Let’s begin back in June of 2011 when the Atlanta Thrashers got sold to a Canadian ownership group, which decided to relocate the team to Winnipeg and become as they’re known today: The Jets. This simple relocation of the team, back to a previous hockey hot bed, led to the realignment of the league’s divisions. The realignment was agreed upon, and was unveiled entering the 2013-14 season. The old Atlantic division welcomed three new teams: the Washington Capitals, Columbus Blue Jackets, and the Carolina Hurricanes, to create what we know today as the Metropolitan Division.
We are entering the fourth season since the realignment occurred, and let me tell you; we are in for a long ride, as there is no doubt this became one of the best and toughest divisions to be in. Where should we start!? The Penguins just won the Stanley cup back to back years, while the Capitals went back to back as President trophy winners. When it comes to player awards there’s been a total of 22 award winners!! Let’s start with the Vezina winners: the most current winner Sergei Bobrovsky, added a second one to his list of accomplishments, and the 2016 winner and 2017 finalist Braden Holtby too finds himself in the Metro. Both goalies will pick up where they left off, as they compete with each other this year to add yet another award to their list. Holtby and Bobrovsky enter the upcoming season as the top goalies in the league. Another goalie that’s up and coming in this division is Matt Murray as he looks to complete his first full season in the NHL.
Moving along, we have five Art Ross winners: Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin both own a pair of trophies, with Alexander Ovechkin owning one as well. Crosby was the runner-up this year with 89 points in 75 games played, as he was the latest one to win the award going back to the 13-14 season. There are six Hart Memorial winners as well, with Ovechkin leading the path as a three-time winner followed by Crosby, a two-time winner. And of course, don’t forget: Malkin has one in his trophy case as well. This past season, both Sidney Crosby and Sergei Bobrovsky were finalists for the Hart Memorial trophy. Although they both had a great season, Connor McDavid could not be stopped. Bobrovsky would have been only 8th goalie in history to win the award.
Finally, the last award that has been won the past five years by the same division is the Maurice Richard award. Ovechkin leads the pack with six awards as Crosby follows behind with two. Ovechkin had a four-year streak going from the 12-13 season to the 15-16 season until this year’s winner Sidney Crosby took the award home. Crosby lead the league with 44 goals this year beating out Tampa Bay’s forward Nikita Kucherov by four goals. As you can see, this division steals the show every year at the awards ceremony, and with another season quickly approaching, we will see these familiar names being called next June.
As the writers here have fandom allegiance to teams within the division (Flyers and Hurricanes), I have decided to breakdown each team of the Metropolitan division, as to what we expect to see this year from each team. I’ll finish off with my final predictions of what the standings will look like at the end of the year. Alright…here it goes:
The Penguins are a team that never lets off the gas and does not allow any injuries to hurt them. With Marc-Andre Fleury officially out of Pittsburgh, the net is all Matt Murray’s. Murray struggled with early injuries last year which he couldn’t fully get over or get comfortable in net until late in the playoffs where he shined with a 1.70 GAA leading the Pens to back to back cups. Murray is entering his second full year with the Pens, and if he stays healthy he can carry this team a long way once again. He even can be a candidate for the Vezina trophy if he continues to play like last season.
The Pens lost a few key players this offseason, whom had given them depth for the long season. Nick Bonino who had a 47% faceoff win percentage was a key player on the powerplay even on the PK with his ability to win faceoffs. Bonino wasn’t just winning faceoffs, but he also isn’t afraid to block shots (99 blocks last year), take players to the boards (60 hits), and loves staying in front of the net for those juicy rebounds. Newcomer Greg Mckegg will feel the pressure with taking on these responsibilities and more as he enters his first year on the team, replacing Bonino. Two other key names from last year’s roster that have moved on are Chris Kunitz, and Trevor Daley.
Although they lost a few important guys, the Pens were able to sign 25-year old defensemen Brian Dumoulin, a player that brings the toughness on the blue line as he finished with 113 hits last season. He also brings forth a slight offensive style, through which he added 15 points last year. Other key signings were Matt Hunwick, Justin Schultz, and Jarred Tinordi (who will work on filling Trevor Daley’s spot), as they join Kris Letang (who tallied 34 points in 41 games last season) and young phenom Olli Maatta. The key is for Letang and Maatta to stay healthy as they both missed a lot of games last year. On offense the Pens signed Conor Sheary to a three year deal after scoring 53 points last year. With the top six still strong, including Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, Conor Sheary, Patric Hornqvist, and Jake Guentzel (whom all combined for a total of 361 points last year), the Pens have a great chance to continue dominating and go on another run for the cup.
