Hockey season is inching closer, and most NHL training camps open within the next few days. Each team will see various changes in their lineup. The Metropolitan Division was a very competitive division in the NHL in 2016-17, and it is likely going to remain very competitive in 2017-18.
What are the main storylines for each Metropolitan Division team as they enter training camp in 2017? What teams are going to look different? Which teams will remain the same?
Let’s dive in to the training camp storylines for 2017:
PROGRESS WITH GOALTENDING AND SCORING UP FRONT?
After an offseason trade with the Chicago Blackhawks, the Hurricanes have a new face in the net for the next 4 years. Scott Darling is expected to become the starting goaltender for the Hurricanes, and veteran Cam Ward is expected to back him up. The Hurricanes goaltending was below average last season, and they will need it to improve if they want to inch closer toward the playoff picture. Justin Williams should give the Hurricanes a boost of scoring up front and will give the Canes a quality veteran presence in their young lineup.
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
WILL WE SEE THE 16 IN A ROW DECEMBER JACKETS, OR THE .500 SPRING JACKETS?
The Jackets were one of the hottest teams in the league last season, as they won 16 games in a row in December and January. When the spring came, the Jackets did not play well down the stretch. The Jackets have a lot of quality young pieces in place, and have a 2-time Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky that can get them into the postseason. It will be interesting to see whether the fiery John Tortorella can continue to turn the franchise around with their young group of talented players.
NEW JERSEY DEVILS
IS NICO THE REAL DEAL?
The #1 overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft Nico Hischier looks like the real deal on tape. Hischier is highly skilled and can make defenders miss with his speed. The Devils need a goal scoring boost behind Taylor Hall, and Hischier looks like he could fill some of that void in the Devils attack.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS
THE HAMONIC-LESS DEFENSE
The Islanders lost a mainstay on their blueline during the NHL draft when they traded Travis Hamonic to the Calgary Flames for a haul of draft picks. With the departure of Hamonic, the Islanders will need some of their younger defensemen to step in and absorb some minutes.
NEW YORK RANGERS
WILL LUNDQVIST REBOUND? WHO WILL EMERGE UP THE MIDDLE?
It was not a banner year for Henrik Lundqvist in 2016-17. With a goals against average at 2.74 and a save percentage at .910, Lundqvist will have to improve those numbers in order for the Rangers to remain a playoff contender. In addition to Lundqvist needing improvement, the Rangers will need to have someone emerge as the top man in the middle of the ice. The Rangers shipped Derek Stepan to the Coyotes at the Draft, and the top center position is up for grabs in New York. Will a player like Mika Zibanejad become the new top center in New York?
GOALTENDING IMPROVEMENTS? IS NOLAN PATRICK READY TO GO?
The goaltending combination of Steve Mason and Michal Neuvirth was not very good for the Flyers last season. The Flyers let Steve Mason walk in free agency, and brought in veteran Brian Elliott on a short-term deal. Elliott has bounced around the league over the last year, but has shown that he can get teams into the playoffs. The #2 overall pick in the 2017 NHL Draft Nolan Patrick recently had offseason surgery, and some were questioning whether he would be ready for training camp. Patrick will have a highly anticipated debut when he suits up for his first game as a Flyer.
GOOD ENOUGH FOR A 3-PEAT?
The Penguins did not have many departures from their back-to-back Stanley Cup winning teams over the summer. The Penguins are looking for a 3-peat, and have the talented roster to make it happen. With Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin leading the way, the Penguins will likely not see any kind of Stanley Cup “hangover” to begin their season.
2ND ROUND HANGOVER? WILL THE NEW PLAYERS FIT IN AND CONTRIBUTE?
The Capitals had a brutal offseason, as they lost plenty of players via free agency or trade. The Capitals have had to re-tool this summer, and they will see some new faces in their lineup in 2017-18. It will be interesting to see whether the back-to-back playoff losses to the Penguins lingers in the head of the Capitals players to begin the new season. The Capitals are still very talented, but some feel that they might slip a little bit in the standings.
By: George Foussekis