2013-14 NHL Preview: Metropolitan Division (Part 1)

metro_1

With realignment in the NHL the teams began preparing for a new season with brand new opponents while the fans wondered what their divisions might be called. The realignment was not the only big story in the offseason as the names of these new divisions was also a popular topic of debate. The NHL would announce the official realignment and also the new names for these division. Most would be the usual names but one would be a complete change as the Metropolitan Division was born. The division would contain some of the biggest cities in the NHL and would be located in one of the biggest areas for hockey. It was the biggest change for the NHL but it was not all good news for the teams involved. The new division would contain some of the teams in the toughest situations all located in the same area. The struggling east coast teams would be put into the same division as some of the biggest and richest teams in the NHL. It would be a challenge from the start as these teams as they would go to into a new season against the wall. Then again these teams would all see a change last year as many of them climbed out of their funk. The four teams in Part 1 of the Metropolitan Division preview have all struggled over the last few years but every one of them has seen a change as of late. The Carolina Hurricanes were looking fine until their starting goalie was hurt last year and they showed they do have what it takes to win games. The Columbus Blue Jackets will get their wish in moving to the East and will try to take their hot streak at the end of last season into the new season in order to make an impression on the new division. The New Jersey Devils struggled to find enough money to pay their players but new ownership and reinforcements have provided plenty for optimism. The New York Islanders have struggled for a very long time but a return to the playoffs last year has put them on the map. The Metropolitan division will have some of the biggest teams in the NHL but it might just be the other teams that make the most noise in the new division. With plenty to look forward to the four teams in Part 1 of the Metropolitan Division preview may be the teams to watch. Only time will tell though as these teams all have optimism flowing right now but only a few will see it followed throughout the season. The Metropolitan Division is an interesting one as the first year of the new division will have the haves and have-nots fighting it out for a chance at the playoffs.

 

Carolina Hurricanes

carolina_hurricanes

The Carolina Hurricanes where on top of the hockey world in 2006 when they won the first Stanley Cup in franchise history. Since then it has been downhill as they would quickly become a team that saw the playoffs only from the outside. The Hurricanes last year would see their season start off well as they would put together a good record winning 11 of their first 20 games. They seemed to be back on the path to the playoffs until their star goaltender went down. Cam Ward would sprain his MCL in March and the Hurricanes would take a fall losing 17 of their last 27 games. The Hurricanes would be exposed as they were a good team with all the pieces in place but one major injury to their lineup would change everything. Cam Ward hid a lot of the problems with this team and without him they would fall apart and end up out of the playoffs. This year the Hurricanes are hoping that the addition of some key depth pieces will change the delicate balance of the team. They will once again be led by Eric Staal as the captain and top line centre for the team. He will be once again joined on offence by his brother Jordan along with Jiri Tlusty, Alexander Semin, Jeff Skinner, and Tuomo Ruutu. It is a good group of offensive talent but if one goes down there are not very many others that could step in and perform. The defence is much the same as the offence with some good players but a lack of depth. The additions of Mike Komisarek and Andrej Sekera are supposed to add depth to the group but neither are the type of defencemen that will change a group. Although they both add some value to the team they are not at the best part of their careers and could be busts as signings. The defence will need to step up as well as they will need to support Cam Ward in net if they hope to be a playoff team again. There is a backup plan if Ward is injured this year as Anton Khudobin has been brought in as a better backup. The Hurricanes have potential but like last year one injury may affect them more than any other team. Injuries will happen and the Hurricanes will suffer as they will find themselves out of the playoffs again.

