Opinion Pieces divisions

Published on September 2nd, 2013 | by Bryan Curran

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Season Preview: Metropolitan Division Rivals

Well, September is finally here and for us hockey fans that means the stagnant month of August is done and the countdown to training camp can begin. Islander fans far and wide were left riding an emotional high after the Isles not only ended their playoff drought, but gave the top seeded Pittsburgh Penguins a serious run for their money. We were left wanting more and that is something we as fans have not felt in a while.

With this new season brings new challenges. There are now not only new divisional alignments but a different playoff format as well. In the Isles division this year are former Atlantic Division rivals the New Jersey Devils, New York Rangers, Philadelphia Flyers and Pittsburgh Penguins. From the former Southeast Division the Carolina Hurricanes and Washington Capitals have been added and Western Conference import, the Columbus Blue Jackets will also join the newly formed Metropolitan Division. In the article to follow, I will preview each of these opponents looking at what challenges they will bring to the table and my prediction on how they will finish in the division. Keep in mind that in this division of eight, the top three are the only ones guaranteed playoff berths with the 4th and possibly 5th seeds able to take wild card spots.

Carolina Hurricanes
Last Season 19-25-4, 42 points, 3rd in Southeast Division; 13th in Eastern Conference

Make no mistake about it, the Carolina Hurricanes are a better team than what their record last season indicates. Jiri Tlusty had a career year in the shortened season and is someone the Hurricanes will depend on to have a repeat performance. In addition to Tlusty, brothers Eric and Jordan Staal provide a constant scoring threat that opposing team’s defensemen are constantly on the lookout for. Enigmatic winger Alexander Semin is as elite as a sniper gets but is the prototypical Russian hockey player in that there are games he can throw 3 points on the board, and others he goes unnoticed and forgets what the defensive zone is. Jeff Skinner needs to keep production up as well and if these offensive threats can click for a full season they can absolutely surprise a lot of teams.

The defense will be interesting to watch as youngster Justin Faulk is a threat on offense and reliable in his own zone. Tim Gleason and Jay Harrison bring reliability without all of the flash. Joni Pitkanen is a veteran with a lot of upside that seems to never quite meet his expectations. With that said, he is a reliable player no matter what team he has been on. Off season acquisition Andrej Sekera will be a solid bottom 3 pairing that I thought made a lot of sense for Carolina, and in my opinion could be one of the smarter under the radar pick ups of the off season. Ryan Murphy is a homegrown draft product who seems poised to make an impact in the NHL now. But finally, the biggest story for the Carolina blue line is Toronto Maple Leafs compliance buyout Mike Komisarek. A Long Island native, Komisarek is due to have a break out year. Most critics think he is on the way down and with good reason, however his relegation to the AHL last season and disappointing production in Toronto in my opinion is not due to lack of ability. His contract was too much to live up to in a city where hockey is all that matters. With the burden of that out from under him he now has a new modest contract that gives him the opportunity to prove himself. With Raleigh being a non traditional hockey market it seems to be the perfect breeding ground for a player like Komisarek to have a rebirth.

Goaltending is something Carolina has usually had the privilege of not having to worry about. Cam Ward is an Olympic caliber player that when healthy can be discussed as one of the top 10 goalies in the league. Injuries have plagued him of late though and Carolina has made patch work of their goaltending, but for the most part have gotten better than average results. Over the past few years guys Like Michael Leighton, Dan Ellis and Justin Peters have been between the pipes in Raleigh and given mixed results depending on the night. This season, with a healthy Cam Ward and a dependable backup in free agent signing Anton Khudobin from Boston, the goalie situation seems to be a strong point.

X Factor

I could go a few different ways with this. Part of me wants to say Jiri Tlusty because of the year he just had. If that were to extend into a full season his play could be pivotal. But to me the x factor is Cam Ward. If he stays healthy this team has a chance to win, period.

Prediction

7th in Metropolitan Division

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Columbus Blue Jackets
Last Season 24-17-7 55 points, 4th in Central Division; 9th in Western Conference

The Columbus Blue Jackets last season were a team that like the Islanders were battling to the very last game of the season in an effort to make the playoffs. This was also a team that many people, including myself were pulling for. In their short history as an NHL franchise which dates back only to 2000, they have only one playoff appearance which came in 2009. In their playoff debut they were promptly swept by the Detroit Red Wings. This is a team that plays hard on a game to game basis and has a tremendous amount of skill, more so than many people realize. They have built a strong team both through high draft picks, free agent signings and smart trades and in doing so look to make a lot of noise this season.

