This is the part of the summer that you really start to hate. We are far enough removed from the daily grind of the NHL playoffs that we actually miss watching hockey, which is amplified as a Devils fan since they missed the playoffs. But we are far enough away from training camp that there isn’t a lot to talk about. So I figure there is no better time than now to look at what the Metro Division might look like this season.
1. Pittsburgh Penguins - Can’t argue with putting them in the top spot in the division. They made some really good moves by getting rid of guys that they needed to move (Orpik and Glass) and added Christian Ehrhoff, a player I expect to have a huge year as he heads toward UFA status next summer. Steve Downie and Blake Comeau certainly add depth to their roster. The only real question mark I have for the Penguins is what effect will new coach Mike Johnston have on this club? Can Johnston match what Bylsma did in games 1-82 while getting them over the hump come playoff time?
2. Columbus Blue Jackets - Yes, I am buying in and yes I still believe Columbus came out on top of the Nash to NY deal despite the Rangers appearance in the Cup Final. Columbus made a smart move by shipping Umberger back to Philadelphia and getting Hartnell in return, a guy who is very capable in producing points. You’d hope that Horton has a healthier year this season and guys like Murray, Jenner and Johansen (and he will get signed and paid before camp) give Columbus a decent core that will only get better.
I go back and forth on #3 and #4 to be honest so these two spots could easily be flipped.
3. New Jersey Devils - Devils got a lot of bad press last season for missing the playoffs but when you look at the reason’s why they missed, sticking them #3 isn’t a crazy thought. They gave away so many points on the shootout that you can point to that being the reason they missed last season and it’s not crazy to say that won’t happen again this season. Adding guys like Cammalleri and Havlat should help the Devils win in shootouts or even miss them all together. We Devils fans love Marty and what he’s done for this organization but the distractions he caused last season were not welcome. Anton Slow-Chenkov has been sent away and the Devils finally look primed to let their youth take over the blue line. Marty may be gone but Schneider is now getting the #1 spot for the first time in his career. No reason to think he can’t play 60+ this season and help NJ get back to the playoffs.
4. New York Rangers - Coming off their (and some would call it surprising) trip to the Cup Final, there are a lot of question marks about the Rangers. First off, they lost some good players over the summer. Strahlman’s contract surprised a lot of people but he’s turned out to be a decent player and turned out to be an important player during their run. Criticize Brad Richards all you want for his post-season play but the truth is, he’s a consistent 50 point player and those are the guys you need to get you into the playoffs. Brian Boyle was a depth guy, a good depth guy that always seemed to play an important role. The addition of Tanner Glass is that signing the Rangers usually do that make you scratch your head. (See Arron Asham and not to speak ill of the dead but also Derek Boogard). Points in the Rangers favor is that they still do have Ryan McDonagh on defense and a few talents up front and of course Lundqvist in net. Not a team that will compete for the division but easily a playoff team.
5. New York Islanders - The Islanders were one of those crazy teams last season that you thought would build off the momentum they had in their previous season, much like I’ve predicted for Columbus but for the Islanders, it never came to fruition last season. Blame Snow because he shipped Moulson away early on and destroyed team chemistry. But now it’s time to give Snow some credit because he signed Halak this summer, who did an outstanding job for St.Louis last season before the Miller deal. The Islanders have the players to be ok as long as they remain healthy and I see them being in the middle of the Wild Card race, which we’ve learned is all you need to have a shot at heating up in April, May and June.
6. Washington Capitals - The Orpik signing is garbage. I praised Pittsburgh for letting him go and now I have to kill Washington for signing him. He’s not a bad player but Washington is giving him top pairing kind of money and he’s not a top defender. Niskanen is a good pick up and will certainly help. Trotz is a great coach but not sure we will see the success we want in year 1. Holtby and Peters just doesn’t do it for me so if the offense can’t put pucks in the net, the Caps are going nowhere.
7. Philadelphia Flyers - They were basically my overachiever of the year last season. I didn’t expect them to make the playoffs but they did. Giroux got off to a slow start but picked it up and Voracek is a threat. Problem is, Umberger for Hartnell is a disgusting trade and I’m not sure that Mason will be able to repeat his performance from last season. Then there is the blue line, which is terrible. I don’t expect the Flyers to go anywhere and I am on the fence whether or not they are in the Connor McDavid / Jack Eichel sweepstakes.
8. Carolina Hurricanes - The pieces seem to be there. Staal brothers, Nathan Gerbe, Jeff Skinner and Alexander Semin to name a few but this team doesn’t do anything for me. I think the main problem for Carolina comes on the blue line and the fact that they will probably give Cam Ward too many starts and not hand the franchise over to Anton Khudobin even though he was incredible last season.
So those are my earlier predictions for the Metro Division going into the 2014-15 season. I will certainly do a complete preview on the 2014-15 Devils in the upcoming weeks.