Do you smell that? It’s the smell of freshly zambonied ice, a cold Miller Lite draft, and freshly printed pages in the game program. Training camps around the NHL are underway and the regular season is so close I can taste it. Now, pump your brakes. Before I can talk about the best team in the world, we have to talk about the other teams, and we will move to the Metropolitan Division, where the Capitals and Penguins may very well do that old dance yet again.
2017 record: 36-35-11
GF/G – 2.78 (25th)
GA/G – 3.12 (T-22nd)
PP – 18.41% (22nd)
PK – 77.49% (24th)
Key additions: D Dougie Hamilton, G Petr Mrazek, LW Micheal Ferland, D Calvin de Haan
Key losses: D Noah Hanifin, C Jeff Skinner, C Elias Lindholm, C Derek Ryan
Goals – Sebastian Aho (24)
Assists – Teuvo Teravainen (41)
Points – Sebastian Aho (65)
GAA – Scott Darling (3.18)
Sv% – Scott Darling (.888)
For the past several years, I’ve thought the Hurricanes were going to be a surprise team in this division. Well, no more. This team has made me look the fool for far too long. Their shot-based metrics have been good — some of the best in the league — but this is an instance where there is clearly a disconnect between the underlying numbers and the eye test. Do the ‘Canes look dominating when you watch them? No. Are they constantly buzzing around and threatening to score? Not really. Why is that? Because this team just isn’t very good.
A new owner has come in and “shaken things up” by having a say in personnel decisions. That always goes smoothly. This summer, Carolina made a blockbuster trade that sent All-Star defenseman Noah Hanifin and young center Elias Lindholm to Calgary. In return, they got proven defenseman Dougie Hamilton, winger Micheal Ferland, and prospect Adam Fox. That trade was a bit of a head-scratcher. Then they traded talented center Jeff Skinner for three draft picks (2nd, 3rd, 6th) and a prospect (Cliff Pu). Now take a look at the Hurricanes’ returning roster. Of the nine leading scorers from last season, four of them are gone and another, Victor Rask, is out indefinitely after slicing open his hand in the kitchen.
The good news for Carolina is that they already have a solid young defensive corps. Justin Faulk, Jaccob Slavin, and Brett Pesce already make up a solid foundation. Hamilton is a nice addition to that, but that addition cost them Hanifin so maybe it’s more of a wash. Calvin de Haan is also a great depth piece to have on defense. Carolina will still be solid on the blueline again this season. They’ll need to be.
In his first full season as a starter las year, Scott Darling had a disastrous season in goal for Carolina. After coming over from Chicago, he struggled mightily. To give themselves another option for the 2018-19 season, they signed Petr Mrazek. After a couple of solid seasons in Detroit between 2014 and 2016, Mrazek’s numbers have really dropped off. Teams should still be able to score with great frequency on the ‘Canes unless one of those two goalies has a resurgent season.
Carolina just doesn’t have the roster to compete in a fairly deep Metropolitan Division. They will finish outside the playoffs again, and the owner will move the team to Quebec City or something. Hell, move the team back to Hartford.
New York Islanders
2017 record: 35-37-10
GF/G – 3.22 (8th)
GA/G – 3.61 (31)
PP – 23.20% (6th)
PK – 73.19% (31)
Key additions: C Leo Komarov, C Valtteri Filppula, RW Matt Martin, D Luca Sbisa
Key losses: C John Tavares, D Calvin de Haan, G Jaroslav Halak
Goals – Anders Lee (40)
Assists – Matthew Barzal (63)
Points – Matthew Barzal (85)
GAA – Thomas Greiss (3.82)
Sv% – Thomas Greiss (.892)
The Islanders went out and got Lou Lamoriello to be the general manager. They got Stanley Cup-winning head coach Barry Trotz. Then they couldn’t keep John Tavares on Long Island. How did they respond, by signing several aging grinders to questionable contracts.
All jokes aside, the cupboard is far from bare for the Islanders. Matthew Barzal won the Calder Trophy last season as the NHL’s Rookie of the Year. Anders Lee is a 40-goal scorer, though playing with Tavares likely had something to do with that. Josh Bailey, Brock Nelson, and Jordan Eberle ensure that this team will still be able to score some goals. The depth scoring isn’t exactly elite, especially after giving Leo Komarov $12 million, but the top two lines will be able to keep the Isles in some games.
