We are officially 21 days away from the first regular game of the NHL regular season. This is always one of the most exciting times as a hockey fan. After a long summer off, fans and players alike can’t wait to get everything started. This is a time where fans feel like their team can make the jump, whether that be winning the Stanley Cup, or becoming a playoff team. Unless, of course you’re an Oilers fan like me. Then all that happens is you let yourself year after year get just a glimpse of hope, only to be completely crushed and hating hockey by early December. Today, I’m breaking down how I expect the Metropolitan division to play out this year. Of course, there are surprises both good and bad every year, so these lists will never be accurate. Nonetheless, they are still fun to attempt and only add to the excitement of the upcoming season!
Washington Capitals: First, we will kick things off with the 2017/2018 cup champions. Hard to believe that a season has already passed since we all seen Alex Ovechkin hoist the cup. Last season, it didn’t feel too crazy to expect to see a repeat. After all, they had nearly an identical roster and led their division in points with 104. When they got matched up against the Hurricanes in the first round, it seemed like a no-brainer they would easily knock them off and continue on to the second round. The Hurricanes had other plans however, and defeated the Capitals in a thrilling game 7 double overtime win. In other years, this would have gone with the typical Caps story that they choke every year come playoff time. Luckily for Ovechkin and crew, they were able to finally get it done the season before. Had they not, there almost undoubtedly would’ve been some major changes coming into this season after a first round upset.
Additions: Hathaway, Hagelin, Jensen, Leipsic, Panic, Gudas.
Nothing that jumps off the page at you here, but a few solid if not spectacular moves for an already stacked team. Hagelin and Jensen were both added at the trade deadline of this past season, however they are still fairly new additions to this team. Hathaway and Leipsic are good depth adds, with both guys able to add a little bit of grit for Washington. Hagelin was able to put up 11 points (3 G, 8 A) in 20 games with Washington to end the season last year and should be able to give them some continued secondary scoring this season. He also adds some speed as well as good penalty killing to their lineup. Richard Panik is another skilled forward who has shown when he gets the opportunity to play with skilled players (mainly Patrick Kane) he can put up solid offensive numbers. Washington certainly has a lot of skilled players to put on a line with him. Radko Gudas is a player who doesn’t get as much respect as he should as a player. He plays mean, is solid in his own end, and is a solid third pairing defencemen on any NHL team. His problem, and what he’s most known for, is his lack of composure as well as his unpredictability. It’s always just a matter of time before a bad hit and a suspension. Him and Tom Wilson on the same team should be interesting, to say the least.
Departures: Bowey, Connolly, Smith-Pelly, Burakovsky, Niskanen, Jaskin, Orpik.
Again, nothing major here. The Connolly loss is a tough one, as he had a big offensive year with 46 points (22G, 24A). Because of that big year, he earned himself a pay raise that Washington didn’t have the cap space to make work. Burakovsky is a player who appears to have all the skill in the world, but for whatever reason couldn’t get the results in Washington. They essentially replaced him with Panik. The Niskanen for Gudas trade was more of a cap dump than anything, as Niskanen is regarded as the better of the two. That loss will hurt, but they have more than enough skill on the backend to make up for it. Brooks Orpik retired at seasons end. He wasn’t much help on the ice during his last season, but was said to have been a big leader in the locker room, so it will be interesting to see how much they may miss his veteran presence.
Expect another big season from the Capitals. Ovechkin should put up his usual 50+ goals, and other players like Backstrom, Kuznetsov, and Oshie should continue to put up strong numbers as well. On the back end, expect John Carlson to have a huge season and possibly get the credit he finally deserves, perhaps with a Norris trophy nomination. Holtby has struggled a bit the last two seasons, but with the way he has performed in the playoffs, there should be no concern. He is still one of the best in the game. Overall, Washington should be very similar to last year. I am expecting another first-place finish in the Metropolitan division.
New York Islanders: Probably the biggest surprise from the 2018/2019 season was the performance from the Islanders. After losing Tavares, it appeared there were some dark days ahead. However, they not only made the playoffs, but did so convincingly. A couple of the main reasons were from the play of Robin Lehner, as well as the job done by head coach Barry Trotz. With Robin Lehners story of finally being sober, as well as the determination they all played with after losing their captain, it truly did feel like a cinderella story. They even swept the Penguins in the first round. Unfortunately, it ended after that, with the Hurricanes returning the favor and sweeping them. A very positive season nonetheless, and one that will be very hard to repeat.
Additions: Varlamov, Brassard.
