Photo: NBC Sports Washington
Last season, five of the eight playoff spots in the Eastern Conference went to Metropolitan Division while the Atlantic Division featured three of the four worst teams in the NHL: the Montreal Canadiens, the Ottawa Senators, and the Buffalo Sabres. Meanwhile, the top-five teams in the Metropolitan Division all came within a range of eight points of each other. This season, however, is a different story.
This season, the New Jersey Devils and Philadelphia Flyers, the two Metropolitan Division rivals, are tied with each other for the worst in the conference, though they are also tied with the Florida Panthers from the Atlantic Division for that spot.
While the Flyers and Devils are within 10 points behind the Columbus Blue Jackets, there is a sizable drop off after the top two teams in the division, the Blue Jackets and the Washington Capitals. The Capitals, who have been missing star forwards T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov for the past six games, enter Friday’s game against the Devils a point behind the Blue Jackets for first of the division. After that, there is a little bit of a drop off with New York Rangers three points behind the Capitals for that second spot in the division.
The Carolina Hurricanes and New York Islanders are within range of the Rangers, just one point behind them while each has two games in hand. There is also a sizable gap between the Pittsburgh Penguins and those teams as they are two points behind the Hurricanes and Islanders. The Flyers and Devils appear to be playing catch up in the race as they are three points behind the Penguins and five points behind the Islanders for the final wild-card spot.
In the Atlantic Division, the Tampa Bay Lightning hold a slight one-point lead over the Sabres and the Toronto Maple Leafs for first place and four of the top seven teams in the entire NHL. There is also a sizable drop off with the Boston Bruins trailing the Sabres and Maple Leafs by four points. The Bruins are five points ahead of the Canadiens for the first wild-card spot and fourth in the division. The Detroit Red Wings and Ottawa Senators are also in range just two points behind the final wild-card spot. While the Panthers are behind everyone else by a larger margin, they have 2-3 games in hand on everyone else in the division and are in range of catching up.
The Atlantic Division is 37-19-4 against the Metropolitan Division this year, including 32-13-3 excluding Florida. Meanwhile, the Metro is 23-29-12 against the Atlantic this season.
Three of the league’s top four offenses and two of the top three defenses also hail from the Atlantic Division.
Part of the reason for the shift in the East has to do with the movement in the offseason. The biggest acquisition made in the Metropolitan was probably defenseman Dougie Hamilton, who was shipped to the Carolina Hurricanes from the Calgary Flames in the offseason.
Meanwhile, the Atlantic Division acquired star players such as forwards John Tavares, Jeff Skinner, and Max Domi, who are all making huge impacts on their new teams, despite also seeing star defenseman Erik Karlsson leave the division. It is also important to note that Skinner and Tavares, both 30-goal scorers in their career, came from Metropolitan Division roster while the Metro teams just got a combined return of forward prospect Cliff Pu and three draft picks for the two high-scoring forwards.
Another reason for the shift in the power is because the Rangers traded top players such as defenseman Ryan McDonagh and center J.T. Miller, and defenseman Nick Holden to Atlantic Division teams at the trade deadline last season in order to retool for the future when they appeared out of the playoff race by that time. It also didn’t help the Metro that McDonagh and Miller each signed long-term extensions with the Lightning over the offseason.
Despite the Metropolitan Division having stars such as center Sidney Crosby and forward Alex Ovechkin, the teams in the Atlantic Division appear to be more balanced than the teams in the Metro in addition that to having more star players such as forward Nikita Kucherov, center Auston Matthews, forward Mitch Marner, center Steven Stamkos, and forward Brad Marchand. It is also important to note that the stars in the Atlantic Division are more spread out among almost every team in the division while the ones in the Metropolitan are mostly on the Capitals and Penguins.
The defense is also deeper with Victor Hedman, Thomas Chabot, and Morgan Reilly among the top players on the Atlantic’s backend while the top defensemen in the Metropolitan include John Carlson, Zach Werenski, and Kris Letang, who’s started to decline the past two seasons.
The goaltending in the Metropolitan Division is fine but it drops off after Sergei Bobrovsky and Braden Holtby, especially with the Flyers and Penguins’ situation in net. Though the Panthers, Red Wings, and Senators all have questionable situations in the crease, the Atlantic features Vezina-Trophy favorite Fredrick Andersen, Andrei Vasielevskiy, another favorite, and Carey Price, one of the best on the planet.
The power in the East is very well shifting towards the Atlantic Division after the Metropolitan dominated the conference two seasons prior. In addition to the Metro Division losing key superstars to the Atlantic Division, the superstars in the Atlantic are more productive this season while goaltending is also heavily tilted in their favor.
By Harrison Brown