With preseason just around the corner Blackhawk Up takes a look at the Metropolitan Division and gives some predictions on the upcoming season.
8) The New Jersey Devils had a rough offseason to say the least. We all know the story of Kovalchuk leaving for the KHL and the pickup of Corey Schneider, which basically is the beginning of the end for Brodeur. Despite a decent start to the season last year, injuries crept up and sent the Devils’ season into a tailspin. To make matters worse, they lost David Clarkson and gained Rostislav Olesz. The loss of two of their three top scorers will be a problem the Devils won’t easily overcome this season. On the bright side, they will be set in net for a while, and they can start bringing in scoring talent once the cap goes back up. The Devils will have a rough year this season, but don’t expect that to become a trend with the organization. Prediction: They won’t make the playoffs, but this will be a great chance for Schneider to learn from a legend while the Devils restock their offense.
7) The Philidalphia Flyers are another team going into a little bit of a transition phase. They decided to use their buyout on the obvious candidate Bryzgalov, and to the surprise of some, on Danny Briere. No one is arguing that Briere is on the decline in his career, but if you get that guy into the playoffs he’s always willing to take a team on his back. It wasn’t all bad news though. The Flyers picked up veteran center Vincent Lecavalier. With the departure of Bryz came Ray Emery, who just came off of a career year and a Stanley Cup. Both Lecavalier and Emery are well suited to the Flyers’ style of play. Despite those positive additions to the team, I can see the blue-line still being a problem. Both Emery and Bryz had the advantage of playing behind defense-focused teams. Ever since the Flyers lost Pronger to injury and traded Mike Richards, there just hasn’t been consistent support to help the goalies out. Prediction: The blue-line still needs work, and I believe that will be the Achilles heel for this team which will keep them out of the postseason.
6) The Carolina Hurricanes are a team I followed a lot last year. I was extremely disappointed in how their season turned out. I was expecting some amazing chemistry between the Staals, which I did occasionally get to see, but more often than not, I was left watching a team constantly struggle to find their transition game. The talent was there, but it was never fully utilized. It was frustrating to watch, but I was actually rather impressed with Alexander Semin. I watched him on the Caps for years, and I could completely understand where the “lazy” rumors came from, but instead of just taking his money and not caring, he produced at a high level. The big question this year will be the health of Eric Staal. The knee injury was sustained in the world championships in a knee on knee collision. Reports say he feels fine, but knee injuries can be tricky, and only time will tell how well it holds up under game conditions. The Canes picked up backup goalie Anton Khubodin who posted similar stats to Tuukka Rask while on Boston. If Cam Ward gets injured, like he often seems to, they have a skilled goalie they can rely on. Prediction: The Canes will step it up this season, but still won’t make the playoffs this year. The new competition will be much tougher than previous seasons, but I expect them to be a strong bubble team for years to come.
5) The Columbus Blue Jackets have been the “2 free points!” team for a long time, but last season the fans finally got to cheer for a team they could be proud of. This is where I go on and on about Sergei Bobrovski, but everyone already knows his story. I will say that his emergence will continue to help build confidence for the rest of the team. They can focus on the task at hand instead of worrying about purely playing defense to protect Steve Mason. This year, Marian Gaborik should be a big offensive presence. I don’t expect Prospal or Letestu to drop in production, but I have a feeling Gaborik will thrive in his new setting. The reason I can possibly see the Jackets grabbing one of the two wildcard spots comes down to their lunch pail style. Everyone works hard on this team, night in and night out. They are always willing to go into the dirty areas and get it done. That style is what allows them to potentially win any game on any given night no matter how much pure star power they are lacking. Prediction: I can see them grabbing a wildcard spot, possibly even grabbing the second spot from the Atlantic Division.
4) The New York Islanders quietly had themselves a strong season. Then they had themselves a very loud postseason. Even with the first round loss, they proved a lot. They have worked the waiver wire for years and it has finally come together and paid off. Their glaring weakness last season will follow them into this one, and that’s goaltending. Evgeni Nabakov is a suitable backup, but he is not a starter anymore as evidenced by the postseason. They picked up Tim Thomas for cap reasons so don’t expect the man from the bunker to lace up his skates for the Islanders. The offense was already strong, and the addition of Clutterbuck will add a bit of grit. Clutterbuck may not be a top choice for most, but he can still play the game while being a human battering ram. Like almost everyone else in the hockey universe, I will be expecting another quiet yet spectacular year from John Tavares. I’m still shocked that he isn’t a household name yet, but he is getting there. Prediction: There is a lot of talent across this team, and they should have no problem locking up the wildcard spot. The main focus for the team should be to acquire a more consistent goalie before the trade deadline.
3) The Washington Capitals looked like they were going to miss the playoffs a month into the season. I will find it very odd if they struggle like that again this season. The key is stability. They got the hang of the system that was implemented, and they found their confidence. The loss of Mike Ribeiro will be felt, but a healthy Erat should help fill in the hole. I got to see a lot of Erat over the past few years, and I know he understands the value of a two-way game. That is something the Caps could always use. The Olympics will be a factor for their success. You have to believe that Ovechkin will have a little bit more motivation to be at the top of his game this year. I want to believe that we won’t see “unplugged controller” Ovi too often. The addition of Aaron Volpatti is just adding a little bit of depth, but he might be a suitable replacement for fan favorite Matt Hendricks. It never hurts to have a guy that does all the little things night in and night out for your team. Troy Brouwer has embraced his role as a do it all player, and I’m glad he is succeeding in Washington. Prediction: The Caps are primed to bounce back into the spotlight. They should have little problem earning the third spot for the playoffs.
2) The New York Rangers have successfully voiced their opinion of John Tortorella and have freed themselves from his abrasive coaching style. Alain Vigneault will be taking over, and that change could be the key to really kick-starting the Rangers’ offense. His love for advanced stats and for working the faceoff dots could be huge for the team. The Rangers already have world class goaltending in Henrik Lundqvist, and I don’t think that will change anytime soon. Marty Biron has proven himself time and time again as the ideal backup goalie. The teams’ defense has always been a strong point, and that also plays perfectly into Vigneault’s hand. He can focus on getting the most out of his offense. You have to imagine that there will be a focus on maximizing the use of stars like Brad Richards and Ryan Callahan. This team gets a fresh start this year with a fresh coach, and I can see this blue-collar team running with it. Prediction: The Rangers should be able to lock in the second spot in the Metro Division.
1) I’m sure that no one is shocked at seeing The Pittsburgh Penguins in the number one spot. When you look at how dominate they were in the regular season, it’s a no brainer. They kept the same goalies and coach, a rather surprising decision after yet another disappointing postseason. Personally, I don’t disagree with their decision to keep Fleury and Bylsma; they are putting faith in people they rely on. I like that they moved Douglas Murray. I always felt he was a bad fit for what the Pens needed as a team. By contrast, Rob Scuderi has a good rapport with the team and is a reliable bottom six defenseman. As for the offense… I think the names Crosby and Malkin speak for themselves. Like Ovi, Malkin might have a little extra pep in his step with the Sochi Olympics which would be great for Pens fans. Prediction: They regained some speed by dropping Iginla and Murray which will only benefit the offensive dynamo. With their consistent regular season success, I can’t see how they won’t be in the top spot in the Metro Division.
Topics: Alex Ovechkin, Carolina Hurricanes, Chicago Blackhawks, Columbus Blue Jackets, Eric Staal, Henrik Lundqvist, Marian Gaborik, Martin Brodeur, Metropolitan Division, New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders, New York Rangers, NHL Training Camp, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Ray Emery, Sidney Crosby, Washington Capitals