We’re just over two week away from the start of the National Hockey League regular season. This article will feature the new and oddly named Metropolitan Division. This division consists of teams from the old Atlantic Division (Pittsburgh, the New York and New Jersey teams, Philadelphia, Carolina, Columbus and Washingon.) I’ll post previous division previews below as well.
Here we go.
1. Pittsburgh Penguins
Last year: (36-12-0 1st in “Old” Atlantic Division, lost to Boston in Eastern Conference finals)
Player to watch: Where do I begin… Sid Crosby… Evgeni Malkin… etc.
X-factor: G,Marc-Andre Fleury . The goalie has really fallen a long way since the Pens last won the Stanley Cup in 2009. After being ineffective in the first round against the Islanders, he was replaced by Tomas Vokoun. Head coach Dan Bylsma is told everyone that Fleury would still be the top goalie and will have to be after Vokoun is out dealing with blood clots.
Forecast: The Pens are built to succeed in the regular season with all of the offensive weapons that they posses. If they can shore up the defense (they did pick up Rob Scuderi in the offseason), then they can make a serious run at a Stanley Cup. Either Fleury or Vokoun is a solid choice to be a number one goalie, but one of the pair has to step up for Pittsburgh to hoist the Cup.
2. New York Rangers
Last year: (26-18-4, 2nd in “Old” Atlantic Division, lost to Boston in Eastern Conference semifinals)
Player to watch: G, Henrik Lundqvist. This goalie is the face of the New York Rangers franchise. He is the reason that the team is where it is. I think the Rangers would barely be a playoff team without the King. The Rangers and he are feverishly working on a contract extension before Lundqvist hits the open market.
X-factor: D, Marc Staal. I was going to say Brad Richards, but Staal is coming back from a puck to the face that injured his eye. Staal is quality defenseman that is a solid on the power play. (The Rangers really missed him when the extra man unit struggled mightily in the playoffs.) He can be very useful if he’s back to his old self again.
Forecast: There may be a period of adjustment for this team as the Rangers have a new coach in former Canucks coach Alain Vigneault. However, he will make New York a more offensive-minded team. (The Rangers were criticized for being too defensive under old coach John Tortorella.) If the Rangers take to the new system, it will take pressure off of Henrik Lundqvist to stop everything. This team does have the tools to be a challenger to Pittsburgh if they adapt quickly.
3. Washington Capitals
Last year: (27-18-3 1st in Southeast Division, lost to New York Rangers in first round)
Player to watch: Almost as easy as the one I did for Pittsburgh. I’ll say that guy named Alex Ovechkin.
X-Factor: C, Mikhail Grabovski. Many thought there would be a high demand for the Belorussian playmaker, but it took a couple of months before Washington gave him a contract. There are some questions about his attitude, but he can contribute if he’s on his game.
Forecast: Like the Atlantic Division, I had to rack my brain with order of teams 3-5. Some have the Caps in second or third, while The Hockey News picked them sixth. I think it will be more towards the positive end. Mike Green’s return will be key as he provides a lot of points from the blue line. Braden Holtby as proven himself to be steady in nets, but the defense corps in front of him is shaky and gives up a lot of shots. The Caps were in last in the East in February until Ovie carried the team is on his back to get the eighth seed. I think it gets a little easier, but they’ll probably run into the Rangers again in the first round.
4. Columbus Blue Jackets
Last year: (24-17-7 4th in “Old” Central Division, Missed playoffs)
Player to watch: G, Sergei Bobrovsky. He almost singlehandedly carried the Jackets to the playoffs en route to picking up the Vezina Trophy. He helped Columbus tie for the final playoff spot before Minnesota clinched the last spot in the West via tiebreaker.
X-Factor: RW, Marian Gaborik. Gabbo came over in a trade after having a falling out with former Rangers head coach John Tortorella. He did pick up his scoring when he arrived in Ohio’s state capital. He will be needed in order to give the Blue Jackets the push they need to contend for that last wild card playoff spot.
