start of free agency. They added defenseman John Moore and forward Jim O’Brien as depth moves. Like the Hurricanes, they also re-signed some of their own talent with players like Stefan Matteau, Seth Helgeson, and Adam Larsson receiving new contracts. While the Devils did nothing earth shattering, they have a new philosophical plan in place. They will continue to build around goaltender Cory Schneider and their young defenseman like Adam Larsson, Jon Merrill, and Damon Severson for the future. The rebuild in New Jersey is slowly taking place, and it will take a few years for the Devils to return to any kind of postseason action. The aging forward group (Elias, Zajac, Cammalleri) should eventually be moved for more picks and prospects. The positive thing about the Devils future is that they have some talented defensive prospects and a goaltender who will be good for many years to come. There is hope for the Devils, but not for the next couple of seasons.
By George Foussekis