Columbus Blue Jackets:
The second youngest team in the NHL just got younger! A blockbuster trade that happened before the NHL draft shook this whole team around. Brandon Saad, who had 53 points last season, was traded to Chicago for Artemi Panarin, the 2015-16 Calder Memorial Trophy winner, who ended up with 74 points last season. The 25-year old brings speed, puck control, great passing ability and is known to put the puck in the net. He is not only successful in the 5 on 5 but also tallied 17 power play points last season. The powerplay started hot for the Jackets but cooled off midway through the season, which hurt them at times.
Panarin will join a top 6 that put up great numbers last year. He’ll join Cam Atkinson, Alexander Wennberg, Nick Foligno, Brandon Dubinsky, and Josh Anderson, whom together combined for 242 points. With Wennberg’s passing abilities and Panarin’s quickness and ability to find open ice, opposing defenses will be in for difficult times. One player to keep an eye out for is Josh Anderson, finally having one full year under his belt. It’s his year to shine, especially with the matchup problems certain team might have playing against the Jackets. As the season progressed last year, the Jackets lack of depth took a toll on them. With spots available this season, youngsters such as Oliver Bjorkstrand (13 points in 26 games last year) and Lukas Sedlak (13 points in 62 games last year) will need to lead the back six with Matt Calvert and Boone Jenner.
On defense will see a similar team as last year, with Seth Jones and Calder Memorial finalist Zach Werenski leading the way. Werenski completed his first year in the league scoring 47 points, with 21 points coming on the powerplay. The two will be joined by Jack Johnson, David Savard, Markus Nutivaara, and Ryan Murray. Standing tall behind the defense will be one of the best goaltenders in the league in Sergei Bobrovsky. A key goal for the defense this year is to make Bobrovsky’s job a little easier. Last year we saw the long season take a toll on Bob in April after playing night in and night out taking on plenty of shots. A calm and relaxed Bob and a high scoring offense will put this team in the top three in the division.
Time is slowly ticking away on the Capitals opportunity to be cup contenders. It hasn’t been a great off-season for the Caps this year either, after losing four key players. Trading away their fourth highest point scorer in Marcus Johansson (58 pts) for a 2nd round and 3rd round draft pick in this year draft was kind of a must-do, due to the lack of picks they have had over the past few years. In free agency they lost veteran Justin Williams and key defensmen Karl Alzner and Kevin Shattenkirk, leaving a small gap on the blue line. Alzner didn’t missing a single game last year playing all 82 games and producing 13 points, although the main aspect of his game that the team will be missing is his 162 block shots and 105 hits. This leaves a lot of pressure on 30-year old Matt Niskanen to put up similar numbers as Alzner, along with as John Carlson, Brooks Orpik and Dmitri Orlov leading the defense.
Up front on offense they’ll have Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, the new 46$ million-dollar man, AKA T.J Oshie, and Evgeny Kuznetsov, leaving light depth to the roster. With Williams gone, Jakub Vrana has the opportunity to play his first full year in the NHL. Last season in some late season play he collected 6 pts in 21 games. With a light top six Andre Burakovsky (35 points last year) will have a chip on his shoulder playing next to Kuznetsov.
Now the back six could be a problem, with Brett Connolly and Jay Beagle leading the way surrounded by youngsters. Nathan Walker and Travis Boyd have a good chance of making the team in training camp along with Tom Wilson playing his fifth season with the Caps. With about $4 Million left in cap space, they have the room to add a player or two to support the back six. I don’t see the Capitals being the high-flying team we’ve seen the past few years, but with Braden Holtby holding down the fort in net they should be right back in the playoffs.
New York Rangers:
Back in June the Rangers completed a trade, which at that time seemed to show they had pressed the panic button to land a top-10 pick for the first time in seven years. In doing so, for the first time since 2012 they have a first round pick. A ton of cap space was opened up for the Rangers, with the trade Derek Stepan to Arizona with back-up goalie Antti Raanta, the team buying out defenseman Dan Girardi’s contract, and by Kevin Klein hanging up his skates. With approximately over $15 million to work with, the Rangers put together one of the best defenses this division has and are now having the other teams pressing the panic button.
