2013-14 NHL Preview: Metropolitan Division (Part 2)

metro_2

The Newest name division might not have a name that rolls off of the tongue but it is pretty accurate. The Metropolitan Division is just that as it features some of the biggest markets in the NHL. It may not have the Maple Leafs or the Canadiens but the size of the cities that love hockey in this division are much bigger. It will feature two states that have some of the biggest followings in the game while also including some of the largest Eastern cities. That includes the biggest of them all in New York that will see both of their teams in the division along with both teams from Pennsylvania. The Metropolitan Division is full of metropolitan cities that represent some of the biggest and best markets of the leagues. For this reason alone this new division should be one of the more popular divisions in the realigned NHL. Some of the biggest and most rabid fan bases will be located in this division and because of these fanbases these teams rarely stay bad for long. It will be an extremely competitive division that could very well produce the next Stanley Cup Champion. Of course teams will have to get through the season first before they can get to the Stanley Cup. This will be especially difficult as the new division is full of rivalries that will add even more to the games they play against each other. As usual the Battle of Pennsylvania, Battle of New York, and the Hudson River Rivalry will be a part of the division this year. Games against the Penguins and Flyers, Islanders and Rangers, and the Rangers and Devils will all remain every important. All three of these rivalries have remained in the same division for years and they will stay together for another year to play meaningful games. There will be new additions to the rivalries in the new division though as the Washington Capitals will join the Pittsburgh Penguins in the division. The Pittsburgh Washington rivalry is one of the best modern era rivalries in the NHL and now they will play 8 times a year. The rivalry began with the addition of Sidney Crosby and Alexander Ovechkin with both players fighting to see which one was the best player in the NHL. It grew from there as both teams became challengers for the cup and would always face off in the playoffs for important games. The rivalry will now take on a new meaning with both teams meeting each other regularly in the regular season and both teams sure to build more hatred towards each other. The Metropolitan Division will feature some of the biggest rivalries and teams in the league including the four teams featured in Part 2 of the Metropolitan Division Preview.

 

New York Rangers

new_york_rangers

The New York Rangers are one of the biggest franchises in the NHL and yet like the other big franchise they have failed to win a Cup in a while. 1994 was the last time the Rangers got to drink out of the cup and 20 years later they are hoping they can do it again. The 2009 season would mark the beginning of the turnaround for the Rangers as John Tortorella would bring a new style to the team that would bring them back to the playoffs. With Tortorella at the helm the Rangers would get to the Conference Finals in 2012 and would come within two games of making the Stanley Cup. Then things turned as reports of players being unhappy with Tortorella’s style and his abrasiveness towards them. Tortorella was not the happiest person behind the bench constantly yelling at the players and this would reportedly continue throughout practices and in the dressing room. The players were not happy and in the end Tortorella would suffer. The new season would bring a new regime behind the bench as Tortorella is out and Alain Vigneault is in. Vigneault will bring a very different approach to the team as he is not nearly as fiery and unlike Tortorella he likes to run a more free-flowing offence. With the Vancouver Canucks Vigneault would use his style to go to a Stanley Cup Final and he hopes to take it one step further this year and win a Cup. He will do so with a veteran group that may appreciate the new style that Vigneault will bring. Rick Nash will especially like the new style as he will be allowed to be creative, which is his strength, rather than making sure he plays defence and gets back. Along with Nash the Rangers will look to Brad Richards to have a bounce back year and Ryan Callahan to continue to lead as the captain. The defence will also see changes as they will be allowed to move into the offensive zone giving Jordan Staal and Daniel Girardi allowed to use their offensive abilities. Meanwhile in net the Rangers will have one of the best netminders in the league as Henrik Lundqvist will provide stability that Vigneault never had even with Roberto Luongo in Vancouver. The Rangers will enjoy this new attitude on their bench and a top three spot is in the cards and challenging for a Cup berth is likely.

