2017-18 NHL Preview: Metropolitan Division

metropolitanBefore the 2012-13 season, the NHL had an issue as the Winnipeg Jets were set to move to the western conference leaving the organization of the divisions up in the air.

They re-organized everything and create four new divisions out of the six that were previously used.

Part of the decisions were made for located purposes but there was also a clear goal of increasing the regular season intensity throughout the league.

The league looked to ensure that the teams with a long history were kept together to keep division rivalries alive.

They also looked to add to rising rivalries by putting two teams together that had been building a rivalry but remained in a different division.

The perfect expression of what the league was attempting to do is in their newest division as the Metropolitan division is everything that the league wanted.

They kept the Atlantic Division together that included some of the oldest American rivalries in the sport.

The New York teams remained together to fight it out for supremacy of the Big Apple while the New Jersey Devils joined them for the New Jersey-New York rivalry.

The Battle of Pennsylvania also remained intact from the Atlantic division as Pittsburgh and Philadelphia were kept together to continue to grow the rivalry.

The threw in other parts as well moving the Columbus Blue Jackets from the west to the east in hopes that they could build something against the other teams in a new conference.

The Carolina Hurricanes also made the move to the new division Without any major rival throughout the league.

The biggest move might have just been the move of the Washington Capitals who joined their biggest rivals in the Pittsburgh Penguins.

It was a rivalry that was just gaining momentum with two of the best players in the league now continually facing off as division rivals.

The league kept some of the best division rivals together while adding another rivalry to the mix for the new division.

It created a division that the league is very happy with as there is plenty to talk about every year in the Metropolitan.

There is rarely a day that goes by where rivals aren’t fighting it out on the ice in this division making every game a little more important.

That is what rivalries bring to any sport as it doesn’t matter where both teams stand they are always going to try their hardest to not give up a win to their rivals.hockey-sidebar

The Metropolitan Division is full of rivalries and the better part is that the last few years have seen teams getting better making the rivalries, even more, fun to watch.

The New York Rangers were pretty consistent in their play over the last decade but now they are finally getting a challenge from a much better Islanders team.

The battle for New York is a good one again as the Islanders have the skill to challenge the Rangers while the Rangers are still a top team in the league.

Meanwhile, the New Jersey Devils are a team looking to prove that their big broths across the Hudson River can be beaten.

They make sure that the New York teams remember them whenever they play and they hope that they can make improvements to make it a bit more of a challenge.

The Battle of Pennsylvania is getting better too with the Flyers beginning to challenge their in-state rivals more every year.

Two teams with such different philosophies always put on a good show with the Flyers consistently trying to out-tough the Pens.

As for the rivalry that defines this division, it will likely always be good as long as the two stars are in the league and on these teams they will constantly fight for the division.

Pittsburgh and Washington are two very strong teams and their games are often the defining factor in the division lead.

That shouldn’t slow down at all this year as both teams are still great and still looking to win championships.

The Metropolitan division is a division defined by rivalries and the teams that can come out of those rivalries usually make a good run at the title.

With Pittsburgh winning their second straight division title those rivalries are going to get more intense with everyone chasing the back-to-back champs.

carolina_hurricanes

The Hurricanes have regularly been a team that many look to as a potential upset in the making as they seem to always have a group that might be able to do something. Every year they seem to fall short though as despite the talent that is on the team they have never seemed to have all of the pieces. It was a pretty good campaign but they remained right in the middle and for that were not able to get close to the playoffs. That is why they car-statswent to work in the off-season having one of the most successful off-seasons in the league. They went right after their biggest issues and seemed to solve those issues with smart signings and trades that brought in some new talent. The biggest issue for the last few years has been in net as Cam Ward is simply not the same goalie he used to be a few years ago. At one time he was the future of this team helping them as a backup to Martin Gerber on the Stanley cup winning 2005-06 team. He would take over and the team wouldn’t lose a beat but lately, he has struggled to be anywhere close to that goaltender. So the Hurricanes finally gave up on him as their starter and went out to get Scott Darling to take over the starting role. He looks to have what it takes to be a good starter but it will be his first test this year. Darling did get somewhat lucky though as he landed on a team with a very good defensive group. They are not the most well-known group but they have been among the best in the league. That group is led by Justin Faulk as the biggest name but Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce are the true shutdown pair on this team. Noah Hanifan has the potential to be great as he continues to develop while the addition of Trevor Van Riemsdyk only adds to the depth of the group. Up front, the Hurricanes looked to add depth and although they couldn’t find their top centre in the off-season they did make gains. Justin Williams is a big addition alongside Marcus Kruger as both join a good group. Victor Rask could be the top centre but so could Jordan Staal as both might get time on the top line with top goal-scorer Jeff Skinner. Sebastien Aho, Teuvo Teravainen and Elias Lindholm form the rest of the scoring push as the young group can certainly put up points. Carolina made the right moves this off-season and as a result, they seem in a better position than ever to make the playoffs.