The Rangers signed Brendan Smith to a new four-year deal before he hit the free agent market, which will bring a toughness and a physical game to replace Dan Girardi. It also benefits New York that he’s able to play the right side. The signings didn’t stop there; free agent Kevin Shattenkirk which grew up as a Rangers fan had his dream come true when he signed a four-year deal. Shattenkirk doesn’t only bring his blocking abilities with him but also his offensive side, as he tallied 56 points in 80 games last year with St. Louis and Washington. Out of his 56 points, 27 came on the powerplay. He’ll be the key to the Rangers powerplay this year which has been a disappointment in the last few years as they finished 11th last year. With open ice he shows off his skating ability, puck control, passing game, and his dangerous slapshot from the point.
Shattenkirk will join another weapon on the powerplay as the Captain Ryan McDonagh finished second on the team with 15 power play points. McDonagh had a breakout year finishing with 42 points which lead all defensmen. The Rangers couldn’t be happier to see their captain healthy and leading them on both sides of the ice. His physicality showed off last year as he blocked 160 shots along with 80 hits. He looks to continue that this year, leading by example for Brady Skjei their young and impressive defender, who tallied 39 points in his first full season in the NHL last year.
On offense their loaded top six will be led by their top point scorer from last year, Mats Zuccarello (59 points), along with Chris Kreider (53 points), Kevin Hayes (49 points), Mika Zibanejad, Rick Nash, and the famous offseason free agent from a year ago Jimmy Vesey, who tallied 27 points in his first year in the NHL. The back six will be led by Michael Grabner, JT Miller (who finished with an impressive 56 Points last year), Pavel Buchnevich, and Jesper Fast. With an elite offense and one of the best defenses in the league, King Lundqvist should have plenty of support this upcoming season as this dangerous Rangers team plans to make a deep playoff run. Alain Vigneault will try to extend his playoff streak to ten straight years and a third trip to the finals.
A team that is stuck in the past is slowly making its way to the modern age of hockey. Thehockeywriters.com ranked the Flyers #1 in the league with the best farm system but as Ron Hextall said “We are in no rush to call them up”. This year on defense, two young stars in Ivan Provorov, and Shayne Gostisbehere will lead the way. Provorov had an impressive first year in the league as he finished with 30 points in 82 games played. As the season went on he looked stronger and more confident out on the ice, showing the ability to carry the puck from zone to zone, with great speed, and to deliver hits (111) and block shots (166). With one year under his belt he’s looking to continue to grow his confidence and leadership as the Flyers look for him to lead for years to come. Shayne Gostisbehere (known as the ‘ghost’ in Philly) looks to pick up where he left off last season, as he finished fifth on the team with 39 points. An off-season hip surgery last summer was a big concern as he really struggled to get going after a fantastic rookie year leading the Flyers to the playoffs. Dave Hakstol, the Flyers coach, even had him as a healthy scratch last year down the stretch to help him get his game together. Towards the end of the season it showed it was paying off as we saw a more productive player. With the scoring ability he has shown, especially on the power play, you can expect him to lead the first unit as the Flyers look to improve their powerplay with Kris Knoblauch becoming the new assistant coach.
Other players we will see on the blueline this year will be Radko Gudas, the man who takes care of all the physical work, as he finished with 280 hits last year, and Andrew MacDonald, the five-million-dollar guy, (why is he making so much money?? Oh yeah thanks Paul Holmgren with signing players to horrible contracts). Brandon Manning is an average defenseman usually used as a reserve player, but he will see more playing time this year due to the available spots left open from not re-signing Michael Del-Zotto, the trading of Mark Streit to the Penguins last year, and Nick Schultz most likely hanging up the skates after playing 15 years in the league. With one final spot available it will come down to training camp. Three names to watch for are Travis Sanheim, Sam Morin, and Robert Hagg.