 

Strength:
New Style
– Alain Vigneault brings a lot less emotion to the game and the locker room for the Rangers and his concentration of a free-flowing offence rather than a hard nose defence will open players up to do something they are more comfortable with

Weakness:
Aging Team
– The Rangers are not as old as some teams in the NHL but they are getting up there in age as many are beginning the latter stages of their careers with some possibly about to lose a step this year

Biggest Addition:
Benoit Pouliot, LW (Free Agent, TB)
– He has spent the majority of his career bouncing around the league but he and the Rangers are hoping that they found the system to help him truly meet his potential as the big body forwards look to make an impression in New York

Biggest Loss:
Ryane Clowe, LW (Free Agent, NJ)
– The Rangers did not have Clowe for very long only getting him midway through last year but he could have been a big contributor especially with Vigneault coaching and letting him walk leaves a hole in the offence

 

Philadelphia Flyers

philadelphia_flyers

The Philadelphia Flyers have had multiple issues for years but it never seemed like the franchise took them seriously. They have consistently been without a #1 goalie and would not have anyone in from of the netminder to help on the blueline. Then there was the offence that continued to struggle with little depth to put pressure on other teams. The Flyers continued to stay still though as they believed the team they had and the small additions they made were enough to get them back to the Stanley Cup. They would be wrong as last year the Flyers would find themselves out of the playoffs and near the bottom of the league. The Flyers took this into account this offseason as they would go out and make some serious moves to instantly improve the team. The first and most important move was to bring in Ray Emery to finally solidify the crease. Emery spent last year as a sometimes starter in Chicago and has spent plenty of time as a starter in Ottawa. Last year he was a big part of the winning streak at the start of the season for Chicago as he traded off starts with Corey Crawford to help them to a great season. The Flyers would also add to the defence in front of the goal as they would acquire Mark Streit in a trade with the Islanders. The former New York captain will add to a blueline that includes Luke Schenn, Kimmo Timonen, and Braydon Coburn. The addition of Streit to this group makes it much better and the fact that they will be in front of a better goalie means they will not be worried about making a mistake. The offence will be bolstered by the third big signing of the offseason in Vincent Lecavalier. It is a great addition to an offence that includes Claude Giroux, Scott Hartnell, Jakub Voracek, and Wayne Simmonds. The addition of Lecavalier gives the Flyers two great centres and a veteran presence down the middle of the ice. The Flyers are a rebuilt team as they would quickly fix the issues they had last year. Expect the Flyers to have a little less pressure on them this year but making the playoffs is definitely in the cards as they have the ability to go late into the postseason if everything works together.

 

Strength:
Reloading
– The Flyers had a lot of holes that they ignored for the last few years and this year they would take them on this offseason adding three key pieces that immediately improved this team from a bottom feeder to contender

Weakness:
Team Chemistry
– The questions always arise when teams add a lot of new pieces with the team chemistry possibly taking a hit as the start of the season might be a challenge for the Flyers while their new additions get acquainted with their new team

Biggest Addition:
Ray Emery, G (Free Agent, Chi)
– Emery has been a starter before but off-ice issues changed that for him and now with these issues behind him a much more mature Emery is ready to take over the net once again after splitting time with Corey Crawford last year

Biggest Loss:
Danny Briere, C (Free Agent, Mtl)
– Although Briere was replaced by Lecavalier it is still a loss as Briere provided a different style that could have complimented the addition of Lecavalier and provided yet another secondary scoring threat

 

Pittsburgh Penguins

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The Pittsburgh Penguins are hoping that their two-year cloud has passed as Sidney Crosby is back and ready to go. For two years the best player in the NHL has been under the cloud of the concussion that everyone wanted to talk about. After suffering the concussion Crosby would spend the next two years trying to get back to normal and playing every day. He was constantly asked questions about when he would return and many people would wonder if he could still be the best player in the NHL. He would come back full-time last year and would prove that he was ready to return and take his spot at the top of the player pool. The Penguins welcome his return and are hoping that a full season with him in the lineup will mean that they can finally get back to winning. The Penguins have been stuck in a very different rut than most teams as they have become that favorite team that can never make it. The Penguins are the team that enters the season as the favorites and puts on a great show in the regular season. Then they get into the playoffs and do well enough to keep the hope going. It all ends with an early exit though as the Pens have been unable to get back to the Stanley Cup and win it. That would not change their path though, as the Penguins are looking to the same group that has put them in the playoffs before. It is not that the team needed a lot of changes though with Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby making up the best two centres in the NHL. These two players lead the team and make everyone around them better to create a good offence. On defence the Penguins would add another piece signing Rob Scuderi to provide more depth on the blueline. The Penguins have had issues with their defence and adding the veteran Scuderi will help the rest of the group. One of the biggest questions on the team will be the goaltending as Marc-Andre Fleury continues to be the starting goaltender even with questions surrounding his mental stability with Tomas Vokoun behind him in case he falls apart again. The Penguins continue to be one of the best teams in the league and they will once again make the playoffs but beyond that nothing is guaranteed.

