NHL Season Preview: Metropolitan Division

Over the next few weeks we will be rolling out our division previews, leading up to a league preview.  Below you will find our Metropolitan Division Preview. Teams appear in the order they finished in the division.

New York Rangers

The Rags finished first in the metro and first overall last season. They also made their second consecutive Eastern Conference Finals falling to the Tampa Bay Lightning in seven games.

Key Additions
F Emerson Etem from ANA
F Viktor Stalberg UFA

Key Departures
F Martin St. Louis RETIRE
G Cam Talbot to EDM
F Carl Hagelin to ANA

The Rangers are always going to be a Cup contender G Henrik Lundqvist between the pipes, however, I don’t think they did enough this offseason to get them over the hump. They return a sound defensive core but have lost some offensive talent in Hagelin and St. Louis. Sure, they still have Rick Nash, Derek Brassard, Derek Stepan and Mats Zucarello but I don’t see Etem and Stalberg picking up the slack of 52 points that St. Louis contributed last year, not to mention his impact on the game that can’t be found on the scoresheet. Expect to see the Rags in the playoffs but not in the ECF in 2016.

New York Islanders

Finishing second in the metro last season, the Isles are certainly a team on the rise. In the 2013 playoffs they took the Pens (an overwhelming favorite) to six games in an incredible series, they missed the postseason in 2014, but returned with a vengeance in 2015. Unfortunately for them, they had to play the Caps. The Isles valiantly took the Caps to seven games ultimately losing.

Key Additions
None Significant

Key Departures
G Michael Neuvirth to PHI
The Nassau Collesium

The Isles look to begin building a new legacy as they close the doors on the Nassau Collesium and head over to the Barclay’s Center. The Islanders are a YOUNG squad headed by superstar captain John Tavares. They are one of the fastest teams in the league and have no trouble lighting the lamp (4th overall last season in GF). Jaro Halak seemed to find his game last season finishing with a .914 SV% putting the Isles in the top 10 in goals against. With no real impact offseason moves the Isles will ice a similar squad to last season which SHOULD be good enough for top three in the division but, you never know with head coach Jack Capuano. The Islanders could just as easily have an atrocious year and miss the postseason.

Prediction: Wild Card spot

Washington Capitals

The poster child for “close, but no cigar’ the Caps were unable to get over the hump last season losing out to the New York Rangers in 7 games in the Eastern Semi-Finals.

Key Additions
F T.J. Oshie from STL
F Justin Williams UFA

Key Departures
D Mike Green to DET

The Caps lost a big piece when Mike Green signed with the Detroit Red Wings and that is nothing to shrug at. Green was the pillar of their defense for his entire career. Such is the salary cap era. On the OTHER hand, they did add Oshie and Mr, Clutch (Justin Williams) and are returning rising centerman, Evgeny Kuznetsov Even if they didn’t do all of this G Brayden Holtby and superstars Alex Ovechkin and Nik Backstrom would’ve been enough to get them into the playoffs. Now they are dangerous and have a VERY real shot at getting over the hump. The regular season should see the Caps in the top 5 for goals for and they will finish either second or third the Metro, I tend to lean more towards third because they lost Green. But when the playoffs hit WATCH OUT.

Prediction: The Caps will make it to the Eastern Conference Finals.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Falling short is all to familiar for the Pens. They were again shown the door last spring by the New York Rangers. A team and fan-base with HIGH expectations the Pens head into this season walking on thin ice.

Key Additions
F Phil Kessel from TOR

Key Departures
D Paul Martin to SJ

The big news from the 2015 offseason was the Phil Kessel trade. The Penguins received RW Phil Kessel, LW Tyler Biggs, D Tim Erixon, Conditional 2nd-rd pick from the Maple Leafs for RW Kasperi Kapanen, D Scott Harrington, C Nick Spaling, Conditional 1st-rd pick, 2016 3rd-rd pick. Now everyone thinks they are going to be raising the cup. I’d rather not get ahead of myself. Don’t get me wrong, a prospective line of Kessel, Crosby and Malkin is pretty much unfair to every other team in the NHL, BUT the Penguins still have Marc-Andre Fleury between the pipes, and they still have the almost the same D core. They’ve added Adam Clendening on D and forwards Nick Bonino and Eric Fehr as the summer has rolled along. That should round out their bottom six quite nicely, I still don’t think it makes them a lock for the cup. For the Pens to even make it past the first round of the playoffs they will have to avoid the Rangers and Flyers (unlikely PHI will threaten) and Crosby will have to show up and provide more of an impact on the postseason.