Outside of those top scorers is where the Islanders really start to fall apart. New York was a fun team to watch last year because they could light up the scoreboard but couldn’t keep the puck out of their own net — a key element in winning hockey games. The blueline is middling at best. Johnny Boychuk is getting up there in age now, Nick Leddy can provide offense but is shaky in his own end, and Ryan Pulock and Thomas Hickey may be their most reliable defenders. That’s not a great sign. The team added Luca Sbisa from the Golden Knights, so we’ll see if he can recapture the magic he has there last season.
When you multiply a negative number times a negative number, you get a positive. I tried telling my back that back in college, but it didn’t fly with them. Nor does it fly for the Islanders. New York compounds a shaky defensive situation with a downright atrocious goaltending situation. Thomas Greiss had a miserable season last year, and the Islanders added Robin Lehner, who had a miserable 2017-18 season in Buffalo. Miser loves company, I guess.
The real twist of the knife for the Islanders is that they are basically homeless. They’ll play some home games in Barclays Center, the worst arena in the league to watch hockey, and they’ll play some at Nassau Coliseum, the dumpiest arena in the league. It’ll be another sad year on Long Island, but there is reason for optimism with Barzal on the team, a great 2018 draft, and a new stadium coming.
New York Rangers
2017 record: 34-39-9
GF/G – 2.82 (21st)
GA/G – 3.28 (28th)
PP – 21.16% (14th)
PK – 81.38% (12th)
Key additions: D Adam McQuaid
Key losses: N/A
Goals – Mika Zibanejad (27)
Assists – Mats Zuccarello (37)
Points – Mats Zuccarello (53)
GAA – Henrik Lundqvist (2.98)
Sv% – Henrik Lundqvist (.915)
In the midst of last season, the New York Rangers announced to their season ticket holders that the franchise would be undergoing a rebuild. Not great timing considering that they had just signed 28-year old defenseman Kevin Shattenkirk to a four-year deal worth over $26 million.
Despite that jab, I will give the Rangers some credit. Not many NHL franchises have the guts to really commit to a rebuild and say as much to their fans (looking at you, Vancouver). The Rangers shipped defenseman Ryan McDonagh and winger J.T. Miller to the Lightning last season and got some solid prospects and picks in return. They also traded winger Rick Nash to the Bruins for several future assets as well. However, that does mean the team won’t be very good this season. With Mats Zuccarello, Mika Zibanejad, Kevin Hayes, Jimmy Vesey, Vladislav Namestikov, and Pavel Buchnevich, New York has some nice pieces to build around at forward and Cody McLeod. It just won’t be enough to get them over the hump just yet.
Much like their counterparts on Long Island, the Rangers struggle on the defensive side of things. Brady Skjei is a nice young player on that blue line, and he just got a nice payday this offseason. Outside of him, some aging veterans like Marc Staal, Adam McQuaid, and Kevin Shattenkirk are past their primes. One of the more surprising things for New York last season was the underwhelming play of Brendan Smith. He only ended up playing 44 games for the team last year. The Rangers defense will need a serious “glow up,” as the kids say, or it’ll be another down year. Actually, that wouldn’t be the worst thing for a rebuilding team.
Standing between the Rangers and Tank City, USA is goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. The numbers don’t really indicate how good he really was. With the least help of nearly any goalie in the league, Hank still turned in a respectable season and kept the Rangers in games. It’s hard to tank with a goalie doing that. He’s still able to steal some wins for New York, and that may prevent them from getting the best chance at the No. 1 pick in the draft lottery.
It will be interesting to see whether the franchise actually has the self-control to remain committed to the rebuild if Madison Square Garden looks a little emptier of the New York media starts coming for the feeding frenzy.
New Jersey Devils
2017 record: 44-29-9
GF/G – 3.02 (T-14th)
GA/G – 2.98 (17th)
PP – 21.43% (10th)
PK – 81.78% (&-7th)
Key additions: N/A
Key losses: LW Patrick Maroon, D John Moore
Goals – Taylor Hall (39)
Assists – Taylor Hall (54)
Points – Taylor Hall (93)
GAA – Keith Kinkaid (2.77)
Sv% – Keith Kinkaid (.913)
The Devils, along with the Avalanche, were the surprise of the season in 2017-18. Of course they were. I picked them to finish last in the division, so naturally they made the playoffs.