200px-Columbus_BlueJackets.svg

It was a surprising year in Columbus as the Blue Jackets were not supposed to be a great team and yet they powered through the entire season earning a top three playoff spot. It certainly wasn’t expected but the Blue Jackets had a lot of things go right while getting the best out of their best. It was the best season in franchise history but it also leaves them in a difficult spot for the new season. The expectations are set now as the Blue cbj-stats.jpgJackets have to make the playoffs after such success a year ago. That is easier said than done though as players could have an off year or might get injured leaving them in a tough spot. They will hope to avoid that in the new year and build on the success from a year ago to not only earn a playoff spot but to take themselves out of the first round. Last season the Jackets had one of the most important positions filled with the best guy in the league as Sergei Bobrovsky carried the team. Although there is a lot of talent elsewhere there is no doubt that this team rises and falls with Bobrovsky. After winning his second Vezina Trophy he was a big reason why they made their way to the playoffs and if they want to get back there again he will need to be a big part of this team again. It’s not as if he has no help either as the Jackets have one of the best young defensive pairings in the league. Seth Jones and Zach Werenski are very young but are both proving to be top tier defenceman in the league. David Savard and Jack Johnson provide some veteran presence on the line and although neither is considered a top defenceman they are good behind the young guys. On offence, the Blue Jackets saw a lot of big jumps from some young talent as Cam Atkinson and Alexander Wennberg led the team. They lost some veterans up front this year though as Brandon Saad and Scott Hartnell have moved on leaving some holes. The Blue Jacket decided to go younger again when they acquired Artemi Panarin. He has been a standout in Chicago for a couple of years now and could add to the talented youth on the team. The Blue Jackets surprised a lot of people last year but they won’t be able to do that again as teams will see them coming now. It is going to be tough to repeat their performance from a year ago but with a good year from Bobrovsky, they could be in the hunt for a second playoff appearance in a row.

new_jersey_devils

After suffering through a rough season in 2015-16 the Devils were looking like they may have a reason to cheer last season. They pulled off a big trade with the Edmonton Oilers and one that many believed that the Devils won. They gave away a good, albeit not great, defenceman in Adam Larsson to Edmonton for Taylor Hall. He was once considered a top prospect and was taken first overall by the Oilers in 2010 and had plenty left in the tank. njd-statsIt gave the Devils a legitimate star and they were hoping to use that deal and make their way at least into the playoff battle. It didn’t work out though as the Devils fell to the bottom of the league and were out of the playoff picture quickly. They were the worst team in the league and the Hall moved worked out well on the ice but didn’t result in many wins. They enter a new season in what should be a rebuilding year but the organization doesn’t seem fully committed to that right now. They will still enter with some of their long-term veterans as they hope to be more competitive but the lack of talent won’t likely put them in that category. It isn’t that they have known though as Hall still leads this team and got some more talent to work with when the Devils drafted Nico Hischier with the top pick in the draft. He can be a real difference maker in the league but he might be relied upon a little too much right off the bat. The addition of Marcus Johansson certainly helps out and the continued development of Pavel Zacha could be a boost. Still, this team isn’t one that has one solid line with game-breakers at every position. They could do well against some teams but they need more talent. Whereas the offence has a few fun players to watch the defence is lacking as they are among the league’s worst. Ben Lovejoy and Andy Greene are not a top defensive pairing yet they are given the minutes that top pairings get. Damon Severson could be good if given more responsibility but he might be the only good part of the group. If they want to be competitive again they will need Cory Schneider to get back to being a top goaltender which he was far from last season. The Devils have some good pieces but they are still far from a playoff spot. Expect another rough season and a true commitment to the rebuild near the end of the year.