They have an explosive core of forwards highlighted by last years trade acquisition Marian Gaborik, formerly of the New York Rangers. In addition, 2010 4th overall draft pick Ryan Johansen seems as if he will be an elite scorer. If the Blue Jackets end up making their second ever playoff appearance this coming season it will be dependent on big seasons by those two. In addition, free agent signing and former Boston Bruin Nathan Horton brings legitimate offensive ability to their core of forwards. Shoulder surgery will have Horton sidelined until at least December, but after signing a 7 year contract prior to this season he looks to be a figure in Columbus for years to come. The supplementary cast of Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov, Cam Atkinson and RJ Umberger makes the Blue Jackets a scary team for the opposition and will put up huge numbers if all are healthy.

Although their defense isn’t the worst group in the league, there will be a lot of questions surrounding how they will produce. Jack Johnson is far and away their best blue liner and will be heavily relied on to play a lot of minutes and contribute offensively. Outside of Johnson their roster will include former Islander James Wisniewski, Fedor Tyutin, Nikita Nikitin, Tim Erixon and a camp 6th defensemen winner which I see as being Dalton Prout. As you can see this is a capable group of defenders but they will need literally everyone to contribute or the goaltending will be left out to dry. (Note: Dalton Prout is in here as the number 6 because 2012 2nd overall pick Ryan Murray should have this spot, I am just not 100% sure where he stands as far as his recovery from last years injury.)

This brings me to their goalies. Arguably the biggest surprise of last season was Sergei Bobrovsky. The goaltender that was cast off of the ever turning carousel in Philadelphia saw Bobrovsky land in Columbus and not only have a career year, but take home the league’s highest honor for a goaltender, the Vezina trophy. bobrovskyHaving traded Steve Mason to Philadelphia later in the year, free agent signee and backup/AHL journeyman Curtis McElhinney looks to be second in command behind Bobrovsky. With that being said, Bobrovsky will be relied on to play a lot of games AND play very close to how he did last season. He has shown he was capable last year, but now his durability and longevity will be put to the test.

X Factor

The defense. The forwards have all the skill in the world to put up big numbers and the starting goaltender was just named the league’s best last season. That means pressure must be kept off of Bobrovsky to have to make more than 30 saves every game. Also, the forwards can’t feel like they have to score 5 a night to win. If the defense can be a little better than average, this team can make the playoffs.

Prediction

4th in Metropolitan Division

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New Jersey Devils
Last Season 19-19-10 48 points, 5th in Atlantic Division; 11th in Eastern Conference

A lot has changed in Newark and for the first time in a while there is a lot of uncertainty surrounding the Devils. New ownership and financial woes are issues that seem to be somewhat resolved but will take some time to push through. The team’s best player, Ilya Kovalchuk left over 40 million on the table to go home and play in the KHL. Lifelong Devil and arguably the best goaltender of all time, Martin Brodeur has battled injuries the past few seasons and looks to be playing in what might be his final season. A multitude of free agent signings and trades have been made to try and compensate for said losses. Still only two years removed from a Stanley Cup Final appearance, the Devils look to be poised for a season way below the expectations that they usually have.

The loss of Kovalchuk is huge. There is no way around that and that one loss means a significant drop in offensive production. David Clarkson also jumped ship to go play in his home town for the Toronto Maple Leafs. In doing so the Devils were immediately at a loss for the majority of their goals that they usually counted on. In response, legendary General Manager Lou Lamoriello brought in a few people capable of scoring through free agency to compensate, but it remains to be seen if these players can make up for what they have already seen leave. Among the names acquired were Ryane Clowe, Michael Ryder, Rostislav Olesz and the ageless 41 year old sure fire 145299629_extra_large_mediumHall of Famer Jaromir Jagr. These four additions will undoubtedly contribute offense, the only question is will it be enough to compensate for the losses of Kovalchuk and Clarkson. Clowe and Ryder can substitute for the grit lost with Clarkson’s departure but the vacancy left by Kovalchuk is a lot to make up for. Andrei Loktionov turned out to be a welcome addition last year. This means he will also be looked at to produced at a rate he has never been asked to in his career thus far, with both the Kings and Devils. Core players Patrick Elias, Travis Zajac and Adam Henrique will be the main focus of the offense as they always are, but there isn’t much to worry about in that regard as they are as reliable as any threesome league wide.

