Adam Pyde

NHL 2014 Preview: Metropolitan Division

NHL 2014 Preview: Metropolitan Division

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the flawless 2014 NHL preview for the poorly named Metropolitan Division. Who is new? Who is gone? Who will make the playoffs? Its tough to say. You could honestly tell me that every team, but Pittsburgh, would miss and I wouldn’t be shocked nor surprised. Luckily, I know who will be in.

By: Adam Pyde – @Adam_Pyde

Seriously though, what a stupid name for a division.

New York Islanders
159739593_std
Needs: Top 4 defenceman, one top-nine forward, goaltending
In: Mikhail Grabovski, Nikolai Kulemin, Jaroslav Halak, Chad Johnson, T.J. Brennan
Out: Evgeni Nabokov

The team: Things look really promising for the soon-to-be-relocated-to-Brooklyn New York Islanders. They boast 12 actual NHL forwards up front, with an exceptionally deep center ice. Running John Tavares, Mikhail Grabovski, Frans Nielsen, and Casey Cizkas is good enough. Then they also have Brock Nelson, Ryan Strome, Josh Bailey and Anders Lee capable of playing minutes at center. Daaayyummm.

GM Garth Snow has also admirably reconstructed their goaltending, which was league worst last season at an .898 save percentage. Jaroslav Halak and Chad Johnson are a capable 1-2 punch in net and, if both players can perform to league average at about .915, it could be good enough to get them as many as 15 extra points in the standings, assuming plus or minus every 3 goals for/against is equal to one point in the standings.

The problem area remains on defence but they stand to improve. Travis Hamonic and Lubomir Visnovsky are both quality top-four defenceman, but after that a lot falls on Calvin de Haan and Thomas Hickey. Hickey is better than he gets credit for, but de Haan is still raw.

The wildcard on defence is new signee T.J. Brennan. If he can prove to be a quality NHLer and not just an AHL Allstar then the Isles could actually have a six player deep defence. That’s a lot of maybes.

Will they make the playoffs? Yes.
I mentioned this division is basically a crapshoot, right? I think the Isles additions are good enough to help them bridge the gap. Plus, I think the franchise will try to make their last season at Nasseau memorable and I see GM Garth Snow picking up a defenceman by Christmas.

Carolina Hurricanes
playerreactionviddl
Needs: 2 top-four defencemen, top forwards to play like top forwards
In: Jay McClement, Tim Gleason, Brett Bellemore, Bill Peters (coach)
Out: Mike Komisarek, Manny Malhotra, Kirk Mueller (coach)

The team: At the top of the roster they are able to compete with anyone in their division. Staal x2, Skinner, Semin, mixed with Tlusty and Lindholm is pretty good. However, a preseason broken leg to Jordan Staal really throws a wrench in things.

Its the depth, especially on defence, that concerns you. Gleason and Komisarek are about equal, and Bellemore stands to be a good pickup for cheap, but the top end of the defence is where they’re missing.

Faulk and Sekera are quality top 4 defenceman. But the ‘Canes are more or less left filling out their pairs with #5s. A lot of them just aren’t good enough.

The goaltending will at least be good enough to keep them in most games, but I wouldn’t expect a Vezina season from either Cam Ward or Anton Khudobin.

If the Hurricanes can improve their awful powerplay they could compensate for some defensive deficiencies. They have the personnel to do it and new coach Bill Peters sounds intent on rectifying it as the entire teams powerplay numbers plummeting under Kirk Mueller.

Will they make the playoffs? No.
There is some cautious optimism for the ‘Canes. Progress of youth and new coach/GM points will help. More Khudobin and less Ward will also help. But a largely unchanged roster, key injuries already and a lot of teams to jump past will make things difficult.

Washington Capitals
caps
Needs: Second line center, top 3 defenceman, consistent goaltending
In: Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen, Barry Trotz (coach)
Out: Mikhail Grabovski, Jaroslav Halak, Adam Oates (coach)

The team: The roster, apart from the defence, is largely unchanged. That isn’t a bad thing. Any line with Alex Ovechkin on it will be a good first line and they have a dynamite third line. The second line looks to be some combination of Marcus Johansson, Evgeni Kuznetsov, Brooks Laich and Troy Brouwer. Something there should be able to work.

The defence should be improved as well. Niskanen isn’t the top defenceman he looked like last season, but he proved to be a reliable second pairing guy who can munch minutes and not put your team in trouble throughout his time in Pittsburgh. Orpik is… well he’s better than John Erskine I guess. Returnees Mike Green, Carl Alzner, and John Carlson can make up the rest of a top 4 with Niskanen.

They’ll be looking for Brayden Holtby to at least play consistent. Having a .915 save percentage isn’t bad, but when its mixed between performances of shutouts followed by 5 goals against regularly, it isn’t quite as nice.

