Hockey season is finally here! The 2016-17 season is now underway, and the Metropolitan Division is shaping up to be very competitive.
In 2015-16, the Metropolitan Division had five playoff teams – Washington, Pittsburgh, NY Rangers, NY Islanders, and Philadelphia. The Metropolitan Division is strong, and full of star players.
How will the Metropolitan Division shake out in 2016-17? Will five teams once again make the playoffs? Which teams will trend up, and which teams will trend down? Let’s take a closer look at the Metropolitan Division for this new season:
SITTING AT THE TOP
They are fresh off their Stanley Cup win, and looking to repeat again. The Penguins did not undergo many significant changes in the offseason. The biggest concern surrounding the Penguins right now is the health of Sidney Crosby. Crosby recently sustained a concussion, and there is no timetable for his return. With a healthy Crosby, the Penguins have one of the most explosive offensive attacks in the NHL. In addition to Crosby’s injury, goaltender Matt Murray is also going to miss the start of the season with injury. Murray, 22, helped lead the Penguins on their magical 2016 Cup run, and took over for veteran Marc-Andre Fleury during the playoffs. Will Fleury be able to rebound in Murray’s absence?
The Caps are in “win-now” mode. It is cup or bust time in Washington. It is year 2 of the “two year window,” and the Capitals are still searching for their first ever Stanley Cup. The Capitals had a record setting regular season in 2015-16, but they were bounced in the 2nd round of the playoffs. The Capitals made some tweaks to their top 9 forwards, with the additions of Lars Eller and rookie Zach Sanford. The Capitals should be a favorite to win the Metropolitan Division again, behind the potent goal scoring from Alex Ovechkin and superb goaltending from Braden Holtby.
The Flyers did not make any significant changes over the offseason, but they have some young players that are cracking the opening night roster. Rookie defenseman Ivan Provorov, who was selected 7th overall by the Flyers at the 2015 NHL Draft, has the Flyers faithful very excited. Rookie forward Travis Konecny, who was also taken by the Flyers in the first round in 2015, will also be on their opening night roster. GM Ron Hextall has stayed patient, as he is committed to building the Flyers with homegrown talent. With the addition of young players, the Flyers are trending in the right direction. The Flyers squeaked in to the playoffs last year, but if the youth can pay off and contribute now, the Flyers will only trend up and continue to be a playoff team.
New Jersey Devils
The Devils are another team that is trying to get younger. GM Ray Shero pulled off one of the biggest trades over the summer, as he traded defenseman Adam Larsson to Edmonton in exchange for former #1 overall pick Taylor Hall. Hall will immediately give the Devils a boost in scoring, which is something the club desperately needs. The Devils will have some more young players enter their lineup this year, as 2015 6th overall pick forward Pavel Zacha and 3rd round pick Blake Speers will suit up and see games. While the Devils will probably not make the playoffs quite yet, they should be knocking on the door and be right on the bubble.
GM Ron Francis is assembling a good young team in Carolina. The blueline is stellar, and full of talent with players like Noah Hanifin, Jaccob Slavin, Justin Faulk, and Brett Pesce. While the forwards are still a work in progress, Carolina should see some improvement this year. Highly praised prospect Sebastian Aho will be on the opening night roster, and newly acquired Teuvo Teravainen will also give the forwards a scoring boost. The Hurricanes are a team that one cannot overlook. While they are still a year or two away from playoff contention, the core pieces have come into place for the Canes within the past couple of years, and they should only improve as they gain more experience.
STILL THE SAME
New York Islanders
The Islanders made some questionable changes during the offseason. They let forward Kyle Okposo go to Buffalo, and let Frans Nielsen go to Detroit during free agency. Their replacements include Andrew Ladd and Jason Chimera. The Islanders got a little bit older, and maybe got a little less productive up front. The Islanders will have some new young faces in their lineup this year. Mathew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier are a pair of 2015 1st round picks, who will see time with the Islanders this year. The Islanders may drop in the standings a bit, but they should still be a playoff caliber team.
Columbus Blue Jackets
The Jackets are in full rebuild, and are still a few years away. The Jackets will see 2 of their young stars debut this year. Pierre-Luc Dubois, who was taken third overall in the 2016 NHL Draft, will be suiting up for the Jackets this year. Former Michigan Wolverine defenseman and 2015 1st round pick Zachary Werenski will also see some time on the Jackets blueline this year. The Jackets have a promising young core of players with guys like Brandon Saad, Seth Jones, Cam Atkinson, and Boone Jenner, but the lack of depth on defense will still hold the team back this year. The Jackets may improve in the standings a little bit, but it will probably not be a significant improvement.
New York Rangers
The Rangers were bounced very early from the playoffs last year. During the offseason, they decided to trade Keith Yandle, who was a big part of their offense from their blueline. The defense core for the Rangers is getting older, as their top 4 defense group are all over the age of 27. Another reason why the Rangers are trending down is because of Rick Nash. He had one of his worst seasons as a pro last year, as he only scored 15 goals. The Rangers will need Nash to have a better year in 2016-17, in order to remain a playoff caliber team. The Rangers could be on the outside looking in, if things completely fall apart for them.
By: George Foussekis