new_york_islanders

It was a bit of a heart-breaking year for the Islanders last year as the team just missed the playoffs by one point forcing them into a weird limbo. They are not good enough to make the playoffs but not a bad team leaving them trying to figure out how to go ahead with the pursuit of a Stanley Cup. They obviously believed that they had the talent and only needed one piece to be able to be competitive. That piece came in a big off-season nyi-statstrade as the Islanders gave up a young and promising player in Ryan Strome who just never seemed to have it in New York. In return, they got Jordan Eberle from Edmonton in a big move for the offence of this team. That move was really the only thing they did in the off-season and it is a great move but it hasn’t inspired many to think that they can do much this season. Part of that is just that the Islanders are an average team which is also their greatest strength. They don’t do anything all that well but they don’t do anything really terribly either making them a good overall team. They take that average ability into a new season looking to get back to the playoffs and hope that the offensive boost can do what they need to get over the hump. The only person happier than the fans about the Eberle trade is likely John Tavares who now has another player that can compliment. It seems fair to say that Eberle is the best winger Tavares would have ever played with and both hope it boosts their offensive production. Beyond them is a group of good but not great goal scorers although Josh Ho-Sang has arrived in the NHL and hopes to make a home there as a top goal scorer that many think he can be with some more development. The loss of Travis Hamonic will hurt this team as he ate up minutes but they have the guys to take over. Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuk will take most of the minutes and are a good pairing while young guys like Calvin De Haan and Ryan Pulock should get a better chance to make an impact this year. In goal, there is no true number one that will carry the team as Thomas Greiss is likely to get more of the starts but Jaroslav Halak can still have his moments when he gets hot. The Islanders are a better team even with minimal additions and although they don’t have one massive strength they can make the playoffs this year although the fight for a spot is going to be very tough for every team.

new_york_rangers

The Rangers are the perfect expression of a team that is staring that their window of opportunity and seeing it close on them quickly. They were one of the top teams in the league only a few seasons ago and seemed like they were destined to win a Stanley Cup. It never happened though as they have struggled in the playoffs year after year and now those struggles are beginning to seep into the regular season. Last year they made the nyr-statsplayoffs but in the wild card spot and although they took a first-round win they eventually dropped out of the playoffs. The entire season was a sign that things might be headed the wrong way and it has everything to do with the performance of the one part of the Rangers that has been steady. Henrik Lundqvist was not himself last season putting up one of his worst stat lines in recent memory. That is not great news for the Rangers because he has been the guy for years and without him, the Rangers might be exposed as not being talented as many think. Lundqvist will look to get a bounce-back year this season and the Rangers need him to do that or else their playoff hopes could be in jeopardy. He might be able to do it as he was once the best goalie in the league but if his age has finally caught up to him this might be the beginning of the end. To try to help out their goalie the Rangers made a big splash in free agency signing Kevin Shattenkirk. He is widely considered one of the top two-way defencemen in the game and forming the top pairing with Ryan McDonagh gives the Rangers a great top two. Behind them, Brendan Smith returns for another year beside a developing Brady Skjei giving them a deeper group than usual. It will be important for these defencemen to step up and help their star out if they want to make the playoffs. Offensively the Rangers are going to be without Derek Stepan which is a blow but gives more opportunity to Mika Zibanejad who will likely be the top centre. Mats Zuccarello and Chris Kreider will join him but some believe that group is better for a second line. They are all good but are they good enough to compete with top lines from around the league. The Rangers have talent but it might not be enough this year as an ageing goalie is showing their issues and those issues will see them miss the playoffs. It will lead to a lot of questions in the off-season as they look to an ageing team and wonder if the window is officially closed for a championship.

philadelphia_flyers

It seemed like the Flyers were ready to finally make a comeback to relevance in the league and they came into 2016-17 with that momentum from the year before. There was promise in Philadelphia and many thought that they could become a contender as some of their younger stars continued to develop. Then the next season began and the Flyers were not near the same level as they were the year before. They struggled to score goals phi-flyersas their offence began to falter despite having much of the same talent as a year before. Then the old issue that the Flyers have never seemed to solve came back to bite them as their goaltending was once again one of their biggest issues. They failed to make the playoffs last year and entered an off-season with a lot of questions. The problem for this new season is that they may not have fixed their biggest issues despite their attempts to fill the holes they had. On offence, the biggest issue was simply that their best players were not playing up to the level they were supposed to. Jakub Voracek and Claude Giroux still put up points but they were far better than the 61 and 58 points they earned last year. Meanwhile, Wayne Simmonds Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier couldn’t live up to their potential either. They need to do that if the Flyers are to get back to the playoffs and they might be getting some reinforcements with Nolan Patrick falling to the Flyers after widely being considered the top prospect in last year’s draft. Another player that needs to step up is Shayne Gostisbehere who seemed like the future of the team in 2015-16. He took a step back in his sophomore season and they need him to return to form to lead the blue line. If he can be like he was in his rookie season and Ivan Provorov can take that next step they have some extra talent on the back-end that will certainly help. The biggest move for the Flyers came in net where Steve Mason really struggled last season. To fix the issue they brought in Brian Elliott to take over but the move has been questioned as Elliott has had his own struggles. He needs to be his best to help his new team out especially if they are supposed to get back to the playoffs. The Flyers suffered from some bad luck and some underperforming players that they won’t experience this year. Still, they didn’t solve their biggest issue in net and that is going to be a big problem for them as they will struggle to make the playoffs again.

