August is one of the worst months for those of us who love hockey, news is slow and there usually isn’t much to entertain the masses. However, hockey fans are very fortunate because there really are only a few months a year without our favorite sport. Around this time is usually prime time for numerous prediction and power ranking articles. Colleague Larry Fisher recently predicted what he thinks will be the entire NHL standings at the end of the 2015-16 season. And another colleague Andrew Bensch predicted which teams he believes will make the playoffs from the Eastern Conference. However, as someone who follows the Metropolitan Division very closely, I disagree with his predictions, so without further adieu here’s my take on the Metro for the 2015-16 season.
Metropolitan Division Winner: Pittsburgh Penguins
Before I explain why the Penguins could win the Metro, let’s address the elephant in the room. Yes, I cover the Pittsburgh Penguins and know them better than most, but I tried to remove as much bias as possible when looking at the division.
The way I see the Penguins is a boom or bust team. They certainly have the potential to run away with the Metro, but they also have the potential to be one of the worst teams in the division. For many years the Penguins have been the subject of criticisms mostly focused on their top-heavy nature and lack of supporting cast. Well, they enter the 2015-16 season with their deepest group of forwards in the “Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin” era and that’s because they have allocated almost 70% of their salary cap space to forwards. Pittsburgh is going cheap on defense and they can afford to do that with promising young players like Olli Maatta, Derrick Pouliot and Brian Dumoulin on the back-end. However, this is the reason why the Pens are a boom or bust team. If the youngsters play to their potential and thrive in expanded roles, they will be a very, very good team, but if they falter, it could be a very long season in Pittsburgh.
Reason For Optimism: Very deep group of forwards, highlighted by the addition of the goal scoring wing Phil Kessel
Reason For Concern: Management places a lot of faith on the young defense and the fate of the season depends on their development
Second Place: Washington Capitals
One team that will be very interesting to watch in 2015-16 is the Washington Capitals. They have been a very good team for the last few years and they really did not lose that many important pieces this offseason and they upgraded their forward corps.
The biggest subtractions were losing Mike Green to the Detroit Red Wings and Eric Fehr to the Pittsburgh Penguins. However, they have a capable replacement for Green in the up and coming John Carlson, who has yet to miss an NHL game. Additionally, the Captials upgraded Troy Brouwer with the underrated T. J. Oshie and added the playoff performer Justin Williams to replace Joel Ward.
Reason For Optimism: Much of their team is returning and their forwards are deeper than last year
Reason For Concern: Questionable defense after the second pairing and will Braden Holtby play as well as last season without being in a contract year?
Third Place: Columbus Blue Jackets
For some reason many analysts and fans have been counting the Blue Jackets out of competing in the Metropolitan Division. They did not lose an significant pieces, they added Brandon Saad and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky will be fully healthy coming into the season. The Jackets, much like the Penguins, have been plagued by injuries and last season was no exception. Last season Columbus led the league with 508 man-games lost and the quality of injuries was also significantly higher than any other team.
Reason For Optimism: Adding Brandon Saad helps tremendously and the team enters the season fully healthy
Reason For Concern: Questionable defensive unit and will the injury woes continue?
Fourth Place: New York Islanders
The New York Islanders offseason was quiet, they didn’t make any big moves and their team is almost the exact same heading into the 2015-16 season. In the upcoming season they’ll continue to give other Metropolitan teams issues, but their lack of top end players is cause for concern. Besides the obvious John Tavares, Kyle Okposo, Nick Leddy and Johnny Boychuck, the team is made up of effective, but average players. There’s no one else that makes opposing coaches worry and they’re a deep team, but easy to shut down.
Reason For Optimism: The Islanders have a lot of young talent, like Ryan Strome, who should continue developing next season
Reason For Concern: Can Jaroslav Halak play at the level he was at with the St. Louis Blues?
Fifth Place: New York Rangers
The New York Rangers are what they are, a decent defensive team whose shortcomings are covered up by goaltender Henrik Lundqvist. But he will be 33-years old heading into the season, how long can he keep making the Rangers into a better team? The Rangers are a poor possession team and this offseason might hurt more than many anticipated. They lost Martin St. Louis, and his 52 points in 74 regular season games, to retirement, Derek Stepan was slightly overpaid and Carl Hagelin is now a member of the Anaheim Ducks.
Reason For Optimism: Henrik Lundqvist is still in net and coming off of a strong season
Reason For Concern: Henrik Lundqvist will be forced to cover up even more in the 2015-16 season and he will be a year older, how will he fare?
Sixth Place: Philadelphia Flyers
The Philadelphia Flyers have had a busy offseason. New general manager Ron Hextall has done some impressive work and is trying to turn the ship around, but it won’t be quickly. Important core pieces are locked up and at least on paper, the Flyers will be better in 2015-16 than last season. However, the Metropolitan Division as a whole has improved a lot and more than anything, Philadelphia has simply kept up with the other teams, they did not gain any ground.
Reason For Optimism: There should be less shootouts in 2015-16 and that works to the Flyers advantage, as they went 3-11 in shootout games last season
Reason For Concern: Can Steve Mason continue to play at a high level and mask the flaws of this team?
Seventh Place: Carolina Hurricanes
The Carolina Hurricanes are a marginally better team than last season. But what will help the team the most is having center Jordan Staal healthy for a full 82 game season. He only played 46 games last season and was not always effective while playing.
Reason For Optimism: Their young talent has another year to mature and Jeff Skinner should hopefully bounce back
Reason For Concern: Will the distraction of the futures of Eric Staal and Cam Ward be a distraction to the struggling franchise?
Eight Place: New Jersey Devils
It was also a busy offseason for the Devils, but can you say they’re a much better hockey club now? No. Ray Shero is taking the long approach to building a winning franchise by drafting and developing players, instead of opting for major moves. The biggest move they made was adding forward Kyle Palmieri and he does not greatly improve the team.
Reason For Optimism: Ray Shero is working to rebuild the team quickly and make the most out of Cory Schneider
Reason For Concern: No major improvements were made and the Devils probably won’t be a much better club in 2015-16
Thanks for reading! Feel free to leave your comments below or tweet me anytime @MPityk
Michael Pityk is an analyst who has written for numerous sites since beginning his professional career. He’s acted as a credentialed member of the media for the Philadelphia Phillies, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Pirates and the Pittsburgh Penguins. His work has been featured in Sports Illustrated, The Sports Journal, MSN, PensLabyrinth, Montreal Hockey Talk, ESPN Pittsburgh, The Hockey Writers, Todays SlapShot and The Bleacher Report. He formerly was the editor of Pens Labyrinth and an analyst for The Sports Journal. Michael presently acts as an NHL Analyst for The Hockey Writers