Today in our divisional season preview series, we take a look at the teams of the Metropolitan Division.
This is an interesting year for the Blue Jackets. Columbus has one of the best point producers in the league in Artemi Panarin and one of the best goalies in Sergei Bobrovsky. Both also might be playing elsewhere next season. Their contracts are up after this year, and it’s unclear where they stand on extensions. Panarin appears to want out, and could be traded early in the season.
It’ll be interesting to see if the Jackets go for broke in what could be their last year with the two talented Russians on their roster, or if they opt for a soft rebuild. The latter seems unlikely, as this is still a team with a lot of talent, and Columbus just handed head coach John Tortorella a two-year extension.
Seth Jones and Zach Werenski are one of the best top D pairings in the league, and the Jackets still have talent at forward in Alexander Wennberg, Cam Atkinson, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Oliver Bjorkstrand. The Jackets should be firmly in the mix for an Eastern Conference wild card, with or without Panarin.
The New Jersey Devils are in limbo, and are rebuilding on the fly. While the old guard is aging and on the way out, they also have a youth movement with Pavel Zacha, Nico Hischier, and Jesper Bratt. Combine that with winger Taylor Hall, the defending Hart Trophy winner who is in his prime, and the Devils could be set for a while. This season they look to be a borderline playoff team, and their place in the standings will likely be determined by Hall’s performance. Last season Hall was dragging them through the season and just barely squeaked into the playoffs as the last team in.
The Devils are likely to have a similar season but with a low floor. They lack scoring and blue line depth. Cory Schneider is coming off of a down season, and they brought in Eddie Lack to compete for the backup spot with Keith Kincaid. The Devils will likely be a streaky team this season; when Hall is hot they can win three, five, or seven straight. But when he is cold, or everything doesn’t go their way, they could easily lose just as many in a row.
Well, the good news is that the Isles were able to add a Stanley Cup winning coach behind the bench in Barry Trotz, and their fans won the battle and Garth Snow was replaced with Lou Lamoriello. The bad news, is...well...everything else.
The Isles lost John Tavares and Calvin de Haan in free agency. Their replacements? Valtteri Filppula, Leo Komarov, and Tom Kuhnhackl. Lamoriello’s plan was apparently to get older at all costs.
The Isles’ future looks bleak. Not only did they lose one of the top players in the league, they are a team that refuses to admit they are in a rebuild. They are likely to miss the playoffs, but they could be a team that are a couple points out and add at the deadline instead of having a fire sale. The best thing that the Isles can hope for is to be out of playoff contention by miles when the deadline rolls around, so the organization’s hand can be forced. But hey, at least they have some games at the Nassau Coliseum this season.
I can’t wait for some player to show up at Barclays for a game that’s actually at Nassau, wandering around, confused and looking for advice from employees who are setting up for a Taylor Swift concert because no one explained that the Isles have a second home rink. This season is going to be great.
The Rangers come into the season without any real playoff hopes. The team is in full rebuild mode, but the rebuild has gone surprisingly well for a team that had a bottom five farm system just two seasons ago. The Rangers added Adam McQuaid from the Bruins which will bolster a defense that struggled mightily last season. They were also able to hang on to their mid season acquisitions by signing both Vladislav Namestnikov and Ryan Spooner which adds top six depth.
The Rangers also expect 19 year olds Filip Chytil and Lias Andersson to make the opening day roster, which would be huge for progressing their rebuild. Chytil was one of the largest risers throughout last season and looks to push Kevin Hayes for the third center spot or could take Jimmy Vesey’s spot on the wing of that same line. This season could be huge for the Rangers in developing these young players and to start building their core for the future.
This is a team that gets overlooked a lot, but is also one that has a boatload of talent. Adding the return of James van Riemsdyk to a forward group that already had Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier, Travis Konecny and Nolan Patrick makes this one of the best offensive attacks in the NHL.
Philly has a young, underrated blueline led by Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere. Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but the one thing that could hold this team back is goaltending. Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth will look for some consistency, while prospect Alex Lyon has a shot to make the team.
If they can get competent goaltending, the Flyers are easily a top-three team in the Metro.
The Penguins have had a longer offseason to rest than usual after falling to the Washington Capitals in the second round. This is still one of the most talented teams in the league, and the Pens should have a little added motivation after falling short of the Stanley Cup Final for the first time since 2017.
The Penguins have one of the best forward groups in the league, with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Derick Brassard down the middle complimented by Phil Kessel and Jake Guentzel on the wings.
The defense is a little iffy past Kris Letang, and Jim Rutherford made the mind-boggling decision to hand Jack Johnson a five-year, $16 million contract. In goal, Matt Murray is looking to bounce back from a below-average season, but the Pens have always been able to outscore their defensive woes. This is still a contender for the top spot in the division, and the Stanley Cup to boot.
The Washington Capitals and their fans are still riding high after their first Stanley Cup win and they deserve to be. The Caps partied so hard, they had to change the rules on partying with the Cup for the future. However, with the season about to start, we are about to see if they will start the season riding that wave of confidence, or if they will suffer from a Stanley Cup hangover.
The Caps return with almost the exact same roster as last season. They only lost Jay Beagle in free agency, and they traded backup goaltender Philipp Grubauer to the Colorado Avalanche for a draft pick (and, importantly, for the cap space to re-sign Brooks Orpik). Though the roster stays relatively the same, the Caps have a new coach behind the bench. The Caps let Barry Trotz walk in the off season and hired longtime assistant Todd Reardon to take over. The biggest question is how will the Caps buy into Reardon’s new system. Will they take to it well, or will it shake the confidence that they built in the playoffs last season?
This is going to be a very different-looking group that takes the ice at PNC Arena Oct. 4, with Rod Brind’Amour replacing Bill Peters behind the bench and Petr Mrazek, Andrei Svechnikov, Martin Necas, Calvin de Haan, Dougie Hamilton and Jordan Martinook replacing Cam Ward, Elias Lindholm, Derek Ryan and Noah Hanifin on the ice.
In the first season under Brind’Amour and GM Don Waddell, the Canes will look to “change the culture” and return to the playoffs for the first time in nine years.
Adding de Haan and Hamilton to Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce, Justin Faulk and Trevor van Riemsdyk gives Carolina the best blueline in the Metro, and it’s probably third to the Nashville Predators and San Jose Sharks in the entire NHL.
The Canes have some scoring to replace with Jeff Skinner traded to the Buffalo Sabres, but if Necas and Svechnikov have big rookie years and Aho and Teravainen continue their progression, it’s possible for the team to improve in that area.
As always, the Canes’ success will hinge on their goaltending. Both Scott Darling and Mrazek are motivated to have a better year after sub-par seasons last year. They should have plenty of motivation from pushing each other for starts, Mrazek being on a one-year deal and Darling getting into much better shape. If one of those two finds a groove, the Canes have a good chance to play more than 82 games.
We will have more to preview the Canes next week when we focus closely on where the team stands entering the 2018-19 season.