The Metropolitan Division has significantly gotten tougher and tougher over the past few seasons. The Pittsburgh Penguins were able to win the Metropolitan Division in 2013-2014 and the New York Rangers won the division last year.
In the new playoff format, it has been the Rangers who have made it out of the first two rounds against their division rivals and have reached the Conference Finals in both seasons.
New rivalries have developed, such as a rivalry between the New York Rangers and Columbus Blue Jackets. The Penguins and Capitals rivalry should only be greater this season with both teams having promising offseasons and looking like elite teams next year. There may be a shift in power at the top of the Metropolitan Division. Here are my Summer Power Rankings of the teams.
1) New York Rangers
The 2014-2015 Metropolitan Division Champions also won the Presidents’ Trophy last year. Offensively, the team changed slightly as the Rangers traded Carl Hagelin to the Anaheim Ducks for Emerson Etem, lost Martin St. Louis to retirement, and James Sheppard to free agency.
The team returns to their top line Rick Nash (42 goals), Derrick Brassard (60 points) and, if healthy, Norwegian playmaker Mats Zuccarello. Derek Stepan (55 points in 68 games a plus 22) and Chris Kreider (21 goals) should be a force on the 2nd line.The Rangers also will have sophomore forward Kevin Hayes who had an excellent rookie season last year with 45 points in 79 games. Viktor Stalberg and Emerson Etem are very good depth additions as well. The defense is led by Ryan McDonagh, Dan Girardi, Marc Staal, Kevin Klein, Keith Yandle and Dan Boyle.
The Rangers defense is the deepest in the division and possibly the Eastern Conference. Henrik Lundqvist will be refreshed between the pipes. The Rangers play fast and play hard. They will be a handful for any team in the NHL.
2) Washington Capitals
The Caps are very slightly behind the Rangers here and are more than capable of passing them and winning this division. The Rangers have been a playoff nemesis to Washington and they are trying to do whatever it takes to beat the Rangers if the two teams matchup in the upcoming playoffs.
The Caps had excellent offseason additions in TJ Oshie and three time Stanley Cup Champion Justin Williams. The team lost Mike Green to free agency which is a tough loss, but Green was not among the top 4 defense anymore for Washington. The defense is led by John Carlson, Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen, and Carl Alzner.
The Caps defense was among the highest scoring in the league last year. Braden Holtby emerged as a star last season and had his best season yet in the NHL. The Capitals will continue to be a tough team to play against as Alex Ovechkin (53 goals), Nicklas Backstrom (60 assists), Evgeny Kuznetsov (37 points) and the rest of the team will look to finally have spring success. I give the Caps the advantage here over the Penguins because I believe they have a stronger defense and I like Braden Holtby over Marc-Andre Fluery.
3) Pittsburgh Penguins
To me any of the top 3 teams on this list is capable of a Metropolitan Division Title. I believe it will be a closely contested three team race all season, and the third team is the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Penguins made the biggest splash of the offseason by adding one of the best snipers in the league in Phil Kessel. Kessel playing with either Crosby or Malkin is just dangerous for any team. To me the Penguins now has the best offensive depth in the Eastern Conference, and by far the best top six forwards.
A potential top-six of Kunitz, Crosby, Kessel, followed by Perron, Malkin, Hornqvist is unreal. Brandon Sutter, Beau Bennett and Pascal Dupuis are dangerous forwards as well. The Penguins will also be getting back Kris Letang and Olli Maatta on defense which will help tremendously.
Marc-Andre Fluery will once again be in net for the Pens. The Penguins could return to elite status next year after a mediocre season, according to their high standards in 2014-2015.
4) New York Islanders
The Islanders will be playing their first full season in Brooklyn and should be a very strong team. The group will be led by John Tavares (38g, 48a, 86p), Kyle Okposo, Brock Nelson and Ryan Strome on offense. Frans Nielsen, Josh Bailey and Anders Lee all scored 40 plus points last year as well.
The defense is led by two star defenseman in the great skating Nick Leddy and the booming slapshot and solid defense of Johnny Boychuk. Travis Hamonic, Thomas Hickey and Calvin De Hann will log a lot of minutes as well. The Isles returned to the playoffs last season, but lost to the Washington Capitals in 7 games in a very competitive series. Jaroslav Halak will be leading the team between the pipes. I expect the Islanders first season at the Barclays Center to be a successful one, and for the team to grab one of the two Wild Card Spots in the Eastern Conference.
5) Columbus Blue Jackets
Another team that will be competing for a Wild Card Spot all season or even more will be the Columbus Blue Jackets. The Blue Jackets, like the Washington Capitals, are extremely difficult to play against. The team loves to forecheck, hit, and play a gritty style.