Forecast: The first part of the season may be tough since newly acquired forward Nathan Horton will be out for up to three months due to shoulder surgery in the offseason. There are some good young players like American defenseman Jack Johnson and forwards Artem Anisimov and Brandon Dubinsky. If they can weather the storm without Horton, they will be slugging it out for a playoff spot.
5. New York Islanders
Last year: (24-17-7 3rd in “Old” Atlantic Division, lost to Pittsburgh in first round)
Player to watch: C, John Tavares. This young man has done a lot to turn himself into a top five player in the league. Tavares was named the captain over the summer has become the face of a reenergized franchise.
X-Factor: G, Evgeni Nabakov. He once didn’t want to play for the Islanders, but he’s really been solid in his two seasons on Long Island. Nabakov is 38 and has been playing for a long time. It will be interesting to see if he can continue to put up big numbers for the Islanders.
Forecast: The Isles took the whole league by surprise to earn their first playoff spot since 2007. The Long Islanders will have a lot more eyes on them and teams will be ready for them. The second line of Josh Bailey, Frans Nielsen and Kyle Okposo will have to come up huge if they want to challenge for the playoffs. Matt Moulson has rounded into a nice wingman for Tavares and will be counted on to score.
6. Philadelphia Flyers
Last year: (23-22-3 4th in “Old” Atlantic Division, Missed playoffs)
Player to watch: C, Claude Giroux. The leader of what should be a fast-moving and high-scoring Flyers offense. Giroux should be ready to go for the start of the season after a freak golfing injury.
X-Factors: Gs, Ray Emery and Steve Mason. Everyone knows that the Orange and Black can score, but they need people to stop pucks. The Flyers bought out the contract of Ilya Bryzgalov and signed Emery after picking up Mason at the trade deadline. Emery played well in Chicago, but was eventually beat out by Corey Crawford. Mason is talented, but hasn’t won a starting place yet. Goaltending will be the question.
Forecast: Like the Caps, there are a myriad of predictions that have the Flyers in different places. (I’ve seen as high as third and as low as seventh). General manager Paul Holmgren has tried to plug the holes with veterans like Vincent Lecavalier. This team will be exciting to watch with goals and fights, but that ultimately won’t get this team into the playoffs. However, if the goalie situation settles, then this team could surprise a lot of people.
7. Carolina Hurricanes
Last year: (19-25-4 3rd in Southeast Division, Missed Playoffs)
Player to watch: C, Eric Staal. He and his brother, Jordan, are solid down the middle. Eric Staal, Alex Semin and Jiri Tlusty form a nice top line. Eric has been injured, but can be a solid force when healthy.
X-Factor: The Carolina defense. This team can score like the Flyers, but their D is a problem. Goalie Cam Ward has been bit by the injury bug ever since the team won the Stanley Cup, but is a capable top goalie when healthy. The team does need to tighten up its defense as it was outscored by .66 goals a game.
Forecast: I only picked them next-to-last due to the issues on defense, but they could prove me wrong by getting production from Jeff Skinner. They did pick up Andrej Sekara to try and eat up some minutes, but the depth on the blueline is lacking. The Canes are young enough to start trending upward.
8. New Jersey Devils
Last year: (19-19-10 5th in “Old” Atlantic Division, Missed Playoffs)
Player to watch: C, Patrik Elias. The ageless one just keeps finding ways to score and still be a factor. The Devils offense was ranked second-to-last in the league, but it wasn’t the Czech legend’s fault with 14 goals.
X-Factor: C, Travis Zajac. He’s been tabbed to be the offensive future of this club, but only produced seven goals last season. He’ll probably be placed with the new acquisitions Michael Ryder and Ryan Clowe for a new look. If the Devils are going to make a run at a playoff spot, he’ll really have to step up.
Forecast: It doesn’t look good for New Jersey. They’ve lost two great scorers in Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk in consecutive offseasons. The defense that the Devils have been known for kept them in games, but this team will need to score. The team did get Cory Schneider to succeed the possibly-retiring Martin Brodeur. This is going to be a long year and the start of a rebuilding process that will take at least a couple of years.
Dan Mount is an NHL and college football writer for TJRSports.com. He is based out of Watertown, NY.