 

Strength:
Ability to Win is There
– They have the talent to compete and they showed it last year as they were one of the best teams in the first month of the season and with most of the same group back this year that ability to be one of the best is still there

Weakness:
No Depth
– They may have the talent but there is only a limited amount of it on this team and like last year if one of them falls to injury, which will likely happen, it could mean big trouble for the team

Biggest Addition:
Anton Khudobin, G (Free Agent, Bos)
– When Cam Ward went down last year there was no solid backup that could take over and continue to be the dependable goaltender they needed and the addition of Khudobin they hope that they have found that dependable backup

Biggest Loss:
Joe Corvo, D (Free Agent, Ott)
– The defence was not very good last year and Cam Ward was the reason that it was masked but at least they had the dependable Corvo on the blueline and now he is gone leaving a hole in the one spot that they couldn’t afford a hole

 

Columbus Blue Jackets

columbus_blue_jackets

The Columbus Blue Jackets are somewhat the forgotten team in the realignment as the majority of stories have surrounded the Detroit Red Wings move to the East Coast. Another team that has been hoping for the move was the Blue Jackets who would also get their wish this year. The Blue Jackets have always been a little out of their place in the West as they sit in the heart of the old Midwest. Although they are considered Midwest they are far from the Pacific Coast where they would spend a large amount of time. Now they move to the eastern conference where they get to play teams much closer to them and they are hoping that it means success. Last year it seemed like the Blue Jackets were headed for the bottom of the league once again. Then everything changed as they would begin to win games near the end of the season. It was too little too late for the Jackets though as they would miss the playoffs but this year they are hoping that the end of last year can was a trend and not a fluke. The addition of Marion Gaborik last year was the difference for this team as he brought the skill that they had been lacking for years. Without Gaborik the Blue Jackets depended on grinders to lead their offence but now they have a proven goal scorer who is expected to contribute in a big way this year. The rest of the team has some good players including RJ Umberger, Artem Anisimov, Nick Foligno, and Brandon Dubinsky who will contribute but will not break open a game. Nathan Horton will be the next big player behind Gaborik when he gets back from shoulder surgery. On defence the Blue Jackets will benefit from former GM Scott Howson’s moves to build up the blueline. Fedor Tyutin and Jack Johnson are a good top pairing that will lead this group made up of Nikita Nikitin, Dalton Prout, James Wisnewski, and Ryan Murphy. Behind this defence is the breakout Sergei Bobrovsky who will provide plenty of support in the net. The Blue Jackets are seeing the light and thanks to moves from former GM Scott Howson and new GM Jarmo Kekalainen the base is there. There is room for disappointment as always but the Blue Jackets are looking like a team that can fight for a wild card spot this year and have a chance at the playoffs again.

 

Strength:
Trending Up
– The Blue Jackets have suffered for a while but their play at the end of last season seems to be more of a trend than a fluke and they are beginning to find out what it is like to win as they now know how to win

Weakness:
Very Young
– Although there are stars on this team they are still looking to some young players to provide depth and secondary scoring which can be dangerous as young players can make some big mistakes that can lead to losses

Biggest Addition:
Nathan Horton, LW (Free Agent, Bos)
– He will not make an appearance until halfway through the season after a shoulder surgery has put him on the injured list but when he does return he will provide that second scorer behind Marion Gaborik even if it is a different style than Gaborik

Biggest Loss:
Nobody
– The Blue Jackets have not let many people go from last year’s group as most of the moves were made in the middle of last season with the first European GM Jarmo Kekalainen staying pat in the offseason

 

New Jersey Devils

new_jersey_devils

The New Jersey Devils were the source of a lot of controversy this year as they would make headlines for something that teams in the south are known for. The Devils would be embroiled in financial issues throughout the 2013 season and offseason and would fall into NHL ownership. It was a bad situation for the Devils as they would come close to not being able to pay their players last year. In fact at one point injuries would ravage the team but there was not enough money to pay players that could be called up. Unlike the Phoenix Coyotes though the Devils would find new owners in David Blitzer and Josh Harris only a few weeks after the NHL took over. The Devils are now out of the red with the new owners handling the debt accrued by old owner Jeffrey Vanderbeek and are now looking to move forward. They will do so with a changed team as they have seen talent continue to leave but they would add a number of players to fill the holes. Stalwarts like Patrik Elias and Travis Zajac will be back to lead the team again but will have plenty of new additions to help them. The additions of Michael Ryder, Jaromir Jagr, and Ryane Clowe will be good for the offence and are proof that the team is not giving up and rebuilding but rather reloading. On defence the team did not upgrade and that is a bad thing as they may lean on the offence for support. Andy Greene and Marek Zidlicky will lead the way with the future of the blueline, Adam Larsson, likely getting a shot to show what he can do this year. In net the Devils are somewhat unchanged with Martin Brodeur back for another year to be the solid backstop that has been in New Jersey for the last 19 years. The Devils got a backup plan though as Brodeur will not be here forever and Cory Schneider is the heir apparent with the only question being when he will officially take over. The Devils are a team still try to pick up the pieces but they seemed to be able to do it with their new additions. There are still some holes though as the defence is not good and that will put a lot of pressure on the aging Brodeur and because of that a playoff spot may not been in the cards for them.