Unable to bring back Robin Lehner, the Islanders quickly went out and snatched up Semyon Varlamov. Varlamov has proven throughout his career he is immensely talented, but has always struggled with consistency. It should help him that Thomas Greiss, who is another solid goaltender, will be partnered up with him and should see a good amount of starts. Derrick Brassard just recently signed with the Islanders. It feels like he has been on every team in the league at this point, but he has proven before he can put up points and this deal has potential to be a nice add to their bottom 6.
Departures: Lehner, Filppula, Sbisa
Lehner was seen as the heart and soul of this team last year. He was simply outstanding, and would’ve certainly gotten a Vezina nomination had he been able to make a few more starts. It was his first really successful season in the NHL (granted, his first sober as well) so it is fair that the Isles were a bit hesitant to throw big dollars at him. Filppula is serviceable but very easy to replace. Luca Sbisa is still in the NHL?!
I expect the Islanders to come back down to Earth this season. Last year was just one of those crazy things, and give them credit. They played very well. However, eventually a lack of skill catches up with you, and I don’t feel this team has what it takes to continue last years success. I have them placing 7th in the Metropolitan division.
Pittsburgh Penguins: What the hell happened to these guys in the playoffs last year? Show me anyone who claims to have had the Islanders sweeping them in their bracket and I’ll show you a liar. They had another strong regular season with 100 points, but will no doubt come into this season pissed off with how things went last year.
Additions: Galchenyuk, Kahun, Tanev.
Galchenyhuk is an interesting add. This is a player that everyone knows has a lot of skill, and had shown glimpses of it over his time in Montreal. It will be interesting to see who he is put on a line with, and whether or not he is able to put it all together. This is a huge year for him. Kahun and Tanev are nice adds for the bottom six. Tanevs contract, however, had many scratching their heads.
Departures: Kessel, Maatta, Cullen.
Obviously, Kessel is a huge loss. At least, on the ice. There were some rumors about tensions in the locker room near the end of his tenure. Regardless, 92 and 82 points in the last two seasons would be missed significantly by any team. Cullen, much like Orpik, was no longer valuable on the ice, but was a great veteran leader inside the locker room. Penguins fans should be thrilled with the Maatta/ Kahun swap, as the last few years Maatta has really struggled.
Expect the Penguins to be the Penguins. Crosby will continue to be one of the best players in the game. I also think Matt Murray and Evgeni Malkin will bounce back this season. Neither were horrible last year but they are capable of giving a lot more. I expect Pittsburgh to give Washington a run at winning the division, but fall slightly short and finish in second place. It will still be a strong season from them regardless.
Carolina Hurricanes: What a fun team this was. Their celebrations on the ice after home wins were probably the most talked about antics the entire season. You had some people who absolutely loved them and the fact they brought in more fans. And you had some, mainly Don Cherry, who hated everything about them. Cherry even called them “A Bunch Of Jerks”, which the Canes ran with as their team slogan for the rest of the season. It was a fun season, and much like the Islanders, very unexpected.
Additions: Gardiner, Haula, Dzingel, Reimer, Forsling, Gibbons
Some pretty solid adds here. Gardiner just very recently signed for a very team friendly deal. Although he was heavily criticized during his time in Toronto, he is an extremely good puck mover and one of the better skating defencemen in the league. Haula is a very solid all-around player who can do a bit of everything. Dzingel was brought in on what is also considered to be a very team friendly contract, and if he plays like he’s proven he can he should be a lock for 45+ points. James Reimer provides a nice back up option with a ton of experience to step in for Mrazek whether it be for injury or Mrazek’s history of inconsistent play. Forsling and Gibbons are both inexpensive depth adds.
Departures: Williams, Ferland, de Haan, McElhinney, Darling, McKegg,
The biggest name on this list is Williams. Williams is technically an unrestricted free agent, but he recently just released a statement saying he is taking a break from hockey. The rumor is he will rest up and join a team sometime in the new year. Even if he does re-join the Hurricanes, that’s a tough loss for them to start the season. He was there leader and has proven to still be a good player, putting up 53 points last year. Ferland had a very solid season for Carolina last year with 40 points in 71 games. He is a typical power forward in every sense and will be very much missed by the Hurricanes this season. McElhinney was a reliable back up option for them last year, but he was easily replaced with Reimer. The Darling signing was a disaster since day one, so it was a boost for them to be able to move that contract.