Up front on offense the top six will be led by the core of the team. Captain Claude Giroux (58 points last year), Jakub Voracek (61 points), and Wayne Simmonds (54 points) will once again lead the way. With Brayden Schenn traded during the draft, Simmonds will be the guy to look to fulfil the powerplay scoring as Schenn scored a total of 28 points on the powerplay last year. Also joining them will be 20-yr-oldTravis Konecny, after completing his first year in the league last season, finishing with 28 points, Sean Couturier finished with 34 points last year, and is a key player that can play both sides of the ice. Lastly, Valtteri Filppula who played in 20 games as the Flyers traded for him last year at the deadline, will round out the top 6.
The bottom six has been a problem for the Flyers with the lack of depth the team has had in previous years. Nolan Patrick, the second overall pick, believes he will be healthy and ready for training camp. Jordan Weal scored 12 points in 23 games last year and he signed a two-year deal after having a great season with the Phantoms, having scored 47 points in 43 games. Weal has proven that he’s ready for the NHL. Matt Read, Michael Raffl, Jori Lehtera will join the youngsters and with one spot available Mike Vecchione, Oskar Lindblom, and Dale Weise will compete in camp for it. And of course, another year with goalie controversy in Philly as they signed Brian Elliott to a two-year deal in the off-season. Elliott struggled early last year in his first year with the Calgary Flames but turned it around in the second half of the season to lead the Flames to the playoffs as he had a career high 11 straight wins. Michal Neuvirth also signed a two-year deal, leaving both goalies to battle it out to determine who gets the starting job. With the core of this team getting older and the league getting younger and faster this Flyers team will be a bubble team once again this year.
The young and dangerous Canes are a team to watch in the years to come. They have built their defense around two of the best young defensmen in the league, in Jaccob Slavin and Brett Pesce. Both players just completed their second year in the league. Slavin scored a total of 34 points in 82 games played. He also showed his toughness and his capability to carry this defense, with his knack for blocking shots (161), and the ability to take the puck away from opponents as he had 83 take-aways last year. Brett Pesce finished with 23 points as he was tied with Salvin with plus-23 as both lead the team in the category. These two young guys will be fun to watch as they build experience in the years to come. Another young guy to watch on the blueline is Noah Hanifin, who finished with 29 points in 81 games played. Last year was the 20-year old’s second year in the NHL already. He saw plenty of powerplay time as he tallied 11 pp points, and we will most likely see him back on the second unit this year as he has shown his ability to move with open ice and a slap shot you don’t want to get in front of.
The veteran Justin Faulk will be key to the team’s success, with the youngsters they have. He led all defenseman with 37 points last year as he’s not afraid to shoot the puck, as he had 225 shots on goal last year. Faulk represented the Canes in this past year’s All-Star game as it was his third straight appearance. He looks to continue to lead the team as he enters his seventh year playing in the NHL. The Canes added another solid defenseman in Trevor Van Riemsdyk, as they traded their No. 62 overall pick to the Las Vegas Knights. The Knights selected Trevor from Chicago in the expansion draft. The 26-year old played three seasons with the Blackhawks and he won a Stanley Cup in the 2014-15 season. Trevor played 58 games last year due to an upper body injury, but he scored a total of 16 points with a plus-17. He’s a player that brings speed and great puck control, and will fit great in this young defense.
Up front on offense, a very young top six will be led by Jordan Staal and Jeff Skinner. Skinner had career numbers last year as he scored 37 goals, the most he has scored in a single season so far in his young career, finishing with a total of 63 points. As he enters the prime years of his career you can look for him to become a leader to the even younger guys that will surround him up front. 20-year old Sebastian Aho (Joe’s favorite player on the team…) completed his first season in the league as he contributed 49 points. He led the team in powerplay points with 17. He’s one of the players to keep an eye on, as the 5’-11” forward has the speed and skill to hurt you. He has great vision and great puck control, but also has the playmaking ability to put the puck in the net as well. Other youngsters to keep an eye on are Victor Rask, Elias Lindholm, and Teuvo Teravainen, as all three had great seasons last year, each finishing with 40 plus points. They look to continue their great play as the young prospects look to be the future core of the Canes.