Defensively the Devils should be okay. Captain Bryce Salvador won’t give much offensively but is solid in his own zone. The trade of Henrik Tallinder back to Buffalo leaves some valuable veteran presence now gone, but Marek Zidlicky, Andy Greene and Mark Fayne are all reliable in that regard. Rounding out the defensive corps is 2011 4th overall pick Adam Larsson who arguably has the most upside of any of the New Jersey defenders, but he is still only 20 years old.

Goaltending may be the only sure success for the Devils this coming year, or at least it should be. Everyone knows Marty Brodeur and what he brings, he just needs to stay healthy, but having had injury issues the past few seasons and being 41 years old it is just a matter of how much of a load he can sustain this year. As an insurance policy the Devils added former Vancouver Canuck Cory Schneider, which hopefully ends the goaltending escapade in Vancouver involving him and Roberto Luongo. It looks to be that Schneider and Brodeur will split time but in the event of an injury to Brodeur, Schneider is more than capable of being relied on.

X Factor

The offense. No one person is going to be in the spot light more than another, but everyone needs to contribute and more importantly be consistent. Will playing with fellow countryman Patrick Elias give Jagr one more productive year as a legitimate top 6 forward? Can Ryane Clowe bounce back from a down year offensively and put up points as well as be a physical threat? Will Michael Ryder have a year close to what he had last year and show he can still be relied on in important situations? Will Andrei Loktionov be able to handle the pressure of finally being relied on somewhat heavily? These are all toss ups but the Devils will need all of it in order to even compete for one of the final playoff births.

Prediction

8th in Metropolitan Division

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New York Rangers
Last Season 26-18-4 56 points, 2nd in Atlantic Division; 6th in Eastern Conference

Last season was undoubtedly a disappointment for Ranger fans and the organization as a whole. Going into the season last year with a potential top line of Marian Gaborik, Brad Richards and newly acquired Rick Nash was a frightening thought for any opponent. Goaltender Henrik Lundqvist is top 3 in the league and their young, mostly home grown defense is as good as any, but they just didn’t all mesh at the same time. After being the number 1 seed in 2011-2012, they struggled heavily last year. Brad Richards was benched at certain points and Marian Gaborik was eventually traded to Columbus in favor of Derick Brassard, Derek Dorsett and John Moore. Then at the conclusion of their playoff ousting at the hands of the Boston Bruins, Coach John Tortorella was fired. Not long after, Alain Vigneault, former head coach of the Vancouver Canucks was hired as his replacement. Oddly enough, Tortorella was tabbed to be Vigneault’s replacement in Vancouver in a round about trade of coaches.

Rick-NashThis team has fire power and is capable of winning. The offense is proof of it. Ryan Callahan, the team’s captain is the real deal and provides stability in the form of leadership and production. Rick Nash is a super star without question, he now needs to not only play like one, but help this team win if he ever wants to prove that the lack of success the Blue Jackets had during his regime as captain was due to his supporting cast and not that of himself. Derek Stepan is coming off of a great year and has turned into a great player but still needs a contract. This blows my mind because if I were the GM he would be locked up by now, but I guess that’s why I only write. Brad Richards was a tremendous disappointment last year and many including myself thought one of the Ranger’s two buyouts would be used on him and his anvil of a contract. That never came to fruition though so he has a lot to prove. With all of the money they have already tied up, their off season was a bit stingy. However they acquired some role players in Dominic Moore and Benoit Pouliot for back end support. Small Scandanavian speedsters Mats Zuccarello and Carl Hagelin will also need to keep up with the production that they have given for this team to not disappoint and go deep in the playoffs.

Defensively this is a corps that any team would be lucky to have. Marc Staal, Dan Girardi, Michael Del Zotto, Ryan McDonagh, John Moore and Anton Stralman are all good players at both ends of the ice. Off season acquisition Justin Falk from the Minnesota Wild provides a decent 7th option as well. Their back end will be nothing to worry about.

As good as their defense is, their goaltending is better. Henrik Lundqvist has a Vezina under his belt and plays a lot of games with consistently good results. Former Islander Martin Biron is arguably the best and most reliable backup in the league. This tandem is as good as it gets. If they just stay the course it will be up to everyone else to play well, because with these options in goal they have a chance to win every night.

