Every team has two games left in the season, and that means it’s time to evaluate every team’s season on a pass/fail basis.
1. Washington Capitals: 103 Points (48-25-7) - Incomplete
I hate to start this thing off by breaking the pass/fail rating. But with the Washington Capitals, their entire season comes down to what happens in the postseason. Last season was the best roster the Caps have had during the Alex Ovechkin era, but they still flamed out in the second round. So the Caps still have a lot to prove going forward.
What’s gone well for the Caps? First, Tom Wilson took a huge step forward offensively. He was drafted as a power forward, but by pulling him up too early he turned into a good. His 14 goals double his career best, and his 34 points are nine more than his second-best season in 2015-2016.
Rookie Jakub Vrana also proved himself this season and earned an NHL role with 13 goals and 14 assists through 72 games. He has made Andre Burakovsky redundant, which gives the Caps the ability to trade Burakovsky at the draft to open up cap space. The Caps were able to get younger this year and still stay the course by winning the Metropolitan Division.
2. Pittsburgh Penguins: 96 Points (45-29-6) - Pass
The Penguins had a little bit of a Stanley Cup hangover, going 19-19-3 in 2017, and at one point in December they were on the outside looking in. However, in 2018 they 17-8-3 and have come roaring back. The biggest thing that stands out with the Pens is that they have overcome adversity. With starting goaltender Matt Murray only playing 48 games, they have still been able to find a way to stay successful.
The Penguins have managed to play well with the departures of Trevor Daley, Ron Hainsey, Nick Bonino, Matt Cullen and Marc-Andre Fleury. Most other teams would not have been able to lose two centers, two defensemen, and their starting goalie. Pittsburgh was also able to improve at the trade deadline when they acquired center Derick Brassard from the Senators for virtually nothing. The Pens are now heading into the playoffs looking for a third straight Stanley Cup with a realistic chance.
3. Columbus Blue Jackets: 96 Points (45-29-6) - Pass
The Jackets come to their last two games of the season tied for second place with the Penguins, with a game coming tomorrow night to essentially decide who gets home ice in the first round series. The Penguins have the regulations and overtime wins tiebreaker, so the Blue Jackets must win tomorrow to capture home ice. But the way the Blue Jackets have been playing, they may not need home ice. They are heading to the playoffs with a record of 14-1-0 in their last 15 games. Good luck stopping these guys.
Let's not forget that the Blue Jackets’ previous season was pretty fluky including a 16-game win streak and a playoff success rate near 30%. I think if anyone told them that they would regress closer to the mean, but still be in a Metro division playoff spot, they would take it. The Blue Jackets may not be favored by Vegas in the first round against the Penguins, but they are certainly the toughest team to face in the first round in the Metro.
4. Philadelphia Flyers: 94 Points (40-26-14) - Pass
Much like the New Jersey Devils, the Flyers entered their rebuild phase after the Canes, but have been able to exit before them. The Flyers have had more luck than any team in the Metro when they were able to move up from the 13th pick to the second pick to select Nolan Patrick last season. (Real shocker that a team in a traditional market somehow benefitted from the draft lottery.)
However, before they lucked into Patrick, the Flyers were able to use their picks in a smart manner to get players like Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, and Shayne Gostisbehere. Last season the Flyers were trending in the right direction, but could not buy a save. This season they increased to 12th in the league for even strength save percentage with a .925, tying the Washington Capitals. When they had goaltending issues, they made a great move to acquire Petr Mrazek from the Detroit Red Wings for just two conditional draft picks. The Flyers and their fans should be very happy where this team is at this season.
5. New Jersey Devils: 95 Points (43-28-9) - Pass
The Devils looked helpless two years ago, and then two things happened. The first is that they pulled off a blockbuster trade to get Taylor Hall for Adam Larsson. The second, was when they won the lottery last spring, moving up frim the fifth draft position to select Nico Hischier. These two pieces have become two-thirds of the Devils top line. This season Hall has 39 goals and 54 assists for 94 points and Hischier has 19 goals and 32 assists for 51 total points.
Now winning the draft lottery is pure luck, but trading for Taylor Hall is manufacturing your own success. The Devils entered a rebuild four years after the Canes, but have been able to get themselves back in this position with smart signings and trades, not by going to the bargain bin every offseason. The Devils set the rebuild blueprint that many declining teams with assets will follow, i.e. the New York Rangers.
6. Carolina Hurricanes: 81 Points (35-24-11) - Fail
The Hurricanes were in a tough spot coming into the season. They had an owner desperately trying to sell the team and not willing to pump money into the franchise. They were also a trendy playoff pick and Vegas had the over-under point total at 92.5 points. This all led to really firing up the fan base and giving many unrealistic expectations. The Canes finished right where many predicted, as a bubble team.
There were two huge disappointments this season. The first being defense. This includes goaltending, and there is a lot of blame to go around. Justin Faulk took a MASSIVE step back this season. He’s had his least amount of points (32) and goals (8) since the 2013-2014 season, allowing Moe’s to come out as bandits on their queso deal. Goaltending was not good, the Canes needed just league average goaltending to compete this season, and they had the second worst even strength save percentage at .909.
The other major disappointment was consistency. The team continued their same narrative of playing only two periods in a game. Whether that was blowing third-period leads or giving up multiple goals minutes into the game, they didn’t often put together a full 60 minutes. This coupled with questionable roster decisions like leaving Jeff Skinner on the third line likes with Derek Ryan, prohibited the team from going on an extended win streak like every other playoff team had this season.
7. New York Rangers: 77 Points (34-37-9) - BIG OL’ FAIL
The Rangers still had the expectations of making the playoffs and a cup run this year. Though they may not have been fair expectations, I expected them to be the last team out this year, they underperformed by everyone’s metrics. The Rangers started off the season strong going 20-13-5 in 2017 before the wheels came off in the new year.
The Rangers smartly decided to sell at the deadline and did so to the best of their abilities, trading captain Ryan McDonagh, Rick Nash, J.T. Miller, and Michael Grabner. The Rangers may not be done and may have more trades up their sleeves at the draft. They have done a good job in rebuilding quickly. With two first-round picks last season and three first-round picks this season, they are refilling their farm system quicker than anyone imagined they could.
8. New York Islanders: 76 Points (33-37-10) - Fail...FAIL...FAILFAILFAILFAILFAIL
The Islanders came into the season with playoff hopes. They trended up quickly at the end of the 2016-2017 season after firing Jack Capuano and replaced him with Doug Weight. On top of this, many expected the Islanders to overemphasize making the playoffs to lure pending free agent John Tavares to re-sign with the team. The Islanders have done the exact opposite and, most embarrassingly, have failed to overtake the Rangers, who publicly announced to their fans that they were going to tank.
On top of this, um....poop sundae...one of the Islanders’ top prospects, Josh Ho-Sang, has now been speaking out about his unhappiness with the organization. Ho-Sang was sent down to the minors relatively early this season with the team citing his defensive mishaps. However, the team has the worst goals against by 30 in the entire league, so the issue is not just with one player.
He is not the only one upset with the way the organization is run. Isles fans are buying more and more billboards around the city that call for GM Garth Snow to get fired, which begs the question “How does Garth Snow still have a job?”