With training camps and the preseason finally over, the NHL is set to kick off the 2019-20 regular season on Wednesday. Over the past month, Last Word on Hockey gave you a detailed look into each team during the Puck Drop Preview series to go along with divisional previews. Out of all the divisions, the 2019-20 Metropolitan Division was the toughest to pick. With so many changes in the off-season, the division is wide-open. With predictions in the books let’s take a look at the top questions facing the 2019-20 Metropolitan Division.
NHL Notebook: Questions Facing the 2019-20 Metropolitan Division
Did the New Jersey Devils do Enough to Make the Playoffs?
One of the teams that made the most changes was the New Jersey Devils. With additions like Jack Hughes, P.K. Subban, Nikita Gusev, Jesper Boqvist, John Hayden, and Wayne Simmonds, the Devils look to return to the playoffs. Subban is a great addition to the Devils defence. However, there are still question marks on the back end. Upfront the Devils have depth, something that has been lacking for a long time. With a healthy Taylor Hall, the Devils will challenge for a playoff spot. And quite possibly a top-three spot in the division. Everything will rely on goaltending and staying healthy.
How Will The Columbus Blue Jackets Fare After Losing Several Key Players?
Another team that went through major changes was the Columbus Blue Jackets. Unlike the Devils, who added players, the Blue Jackets lost several key players. The Blue Jackets went all in last year to win the Stanley Cup. After their season ended in the second round, the writing was on the wall that Matt Duchene, Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky, and Ryan Dzingel were out of town. The 2019-20 Metropolitan Division is so tough and not having a top goal scorer puts them behind the eight-ball. Joonas Korpisalo is thrust into fire being named the starting goalie. Even with all these changes, the Blue Jackets still have a good squad led by Seth Jones, Zach Werenski, and Cam Atkinson. With John Tortorella still coaching them, they have a system in place to be better than expected.
Can the Carolina Hurricanes be the Surprise Team Again?
The Carolina Hurricanes were one of the surprise teams last season in the NHL. Under first-year head coach Rod Brind’Amour, the Hurricanes made it to the Eastern Conference Final. The Hurricanes are not the same team they were last year. While some say they may have taken a step back, the Hurricanes could be even better. It will be interesting to see how this team responds as Justin Williams is no longer in the locker room. Williams kept things together for this young team. His leadership will be sorely missed. Not to mention, will the combination of James Reimer and Petr Mrazek be able to duplicate the same success as Curtis McElhinney and Mrazek last season?
Are the Pittsburgh Penguins Better Defensively After so Many Changes?
Coming into the offseason, general manager Jim Rutherford knew changes needed to be made. Upfront the Pittsburgh Penguins traded Phil Kessel for Alex Galchenyuk. However, it is the moves on the backend that are more puzzling. There is a feeling that the Penguins are going backward with these moves instead of forward. The Penguins moved Olli Maatta to Chicago for Dominik Kahun. Now there is a chance Jack Johnson gets moved before the start of the season. This is a similar pattern the Penguins followed after winning the 2009 Stanley Cup. Before winning back-to-back Stanley Cup Championships in 2016 and 2017, the Penguins struggled defensively. In those winning years, the Penguins found a way to play great defence. Last season defence was a problem for the Penguins and could be a similar problem this season as well.
Can Semyon Varlamov Replace Robin Lehner?
Last season, the New York Islanders had the best goaltending tandem in the league. Robin Lehner and Thomas Greiss combined to win the William Jennings Trophy for the lowest goals-against average. Many thought Lehner would remain with the Islanders this season. However, the Islanders decided to go in a different direction. Instead of signing Lehner, the team signed Semyon Varlamov to a four-year deal. Varlamov is often injured and four years is a lot to give a goalie. Especially an aging one. If the Islanders want to go back to the playoffs they will need Varlamov to be just as effective as Lehner was last season.
Will Carter Hart Have a Repeat Performance?
When the Philadelphia Flyers struggled last season all eyes were on Carter Hart in the AHL. Everyone wondered when the Flyers would bring up the rookie goalie. For years, the Flyers have been searching for a number one goalie. The Flyers drafted Hart to be that guy. Hart came up and set the world on fire. While he could not push the Flyers into the playoffs, he showed quickly he could be the franchise goalie the Flyers had been searching for. Playing more games this season will make it will be tough for Hart to repeat the performance he had last season. However, he is off to a good start so far in the preseason. Now it is the preseason and sophomore slumps do happen. But with Brian Elliott backing him up, Hart has the motivation to play even better than last season.
Can the Washington Capitals Get Through Evgeny Kuznetsov Suspension?
The Washington Capitals will be without the services of Evgeny Kuznetsov to begin the season. The NHL suspended Kuznetsov for three games for testing positive for cocaine back at the IIHF World Championships. The Capitals are hoping to survive the start of their season, but it’s only three games. The Capitals visit the St. Louis Blues to open the year. Followed by back-to-back games in the Metro Division against the Islanders and Hurricanes. Kuznetsov is such a crucial part of the Capitals offence, especially on the power play. It will be interesting to see what adjustments they make to continue to have balanced scoring over his suspension period.
Are the New York Rangers a Playoff Team?
Like their counterpart across the Hudson River, the New York Rangers had a big offseason. Having the second overall pick, the Rangers selected Kaapo Kakko. To supplement that move the Rangers traded for defenceman Jacob Trouba before signing Artemi Panarin to a big contract. Not to mention all the other moves they made. The Rangers made no secrets about it… they were in rebuild mode. Through the draft rather than buying talent in free agency has put them in a position to compete. The Rangers are younger, but still, have a veteran presence in the locker room. It will be informative to see how the Rangers split the time between Henrik Lundqvist and Alexandar Georgiev. Is it time for Lundqvist to take a step back and let Georgiev take the reins?