X Factor

Rick Nash and Brad Richards. This isn’t Columbus, Ohio. This is New York. The biggest stage for any athlete and Nash now has one year of acclimating to it behind him. He now knows what it takes and he is their main weapon. There will be no excuses anymore as he will be relied on to produce like everyone knows he can or he will share the same fate of Marian Gaborik and end up in another city. Brad Richards was given a bye in my opinion by not having been bought out. This is his last chance. Forget not being a Ranger anymore, if he doesn’t produce he will likely only get a small contract for a team giving him a final chance after a sure fire buyout this coming off season. However, if these two players can click and get it together the Rangers will go deep in the playoffs and be a serious force to be reckoned with. My honest opinion though is that Nash will be fine and Richards won’t. With the pressures for the coming season combined with a new coach with a new style of play to adapt to, it won’t be easy.

Prediction

5th in Metropolitan Division. They have all of the tools and resources to be at the top of the league, but it just feels like a lot of talent thrown together with no common ground to create a successful team.

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Philadelphia Flyers
Last Season 23-22-3 49 points, 4th in Atlantic Division; 10th in Eastern Conference

This team confuses me. I really don’t know how else to put it. Paul Holmgren the GM literally marches to the beat of his own drum. It is easy to base their ineptitude last season on head case of a goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov, but given their track record of under achieving goalies over the past decade or so, he wasn’t completely to blame. After a phenomenal rookie season Sean Couturier had a disappointing campaign in 2013. As far as goaltending went, Bryzgalov was clearly thrown too much money for what he was worth. We’re talking about a guy who couldn’t muster up the where with all to want to play in the Winter Classic game. Steve Mason was acquired from Columbus to try an rejuvenate his career after he never lived up to his stellar rookie year in Ohio. Michael Leighton saw time, again. Brian Boucher saw time there, again in a situation my friend actually says will happen every year and still hasn’t been wrong. With that I’m pretty sure Leighton and Boucher combined have like 85 different stints with Philadelphia. Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds were bright spots for the Flyers but aren’t two guys you want to anchor your team on, they’re just extremely valuable role players. Claude Giroux is Claude Giroux, he is one of the game’s best players but had little help outside of the two aforementioned forwards. It was just an overall let down in Philadelphia. The good news for Philadelphia fans though, the talent is there and more was added. Yet the goaltending situation still needs to be resolved and not just for one season, but for a few years out so the team has some stability in net and can have a plan going forward.

This is an explosive offense that is physical to boot. Danny Briere was bought out and signed in Montreal where I believe he will thrive again. He is just way too talented to fade out. Although this buyout confused me at first, it makes more sense now as his style of play no longer fits the mold they were developing. Vincent Lecavalier was brought in who was also bought out. His contract unfortunately did him in with Tampa Bay as they had to use financial resources elsewhere. Lecavalier will make an impact despite declining numbers the past few years and his age. With the likes of Simmonds, Voracek, Couturier, Brayden Schenn and Scott Hartnell, there is enough top tier talent that if certain combinations don’t click, some definitely will as Lecavalier is too good and smart of a player to not find success. flyersGiroux needs to stay healthy (I’ll avoid commenting on the finger injury he sustained playing golf) and the supporting cast needs to play at their own individual caliber. Many forget this team got hot toward the end of the season and wasn’t written off completely.

The defense is scary in both size and skill. It looks as if their opening night roster will include blue line anchor Kimmo Timonen, physical Braydon Coburn and Luke Schenn, newly acquired and former Islander captain Mark Streit, reliable Nicklas Grossmann and youngster Erik Gustafsson. Their outside options for plug ins or injury replacements are Bruno Gervais and Andrej Meszaros (if he is actually healthy and can stay that way). This group has everything, leadership, experience, size, dependability, youth and what they were lacking last year through the addition of Mark Streit, which is mobility and power play stability. In my opinion Streit will flourish in this role as his defensive zone play is suspect at time. He now won’t be relied on to play against opponent’s top forwards. Many critics were hard on this group, and rightfully so, however I am in the minority after last season and say this is one of the deepest crops of defensemen in the league. This can also be an asset down the road if they find that they need offensive help during the year. They have the depth which could allow them to trade a guy like Braydon Coburn, who was coveted by many teams during this off season and could bring back a significant return.