However, the biggest thing to have an impact this season in Washington won’t be new additions or player development, but how well new coach Trotz manages to get the team to play his trademark defensive system. He needs to strike the perfect balance of letting his offensive guns play creative, but still regimented defensively.

Will they make the playoffs? Yes.
They employ the hockey equivalent of a nuclear bomb on their powerplay, and a surprisingly solid roster. They missed the playoffs by only three points last year and they should benefit from new coach voodoo points in the standings, and a stiffer defensive system should lead to better numbers in net.

New Jersey Devils
devs
Needs: Top 4 defenceman, speed in the top-six, win some shootouts
In: Michael Cammalleri, Martin Havlat
Out: Anton Volchenkov, Martin Brodeur, Mark Fayne

The team: The roster is old and its pretty slow, but that’s exactly what they need to execute their system well. I’m serious. In a backwards way it plays right into their strengths. Veterans are generally better system players, and compensating for a lack of speed is exactly what their neutral zone play is about. A strange recipe for success.

New additions Cammalleri and Havlat will provide some speed on offence which is never a bad thing. Havlat stands to be one the best bargains in the NHL this year if he can stay healthy. The Devil’s are playing with house money on him.

The rest of the roster is what it has always been: strong system players and veterans. Jaromir Jagr returns for another season and the guy never seems to get worse. He doesn’t have his wheels anymore but, like I said, that strangely works perfect in New Jersey. Eric Gelinas has what it takes to establish himself as one of the league’s terrific young defenceman.

Ultimately, this team needs to improve in the shootout. It was unprecedented how bad they were last season going 0-12 and only shooting 7%, where the league average is up around 25%. Good news for them is that every team that has been comparatively bad has rebounded to about .500 the next season.

The Devils’ also said goodbye to longtime great goaltender Martin Brodeur. While he was good for them over about 15 years, his last few were not and last season he quite easily cost them the playoffs, despite their shootout record.

Will they make the playoffs? Yes.
This is a surprisingly good hockey team. They play such strong systems that they’ll always be in the game and more Cory Schneider is a good thing. A combination of a better shootout record and no more Martin Brodeur handing out free wins is enough to get them into the playoffs with ease.

Columbus Blue Jackets
columbus_blue_jackets_stanley_cup_playoffs_040914
Needs: Development time, Ryan Johansen
In: Scott Hartnell
Out: Nikita Nikitin, R.J. Umberger, Derek Mackenzie, Blake Comeau, Nathan Horton (injury)

The team: There is a lot to like in Columbus for the first time since probably ever. They have a strong defence lead by Fedor Tyutin, the master of uncalled interference, and James Wisniewski. Jack Johnson can masquerade as a good player. Ryan Murray and David Savard nicely round out their top-five.

Sergei Bobrovsky will need to keep himself in the Vezina conversation again this year for Columbus make the playoffs back-to-back for the first time in franchise history.

Their forwards are surprisingly deep and got even better with the addition of Scott Hartnell, who should fit right in to the nose-to-the-grindstone style that Columbus plays. There is a lot of impressive depth in the top-nine and they only have more blue-chip prospects on the way.

The elephant in the room is the status of Ryan Johansen. He emerged as their #1 center last season, but is currently without a contract as the two sides greatly disagree on his worth. If they can get him back in the lineup and he can replicate his season to any extent, things will look extremely promising this season. If not, they’re left to hope that Boone Jenner or Brandon Dubinsky can be a first liner.

Will they make the playoffs? No-ish.
This is more reliant on Johansen. While he did have a career year and is likely to regress once he plays again, he’s still likely a capable top-six center at worst. That’s not easy to replace and really leaves Columbus a step behind without him. If he comes back soonish they’ll be fine. If this drags, this season could be in trouble.

Philadelphia Flyers
flyers
Needs: Something resembling a good defence
In: R.J. Umberger, Michael Del Zotto
Out: Scott Hartnell, Steve Downie, Kimmo Timonen (injury)

The team: The Flyers will be the Flyers. For whatever reason, they decided to trade Scott Hartnell, who is a good hockey player and a key piece in their dynamic powerplay, in exchange for R.J. Umberger who is not a good hockey player.

They were also unable to trade the living anchor known as Vincent Lecavalier and are about to begin the first year of a new contract for living sandbag Andrew MacDonald. They’re also banking on Steve Mason proving he’s good and not the bad goalie he was for 75% of his career.

Yet, this is a team that still has one hell of a top-nine set of forwards. With Claude Giroux leading the way, they also have Wayne Simmonds, Jakub Voracek, Brayden Schenn, Sean Couturier and Matt Read, with the emerging Michael Raffl and Scott Laughton. That makes it hard for them to be bad.

When you look at their defence, you get nightmares. Mark Streit and Braydon Coburn are quality defenceman. Nik Grossman, Andy MacDonald, Luke Schenn, Nick Schultz and Del Zotto? Not so much. Kimmo Timonen, even at his age, is a difference maker for them back there and without him they are in serious trouble.