I’d expect, much like the Islanders, for a regression from the Canes this season. They lost two of their better forwards, and I believe played slightly over their heads last season. However, even if they do miss the playoffs, there are exciting times ahead in Raleigh. With young forwards such as Aho and Teravainen, as well as one of the strongest blue lines in the league, the future is bright. For this season though, I have the Hurricanes sitting fifth place in the Metropolitan division. Keep in mind that Columbus was the fifth place team in the Metro last year and were able to squeak into the playoffs.
Columbus Blue Jackets: Wow. This team and its fan base have gone through a whirlwind of emotions over the past season. Going into the year they were seen as a team who could go on a playoff run, but there were very big questions regarding the futures of Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky. They ended up having a fairly disappointing regular season heading into the deadline, where many expected them to trade Panarin and Bobrovsky for assets rather than have them walk for nothing in the summer. Well, that certainly didn’t happen. Not only did they hold on to both, they also went out and traded for both Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel. They also made a few smaller deals in order to bolster the line up for playoffs, acquiring Adam McQuaid and Keith Kinkaid. Even after these deals, they still didn’t play great for the final stretch, and were just able to squeak into the playoffs. Then, they were matched up against the Tampa Bay Lightning. Absolutely no one gave them a chance in this series. But somehow, they were able to go out and not only beat Tampa, but sweep them. That was as far as they’d go, as they were then eliminated by the Bruins in the second round. The hope was that because of this strong showing, they’d be able to convince their top players to stick around. It didn’t quite work out that way for them…..
Additions: Nyquist, Dano
Gustav Nyquist is a good player. He can play in any teams top 6, and will give you right around points each year. This was certainly a nice add in what was otherwise a terrible off season for Columbus. Dano is a depth forward who could crack the lineup given the many departures they had.
Departures: Panarin, Bobrovsky, Duchene, Dzingel, McQuaid, Kinkaid
Ouch. Losing one all star caliber player is a huge blow for a franchise. Columbus lost three, albeit one being a rental in Duchene. This is one of the worst off seasons any NHL team has ever had. Not only did they lose their three superstars, but they also lost a very dependable 50-point player in Dzingel. McQuaid at the time was thought to be a good add for them, but he really struggled to keep up down the stretch. Kinkaid is a cheap back up and should be easily replaceable.
What a crippling off season for Columbus. They still do have some very talented players in the likes of Atkinson and Dubois, as well as Werenski and Jones on the back end. But there are way to many holes in this lineup. On top of all that, they are relying heavily on Joonas Korpisalo to step in and play as their number one. He certainly will not replace Bobrovsky, and doesn’t really appear to have the track record at this point to suggest he will be able to be a starting goalie. Overall, I think this will be a very tough year for Columbus, and I’m predicting that they will finish dead last in the Metro.
Philadelphia Flyers: I do this every year with Philly. I always seem to think they are going to be a very good team, and year after year they prove me wrong. They always seem to be just a middling team, making playoffs one year, missing the next. They made some significant changes last season, firing GM Ron Hextall as well as coach Dave Hakstol. They then named Chuck Fletcher their GM, and at the end of the season announced Alain Vigneault as their head coach. Vigneault has coached some good teams in the past, and I expect that to be the case again this year.
Additions: Hayes, Niskanen, Braun, Pitlick
A few good pick ups for the Flyers. Hayes was acquired from the Jets in an off-season trade so the Flyers could negotiate a contract before having him test the open market. They wasted no time and got him signed to a 7 year 50-million-dollar deal. This seems like an extremely high price for Hayes, but he should still help their lineup and put up 50 or so points a season. Niskanen is another nice piece they were able to obtain in the Radko Gudas trade, which is a definite upgrade.
Departures: Gudas, Hartman, Talbot, MacDonald
Nothing major here. As already mentioned, Gudas was replaced with Niskanen, and Pitlick replaces Hartman. MacDonald being bought out was an addition by subtraction as he has not been able to perform anywhere near the level they were hoping for when they signed him to a big deal years ago.
I like this Flyers team. I think Giroux is a lock to have another huge year. Couturier has proven to be a very talented player the past two seasons, and everyone knows how good Voracek can be. On the back end they have Provorov and Gostisbehere, both of whom I expect to have big bounce back years. The biggest question mark I believe is the goaltending. The tandem they are going into the year with is Brian Elliott and Carter Hart. I think Carter Hart is the real deal and I think he will provide solid goaltending for them, and Elliott has proven throughout his career that when he gets 35 or so starts in a year he can put up great numbers. Because of this, I am ranking the Flyers higher than some would, predicting a fourth place finish in the Metro division.
