Friday, September 20, 2013

Meet The New Divisions: Metropolitan Division

Get a look at the new Metropolitan (really?) Division:

8. New Jersey Devils-Life for Devils fans sure has been rough since the trip to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2012. A year after watching Zach Parise depart for greener pastures, Ilya Kovalchuk announced his retirement in July so he could play in Russia for SKA St. Petersburg of the KHL. Kovalchuk's departure leaves the Devils without a goal scorer and renders the already lifeless Devils offense, even more lifeless. The Devils did bring in Cory Schneider as the heir apparent to Marty Brodeur's goal, but even that move will not get the Devils goals or out of the basement.

7. Carolina Hurricanes-The Hurricanes saw injuries derail their chance at a division title in the incredibly weak Southeast division last year. This year, they return a very similar team while moving to a ridiculously tough division. The Staal brothers anchor the team at forwards while Alexander Semin and Jeff Skinner lock down spots on the top two lines. But beyond that, the team has questionable depth at forward and defense, and who really knows what to expect out of Cam Ward. There are too many question marks for the Canes to put them in the playoffs or even in the hunt this year.

6. Philadelphia Flyers-Another year of spending right up to the cap is how the Flyers went about their offseason. They signed D Mark Streit to a ridiculous contract then brought in Vinny Lecavalier after he was bought out by Tampa Bay. Oh and they spent about as little as possible on goaltending after buying out Ilya Bryzgalov (Ray Emery and Steve Mason will be the opening night tandem). The Flyers need better play from youngsters Matt Read, Brayden Schenn, and Sean Couturier if they want a chance at succeeding. But at days end, the team has too many overrated defenseman and poor goaltending.

5. Columbus Blue Jackets-No team was hotter in the last month of the season than Columbus was in 2013. They acquired Marian Gaborik at the deadline and got outstanding goaltending from Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky. Heading into this year, the Jackets brought in Nathan Horton from Boston to give the jackets two legitimate scoring lines. The team isn't overly strong at defense, but they proved they can play down the stretch last year. Ultimately, moving to a new division and out East will hurt the Jackets a bit as they get stuck in a division with five other teams who potentially could make the playoffs. Columbus is on the outside looking in again this year (Todd Richards has a nice track record of finishing just outside the playoffs).

4. New York Islanders-The Islanders weren't supposed to make the playoffs. They did. They weren't supposed to win a game in the playoffs. They did. The Isles far exceeded expectations when they played beyond all belief against the top seeded Penguins in the first round of the postseason (eliminated in 6 games, but lost two of them in OT). This year, the Isles return a fairly similar team, but now have a new captain (John Tavares, who is also one of the NHL's top scorers) after D-man Mark Streit left and brought in old friends from Minnesota Cal Clutterbuck and Pierre-Marc Bouchard to solidify their forward lines. Isles have a decent defensive core and will rely on Evgeni Nabokov to hold the fort in between the pipes. The Isles miss out on the third seed in this division, but are very much in contention for a "Wild Card" spot.

3. Washington Capitals-There was no bigger beneficiary of playing in a weak division than Washington was the past couple of years. They were able to lock down home ice in the first round of the playoffs each year because they were the only decent team in a division of bad teams. But now the Caps move into a much tougher division and will have to adapt quickly if they want a chance to make the playoffs. Ovechkin still leads the way and told the league last year he still has not lost a step. They have three solid lines up front and have a uneven defensive core with Braden Holtby/Michael Neuvirth tandem still in goal. The Caps will do what needs to be done to get in the playoffs once again, but don't bet against another disappointing playoff performance.

2. New York Rangers-Besides firing John Tortorella and hiring Alain Vigneault as head coach, it was an awfully quiet summer from the Rangers. They did bring in former Wild players Benoit Pouliot and Justin Falk, but I'd hardly count those as moves. The Rangers struggled last year because the voice of Tortorella fell on deaf ears, and a change was needed. Now that the team has that change, they should get a nice boost of hope and return to the team that was the top seed in the East two years ago. They have three solid forward lines, and are very deep defensively. They have one of the best goalies in the league in Henrik Lundqvist, but they are running out of time before age starts to kick in with Henrik. The strong defense and goaltending will do wonders for this team this year, and it will lead them to a second place finish in the new Metropolitan division.

1. Pittsburgh Penguins-Last year, the Pens were the East's top team. They look to be tops in the East once again, as the core of the Pens are still there and won't be going anywhere for a while (Crosby, Malkin, Letang, and Neal are all locked into long term deals). Pittsburgh did lose some solid third line players (Matt Cooke, Tyler Kennedy) and just filled those holes with players willing to accept low cost deals because the Pens are so close to the cap. A huge question mark again for this team is G Marc-Andre Fleury, who struggled in the playoffs once again, leaving the job to Tomas Vokoun who stepped in, in the first round and help Pittsburgh reach the East Finals. The Pens need Fleury now more than ever, as they need goaltending to be solid due to the departures of key players and not filling those holes with better players. If the goaltending succeeds, Pens will compete for the Presidents Trophy. They win the division, but can MAF get his postseason play turned around?

Follow Giles on Twitter @gilesferrell

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