83 days until hockey season starts, so let’s throw a mid-offseason projection of how the teams in the metropolitan division will rank next year. Last year was rather surprising in the metropolitan division. Capitals won the President’s Trophy, Philadelphia squeezed into the playoffs, and the Penguins came out on top of the NHL with a Stanley Cup win. This division is, and always has been, a very competitive one, there’s always that one team that shakes up the division and makes things interesting around playoff time.
The Top Three
After coming off a Stanley Cup win, and not losing much besides Ben Lovejoy and Jeff Zatkoff, the Penguins probably won’t make any big moves or go after anyone during free agency this offseason due to their limited cap space. It’s clear that general manager Jim Rutherford doesn’t want to add anyone as well. That won’t matter though, the Penguins have identified themselves as one of the best in the NHL.
With a line-up consisting of Crosby, Malkin, and Kessel as well as four very solid forward lines, I don’t think anything can go wrong for Pittsburgh this year. The Penguins have a solid mix of guys up and down the line-up who fly under the radar but were part of their success last year. The defensive side of the puck may be a problem, but that’s very unlikely with players like Kris Letang, Trevor Daley, and Justin Schultz. Pittsburgh has a good enough defense to win games, along with two solid goaltenders in Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury.
The only problem I see here is who is Pittsburgh are going to start in net during the regular season, due to Murray’s outstanding post-season performances. In any case, Pittsburgh is likely sitting at number one in the metropolitan division.
Ranking in at number two, no surprise here, the Washington Capitals. Washington had a disappointing year if you’re a Washington fan, winning the President’s Trophy and then losing to Pittsburgh in the second round is not what they expected.
With the addition of Lars Eller, who solidifies that third line center role real well for Washington, along Brett Connolly adding depth the line-up, sets Washington up for another successful year. In having the best goalie in the league, Braden Holtby, you probably feel real comfortable with that guy in the net night in and night out. The only concern for Washington here is locking up forward Marcus Johansson. There’s a lot of talk about a one year deal for him but nothing is official yet.
Number three in the ranking and I’m going out on limb here, the New Jersey Devils. With the addition of Taylor Hall, things seem to be looking pretty bright in Jersey. Hall adds the offensive power that the Devils needed, along with the chemistry he shares with Adam Henrique who had 30 goals and 50 points last year, a total which will only increase with Hall by his side.
Losing Larsson was pretty big to the Devils, but his role can easily be fulfilled by someone else. Goaltender Cory Schneider had 27 wins and a 2.15 GAA, which shows how dangerous he can be. Schneider will be the backbone of New Jersey’s success, so if he keeps performing well I believe the Devils have a good shot next year. Minor additions like Beau Bennett, Vernon Fiddler, and Ben Lovejoy will only help this team succeed next year.
Now, the ranking positions for four, five, six is all up for grabs, but I believe the Rangers fall in the four spot, Islanders in the five and Philadelphia in the six.
Rangers lost Yandle but added Nick Holden, obviously, he is no Yandle but he’s a solid defenseman and the Rangers needed that. As well as really building great depth in their line-up with Michael Grabner, Nathan Grebe, Josh Jooris as well as adding a scorer like Mika Zibanejad, only helps the Rangers offense. Can’t forget about Henrik Lundqvist also, if the Rangers do a better job defensively this year I believe Hank will stand tall for them.
The New York Islanders losing Matt Martin, Kyle Okposo, and Frans Nielsen is tough, but adding veteran forwards in Jason Chimera and Andrew Ladd definitely helps. Yet again the Islanders need a goaltender, in my opinion, Jaroslav Halak won’t cut it. I could be wrong, the Islanders could finish better but I think the five spot is a realistic ranking for them this year.
Philadelphia snuck into the playoffs and got eliminated in the first round. A postseason spot is a sign of the Flyers trending upward but with the division, they’re in, and the Devils getting even better this year, I can’t see Philly making the playoffs in the upcoming campaign. They struggled to be consistent last year and have not made any big additions to their roster this year.
The seven and eight spot go to Carolina at seven and Columbus at eight. Carolina made some good offseason moves, adding Teuvo Teravainen, Bryan Bickell, and Lee Stempniak, but they’re still a bit too young and inexperienced to really make a push for the top five this year. Columbus re-signing Seth Jones is big, as was drafting Pierre Luc-Dubois, but they really aren’t showing any signs of having a better year next year. They may win a few more games and maybe land in the seven spot, but I just can’t see Colombus being a top five team in a real competitive division.