Taylor Hall had a fantastic case for MVP last year, but he lost out to Nathan MacKinnon by the narrowest of margins. He spearheads the offensive attack for the Devils, and there is an ocean-sized gap in offensive production between Hall and the next player down the list, second-year player Nico Hischier. There is another drop off in production from Hischier to Kyle Palmieri. The biggest question for this Devils team is whether last year was a flash in the pan for all the young players that they had step up, or if they can continue to progress at the same rate. Jesper Bratt, Miles Wood, Will Butcher, and Pavel Zacha will have to turn in similar performances in the 2018-19 season for New Jersey to see the playoffs again. They should get some help in that endeavor. Marcus Johansson, who was hurt for most of last season, returns to the lineup at full health. He will provide a boost to the offense, even if there are any sophomore slumps.
The Devils upgraded their defense in a big way last season by sending Adam Henrique to the Ducks in exchange for Sami Vatanen, a top four defenseman that they badly needed. To compliment Vatanen, New Jersey also has some nice young talent on the blue line in Will Butcher, Damon Severson, and Mirco Mueller. Veteran slawarts Andy Greene and Ben Lovejoy will provide the experience and leadership. While this Devils defense won’t blow anyone away, at least not yet, it’s good enough to get the job done.
If you’re looking for reasons to suggest that the Devils may actually be better this season, look to the crease. Corey Schneider had a down year while battling a hip injury. Don’t be surprised to see him have a bounce back year for New Jersey and have his team battling for a wild card spot again. The silver lining in Schneider’s struggles last season was that the team found out that Keith Kinkaid was more than serviceable in relief. The Devils are all set in goal. Neither guy is Martin Brodeur, but they’re above average as far as other tandems around the NHL go.
I’ll classify the Devils as a bubble team this season. If things bounce their way, it’ll be a second consecutive playoff berth. If they fall back to Earth, they’ll miss out. As a reward for bringing back these bad boys, I’ll give them a wild card spot.
— NBC Sports (@NBCSports) August 22, 2018
Columbus Blue Jackets
2017 record: 45-30-7
GF/G – 2.95 (16th)
GA/G – 2.90 (10th)
PP – 17.18% (25th)
PK – 76.17% (T-26th)
Key additions: C Riley Nash, RW Anthony Duclair
Key losses: LW Matt Calvert, LW Thomas Vanek
Goals – Artemi Panarin (27)
Assists – Artemi Panarin (55)
Points – Artemi Panarin (82)
GAA – Sergei Bobrovsky (2.42)
Sv% – Sergei Bobrovsky (.921)
The Columbus Blue Jackets are still in search of their first playoff series victory after having made the playoffs in each of the last two seasons. Will they get it this year? Let’s find out.
The addition of Artemi Panarin last season gave the Blue Jackets something they haven’t had since Rick Nash, a dynamic scoring presence at the top of the lineup. Of course, the team stunk out loud when Nash was there, so it’s clear that Panarin wasn’t doing it all by himself. In true Nashville Predators fashion, defenseman Seth Jones was second on the team in scoring last season. In total, the Jackets had just three players hit the 20-goal mark — Cam Atkinson and Pierre-Luc Dubois were the others. Despite the lack of big-time scorers outside of Panarin, Columbus has a pretty balanced attack with the defensemen chipping in on offense too. The addition of former Bruin Riley Nash will only help that. The one x-factor in all this is what the Blue Jackets decide to do with Panarin. Multiple reports indicate that he has no desire to play in Ohio for the rest of his career because Panarin is no fool. So, do the Blue Jackets trade him and get as much value out of him as possible, or do they make a run with him and lose him for nothing after the season?
This defensive corps is young and it is talented. The pairing of Seth Jones and Zach Werenski will be one of the best duos in the league for years to come, assuming Werenski signs long-term. Jones is already capable of winning a Norris Trophy, and he will only get better. Ryan Murray and Markus Nutivaara, both 24, also represent the young talent the Blue Jackets have on the back end. David Savard is a good stay-at-home presence as well. This will be a strength of the Jackets for years to come.