Where do I start with their goalies? As an Islanders fan I always loved the Flyers as they were the only team that could take focus off of the circus that had become of the Rick DiPietro saga on Long Island. As much as I respect Rick as an athlete and person in the community, the injuries, contract and constant failure in his attempted returns were a debacle when talking to fans of any other team. But in Philadelphia being Philadelphia fashion, they just refuse to sure up their goaltending. To their credit they used their second of two buyouts on Ilya Bryzgalov, so that headache is behind them. Now, they are going to start the year with Steve Mason who needed a fresh start away from Columbus and Ray Emery. Emery will be entering his second stint with the Flyers after the first had not gone the way either had planned. Since leaving Philadelphia the first time, Emery played all of 10 games with Anaheim and the past two seasons with Chicago. Last season as a member of the Champion Blackhawks, Emery posted a ridiculous 17-1-0 record in 21 appearances with a .922 save percentage as the backup to Corey Crawford. For a back up, those numbers are the type that my goalie in a season of NHL on Play Station set to the beginner difficulty puts up. My point is, take it with a grain of salt because the Wells Fargo Center isn’t friendly to home goalies. Third in line if both falter or injuries take over is Yann Danis, whom Isles fans remember as one of two solutions who paired with Joey MacDonald the year before Dwayne Roloson and Martin Biron were brought in as we waited for DiPietro to return.

X Factor

Goaltending. This team seriously only needs a slightly above average year from whoever is in net because the rest of the team is not only that capable, but deep as well. Emery is an upgrade and now knows what it takes to win. Mason is primed to have a bounce back year being in a new setting. I am just not sure it will play out as well as this team needs it to so that they can be a serious contender this year.

Prediction

6th in Metropolitan Division

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Pittsburgh Penguins
Last Season 36-12-0 72 points, 1st in Atlantic Division; 1st in Eastern Conference

There isn’t much to say about this team that everyone doesn’t already know, and not much has changed. As Islanders fans, we saw it first hand in the playoffs. What we do know is that they are a very beatable team. Through 6 tough games the Islanders gave them all they could handle as the 8th seed, and in the third round the Bruins made it look easy sweeping them out of the playoffs and holding phenom Sidney Crosby without a point. Their offense is lethal, defense is sound and contributes a lot of points but their weakness was and still is in net. They didn’t add much during the off season, but what they did add was a considerable asset to their Championship in 2009, whom they let leave via free agency following their Stanley Cup victory. That man is defenseman and Long Island native Rob Scuderi. They will compete and will be toward the top of not only the conference but the entire league as well, with that being said their telling point will be how they do in the playoffs.

Offensively it is almost nauseating to look at what they have. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis are the veterans that seem to never slow down or have a cold streak. Depth forward and shootout specialist Jussi Jokinen (who I will admit I have always wanted the Isles to get somehow) is as reliable as it gets and is a substantial tertiary scoring threat. Youngsters Beau Bennett and Brandon Sutter also add an interesting dynamic to this roster. The offense is all but perfect so I’m just going to move on.

On defense they really only lost Douglas Murray, but replaced him with Scuderi. Not a huge loss at all considering Douglas Murray is probably the only person in the NHL I can honestly say I can beat in a foot race. He is about as mobile as a glacier. Knowing this, their opening night six guys will consist of Kris Letang, Scuderi, Paul Martin, Matt Niskanen, Deryk Engelland and Simon Despres. If I’m going to be objective, Engalland is just okay and Despres has up side but is still too young to know for sure how well he will pan out as a full time NHL’er.

The goaltending looks great on paper. Marc-Andre Fleury was a number 1 overall pick and is still relatively young with a championship to his name. Tomas Vokoun is a veteran with good numbers in his past that more than qualifies as a starter on most teams. Their playoff production is what their weakness has been. In the past two seasons Fleury has looked rattled. Mental gaffes, weak goals and poor positional play have many wondering if he can even still play at all like he once did. Vokoun played well for the most part when he took over for Fleury mid first round against the Isles. He played well but showed his lack of playoff experience and his age a bit as the games wore on. If one of these guys can play well, this team will go deep in the playoffs without question.

imageX Factor

Goaltending. As far as the other teams in this division go, none are more cut and dry as far as what they need to happen to succeed. It won’t matter how much top tier talent they have if they can’t rely on a goalie in the post season. Whether it be Fleury, Vokoun or someone else they trade for, without a competent goalie in the playoffs they wont be a cup finalist, which is their expectation given their fire power.