 

Strength:
The Solid Core of Players
– Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, and Chris Kunitz make up a solid corps of players that are good enough to make up one of the best teams in the league as they will continue to be a team to watch this year

Weakness:
Stuck in a Rut
– The Penguins need to stop thinking that making the playoffs is good enough because for them it is not good enough anymore and they need to find a way to get out of the rut and win another Stanley Cup before big changes come to Pittsburgh

Biggest Addition:
Rob Scuderi, D (Free agent, LA)
– Scuderi has two Stanley Cups including one with Pittsburgh and his addition fixes an issue that the Pens have been dealing with as they add a veteran defenceman that will add depth on the blueline

Biggest Loss:
Tyler Kennedy, RW (Trade, SJ)
– Kennedy was a very good second line centre that will go to the west coast and for the Pittsburgh it’s not the best move for the Pens as they take away a solid scorer from the lineup that could be useful

 

Washington Capitals

washington_capitals

The Washington Capitals were on the rise when Alexander Ovechkin joined the team as they would immediately be made into contenders. Ovi would change this team from a basement dweller to a top contender with just one player. The issue always was his supporting cast though as Ovechkin could bring the team to the playoffs but they needed more to move through the playoffs. The Capitals would try to add other pieces but nothing seemed to work as the patch fixes would not get anything done for the postseason. This year the Capitals would stand pat making very few changes and claiming that they are going for success. Last year this same team would make the playoffs once again on the back of Alexander Ovechkin who was on fire to end the year. Then once again they would fall short of making it anywhere in the playoffs being shutout by the Rangers in Game 6 and 7 of the quarterfinals. The Caps are looking to finally take that next step this year but they might find it hard as they still only have Ovechkin to carry them. Ovechkin is very good but it is clear that the Capitals need something more to get a Stanley Cup. In one of the only moves of the offseason the Caps would sign Mikhail Grabovski to provide secondary scoring but other than that the team remains the same. Ovechkin will be joined once again by Niklas Backstrom, Marcus Johansson, and Martin Erat as the offence is still not deep enough to help Ovechkin really support the scoring. The defence will be relatively unchanged as stalwarts Mike Green and Karl Alzner will once again be back. The difference this year is that surprises from last year could see an increase in ice time. John Carlson and Steve Olesky will look to make good on last year’s breakout seasons. In net Braden Holtby was a good surprise last year and will once again be the starting goaltender. The Caps are still a good team but there is very little depth on the offensive side of the ice and that will be exposed with the new division. The Metropolitan Division is much more competitive and the lack of depth will be the Capitals downfall as not even Ovechkin will be able to help them into the playoffs this year prompting some change in Washington.

 

Strength:
Skill up Front
– Alexander Ovechkin is one of the best scorers in the game and the addition of Mikhail Grabovski is a good addition as these two players, if their on, can help to carry this team and their offence

Weakness:
Scoring Depth
– Beyond the top two players on the team there is not a lot else as Grabovski and Ovechkin will not be able to do everything this year with some very tough teams to face and the depth of their scoring will be tested

Biggest Addition:
Mikhail Grabovski, C (Free Agent, Tor)
– Ovechkin will head up the first line and Grabo will take over the second line and although he struggled in Toronto a smaller market with less limelight may be good for him to breakout and finally provide some support to Ovechkin

Biggest Loss:
Mike Riberio, C (Free Agent, Phx)
– The addition of Grabovski might be a good addition but sometimes the best players are the ones who you know and Ribeiro is that player who can provide some secondary scoring and leadership for the team that is now gone

 

Metropolitan Prediction:
1. Pittsburgh Penguins
2. New York Rangers
3. Philadelphia Flyers
4. New York Islanders
5. Washington Capitals
6. Columbus Blue Jackets
7. New Jersey Devils
8. Carolina Hurricanes

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