Prediction: Second round exit from the playoffs

Columbus Blue Jackets

The Jackets missed the playoffs last season after a relatively mediocre regular season. To be fair, they were plagued by a RIDICULOUS amount of injury losing basically everyone on the team to injury at some point during the season. Hopefully, that isn’t the case for this season because the Jackets are an exciting team to watch when everything comes together.

Key Additions
F Brandon Sadd from CHI

Key Departures
F Artem Anisimov to CHI

The Jackets traded for 23-year-old playoff veteran Brandon Sadd this offseason, a move that should pay dividends. For those of you scratching your head at that sentence, Sadd is the youngest player in NHL history with 67 playoff appearances (helps when your team has won the cup three times). He was a fantastic complimentary player for the Hawks, and I imagine the Jackets will expect that plus more from him. He should be able to help Johansen grow into even more of a superstar and will instantly make the team more competitive for the playoffs. Now you may be thinking that I am overhyping the Sadd trade and it’s impact but keep in mind the injury woes for the Jackets last season. Sadd plus a full Jackets squad should be enough to get this team into the playoffs, after all they made it without him in 2014.

Prediction: Jackets earn a wild card spot

Philadelphia Flyers

The Flyers missed out on the playoffs last season, but new GM Ron Hextall and fresh head Coach Dave Hakstol provide hope for the orange and black.

Key Additions
Coach Dave Hakstol
F Sam Gagner from AZ
G Michael Neuvirth UFA
D Ivan Provorov Draft

Key Departures
D Nik Grossmann to AZ
D Chris Pronger to AZ
F Zac Rinaldo
Coach Craig Berube

Zac Rinaldo jumps off the page because the Flyers were able to get a third round pick for him from the Boston Bruins (no that is not a joke). The Flyers were also able to rid themselves of the Pronger contract because AZ needed to reach the cap floor, not only that but they also dumped traffic cone Nik Grossmann on the Yotes and got former top ten pick Sam Gagner in return. Like his fellow Philly GM Sam Hinkie, Hextall seems to love draft picks and really believes in building something in Philadelphia which is good news for the fans. The team was able to greatly improve their goaltending situation by signing Michael Neuvirth which should help since they are returning basically the same atrocious D corps. The biggest question mark for the Flyers is secondary scoring. They return Giroux, Voraceck, and PP specialist Wayne Simmonds and hope that Sean Couturier and Brayden Schenn can truly have breakout seasons under new head coach Dave Hakstol. Maybe Hakstol can even turn Sam Gagner around and make him prove that he was worth a top ten pick.

Prediction: Flyers are a FRINGE wild card team, but I still think their horrid defense keeps them out of the playoffs again.

New Jersey Devils

Honestly I had to Google the Devils because I had no idea what they did this offseason and forgot they even played the 2014-2015 season, they were that insignificant.

Key Additions
F Kyle Palmeri from ANA
D Marc-Andre Gragnani

Key Departures
Lou Lamoriello

The Devils off season activity was very light as GM Ray Shero turns his attention to rebuilding this team. Since losing the Stanley Cup Final in 2012 the New Jersey Devils have failed to return to the postseason. Honestly the Devils are going to need a lot more help for budding stars Adam Henrique and goaltender Cory Schneider. They lost the ageless Jaromir Jagr last season in a trade with the Florida Panthers for draft picks and seem to have turned their attention to full on rebuilding, bad news if you’re a playoff thirsty Devils fan. Palmeri is a solid addition to the top-9 but it’s going to take more than one guy to climb back into the postseason for the Devils.

Prediction: No playoffs.

Carolina Hurricanes

Seemingly permanent residents of the NHL basement each season the Canes were once again unable to muster a decent effort in their 2014-2015 campaign.

Key Additions
D James Wisniewski
G Eddie Lack

Key Departures
F Alex Semin BUYOUT

The Hurricanes started slow right our of the gate, going winless in the entire month of October. That is an accomplishment considering two of those games were against VERY bad teams in Buffalo and Edmonton. None the less, the Canes headed into Nov with a big 0 in the win column. They answered by winning four straight but that was probably the most exciting thing to happen to the team this season. They were out of the playoff race early and never threatened to be back in it. The Canes struggle offensively last season. Justin Faulk, a defenseman, had the second most points on the team behind Jordan Stall (54) with 46. Who else can they look to? Jeff Skinner is good but not great and Nathan Gerbe frankly is just average, Perhaps their future lies in the young guns like 20 year old Elias Lindstrom who posted 39 points. New goalie Eddie Lack should prove a worthy replacement for Cam Ward who isn’t getting any younger. Perhaps some of the guys from development camp can bring some of their moves to the big club, but it’s going to be a process before the Canes taste the playoffs again.

Prediction: No Playoffs

photo credit: Gaborik Scores After Capitals Miscue via photopin (license)

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