Prediction

1st in Metropolitan Division. Talent alone will win them a lot of games so there isn’t much doubt here. Their success will be judged on the playoffs alone so consider September through April tune up games for them.

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Washington Capitals
Last Season 27-18-3 57 points, 1st in Southeast Division; 3rd in Eastern Conference

The Capitals are and have been a good team for a while. Goaltending has been an issue at times for them but Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth seem to have them somewhat content for now. Their 3rd place conference finish is a bit deceiving though as up until the last week of the season, Winnipeg was giving them all they could handle in the standings. Had the Capitals not gotten as hot as they did they easily could have finished 9th in the conference as the Jets did. This is evident in the fact that they were beaten by a much more well rounded Rangers team in the first round who was ranked three seeds below them. Their start to last season was slow, but as is usually the case, Alex Ovechkin got hot and so did the team as a result. The Southeast Division was a blessing in some ways for them as the dominant Lightning teams we used to know haven’t been what they used to be, and other than the surprising Panthers of two years ago, the division title has pretty much been all but theirs from day one. That now changes with the new divisional alignment and presents them with a new challenge.

Alexander Ovechkin is their offense. I don’t mean that he is all they have, I mean that when he is on top of his game everyone around him is too. Nicklas Backstrom has been known to be a bit streaky but overall is reliable as the secondary scorer on this team. Late season acquisition Martin Erat, formerly of the Nashville Predators can find the back of the net with ease as well and being able to play with the kind of talent that Washington has, this will more than likely be to his benefit. Compliance buyout recipient from the Toronto Maple Leafs, Mikhail Grabovski was a very smart signing by the Capitals and despite rumors that he was possibly going to sign other places, such as Phoenix or Winnipeg, Washington made the most sense from the beginning. I figured he in fact would end up here and am glad the Capitals recognized that. When Alexander Semin left prior to last season to sign in Carolina, Washington was left with a hole in their offense. Grabovski fills that hole and his playing style is identical to Semin with the exception that Grabovski has more responsibility in his own end. To supplement this talent, Brooks Laich and Joel Ward are a threat to score and also have a physical presence that make this team fairly well rounded up front.

The Capitals defense is always fun to watch. Mike Green, although not putting up the ridiculous offensive numbers he once did is still a top defender in this league. The young tandem of Karl Alzner and John Carlson are the type you build a team around and don’t give the opposition much to work with. Former Islanders Jack Hillen and John Erskine give the Capitals needed flexibility to plug in and out of the lineup as needed. Hillen is a very mobile puck moving defenseman and Erskine brings much needed physicality. Rounding out this group is Steve Oleksy and Dmitry Orlov. There is some inexperience on the blue line in Washington as well as some lower level talent, however there is enough proven high end defensemen that make it an exciting group to watch.

Goaltending in Washington has seemed to round itself out a bit with the emergence of Braden Holtby. Michal Neuvirth is a more than serviceable back up and can start games as well. Holtby thus far has just shown more and been able to produce on the bigger stage when needed. This should be settling for Capitals fans because since the departure of longtime backstop Olaf Kolzig, experiments with the likes of Cristobal Huet, Tomas Vokoun, Jose Theodore and Semyon Varlamov have not been successful in the nation’s capitol. Holtby and Neuvirth are far from sure answers though and that should not be over looked, but for now they seem to be okay going into this season.

X Factor
ovechkin
Alexander Ovechkin. As we saw this past season, Ovechkin started out slowly and the team did as well. When Ovechkin turned it around, the Capitals had begun their upswing and succeeded at the equivalent rate the he did. No team is dependent on any one player, however Ovechkin’s success has a direct effect on the success of his teammates. Now, with a full 82 game season and ample recovery time between games Ovechkin will be primed to go. Add in the fact that Ovechkin will be playing his heart out leading up to the Olympic break, where he will represent his team in his home country, he will be a man on a mission. With this elevated level of play, the Capitals will reap all of the benefits that go along with it and have a successful year.

Prediction

2nd in the Metropolitan Division

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As you can see, there will be heavy competition for the Islanders this coming year. The Islanders will no longer be taken lightly after what they did last season and no opponent, especially in the division will be an easy one. Some will be more difficult than others but the Islanders have a roster in place that is capable of just as much success as any of these rivals. The new playoff structure also provides less room for error as in the past years, but this year will be a learning curve for all teams involved. As you can deduce by seeing my predictions for the standings, I feel the Islanders will finish 3rd in the Metropolitan Division which places them about 6th in the East if you look at the two divisional standings split evenly. That is a reasonable prediction given an 8th place finish last year with some improvement. With acquisitions and internal draft picks now being NHL ready there is no reason to think this isn’t possible. Some will say that I am being biased and I get why that would be a thought, however this is a truly objective view based on their schedule and how these teams are built.