In the offseason, 36-year-old veteran Justin Williams signed a two-year deal, returning to the Carolina team that he helped win a Stanley Cup in 2006 (One of Joe’s most favorite sports moments; #InBrind’amourWeTrust…). Williams will be a key player on the roster as he gives the coaching staff plenty of line combinations to work with. He can add depth to the bottom six, but also has the ability to add more firepower on the top six with Skinner and the youngsters. To wrap up the bottom six we have Lee Stempniak, who finished with 40 points last year, Brock McGinn, Marcus Kruger, and Joakim Nordstrom. Finally, another key move completed in the offseason was the Canes sending a third-round draft pick to Chicago Blackhawks for Scott Darling just before hitting the free agent market. Darling posted a 2.38 GAA with a .924 SV% in 32 games played last year. Darling would have been one of the best goalies on the market although the Canes took full advantage of getting him early. The biggest struggle last year for the Canes was goaltending; however, now with Darling and a healthy (knock on wood) Cam Ward in net the wins should start piling up. This roster has a lot of potential for the near future with bright stars on it, although currently this division is just too strong. I see the Canes fighting for the wild card spot all year long. Don’t ask Joe his opinion though, because he will most likely tell you this squad will be hoisting the cup…
New Jersey Devils:
The three-time Stanley Cup winners have always been known for their great defense and brick-wall goaltending as they dominated in the late 90’s early 2000’s. Now, over a decade and a half later, their old domination has hit rock bottom. The Devils’ defense really struggled last year as plenty of injuries and poor playing lead to a disappointing season. They gave up a total of 244 goals and to make things worse the defense combined for a minus 68 in the plus/minus category. Even though it was a disappointing season, the Devils have turned the page as they have brighter days for them soon. This year on defense 23-year old Damon Severson will look to continue where he left off as he led the defense in scoring last year, finishing with 31 points – 13 points coming on the powerplay. Severson completed his third season with the Devils and had career numbers last year. Ben Lovejoy played all 82 games in his first year with the Devils last season. Lovejoy continued to be the tough defender he’s known to be, finishing with 149 blocks and 82 hits. He brings plenty of experience to the blueline.
Two players who struggled with injuries last year and that are looking for a bounce back are Andy Greene and John Moore. The Captain Andy Greene played a total of 66 games last year as he tallied 13 points, 124 blocks, and 50 hits. Greene has played all his eleven years in the league with the Devils, and he looks to lead the team back into the dominate days, as he’ll be a mentor for the young defenders on the team. John Moore, a 26- year old veteran, has fit in great on the Devils blueline as he completed his second year with the team last season, although a concussion limited him to 63 games played. Moore tallied 22 points last year, setting a career high as his offensive productive has increased since joining the team. A healthy Moore doesn’t just add more offensive power, but brings forth a strong defenseman who is not afraid to use his body to block shots and take players to the boards. With two spots remaining on defense, youngsters Michael Kapla and Will Butcher will get a chance at training camp to prove to the team that they are ready for the next step in their careers.
On the offensive side, the first step this offseason was the Devils buying out Michael Cammalleri’s contract, leaving the Devils with plenty of cap space to work with. One of the first moves they made was trading draft picks to Washington for Marcus Johansson. Johansson played all 82 games last season, finishing with 34 points, with 19 coming on the powerplay. Johansson adds additional power to a young and talented top six led by Taylor Hall (52 pts), Adam Henrique (40 pts), Kyle Palmieri (53 pts), new-comer Drew Stafford (21 pts), along with first overall pick Nico Hischier. It’s a lineup that has the potential to put up a lot of points, as the Devils spent wisely this offseason. However, just when they thought they had overcome their injuries, Travis Zajac had offseason surgery and will be out four to six months. Zajac tallied 45 points in 80 games last season. Nico Hischier won’t waste any time as he has the potential to play on the top lines with talented players surrounding him. Zajac’s injury will force the rookie to step up and play to his expectations, if not exceed them.
The Devils bottom six will contain two youngsters in 21-year old Miles Wood, who played 60 games finishing with 17 points last season and Pavel Zacha, who played 70 games tallying up 24 points. They’re two players to keep an eye on as they bring speed and are known for putting up numbers. In the offseason the Devils also signed 11-year veteran Brian Boyle which bring toughness to the lineup, as he’s known to be a physical hitter, finishing with 115 hits last year. He’s not your average goal scorer although he’s a boost to the lineup up, and he can play on both ends of the ice. He’ll be joined by Blake Coleman, Nick Lappin, and Stefan Noesen to round up the bottom six.
