Friday, September 26, 2014

2014-15 Outlook: Metropolitan Division

Taking a look at the crapshoot more commonly known as the Metropolitan Division.

8. Carolina Hurricanes: Well, there is frankly not much to be excited for when it comes to the Hurricanes this year. They have the Staal brothers (except its just Eric now, as Jordan is out for a while), Alex Semin, and Jeff Skinner at forward, but beyond that their forward depth is below average. So if their top six has problems putting up points, their team will have issues winning. Defensively, they have Justin Faulk and Andrej Sekera...and that's about it. In net, Cam Ward still is somehow employed despite his backup Anton Khudobin being way better than him over the past two years. Ron Francis is now in charge in Carolina, and he has his hands full. The Canes have a ways to go before they can be taken as a playoff team. For this year, it looks like they will be at the bottom in the Metro.

7. Washington Capitals: Washington made a big splash on defense this summer when they signed Matt Niskanen away from Pittsburgh. Problem was, they went out and signed his Penguins teammate Brooks Orpik to an awful five year contract (it comes with a cap hit of $5.5M per year). While having Orpik right now is an upgrade for the Caps defense, there is no way his contract will be worth it by the end. Up front the Caps still have Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom and will need big production from Evgeny Kuzntsov as he projects to start the season on the second line. But the Caps lack forward depth and their defense is questionable even with Niskanen and Orpik now in the fold. A long season for Washington is on the way.

6. New York Islanders: A cardboard cutout of Rick DiPietro could have done better for the Islanders in net last year than anyone who they actually put in between the pipes. So Garth Snow actually did something smart this summer and went out and got a good goaltender to play on the island. The under appreciated Jaroslav Halak was brought in to be the number one goalie for the Islanders after playing for St. Louis and Washington last year. They also added Mikhail Grabovski to be their second line center behind the returning John Tavares (suffered an injury during the Olympics). Even though their forwards and goaltending can be strengths for this team, the Islanders will need their shaky defense to step up if they want to return to the playoffs for the second time in three years.

5. New Jersey Devils: In the past three years, only four teams have had better puck possession numbers than the Devils. Yet, out of those three years this team has only made the playoffs once and that was in 2011-12. Problem for the Devils during those years, has been the lack of production from the goaltending position. Well now that New Jersey has finally parted ways with Martin Brodeur, thy should be getting a significant boost from the goalie spot thanks to Cory Schneider. The Devils are good defensively, which should add up to much fewer goals scored on them this year. Problem is, they have a lack of scoring up front. Jaromir Jagr projects to be on the top line (yikes), and he is more suited for a second line role at this point in his career. The Devils will hang around in the playoff race, but they may need to add some goal scoring at the trade deadline to get them over the hump.

4. New York Rangers: After an incredible run to the Stanley Cup Finals, the Rangers should be headed into this season as a favorite in this division. But during the summer, they lost key components (Anton Stralman, Brian Boyle, Brad Richards, Benoit Pouliot) and their most significant addition was the aging Dan Boyle. The blueshirts still have a formidable top six, but they will need significant production from their revamped bottom six to have similar success as they did last year. Defensively, the Rangers are still an above average team, but losing Stralman will do them no favors. In net, the always stellar Henrik Lundqvist will be presiding once again and it is no easy feat to score on him. The Rangers will take a step back and will be a bubble playoff team in 2014-15.

3. Columbus Blue Jackets: If the Blue Jackets and Ryan Johansen can get out of their game of chicken anytime soon, Columbus should be a fun team to watch in 2014-15. After a first round playoff exit last season (in which they went toe to toe with Pittsburgh in a six game series), the Jackets made a huge splash this offseason adding Scott Hartnell to their lineup in a trade with Philadelphia. The Jackets bring a good scoring attack up front and have a decent defense now with the emergence of Ryan Murray as their best d-man. Behind the defense is Vezina Trophy winning goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, who has become one of the league's best since his trade to the Ohio capital. This, of course, is assuming Johansen signs with the Jackets sometime soon...

2. Philadelphia Flyers: After a disappointing seven game first round playoff exit, the Flyers had a relatively quiet offseason. Their only noteworthy move was trading Scott Hartnell to Columbus in exchange for RJ Umberger. It was sort of a stunning move, but new GM Ron Hextall felt this made the team better. The Flyers go into the year with perhaps one of the better forward corps in the Eastern Conference, lead by perennial MVP candidate Claude Giroux.  Defensively, the Flyers took a huge hit when it was announced that Kimmo Timonen would miss most, if not all, of the season after suffering blood clots in his leg. The Flyers will now have to rely on Andrew McDonald, Brayden Coburn, and Mark Streit to fill the void left by Timonen. Steve Mason enters the year as the Flyers number one goaltender after a solid 2013-14 season and will be certainly tested after the loss of Timonen on the blueline. Flyers come in as a distant second to Pittsburgh in the Metro this year.

1. Pittsburgh Penguins: For two consecutive seasons, the Pens have finished the season on top of their division. In a weak division and conference, they should have no problem making it a third straight season as division champs. Crosby, Malkin, Letang, know how this goes. But the Pens have been bounced too early in the playoffs in recent years and it lead to the dismissal of GM Ray Shero and Head Coach Dan Bylsma in the offseason. Replacing them will be former Canes GM Jim Rutherford and Mike Johnston. The Penguins also shipped winger James Neal in a draft day trade to Nashville for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling. They also brought in Christian Ehrhoff to help fill the void on the blue line left by Matt Niskanen. Pittsburgh will win this division but they hope the change in management and key players will help bring some new found playoff success.

Follow Giles on Twitter @gilesferrell

No comments:

Post a Comment