Let me know what you think in the comments or on twitter. @IslesNationBC

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About the Author

Bryan Curran

Bryan is a 26 year old graduate of Western Connecticut. He's been writing for Isles Nation since August of 2013. He played 4 years of D2 college hockey. He became an Islanders fan due to his parents, and even though he lives in Connecticut, he makes it to a few Isles games per year. He's also a Mets and a Giants fan.



8 Responses to Season Preview: Metropolitan Division Rivals

  1. nbw says:

    Outside of Philly, you can argue every other team at the Met have better GT. Especially the Rags. With the Rags blueline and the King b/w the pipes, I see them as 2nd, followed by the Flyers and Caps in 3rd and 4th. 5-8 will be a scramble b/w our beloved Isles, BJs, and Hurricanes. Devils will be in a free fall with irony of ironies as a lottery pick team who cannot collect on their lottery pick. Ouch.

    Isles, for all their improvements will fall short as I think Nabby/Poulin combination will give up just a few to many points that we will not be able to make-up

  2. Bryan Curran says:

    I can also agree with all of that. To be honest outside of Pittsburgh these standings can end up in any order really. Every team in this division has at least one big concern heading into the season. My predictions are based solely on how each team finished coupled with their additions/subtractions to date.

    Nabokov/Poulin/Nilsson is certainly not the ideal combination to have. However if all three struggle at times, given how the team did last year I would assume Garth trades for a goalie mid season. I can’t see him letting it ride if it is that bad with the expectations the team now has in place. If that is true I think 6th in the conference is a realistic expectation.

    The Rangers absolutely are set on defense and in net. As i mentioned, they have the raw talent and there is no question about that, but given how they played as a whole last season they just didn’t seem to mix well, mainly on offense. Hank will keep them in games, but they will need to score more consistently than last year to finish 2nd.

    In reality I think Columbus has the best chance at surprising people. They’re deep and they can skate really well. But all in all, the division can end up in any order and I wouldn’t be surprised. Actually the only thing that would surprise me is the Devils finishing in the top 2. I’d be more than shocked at that outcome. However like I said predictions are based solely on what I see on paper from the end of last year until this point.

    • NBW says:

      I am a true Rag hater but have to face that on paper – they are heads/shoulders better than all but Pitt. Addition by subtraction on their coaching. They have a superstar, a solid 2nd line and added the forward depth they were missing last yr. Their GT is the best in the division and will have Staal return, plus added depth (no Hamerlick). I think they are primed to make a point it was the coach and will play a very good game. Dam.

      The Isles are moving forward. But I am not sold on the GT and cannot warrant a prediction on a potential deal that may not happen. In my mind, I think Snow is a patient man and will wait it out and sign one of the pending GT UFA w/o giving up a prospect.

      I can only hope the KING plays out the year, negotiations get nasty and the Isles swoop in and make a BIG splash with him in net to kickoff our Brooklyn season. (Which I believe will be 1 yr early). I know it is a long shot and there is no way the Rags will let him go….but stranger things have happen and if ever, a perfect storm – this is it.

      Isles have cap room. Isles need a GT. The King wants a big contract. Wants to stay in NYC. Brooklyn is part of NYC. Isles need to make a splash. A big SPLASH. King wants a winner. Isles are built to win for the next decade. Media wants a rivalry. Isles want relevance. All we need, is the King not to sign and watch the ugliness grow.
      MAKE IT HAPPEN GARTH and we will be raising multiple cups in BROOKLYN>

  3. Bryan Curran says:

    Right, the Rangers do look good on paper. But I was saying its on paper combined with where they left off. And the offensive depth they added really was not that great, Moore is coming back from a year off (albeit for personal reasons) and Pouliot, although on pace for the equivalent numbers he had the two years prior with Boston and Montreal wasnt as effective of a presence and was shuffled down the Lightning roster.

