NHL Training Camps are opening very soon and the Metropolitan Division clubs are gearing up for an exciting 2015-16 NHL season.
The NHL’s Metropolitan Division was represented by four clubs in the 2015 postseason. As hockey inches closer, there are still several questions and unknowns heading into training camp for each club.
Even with the unknowns and uncertainties, will the Metropolitan Division still remain competitive for the upcoming season? Let’s take a look at the biggest questions surrounding each of the Metropolitan Division teams.
What are the futures of Eric Staal and Cam Ward?
After a fairly quiet offseason, the Carolina Hurricanes continue their rebuild as they build through the NHL Draft. They have missed the playoffs for the past six seasons. Two of their cornerstone franchise players (Eric Staal and Cam Ward) are both in contract years.
Eric Staal has been one of the more productive Hurricanes through the stretch of bad seasons in Raleigh. Staal, 30, has scored 742 points in 846 regular season games with the Hurricanes.
Cam Ward had a nice rebound season in 2014-15 after he was plagued in previous seasons by injuries. Ward, 31, is a former Conn Smythe Trophy winner and he helped the Carolina Hurricanes win their first Stanley Cup back in 2006. Can he continue to regain his form, and become one of the NHL’s elite goaltenders again?
There have been rumors recently of the Carolina Hurricanes possibly relocating (to Quebec City). If these rumors are true, this could be a major reason why they have not spent a whole lot of money on free agents. Could the threat of relocation possibly come into play with the decisions that loom with Eric Staal and Cam Ward?
If the Hurricanes do not have Staal or Ward re-signed by the upcoming NHL Trade Deadline, could they be two of the hotter rental commodities? Could the Hurricanes get fair value in a trade for both players if they decide to part ways?
Columbus Blue Jackets
Can the Jackets have a better start to the regular season?
Their start last season was awful, but they finished 2014-15 as one of the hottest teams in the NHL. The Blue Jackets went 9-0-1 in their final 10 games of the 2014-15 regular season. Can the Jackets keep their momentum going from the end of last season and carry it into 2015-16?
The Blue Jackets are my darkhorse team heading into the 2015-16 season. They are not a team that I would want to play every night. They are young, full of energy, and they play very hard. The Blue Jackets are a team on the rise and they have a bright future ahead. If they can escape the injury bug and have a much better start to their season, they should get back into the playoff picture.
New Jersey Devils
Will the Devils inject more youth under new coach John Hynes?
Like the Hurricanes, the Devils also had a fairly quiet offseason. The Devils are trying to get younger and quicker on the ice. The Devils have done well drafting some quality young defensemen recently – Adam Larsson, Jon Merrill, Damon Severson, and Eric Gelinas, so there is plenty of optimism on the blueline for years to come.
The Devils still need to play some catch-up at the forward position, but there is some hope there too. Stefan Matteau and 18-year old Czech star Pavel Zacha are highly regarded within the Devils organization and have a good chance to make the Devils roster full-time.
It will be another painful couple of years for the Devils faithful as this team should still struggle to score goals. But Cory Schneider will keep the Devils from hitting absolute rock-bottom because he can steal games single-handedly.
It will be interesting to see the Devils in this transition period as they try to get younger and faster. They will still struggle to put the pucks in the net, but their defense will be very mobile and they should be able to move the puck well.
New York Islanders
Is Jack Capuano on the Hot Seat?
The longest tenured head coach in the Metropolitan Division is now Jack Capuano. After the first round disappointing playoff loss to the Capitals, the Islanders still have to prove that they are a consistent contender in the Eastern Conference.
Capuano and the Islanders will be under a little bit more pressure this season. Will their new home in Brooklyn bring them some extra playoff magic?
The Islanders should be playoff bound again and they should not miss out on the playoffs. If the Islanders mysteriously fall off, could Capuano possibly be fired? I think the pressure for the Islanders is to just simply make the playoffs again. If they accomplish this, Capuano should still be around for a few more seasons.
New York Rangers
Stanley Cup Bound?
The NY Rangers have been sniffing around the Stanley Cup the past several years, but the Cup has been able to sneak away from them. The Rangers have made it to the Eastern Conference Finals back to back years and three times in the last four seasons.
The defending Presidents’ Trophy winners should still be a Cup-favorite heading into 2015-16. With a quality core group, the Rangers are built very well. Henrik Lundqvist leads the way for them in net, while they boast a very deep blueline. The forwards are led by speedsters Chris Kreider and Mats Zuccarello, while Rick Nash leads the Rangers scoring attack.
There are not many flaws in the Rangers hockey club. They are a very well-structured team that is built for the playoff grind. But now on Broadway, it is show time. The Rangers need to get over the hump now and they need to win the Stanley Cup while their window remains open.
Can the Flyers fix their road woes?
While the Flyers were awful on the road, they actually had a very good home record as they won 23 of their home games.
The good news for the Flyers is that Jake Voracek had a breakout season, and Claude Giroux continues to be a very consistent player. The Flyers lacked a bit of production from their depth players like Matt Read and R.J. Umberger, and they will have to step up in order for the Flyers to get back into the playoff picture.
Despite a weak defensive core in front of him, Steve Mason actually posted respectable numbers in 2014-15. Mason tallied a nice 2.25 goals against average, and a .928 save percentage.
The Flyers are not expected to be a playoff team, but if they can manage to win more road games, and they can gel with their new head coach right away, they might be in contention late in the upcoming season.
Is Phil Kessel the missing piece to the forward puzzle?
The Penguins made a big splash this summer as they traded for former Maple Leafs and Bruins star Phil Kessel. Despite the Maple Leafs miserable season in 2014-15, Kessel managed to score 25 goals and 61 points.
While the Penguins sacrificed quite a bit with prospects and draft selections to land Kessel, they have made him a part of their long-term future.
So the question now remains: who will Kessel have the most chemistry with in Pittsburgh? Is he the answer for Crosby or Malkin’s wing? How will Kessel perform under the added pressure in Pittsburgh? The Penguins want to win another Stanley Cup in the Crosby/Malkin era, can Kessel be enough to push them over the hump?
It is unclear right now who Kessel will show the most chemistry with, but Kessel will give the Penguins lethal powerplay another weapon (as if there were not enough weapons already). The Penguins should have the NHL’s top powerplay unit this year – good luck trying to stop the top unit of Sidney Crosby, Phil Kessel, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and Chris Kunitz. Kessel has a big shot and he is not afraid to shoot the puck – this powerplay unit should be very fun to watch.
Did the Capitals Fix the Right-Wing position?
Capitals GM Brian MacLellan re-tooled the Capitals right side over the summer. He wanted to give the Capitals a little bit of a different look on that side of the ice. Big bodied bruisers Troy Brouwer and Joel Ward are now with different clubs, and now the Capitals have gained more speed and skill with the additions of T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams.
The Capitals have been trying to find a solution for the top-line right-wing position for several seasons. While they had to pay up to get T.J. Oshie via trade, they are hoping he can help fill that void. If Oshie can mesh with Ovechkin and Backstrom on the Capitals top line, that line could become one of the most dangerous top lines in the NHL.
Justin Williams will bring a calming veteran presence to the Capitals locker room and he will help some of the Capitals younger players in their professional developments. With three Stanley Cup Rings and a Conn Smythe Trophy on his resume, Williams certainly knows how to win and he will bring that winning mentality to the locker room.
By George Foussekis