Between the pipes Corey Schneider looks to lead the way this year after struggling last season, posting a 2.82 GAA and a .908 save percentage. Schneider had a record of 20-27-11 giving up 163 goals, the most he has given up in his career. The Devils hired new goalie coach Roland Melanson, who had worked with Schneider when he was in Vancouver, and they are hoping Schneider has a better year than last year as he has the potential to be a top ten goalie in the league. The Devils also signed Keith Kinkaid as he saw plenty of playing time last year. This Devils team has a lot to look forward to and might surprise us this year although staying healthy and displaying consistent numbers has been a problem in recent years, which will be a battle for them trying to compete for the wild card spot this year.
New York Islanders:
This is an Islanders team that has made the playoffs three times in the last five years and just missed it last year by two points. This year Doug Weight will get his first opportunity to coach a full season as he took over this past January and led the Islanders to a record of 24-12-11. Not many changes were made in the offseason, as we will see a similar team as last year. Their defense will be led by 25-year old Nick Leddy as he tallied 46 points in 81 games last year. Leddy is known to play both sides of the ice well, giving the Islanders a solid two-way option, as Leddy finished second on the team with 15 power play points. 25-year old Calvin de Haan completed his fourth season in New York, scoring a total of 25 points in 82 games. Haan brings a toughness to the blueline as he led the defense with 190 blocks last year and tallied 139 hits. He will continue to progress as one of the best defenders on the team. The core defense will be led by three veterans in Johnny Boychuk, Dennis Seidenberg, and Thomas Hickey. The three combined for a total of 65 points, 383 blocks, and a plus/minus of plus-35. The downfall last year was that all three missed games due to injuries as they combined for 31 games missed. One of the big offseason moves by the Islanders was trading away defenseman Travis Hamonic, as the 26-year old has played all of six years with the Islanders. The trade didn’t only free up cap space but left one spot open for for Adam Pelech, and Ryan Pulock to battle it out in training camp. They enter as the top two defenseman prospects the Islanders have in their farm system.
This year on offense plenty of eyes will be on the captain John Tavares not only because he led the team in points last year as he finished with 66 points but at the end of this season Tavares will become an unrestricted free agent. It’s a topic the Islanders don’t want to be talking about during the season, but it will be on everyone’s minds. Tavares will lead the offense, along with Anders Lee (52 points last year), 19-year old Anthony Beauvillier, who played in 66 games last year in his first year in the league, and veteran Josh Bailey (56 points in 82 games last year). In the offseason, the Islanders acquired 26-year old Jordan Eberle from Edmonton as forward Ryan Strome was traded in the exchange. Eberle played all 82 games last year, scoring 51 points, and he brings a slight upgrade to the top six, something the Islanders were looking to do in the offseason. 31-year old Andrew Ladd completed his first year with the Islanders after signing a big contract, finishing with 31 points in 78 games, although he struggled to get going with his new team early on. The Islanders hope Ladd can bring the toughness and the scoring he has in previous years, under new coach Doug Weight this year.
In the bottom six we will see two youngsters in 20-year old Mathew Barzal as he looks to make his NHL debut this year, and 21-year Josh Ho-Sang as he played 21 games and tallied 10 points last year. The two will bring speed and fresh talent as they’ll be surrounded by Brock Nelson (45 pts), Nikolay Kulemin (23 pts), Casey Cizikas (25 pts), and Cal Clutterbuck who finished with a team high 222 blocks last year. An offseason ankle surgery for Shane Prince will make him miss about six months, as the young forward has struggled to stay healthy since joining the Islanders. He enters his fourth year in the league.
Between the pipes two veteran goalies in Thomas Greiss and Jaroslav Halak will lead the way. Greiss will be the leading candidate for the starting job after starting 49 games last year having a record of 26-18-5 with a .913 SV% and a 2.69 GAA. He had a strong second half of the season last year, leading the Islanders as a playoff contender. With a new coach fully taking over and possibly being John Tavares last year in New York, a lot of attention will be on this team as they have a strong lineup to compete for a playoff spot although they rely on specific players to step up when they need the whole team to step up and play well.
Final Conference Predictions:
- NY Rangers
- Blue Jackets
- Capitals (Wild card #1 spot)
- Flyers (Wild card #2 spot)
- NY Islanders
- NJ Devils