    Remember, most of us will see Vigneault as an upgrade to Tortorella, but there was a reason Vancouver didn’t retain him. He got them to a final not too long ago, yet they still let him walk. It is a bit curious as to why he couldnt get a team with the likes of the twins, Kesler etc to win. Also, even though the Luongo/Schneider goaltending situation was a distraction they are both very good players and Luongo’s struggles were really only during that one playoff run. Aside from that, especially this last year he has been good.

    So as of now all we know for sure is that it is an upgrade in the sense Vigneault won’t be yelling nonsense in post game interviews and screaming his head off at different times, but im skeptical. Tortorella has a cup, Vigneault does not. Vancouver chose Tortorella over him and I think because we are in the NY market we see that as a positive for the Rangers. But I will bet anything that people in the Vancouver market see it as a win for them.

    As for the Isles, yes the goalies are the biggest issue. I never said I was banking on a trade that hadn’t happened yet but if they are in the mix I can’t see Grath just waiting until free agency at the sake of sacrificing a chance to make the post season just so he doesn’t have to make a trade.

    Also, if you look at who the Islanders brought in and who left, on paper they are a better team without question. Reasoner, Aucoin, Boyes and Streit are gone. Bouchard, Clutterbuck, Regin, Nelson or Strome and we will assume Donovan are in. That is an upgrade no matter how you look at it. I know Niederreiter is gone too but I didn’t include him because he didnt figure into the team last season as he played 0 games.

    They are better and if the goalies start to blow it, all of their leashes will be short, including Nabokov and some sort of move will be made.

  4. NBW says:

    Great Isles chat. I do not want to mortgage the farm for a middle-tier goalie. Not sure the talents of the goalies out west which may be available and not sold on the post 30ish Miller whose I think is past his best years.

    the best scenerio – nabby/poulin provide enough to get to the playoffs with Nilsson showing he can be a nbr 1 goalie in BP. That would be optimal.

    We will see. In the interim, I agree, Isles forwards, blueline are better and I think Donovan will fill in admirily for Streit. May not post as high nbrs but will be fine. He should be more than ready as he has proven it in the AHL. Isles will be in it to the end, but I feel the GT may be short.

    Either way – it will be a very excitng season for Islander fans! LETS GO ISLANDERS!

  5. Alex Tessler Alex Tessler says:

    I think third in the division is fair for the Isles, but as someone who has been to a few Caps games and follows them (though obviously my fandom belongs to the Isles 100% of the way), I think 2nd in the division is a little high. I’d say more around 4th. There’s no telling what Ovechkin will do anymore, and he only really lit up in a span of about 25 games or so. Grabovski is going to bring them down a bit, as Ribeiro was a dynamic offensive talent who along with Backstrom really gave them a nice 1-2 punch. Honestly, in terms of all the teams, I don’t think there’s a single team we can’t beat. All depends on goaltending for us, but if that becomes consistent we will definitely be finding ourselves around the 2-3 slot.

  6. Bryan Curran says:

    I see where you would think that about Washington but it seems that people are discounting them more then they should based on their play last year, which ended up not being that bad. Sure it is easy to say with how Ovechkin was up and down last year that you don’t know what you are going to get from him anymore but he is still the most dynamic scorer in the game. Crosby is more complete and Stamkos is more of a pure sniper but Ovechkin can be a game changer more than anyone in the game

    Also I don’t see Grabovski as someone who will bring them down. Toronto has been a gong show with how they have been paying free agents and how they manage their playing time for their roster. I know Grabovski had issues with Carlyle but I don’t see that as being an attitude with Grabovski. Adam Oates gets the most out of his players. Grabovski can bring the same if not more than Semin did so I think this will be a good move.

    Losing Ribeiro will hurt, but after a down year in my opinion, even after they finished 3rd in the Conference they have something to prove. In addition I think since this is an Olympic year and it is in Russia Ovechkin is going to come out with a purpose. Second in the Conference seems highly likely to me. However I have been wrong before because I thought the Panthers were going to do as well last year as the year prior and the injuries were too much even for the top end young talent they have.

    So we will see but this is going to be an exciting division to watch battle it out.

  7. will says:

    The Capitals are fun to watch if only for two reasons: Ovechkin and the second best goal horn plus siren in the NHL. (I personally like the oilers horn best) But no way they are second. No longer having the benefit of playing Florida 6 times a year the paper champs of the south east will be hard pressed to make the playoffs . Switch the Rags and Caps. Rags 2nd, Caps 5th I think we (NYI) are the 4th place team. But it is wide open.

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