The NHL’s realignment has created the newly named Metropolitan Division, and it’s filled with teams that have serious pedigree and also has three of the top five goaltenders from the 2013 season. Below is a snapshot of this division’s eight teams as we get started on the long road back to the playoffs. Each team’s odds to win the Eastern Conference and make the Stanley Cup Finals are noted in parentheses.
Pittsburgh (5-2): That part about the division having three of the top five goalies? None of them are in Pittsburgh, which is why I find the betting odds for playoff success to be ludicrous. But there’s plenty of team to discuss that in the spring and if you’re a Penguins fan, hopefully plenty of time for the team to fix it.
There will no problem with piling up regular season success. With Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Pascal Dupuis, James Neal and Chris Kunitz, no one can churn out goals like Pittsburgh.
NY Rangers (7-1): New York underachieved last year and fired head coach John Tortorella. They play good defense and have an elite goalie in Henrik Lundqvist, although his playoff failures are starting to make him the NHL’s version of Alex Rodriguez (minus the PEDs of course). The Rangers need better power play execution and for Ryan Callahan and Rick Nash to give them more consistent offense.
Washington (15-1): We know the Caps can score goals, and they’re the best in the league on the power play. That’s due to the presence of Alex Ovechkin, three times the NHL MVP, including last year. Ovechkin takes heat for the playoff failures and that’s not unjustified, but the Caps need to get him more help and goalie Braden Holtby has to continue his maturation.
Philadelphia (15-1): It was a disastrous year for this proud hockey town. Philadelphia has serious goaltending problems, underscored by the fact they brought in Ray Emery, who lost the Chicago gig to Corey Crawford. Emery had been what held the Blackhawks back, but he actually represents an upgrade in Philly. The Flyers were great on the power play last year and center Claude Giroux is one of the game’s great passers.
NY Islanders (15-1): The Islanders made some big strides last year, getting into the playoffs and making Pittsburgh sweat in the first round. They’re a similar team to the Pens, very good offensively, but with goaltending problems. In the Isles’ case, the goaltending problems are more severe, the offense not quite as good. But while this team might not be ready to reclaim its glory days of the early 1980s, they’re going to again contend for a playoff spot.
New Jersey (25-1): Similar to neighboring Philly, a proud franchise had a disastrous season in 2013 and went out and got a new goalie. The difference is that the Devils helped themselves to Cory Schneider, whom Vancouver wanted to get rid of so they could allow Roberto Luongo to fulfill his potential as a complete mediocrity. Schneider was only the fourth-best goaltender in the NHL last season and his arrival instantly makes New Jersey relevant again.
Carolina (25-1): Carolina is as good as anyone in the league at generating shots on goal, but their lack of any good scorers, save maybe Jiri Trusty, keeps them from being a great offensive team. And the rest of the Hurricane looks like a disaster area. The team defense is bad, the power play awful, the penalty kill inept. And goalie Cam Ward looks far removed from the days when he led this franchise to the 2006 Stanley Cup.
Columbus (25-1): Goalie Sergei Bobrovsky won the Vezina Trophy as the league’s best goalie. That alone makes the Blue Jackets relevant on a nightly basis. The team traded for Marian Gaborik towards the end of last year to try and juice up the offense and they signed Nathan Horton in the offseason to that same end. If Horton stays healthy, Columbus will be on the playoff bubble.
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