New York Rangers: It was a pretty ho hum season for the Rangers. They were supposed to suck, and they did just that. This is a team that I’ve thought of as pretty boring the past 3-4 seasons. They were a team that was stuck between a rebuild and a playoff contender stage. That all changed this year due to both free agency as well as the draft lottery.
Arrivals: Panarin, Trouba, Kakko
The Rangers signed the most hyped up free agent of the summer when they were able to obtain Panarin. Panarin wanted to play in New York and he got his wish. This obviously speeds up the Rangers ‘rebuild’ extremely quickly and has them back on the verge of being a playoff contender, depending on whether or not he can live up to the expectations. Trouba is another piece that really helps speed up their rebuild. He will immediately slide in as their number one defenceman and should help this team all over the ice. The third addition is Kaapo Kakko. You could say the draft lottery treated the Rangers well. They were projected to have the 6th pick and moved up all the way to 2nd. With that, they were more than happy to select Kakko. He will play this year and has a chance to make a big name for himself right away. Buckle up.
Departures: Shattenkirk, Vesey, Pionk, Claesson
When Shattenkirk was first signed, it was met with a lot of excitement from Rangers fans. Unfortunately for both him and the team, it never worked out as planned and he was bought out this summer. Vesey can also be put under that same category, although he was traded instead. Pionk appears to be a very good young defenceman with a lot of potential. He certainly wasn’t a player they wanted to get rid of, although it was the right move to be able to bring in Trouba.
This Rangers team went from no star power to having quite a few weapons in just one short off season. They will no doubt be exciting to watch. Everyone knows what Panarin can do, and it will be interesting to see how much time (if any) it will take Kakko to adjust to the NHL game. The Rangers could be a team that surprises and makes a playoff push. I don’t have them there just yet. I am predicting a 6th place finish in the Metro division this season.
New Jersey Devils: Much like the intro I gave for Columbus. Wow. This, though, for the complete opposite reason. I think most would agree the Devils are the most improved team in the league this offseason. Last season they came in with a bit more hype surrounding them than normal, due to the fact they had made the playoffs the season before. Unfortunately, nothing went their way last season. It’s tough for a team when their best player goes down. In New Jerseys case, they lost not only their best player, but the Hart Trophy winner from the season before in Taylor Hall. He ended up only playing in 33 games before a season ending injury, and the Devils finished the year with a very disappointing 72 points.
Additions: Subban, Gusev, Hughes, Simmonds
The Rangers weren’t the only team who received major help from the draft lottery. The Devils were able to jump from third overall pick to number one, and with that they selected Jack Hughes. Obviously, any time you are able to add a first overall selection to your team, it is a huge boost. However, it doesn’t always equal success (just ask Edmonton). There are more pieces you need to add in order to build a winning team, and New Jersey did just that. They made a huge move in the offseason, acquiring P.K. Subban from the Predators. Everyone knows just how skilled and effective Subban is. He is one of the top tier defencemen in the league and should immediately help New Jersey for a playoff push. They also signed KHL superstar Nikita Gusev. These moves are always tough to judge, because not all of these players are able to translate their success to the NHL style. It is worth noting that he has put up bigger numbers in the KHL than Panarin, who was also relatively unknown when he first came to the NHL. Although they are the same age, if Gusev can be anywhere near as good as Panarin, this contract will be a huge steal and a major boost for the Devils. They were also able to grab Wayne Simmonds. Over the past few seasons Simmonds hasn’t been the same player he once was. Injuries have slowed him down, which is often the case for power forwards. He can still play a tough, physical role and isn’t afraid to drop the gloves. If he can re discover that offensive talent he possessed a few seasons ago, this is a bargain signing.
Departures: Santini, Gabriel
That’s it. That is all they lost. Like I said, you won’t find a team who had a better offseason than New Jersey, and their fanbase should be very excited for what’s to come.
I really like this team. Some are saying for a team that hasn’t hit the ice yet they are being overrated and won’t live up to the hype. Maybe that’s the correct take. There are some question marks on the back end and even more so with goaltending. Corey Schneider hasn’t been Corey Schneider for a few seasons. They do have a promising young goaltender in Mackenzie Blackwood, who I believe will be a stud for them in the upcoming years. I feel they will split the net evenly this year, and that Corey Schneider will have a big season for them. This will seem crazy to some, but I am predicting a third place finish for the Devils in the Metro this season.
1) Washington Capitals
2) Pittsburgh Penguins
3) New Jersey Devils
4) Philadelphia Flyers
5) Carolina Hurricanes
6) New York Rangers
7) New York Islanders
8) Columbus Blue Jackets