In goal, Columbus has one of the best in the biz. Sergei Bobrovsky is a perennial contender for the Vezina Trophy, and can flat out steal more than a handful of games for the Blue Jackets. His playoff performance has been much-maligned, but I also think that sample size is way too small to make any kind of sweeping judgements about him not having the clutch gene or whatever cliche you’d like to spout about the disparity between his regular season and postseason numbers. As long as Bob stays healthy, teams will have a hard time scoring on this team.
I’m not sure the Jackets are Cup contenders, and they especially won’t be if they trade Panarin, but they’re good enough to snag the top wild card spot in the East. If they don’t make it out of the first round, is it hot seat time for John Tortorella?
2017 record: 42-26-14
GF/G – 3.06 (13th)
GA/G – 2.96 (16th)
PP – 20.69% (15th)
PK – 75.78% (29th)
Key additions: LW James van Riemsdyk
Key losses: C Valtteri Filppula, D Brandon Manning
Goals – Claude Giroux (34)
Assists – Claude Giroux (68)
Points – Claude Giroux (102)
GAA – Michal Neuvirth (2.60)
Sv% – Michal Neuvirth (.915)
The Flyers have plenty of talent at every position in front of the crease. It’s in the crease that’s the problem. As is normally the case, how far Philly goes will be determined by goaltending.
The Flyers are pretty loaded at the forward position. Captain Claude Giroux turned in a career-high 102 points last season. That was after idiots were suggesting that Philadelphia should consider trading him. I may have been one of those idiots. I honestly can’t remember. Jakub Voracek overcame his chronic ugliness yet again for 85 points, and the best surprised for the Flyers last season with Sean Couturier. The man with the nickname “Coots,” which sounds like a pervy version of Toot’s (good food and fun), played excellent two-way hockey, scored 76 points, and was a finalist for the Selke Trophy. Philly also brought back James van Riemsdyk, who you can book for 20-30 goals per season. Wayne Simmonds may not be his old self, but he still had more than 20 goals and 20 assists. No team would turn that kind of production now. 2017 No. 2 overall pick Nolan Patrick returns to the lineup along with Travis Konecny and Michael Raffl. This team should have zero problem finding the back of the net.
Defensively, the Flyers are led by three young studs in Shayne Gostisbehere, Ivan Provorov, and Travis Sanheim. Gostisbehere and Provorov have already proven they can get it done in all three zones. Sanheim is a rangy kid with a lot of promise.Those three will be good to great on the Philadelphia blue line for years to come. However, those three are weighed down by veterans Andrew MacDonald and Radko Gudas. MacDonald is positionally challenged, and Radko Gudas is dirtier than the carpet at Paradise Park (RIP). The Flyers will be fine defensively as long as their big guns stay relatively healthy.
We have arrived at the problem area for the Flyers. It’s been a while since Philly has gotten reliable goaltending, and that may not change this season. Prior to last year, the Flyers went out and signed Brian Elliott, who had just had a very average year in Calgary. He had a worse 2017-18 season with Philadelphia. Elliott couldn’t find any level of consistency, and Michal Neuvirth ended up having the better season, but that’s not saying much. This team would be so good if they just had a consistent goaltender, like a Sergei Bobrovsky. The Flyers will make the playoffs, but poor play in net may send them to another early exit.
We’ve gotten this far without even talking about the Flyers’ top addition of the summer. Here to terrify children and entertain Twitter is Philly’s new mascot, Gritty.
Flyers introduce their new mascot Gritty.
…be prepared for the nightmares
— Spittin' Chiclets (@spittinchiclets) September 24, 2018
That is truly a sight. I’ve compared it to “Animal” from the Muppets if he lived on a diet of McDonald’s and crystal meth for the last 20 years. If you see that thing in a dark alley, you put your head between your legs and kiss your ass goodbye. But that’s what makes Gritty the perfect mascot for that city. It’s terrifying and will almost act out violently against you if given the chance.
2017 record: 49-26-7
GF/G – 3.16 (9th)
GA/G – 2.91 (15th)
PP – 22.54% (7th)
PK – 80.30% (15th)
Key additions: N/A
Key losses: G Philipp Grubauer, C Jay Beagle, RW Alex Chiasson
Goals – Alex Ovechkin (49)
Assists – Evgeny Kuznetsov (56)
Points – Alex Ovechkin (87)
GAA – Braden Holtby (2.99)
Sv% – Braden Holtby (.907)
After the 2016-17 season, I was convinced that the Washington Capitals had missed their window to win a Stanley Cup. For that reason, I’ll understand if you close your computer or put down your mobile device and go do anything else but read this blog.
