After predicting the playoff picture for the Western Conference, it is time to move over to the east. Let’s start with the strongest division in the NHL, the Metropolitan. Last year, three of the top four teams in the league were from the Metropolitan Division. The Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins have had a stranglehold on the division for years, but new threats are emerging. After years of basement-dwelling, Columbus look ready to take the crown. Meanwhile, the Carolina Hurricanes and their bevy of young, talented defencemen should be everyone’s sleeper pick going into the season. Although the top four should remain the same, expect a lot of movement in the division.
- Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Years’ Finish (3rd in Metropolitan, 3rd in East)
This Years’ Prediction (1st in Metropolitan, 1st in East)
Last year, the Columbus Blue Jackets showed the league how good they really are. Everyone had been expecting it, but finally, the luck went in the Blue Jackets’ way. Columbus made one of the biggest trades of the offseason by trading Brendan Saad back to the Chicago Blackhawks for Artemi Panarin. With a team full of grinders and hard-nosed players, adding a player of the “Bread Man’s” caliber was important. This team has all the defence it needs with the reigning Vezina Trophy winner, Bobrovsky, and a talented young defence core highlighted by Seth Jones and Zach Werenski. As long as the offence improves with the added skill, Columbus is a surefire bet to win the division, conference and… wait for it… make it to the STANLEY CUP FINALS!
2. Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Years’ Finish (2nd in Metropolitan, 2nd in East)
This Years’ Prediction (2nd in Metropolitan, 3rd in East)
The back-to-back Stanley Cup champions will surely be near the top of the east yet again. The problem is, Nick Bonino was a big loss for them. Often times forgotten behind the star power of Crosby and Malkin, Bonino locked down the third line center job and filled the second line duty whenever called upon. Without a true replacement for Bonino, the Penguins may struggle to keep the puck out of the net as much as they did last year. Hopefully the defence lost can be made up by Matt Murray. The starting role is solely his, so the responsibility has increased. He may be a two-time Stanley Cup champion already, but the real test starts now.
3. New York Rangers
Last Years’ Finish (4th in Metropolitan, 5th in East)
This Years’ Prediction (3rd in Metropolitan, 4th in East)
The New York Rangers are in an interesting position. Their roster is definitely not a top three team in the east, but when you have Henrik Lundqvist, you always have to challenge for the cup. The Rangers forward group is in a transition period, so they will be relying on the continued growth of their young forwards Mika Zibanejad and Jimmy Vesey. Without Derek Stepan, Zibanejad will be thrust into the first line role. His defence may need work, but he showed last year that he can be a big offensive contributor. The Rangers top four was boosted by last years’ acquisition of Brendan Smith and their new, prized free agent, Kevin Shattenkirk. The Rangers have a chance to have a big year, which is important, because it may be “The King’s” last great season.
4. Washington Capitals
Last Years’ Finish (1st in Metropolitan, 1st in East)
This Years’ Prediction (4th in Metropolitan, 6th in East)
Last year was the peak of this Washington Capitals team. They had enough of their stars on entry-level or team-friendly deals, but not anymore. Their offensive and defensive depth was stripped by the departures of Justin Williams, Marcus Johansson, Kevin Shattenkirk, Nate Schmidt and Karl Alzner. Although they were able to retain some star talent by resigning Kuznetsov and Orlov, they are a shell of last year’s team. With Ovechkin, Backstrom and Holtby, Washington will remain a playoff team, but the days of President’s Trophies are behind them. Maybe not being in first place will take the pressure off the Caps and catapult them to the cup finals, but probably not.
5. Carolina Hurricanes
Last Years’ Finish (7th in Metropolitan, 12th in East)
This Years’ Prediction (5th in Metropolitan, 10th in East)
I wanted to place this team higher in the predictions. They have the best young defence core in the entire NHL, and the organization has filled the lineup holes well. What’s holding them back is the lack of experience. Scott Darling proved that he is a great back-up, but can he start? The ‘Canes’ have young, high-end talent at forward, but can they play consistently through the whole season? The Hurricanes are the biggest wildcard in the NHL this year. They have no pressure on them to perform, and a bevy of young talent at their disposal. They will most likely finish out of the playoffs, but don’t be surprised if they squeak into that last wildcard spot.
6. Philadelphia Flyers
Last Years’ Finish (6th in Metropolitan, 11th in East)
This Years’ Prediction (6th in Metropolitan, 11th in East)
Ho hum, the Philadelphia Flyers. Don’t get me wrong, they have loads of talent. Their offense has a good blend of grit and skill with Giroux, Simmonds and newly drafted Nolan Patrick. Their defence, although lacking any semblance of a defensive stud, possesses enough puck-moving ability to release their talented forwards. Even their goaltending got better. With the addition of Brian Elliot, the Flyers hope they have a solid goaltending tandem much like the one Elliot was a part of in St. Louis. The problem is, this team has too many holes. Their defence is not nearly good enough to matchup against the offense of Pittsburgh or Toronto, and their offense won’t be able to win the game every night. The Flyers definitely won’t be making the playoffs, but with talented prospects in their system, they could make the jump sooner than later.
7. New York Islanders
Last Years’ Finish (5th in Metropolitan, 9th in East)
This Years’ Prediction (7th in Metropolitan, 14th in East)
Somehow, I forgot the Islanders made it to the ninth spot in the east last year. When their season seemed lost, they fought their way into playoff contention, and at the same time, lowered their odds of getting a good draft pick. The Islanders tried to make a big move by trading Ryan Strome for Jordan Eberle. Reuniting Eberle with his World Juniors buddy Tavares may reinvigorate his career, but that is not enough to take this team to the post-season. They do have many skilled prospects ready to make the jump to the NHL, which means their offense could be pretty good next year. The problem is, when you field a goaltending tandem of Halak and Greiss, you are bound to be inconsistently.
8. New Jersey Devils
Last Years’ Finish (8th in Metropolitan, 16th in East)
This Years’ Prediction (8th in Metropolitan, 15th in East)
The New Jersey Devils had an amazing offseason, but unfortunately that won’t take them out of the cellars. Signing Brian Boyle will bring toughness and leadership to a young team. Getting coveted college defenceman Will Butcher will help bring skill to their defence core. Acquiring Marcus Johansson from Washington for only a second and third round draft pick was a steal, as was winning the draft lottery to select Nico Hischier. Since losing in the Stanley Cup Finals in 2012, the Devils have struggled to find success. Although this team will remain in the cellar this season, the success they’ve been longing for doesn’t look too far behind.
The Metropolitan is full of teams with big question marks. Can young talent fill the void left by serviceable veterans, or will their teams falter. No matter what, there will be a lot of change in the divisional standings from last season to this season. Check back next Saturday for the final preseason playoff prediction for the Atlantic Division.