The Blue Jackets ended the season on a tear by going 12-0-1 to close the year. The team had a ton of injuries all season and never quite got it going until the end of the season. Who knows what this team could have done if they had qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Jackets will be led by rising star Ryan Johansen (26g, 45a, 71p) and newly named team captain Nick Foligno (31g, 42a, 73p). Brandon Dubinsky is an extremely valuable two-way-center will be back and ready to compete each and every night. Veterans Scott Hartnell fit the Columbus style of play very well and it could even suit David Clarkson for his gritty style.
Expect an impact from forwards Matt Calvert and Cam Atkinson as well. Not to mention the acquisition of “The Man Child”, the 22-year-old beast known as Brandon Saad. This will be Saad’s opportunity to shine and show the world that he is an excellent hockey player and was not just a product of the “Red Machine” Chicago Blackhawks.
Defense is the biggest concern I have for the Blue Jackets. They are led by Jack Johnson, David Savard, and Fedor Tyutin. This will be the season for 2nd overall pick in 2012 Ryan Murray to log regular NHL minutes if healthy. In goal the team will have the luxury of 2013 Vezina Trophy Winner Sergei Bobrovsky.
6) New Jersey Devils
This is a team that plays a solid defensive system that frustrates opponents. It is also a team with an elite goaltender in Cory Schneider. There are a few question marks on the blueline currently with team captain Bryce Salvador an unrestricted free agent. On defense guys like Andy Greene and newly acquired John Moore should be solid. Moore is a good skater and could do well in New Jersey’s system.
The team needs more production from 2011 4th overall pick Adam Larsson who is currently in salary arbitration. The Devils also could use another defenseman and should look to target former New Jersey Devil Johnny Oduya to help solidify their blueline.
The offense has struggled for years in New Jersey and I do not see anything different this year in that regard. Adam Henrique, Travis Zajac, Patrik Elias and Mike Cammalleri will be relied upon to score very often in order to keep this team in the playoff hunt this year. Former Anaheim Duck Kyle Palmieri will return to his home state to play for New Jersey. I see this team as a clear 6th best in the Metropolitan to start the year and if they find offense they should be within 5-10 points of a Wild Card spot most of the year.
7) Philadelphia Flyers
To me when I think of the current state of the Philadelphia Flyers, I think of a team that just simply lacks an identity. New coach from the University of North Dakota in the NCAA, Dave Hakstol, will have a very tough task in front of him this year. The team is simply not overly difficult to play against like a Columbus or a Washington and they do not defend as well as a New York Rangers or New York Islanders.
They also do not have the scoring depth of a Pittsburgh Penguins or some of the elite offenses. The Flyers did get solid goaltending last year. Steve Mason had a very good season with a .928 save % (3rd in the NHL) and a 2.25 GAA (7th in the NHL). What is impressive about the numbers is that Mason did that with an average at best defense in front of him.
As for the offense, Claude Giroux (25g, 48a, 73p) and Jakub Voracek (22g, 59a, and 81p) are superstars and Wayne Simmonds is one of the top power forwards in hockey. However, outside of that I do not see much at the forward position and you can ‘t win in the NHL with a one-line-team. Guys like Braydon Schenn have to step up big time if the Flyers are going to compete in a tough Metropolitan Division.
One addition I really like is the low risk and very high reward known as Sam Gagner. He has been in the league for a long time and is a veteran at the ripe age of 25. Gagner will turn 26 before the season next year and has a lot of skill, great hands and passing ability,but is not consistent and has struggled to play full seasons.The change of scenery to a city like Philadelphia could motivate Gagner to raise his game. Gagner is a consistent 40-50 point scorer throughout his career, but the Flyers may need a lot more if they want to compete this year.
On the backend I see Mark Streit (9 goals, 43 assists) leading the defense with the bruiser Radko Gudas, who Flyers fans will take a liking to for his gritty and rugged style. I expect the Flyers to be near the bottom of the Metropolitan Division this year.
8) Carolina Hurricanes
“Hey Hey What Do You Say Eric Staal”. It shows how much the ‘Canes are struggling these days when the first thing that comes to my mind is their great broadcaster John Forslund. Offensively the Hurricanes will look to Eric Staal, Jordan Staal, Jeff Skinner, Elias Lindholm and Victor Rask to lead the team.
The Canes just do not have a ton of depth on offense, defense, and have gotten average goaltending at best from Cam Ward and Anton Khudobin. On defense the team did add some nice talents.
James Wisniewski was a good signing as was the drafting of a very talented young defenseman in Noah Hanifin. Justin Faulk is a very good young defenseman and almost led the team in points last year with 49. It may be another long year in Carolina as the team is for certain in a rebuild.
I am a 2015 graduate of Montclair State University in New Jersey. I have coached ice hockey at the high school level for two seasons here in NJ. I will be covering the Toronto Maple Leafs moving forward for The Hockey Writers.