 

Strength:
New Ownership
– The players do not need to be scared of not getting a paycheck anymore and the team does not have to think twice about calling up players which means peace of mind for everyone on the team

Weakness:
Picking up the pieces
– The financial issues of the team were a major story for the last year and that will take some time to get past as the trust with these new owners has to be rebuilt for players to truly get peace of mind although the first steps have already been taken

Biggest Addition:
Ryane Clowe, RW (Free Agent, SJS)
– Clowe could be one of the more underrated signings of the offseason as he was a constant contributor in San Jose and could be a very good secondary scorer for the Devils as this grinder will add depth to the offence

Biggest Loss:
David Clarkson, C (Free Agent, Tor)
– The Devils would lose a number of good players in the offseason including Clarkson who would be one of the most recruited free agents in the offseason as he is a good centre which is never easy to find

 

New York Islanders

new_york_islanders

The New York Islanders are hoping that their time in the basement of the league is over after returning to the playoffs last year. The Islanders have been at the bottom of the league for years and slowly have been making their way back with young talent. Last year this young team would impress making the playoffs when most expected them to sit outside of the playoffs once again. The Islanders have built this team from the bottom with young talent but unlike other teams that have failed to bring success they would mix the young stars with some veteran leadership. Leading the way last year and this year will be John Tavares who broke out last year to truly put himself among the best in the league. Tavares is the player that the Islanders will lean on even more this year as the new captain. Tavares is good enough to be the player that the Islanders lean on and his support is there as well. Matt Moulson creates a great linemate to Tavares while Michael Grabner and new additions Cal Clutterbuck and Pierre-Marc Bouchard will provide good secondary scoring. The defence will suffer this year though as former captain Mark Streit was traded in the offseason. His absence will be missed on the blueline as well as in the locker room as he was a solid defenceman. Andrew MacDonald and Travis Hamonic will be the top pairing while Lubomir Visnovsky, and Brian Strait will fill out the blueline while the Islanders wait for their young talent to develop. In net the Islanders will look to try to get another solid year from Evgeni Nabokov. After cutting ties with Rick DiPietro the Isles are looking to only Nabokov in net and the aging goaltender will be looked at to carry the load again. The Islanders are on the rise and making the playoffs last year was a big step for them. Now they have to do it again which will be a challenge but if their defence can hold up and their offence can reach another level they may be able to do it. Taking one of the top three spots in the division will be a tough task. A wild card spot might be in the cards for the Islanders though as they will fight to the end of the season for a chance to play in the playoffs.

 

Strength:
Maturing Corps
– The young stars of the Islanders like John Tavares and Matt Moulson are the true corps of this team and they are beginning to mature into legitimate stars and for the Islanders that is good news as they hope the maturity translates to winning

Weakness:
Defence
– Mark Streit was not only the leader of the team but the leader of the defence and although the Islanders have plenty of talent in the minors they are still not a team in the NHL that will challenge the best offences

Biggest Addition:
Pierre-Marc Bouchard, RW (Free Agent, Min)
– The addition of another playmaker to the lineup will be good as he can help the top line by providing some secondary support that the Islanders have always needed to truly take the offence to another level

Biggest Loss:
Mark Streit, D (Trade, Phi)
– The former captain did not want to wait for the team to get better and would be shipped out in the offseason to Philadelphia and his loss will be missed both in the locker room and on the ice as his point production from the blueline will not be replaced

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