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NHL: Metropolitan Division Preview

The Metropolitan Division looks to be the most wide-open of any of the four NHL divisions this season.

Metro Division

The Metropolitan Division looks to be the most wide-open of any of the four NHL divisions this season. After the Pittsburgh Penguins, there’s a case to be made for each of the other seven teams to finish among the top-3 and in a playoff spot. Even Pittsburgh, though, will look much different this year and there’s no telling how that will affect their season overall.

Storylines To Watch

Can the New York Rangers repeat their season from last year?

While the Rangers were among the handful of Eastern Conference teams that had both the talent and the coaching to get to the Stanley Cup Final last year, I don’t know if there are many people who would have outright taken them over Boston. The finalists from last year, though, lost Anton Stralman and Brad Richards, their top possession defenseman and their second line center. Those aren’t easily replaceable, and Derek Stepan will miss the first couple of weeks of the season on top of that. This team will be in tough to repeat their 2013-2014 campaign.

Read More: XN’s 2014 NHL Predictions

Will the New York Islanders’ offseason moves vault them into a division leader?

One of the Islanders’ biggest problems over the last few years has been league-worst goaltending. That was addressed with the addition of Jaroslav Halak. The team also added Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin to give them true scoring depth up front. They recently traded for both Johnny Boychuk and Nick Leddy, giving them a stout defensive corps including Calvin de Haan, Travis Hamonic, and others. This makes them a very intriguing team for the season.

Do either the Flyers or Hurricanes get close to a wild card spot?

The loss of Kimmo Timonen for Philadelphia cannot be overstated. With their blue line leader out potentially for the season with blood clots in his lungs (yikes), it puts the onus on non-top pairing guys like Andrew MacDonald, Luke Schenn, and Nicklas Grossman to step up into more prominent roles. Carolina did little-to-nothing to improve a team that was second-last in the division last year. They will need monster seasons from Eric Staal, Alex Semin, and Jeff Skinner, especially considering the loss of Jordan Staal for the first few months of the season.

Can either the Capitals or Devils return to the playoffs?

After several successful regular seasons, the Washington Capitals missed the playoffs last year for the first time since 2007. The New Jersey Devils also missed the playoffs, doing that for the third time in the last four years (with the outlier being a Stanley Cup Final). Washington addressed their defense by signing Matt Niskanen, and their defensive depth with Brooks Orpik. The Devils added some scoring with Mike Cammalleri and Martin Havlat. We’ll see if any of those additions are enough to get the Devils and Capitals back to the promise land.

Will Pittsburgh and Columbus develop a rivalry?

Most rivalries these days develop through playoff matchups, and Columbus and Pittsburgh had a very good matchup last year. While Pittsburgh looks to be the class of the Metro – even though they traded James Neal for some reason – Columbus looks to get there soon rather than later. They just need to re-sign future star Ryan Johansen first. It will be a lot of fun to watch these two division rivals, and potential division leaders, grow a rivalry that started last year.

Rookies To Watch For

Kasperi Kapanen – Pittsburgh

The son of former NHLer Sami Kapanen, Kasperi looks like he may start the season in Pittsburgh’s top-six forwards, which is a great place to be for any player. Though he’s just 18-years-old, he’s played the last season-and-a-half in the Finnish Liiga, or their top professional league. That gives him a leg up on most 18-year-olds coming into the NHL. Also, by all accounts, this is a very cerebral player, and that should go well playing with either Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. Watch out for Kapanen to start the season.

Evgeny Kuznetsov – Washing Capitals

Though Kuznetsov did make a 17-game appearance for the Capitals last year, he is still considered a rookie for this season. He will be looked upon to likely play second-line minutes for the Capitals, and to take some of the scoring pressure off the top line. He’s a very, very skilled player who might not be in the best situation to succeed, considering there isn’t a ton of scoring depth past the first line anyway. If the Capitals were to succeed this year, though, it will be probably be partly thanks to a Calder Trophy-caliber season from Kuznetsov.

Kevin Hayes – New York Rangers

Brother of Florida Panthers forward Jimmy Hayes, Kevin was a former first round pick of the Chicago Blackhawks in 2010. He went the NCAA route, though, and didn’t sign with the ‘Hawks after his season finished last year. He became a free agent and chose to sign with the Rangers instead. Though he’s a natural centre, he could be asked to play the wing out of the gate for New York. He’s a solid two-way player who would seem to fit right in to the system of coach Alain Vigneault.

Shayne Gostisbehere– Philadelphia

The kid known as “Ghost” was a third round pick a couple of years ago, and seemingly has put himself among the top-10 defensemen in the Flyers organization. He was sent to the AHL to start the year, but I can’t imagine he’ll be long there. This Flyers defense corps is hurting, and taking a chance on their top defensive prospect should be an eventuality in Philadelphia.

Predicted Final Standings

  1. Pittsburgh Penguins*
  2. New York Islanders*
  3. New York Rangers*
  4. Columbus Blue Jackets**
  5. New Jersey Devils
  6. Washington Capitals
  7. Philadelphia Flyers
  8. Carolina Hurricanes

After Pittsburgh, I could see the next three teams in the division being separated by a handful of points. With the losses the New York Rangers sustained, it might not be smooth sailing into the playoffs this year.

Columbus would be higher in the pecking order if the situation with Ryan Johansen was a little bit clearer. The unsigned restricted free agent doesn’t appear to be very close to signing, and he’s a big part of the present and future of this Blue Jackets team.

New Jersey could be a surprise team here. With an expected turnaround in shootout results, Martin Brodeur no longer giving away games in favour of Cory Schneider, and a couple of scorers added in the offseason, this team could surprise some this year.

I don’t see a lot of hope for Flyers or Hurricanes fans. Both teams lost significant pieces of their team to injury for a lengthy period, and there’s no immediate replacement for either of them. That doesn’t bode well for a Flyers team that made the playoffs by one point, and a Carolina team that missed them by 10.

Thoughts and opinions on the Metro Division? Let us know in the comments section!

*As always, thanks to Behind The Net, Hockey Analysis, Hockey Reference, and NHL.com

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