2018-19 Metropolitan Division Preview

LAS VEGAS, NV - JUNE 07: The Washington Capitals celebrate their 4-3 victory over the Vegas Golden Knights to win the Stanley Cup in Game Five of the 2018 NHL Stanley Cup Final at T-Mobile Arena on June 7, 2018 in Las Vegas, Nevada. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2018-19, where Last Word On Hockey gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Make sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2018-19 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today the series continues with the Metropolitan Division.

2018-19 Metropolitan Division Preview

Washington Capitals

LWOH Managing Editor, Daniel Brown writes:

In the always tough Metropolitan division, the Washington Capitals were never good enough. That all changed last year. Alex Ovechkin finally guided his team to the Stanley Cup Final and won. In large part, the team that won the cup remains fairly intact for another run. Veterans Nicklas Backstrom, John CarlsonT.J. Oshie, Ovechkin, and Evgeny Kuznetsov return this season. In addition to those players, goalie Braden Holtby returns to mind the net. Many fans were left confused by the departure of Barry Trotz. The Caps let him walk to the Metro rival New York Islanders and replaced him with the top assistant Todd Reirden. The Caps also checked another off the tick list this offseason. Filling the need for a physical winger with a $31.02 million six-year deal with RFA Tom Wilson. Wilson, 24, known for his physical presence is felt to just be entering the prime of his career. Is there enough in the tank for aging defensemen Brooks Orpik  37, and fellow blueliner Matt Niskanen, 31 to keep opponents honest. The Capitals seem to think so but have an uphill battle to repeat as champs.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Hunter Hodies writes:

The Penguins come into this season being well-rested after coming up short of a three-peat this past season. It’s the longest summer they’ve had since 2015. That can only mean bad news for the rest of the league as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel makes this team a Stanley Cup contender. Kris Letang has the ability to bounce back after a very tough season coming off neck surgery. He had a full offseason to train which should pay huge dividends. Matt Murray will also look to have a great season as he not only went through injuries last season, but his father passed away unexpectedly. They did sign Jack Johnson during the off-season, which could turn out to be a big mistake, but rest assured, this team will be gunning for their third Stanley Cup in four seasons.

Philadelphia Flyers

Hunter Hodies writes:

Philadelphia was able to qualify for the playoffs last season after missing the year before. Claude Giroux had the best season of his career as he hit 100 points for the time. Sean Couturier also had his best season offensively as he had 76 points while also continually being a Selke trophy candidate. This season, they’ll likely be a playoff team again. Especially after signing James Van Riemsdyk to a long-term deal this offseason. He should be good for at least 20 goals next year as the Flyers wanted to improve their scoring. Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere continue to be outstanding on the Flyers blue line and there’s more help on the way in that department. In goal, Brian Elliott will have to be much better than he was not just in the regular season, but also the playoffs.

Carolina Hurricanes

Hunter Hodies writes:

Stop me if you’ve heard this before, but Carolina has a chance to be a playoff team this year. It seems like we’ve been saying this every year. That said, they haven’t been able to make it. Trading for Dougie Hamilton will go a long way to ensure that they qualify for the first time since 2009. He’s one of the best defensemen in the league and can eat top pairing minutes each night. Added to an already strong defense core, the Hurricanes quietly have one of the NHL’s best bluelines. Jaccob Slavin might be the league’s most underrated defenseman. The Jeff Skinner trade didn’t get that much of a return, but they still have players such as Sebastian Aho, Jordan Staal, Justin Williams, and Teuvo Teravainen to make up for it. As usual, goaltending will make or break this team. Scott Darling is going to have to be much better than his sub .900 save percentage from last season if this team wants to make the playoffs.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Andrew Allison writes:

The Columbus Blue Jackets lost in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs last year. After taking the first two games on the road they would go on to lose to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Washington Capitals. This season the Blue Jackets are looking to get back to the postseason for the third consecutive season. Behind the goaltending of Sergei Bobrovsky and the elite scoring ability of Artemi Panarin (for however long that might be), the Blue Jackets should be able to reach that goal. The Blue Jackets are still young and have a good core. Pair that with a strong defense the Blue Jackets can compete with anyone. The one thing that Columbus needs is another elite scorer. That could be Cam Atkinson getting back to that level or a player like Oliver Bjorkstrand having a breakout season. If the Blue Jackets get that scorer they could finally make it past the first round.

New York Rangers

Johanna Albertson writes:

The New York Rangers, a tragedy of last season, will certainly bring a bit more to the table in 2018-19. However, the majority of their roster is young and without the NHL experience, most of the Metro Division’s teams have. Don’t count out Henrik Lundqvist who, despite a less than stellar performance last season, is still one of the most elite goaltenders in the NHL. Lundqvist will once again prove essential in keeping the Rangers in the running for any sort of playoff spot. The return of a healthier, faster Chris Kreider will effectively reunite the KZB line. It helps head coach David Quinn will likely let Pavel Buchnevich get his fair share of top-line play. The top defensive pairing of Brady Skjei and Kevin Shattenkirk will provide a more trustworthy ddefensethan the Rangers have experienced in several years. However, there’s no questioning that the inexperience on the Rangers will be a liability. No playoffs for the Rangers this year, but they’re on their way to something special.

New Jersey Devils

Johanna Albertson writes:

The New Jersey Devils were massively silent this off-season, especially for a team that was ousted so quickly in the playoffs. The only explanation is that the Devils are confident in their internal talent. They look to raise the bar in the upcoming season. Taylor Hall had an outstanding 93 point season last year. The rest of their offence, however, is far behind. Nico Hischier, the rookie, was the second-leading scorer with a full 41 points less than Hall. Unfortunately for the Devils, they can’t rely on Hall to always deliver that same firepower. Additionally, with goaltender Cory Schneider potentially still out to start the season after hip surgery, between the pipes remains a big question mark. The Devils should have been more active in the free agent market to bolster their roster and add secondary scoring. They’ll miss the postseason and not make the same mistake in 2019-2020.

New York Islanders

Johanna Albertson writes:

It has been nothing short of a shocking summer for the New York Islanders. The Islanders finished a whopping 17 points out of the playoffs last year, missing them for a second straight season. John Tavares said goodbye to the Island and signed a large contract with the Toronto Maple Leafs. However, with the addition of reigning Stanley Cup-winning coach Barry Trotz and three-time Stanley Cup winner Lou Lamoriello, the Islanders are putting on some stunning optics in the resume department. However, what’s great on paper is not always great in practice. This team is under construction and might be better in a few years. For now, resting on the laurels of Anders Lee’s 40-goal season and Mathew Barzal’s massive success will just not be enough to propel the team ahead in the massively competitive Metro Division. Their porous goaltending in Thomas Greiss, which made them league-worst with 293 goals against in 2017-18, will not see much improvement with a shaky Robin Lehner in the mix. The Isles will miss the playoffs for the third straight year.

 

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