Sure enough, the Caps proved me all wrong and won the whole enchilada. Alex Ovechkin and the rest of the team have been doing keg stands off the Cup so much that the NHL went ahead and nixed that going forward. The Capitals will bring very literal meaning to a Stanley Cup hangover. However, they’ll be able to recover and have a fine season. The Capitals bring back nearly every key player from that Stanley Cup run. Alex Ovechkin was one goal shy of 50 last season as he keeps scoring at will in this league. Evgeny Kuznetsov and Nicklas Backstrom round out the top three returning scorers. T.J. Oshie had another solid season for the Capitals, and garbage pile Tom Wilson got paid big money after a 14-goal season. That was questionable, but depth pieces like Lars Eller, Jakub Vrana, and Andre Burakovsky are also back.
On the defensive side of things, defenseman John Carlson got a payday that made Wilson’s look like he was making minimum wage. Carlson is a fantastic offensive defenseman and was a massive contributor in the team winning a Stanley Cup. Flanking him is Dmitry Orlov, Michal Kempny, Matt Niskanen, and Christian Djoos. This blue line will be formidable again in 2018-19.
Braden Holtby had a turbulent 2017-18 regular season. His backup, Philipp Grubauer, had to carry the team at times while Holtby tried to sort out his game. However, Holtby got his groove back like Kuzco in the playoffs. After riding the pine pony in the team’s first two playoff games, both losses, Holtby regained his throne in the blue ice and never looked back. The Capitals’ goaltender can’t afford another long slump with Grubauer now in Colorado.
Once the Capitals get some IVs and drink an ocean’s worth of Pedialyte, they’ll be just fine. Now they also have the relief of finally getting the monkey off their back in the postseason.
2017 record: 47-29-6
GF/G – 3.32 (T-4th)
GA/G – 3.07 (20th)
PP – 26.15% (1st)
PK – 80.00% (17th)
Key additions: D Jack Johnson, C Matt Cullen, C Derek Ryan
Key losses: LW Conor Sheary, D Matt Hunwick
Goals – Evgeni Malkin (42)
Assists – Sidney Crosby (42)
Points – Evgeni Malkin (98)
GAA – Casey DeSmith (2.40)
Sv% – Casey DeSmith (.921)
Thank sweet baby Jesus that the Penguins did not three-peat. That would’ve been insufferable. I would’ve maybe had to take a break from hockey for a while. Luckily, they did not, but they do have the roster to win again this year.
The Penguins’ center depth is absolutely outrageous. It does not get any better than Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Derick Brassard, and Matt Cullen down the middle. With that type of center depth, you are already a Stanley Cup contender. However, the Penguins aren’t just loaded down the middle. Phil “The Thrill” Kessel scored 92 points last year and is back for more after doing “the same old shit” this offseason. Patric Hornqvist will yet again be a massive pest in front of the net. Jake Guentzel, Bryan Rust, and Carl Hagelin are there to bolster the offense too.
The Penguins may not have the most loaded blue line in the league, but it is fairly balanced. Kris Letang, though injury proned, can really drive the offense. Justin Schultz is reliable. The same goes for Olli Maatta. Brian Dumoulin has proven himself to be a solid option for Mike Sullivan. Pittsburgh went out and signed Jack Johnson, possibly out of good will, to a four-year deal. He’ll be a fine depth piece, but the Pens will be in trouble if they’re leaning on him to play big minutes.
After catching fire in the last two postseasons, goalie Matt Murray finally cooled off and had his fair share of struggles last year. You can see that by taking a quick look at his goals against average of nearly three. There was a bit of musical chairs in net for a little while in Pittsburgh, but the one positive to come out of that is Casey DeSmith showed himself to be a good second option in goal. Murray should have a bounce back season, and that means the Penguins will be in the hunt for the division again.
It looks like the Penguins may very well do their dance with the Capitals once again this season. Now both teams have won a Stanley Cup, and Washington has no doubt they can defeat Pittsburgh. I look forward to seeing that postseason rivalry again. I know it seems to happen every year, but I just don’t get tired of it.
Final Metropolitan Division Prediction
- Blue Jackets