pittsburgh_penguins

They are the most dominant team in the NHL in the last few decades as the Penguins have taken two Stanley Cups in two seasons. It is never an easy thing to do as winning a Stanley Cup means that everything has to go right at the right time. They can’t be devastated by injuries while their team has to play at or above expectations to find their way through the regular season and through the playoffs. To have everything go right pit-statstwo seasons in a row in an era where parity is king makes the Penguins’ accomplishments that much more impressive. Now the champions enter another season where they are hoping lightning can strike three times and they can take a third straight Stanley Cup. It might not be as crazy as one might think because the team is still together and they certainly know how to win. There is no doubt about who leads this team as Sidney Crosby is still one of the top players in the league, although there is a debate about whether or not he is #1 or #2 this season. Crosby continues to be one of the top scorers every year and he is the player that drives this offence. If there is one spot that they have struggled it is finding the right pieces to put with Crosby and they might have just found that guy last year. Jake Guentzel had a great debut at the end of the season last year and became a big part of their playoff run. He will stay with Crosby this year in the hopes that the Penguins have finally found a permanent linemate for their best player. There is plenty of depth behind him too as Phil Kessel, Evgeni Malkin, Carl Hagelin and Bryan Rust are all capable goal scorers that give them a very deep group. The defence is also a good group even though they are a young group. Olli Maatta, Justin Schultz and Brian Dumoulin are all under 30 while Kris Letang is the elder statesman at 30 years old. It is a good group that protects a net that in the last few years has been somewhat up in the air. With Marc-Andre Fleury being selected in the expansion draft this job is Matt Murray’s alone. Antti Niemi will serve as a solid backup but Murray is in full control for the first time in his young career. The Penguins have all of the tools to get back and win the Stanley Cup but it is not going to be easy to see everything go well as they will need to go through an entire season without losing anyone and without anyone struggling to meet expectations.

washington_capitals

It has been the story of their lives for the last few years as the Washington Capitals have been one of the best regular season teams year after year. Yet every year they fail to win the Stanley Cup despite the talent that is held on this team. No matter how well together the teams is put they can’t seem to find the combination that will give them a championship and things are getting tougher every year. The Caps are another team that wsh-statsis seeing the window close every year and if they can’t win now they are going to run out of time. That was seen this off-season as the Capitals were beaten up by the salary cap as they couldn’t sign all of their best players to bring them back for another year. That leaves the Capitals in a difficult situation as they move into the new season with some of their key pieces from their playoff run last year missing. It also leaves them looking to some young players to fill the holes possibly earlier than they first thought. The Capitals will always be driven by their group up front and it is one of the few parts of the team that remained unchanged from a year ago. Alex Ovechkin is still one of the top goal scorers in the league and can produce with the best of them. Nicklas Backstrom stepped things up last year and became the team’s leading scorer while T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky all provide secondary scoring. It is a very deep group that remains one of the most dangerous in the league even with a few losses in the off-season. What really took a hit for the team in the off-season was the defence when they lost Kevin Shattenkirk, who was more of a rental, Karl Alzner and Nate Schmidt from the blue line. It leaves them a little short-handed although Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen provide a solid top pair. Where it gets questionable is behind them as the Caps will need to rely on young players like Christian Djoos and Madison Bowey who might not be fully ready to take on the responsibility. In net, the Capitals are fine as Braden Holtby has become one of the top netminders in the league. The Capitals are going to miss some of the players that they had to let go of due to the salary cap. They still have a lot of talent on the team and it will be good enough to make the playoffs but the fight to get a Stanley Cup might not be there for them this year as the window is closing.

Prediction:
The Metropolitan Division remains a division of great teams all fighting it out with a lot on the line including pride. The rivalries in this division are what make it fun to watch but the talent in the division makes those rivalries even that much more fun. It is going to be an interesting year but for another year it seems like the biggest rivalry right now will be the defining factor. The Capitals and Penguins are the best teams in this division and they will fight for the top spot again this year. The Penguins seem a little more put together than the Capitals and they will come out on top this year. The Blue Jackets seemed improved from a year ago which means they will be able to take the second playoff berth in two years. The battle for the wild card might be tough as there are a lot of good teams in the Atlantic Division. The New York Islanders and Rangers could be fighting for those spots but both might come up short of finding a spot. The Philadelphia Flyers could be better and could finish anywhere but they won’t be able to make the playoffs while the Devils will be out pretty quickly.

metro-prediction

 

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