Will they make the playoffs? No.
They only squeaked into the playoffs last year, and that defensive group doesn’t inspire hope. With the improvement around them in their division I feel they’ll lose just enough ground to be on the outside looking in.

New York Rangers
new-york-rangers1
Needs: Right side defenceman, two top-nine forwards
In: Dan Boyle, Tanner Glass, Lee Stempniak, Matt Lombardi, Ryan Malone
Out: Brian Boyle, Anton Stralman, Brad Richards, Derek Dorsett, Derrik Pouliot

The team: They’re down a few key contributors from last season, but they’re still in good shape. It won’t be easy to replace those players, but they’ve done an okay job with their additions.

The forwards are still balanced and they seem to banking quite heavily that Kris Kreider and J.T. Miller can emerge as full-time NHLers to help replace the combined contributions of Richards and Brian Boyle. Boyle is more easily replaced than Richard’s 51 points, where a lot of that responsibility will fall to Derek Brassard, who is going to be hit with even more responsibility with first line center Derek Stepan falling victim to a broken leg in a practice of all things.

Dan Boyle will step into the spot of Anton Stralman, although they are two entirely different players. Stralman’s a better defender, but Boyle brings better offensive instincts which the Ranger’s desperately need, especially on the powerplay. Its a trade-off of 5-on-5 play for better 5-on-4 play.

It’ll be interesting to see just how things go this season. Their forwards are deeper than last season, but their defence is only marginally improved at best. I don’t feel I need to mention how good they are in goal.

Will they make the playoffs? Yes.
They won’t make a repeat run to the Finals, but they’re still a pretty good team. Stepan’s injury complicates things but you can’t count out a team with Lundqvist in net. The powerplay can be improved and they still boast depth on paper.

Pittsburgh Penguins
Pittsburgh-Penguins-Nap-time-sidney-crosby-8502968-800-600
Needs: General forward depth, one top 4 defenceman
In: Christian Ehrhoff, Blake Comeau, Thomas Greiss, Patrick Hornquist, Nick Spaling, Steve Downie, Mike Johnston (coach)
Out: Tanner Glass, James Neal, Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen, Lee Stempniak, Deryk Engelland, Dan Bylsma (coach)

The team: Out with the bad, and in with the not-terrible-kinda-good-should-be-alright. The biggest issue with the Penguins teams of years past was their complete inability to get anything out of players not named Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby.

Incoming are a number of solid depth players in Comeau, Spaling, and Downie to fill out their bottom-six, but also with the ability to play some spot duty higher up in the lineup when injuries strike. Hornquist should be able to more than adequately fill in for James Neal.

Ehrhoff was the best defenceman available in free agency and the Penguins got him on a steal of a deal. It may only be a one year deal, but he’s better than Matt Niskanen and lining him up on the powerplay is going to be lethal.

With the number of contracts set to expire after this season it looks like more of a “going for it” year than others in Pittsburgh.

Will they make the playoffs? Yes.
This team looks as good as any team the Penguins have had since they won the Stanley Cup. They’ll run away with the division again and go at least two rounds deep in the playoffs. The only thing that could prevent it is Fleury.

Final standings prediction:
1. Pittsburgh Penguins
2. New Jersey Devils
3. New York Islanders
4. Washington Capitals (wildcard)
5. New York Rangers (wildcard)
6. Columbus Blue Jackets
7. Philadelphia Flyers
8. Carolina Hurricanes

Collaboration credit to friends of mine Jeff, Chris and Jay.

Agree? Disagree? Let me know in the comments below or on Twitter @adam_pyde.

More in Adam Pyde

Coach Gordon Bombay AKA Emilio Estevez Goes Nuts On Twitter Cheering For The Anaheim Ducks

Jonny BoyleMay 26, 2015

Brock Listener Podcast: WWE Extreme Rules 2015

Jonny BoyleApril 30, 2015

NHL Playoff Preview: Eastern Conference Matchups

Jonny BoyleApril 15, 2015

NHL Playoff Preview: Western Conference Matchups

Jonny BoyleApril 15, 2015

VIDEO: John Cena Delivers The Most American Interview Of All Time On Jimmy Kimmel

Jonny BoyleMarch 27, 2015

Wrestlemania 31 Preview Podcast: The First Ever, The Best Ever and the Worst Ever

Jonny BoyleMarch 25, 2015

BREAKING NEWS: Brock Lesnar Re-Signs With WWE

Jonny BoyleMarch 25, 2015

VINE: Ottawa Senators Fans Throw Hamburgers On Ice To Celebrate Victory

Jonny BoyleMarch 20, 2015

Arizona Diamondback Continue Hot Dog Masterpieces; Unveil The Churro Dog

Jonny BoyleMarch 5, 2015