Sports Blog Movement NHL Preview: Metropolitan Division

SBM NHL Crystal BallGo ahead..get it out of your system.

“In honor of Bettman’s contributions to the NHL, I propose division names be: Lockout, Bad TV Deal, Inconsistent Discipline, and Metropolitan.”random blog poster.

“For a minute there, I thought I was reading The Onion.”ashamed hockey fan.

“i really f*cking hate gary bettman.every hockey fan, ever.

All joking aside (if that’s possible when Gary Bettman is involved) the newly formed…Metropolitan Divi…

..you know what, screw it I’m just going to call it ‘the Metro’. OK? Metropolitan sounds too stupid. Anyways…

The Metro is a fascinating division. Brutal rivalries and the games best players will be featured on a nightly basis. Since more division games are being played under the new realignment the pressure to win division game will even more crucial. And these were games that didn’t need more drama than they already had. Three former Hart, Art Ross and Rocket Richard trophy winners, all under the age of 30, will call the Metro home. As well as a handful of Vezina finalists. It may lack the tradition of the Atlantic Division that owns 4 of the original 6, but it makes up for it in drama and the best hockey night in and night out.

If only it wasn’t called the Metropolitan….

pitPittsburgh Penguins (36-12-0)-

Key additions- Rob Scuderi-D, Chris Conner-RW, Matt D’Agostini-RW

Key loses- Matt Cooke-RW, Jarome Iginla-RW, Brenden Morrow-LW, Douglas Murray-D

When you have two of the top players in the world (arguably THE two best players, period) you don’t really need to be very active in the offseason.

Unless of course you have had those same two players for the last 4 years and never been in the same zip code as the Stanley Cup. Then maybe it’s time to think about changing your philosophy.

It’s a double edged sword, really. How do you break up such a talented team? But how do you keep the same team together when it isn’t working, regardless of how it looks on paper?

Ray Shero decided the former and not the latter, and not too many people are qualified to critique his decision making. Certainly not me, and probably not you either. If you you are qualified, well thanks for reading my blog, Mr. Lamoriello.

Gone are Iginla, Morrow, Cooke and Murray. They will be replaced by Connor, D’Agostini and the return of fan favorite Rob “The Piece” Scuderi. While the Penguins pick up more speed they lost a lot of grit and toughness. Even with those deadline acquisitions they weren’t exactly scaring anyone, without them it would be hard to find a more physically un-intimidating roster in the NHL.

D’Agostini is an interesting pickup. He has shown he can be productive when paired with skilled players, evidenced by his 21 goals in 2010. It’s also the only season he has ever played 82 games, and that’s probably not a coincidence for the oft-injured winger.

Perhaps most telling will be how this team plays within a new system. In an almost comical twist of irony the Penguins will be playing the 1-3-1 trap defensive system, the same style of play that pushed then player, now owner Mario Lemieux into retirement in 1997 out of disgust and frustration. At one time in Pittsburgh the words “the trap” were spit out by hockey fans with the type of disdain usually reserved for Nazi’s, Flyers and parking tickets. Now that same system is the hope fans, players, coaches, and even the owner clings to after 4 years of a wide-open style has produced nothing but disappointment for all involved.

And before we get into the goalie discussion remember: this is a regular season preview. Questions about Fleury are moot from October-May. He is nothing if not spectacular in the regular season. And they still have Crosby and Malkin. If you think anyone other than Pittsburgh will win the inaugural Metropolitan division banner you are mistaken.  Prediction 50 wins

phiPhiladelphia Flyers (23-22-3)-

Key additions- Vincent Lecavalier-C, Ray Emery-C, Yann Danis-G

Key loses- Daniel Briere-C, Ilya Bryzgalov-G

Oooh Philadelphia….

I suppose it’s only fitting that the Flyers are such a train wreck. Every 3-4 years they blow up their roster in favor of someone else’s players, only to do it again 3-4 years later. You could synchronize universal clocks to the turnover of the Flyers roster. The only thing more predictable than their roster purges is the assurance that every player that leaves will immediately go on to be more successful somewhere else.

They have flirted with championships many times since their last Cup in 1975. In every decade since the 70’s the Flyers have returned to the finals only to lose in soul crushing fashion, and then see that team blown up and rebuilt. Again.

So here we are, again. Three years removed from detonating the heart of a team that made it to the cup finals, then sucked, then was awesome, and then sucked, again.

Many have a revisionist history and think that the release of mercurial goalie Ilya Bryzgalov (before you reach for the dictionary, mercurial is a polite way of saying “weird as $#%*”)  is addition by subtraction. And while it’s true that near the end of a lockout shortened season he was a liability, they forget that he was by far the Flyers best defensive player for the first month an a half when the rest of the team was lost in a post-lockout malaise. By the time Bryzgalov fell apart, started wearing tin foil hats and hiding from bears their season was already over.

The salt in the wound was that the goalie they cast aside in favor of Bryzgalov went on to win get robbed of the Vezina trophy, in Columbus of all places.

It’s hard to say if the shortened season was just too much pressure for them to handle or if they just weren’t as talented as we thought they were. Maybe a little of both. Everyone knows that this is a very important year for this version of the Flyers. The fans have little patience. The owner and GM have even less.

Daniel Briere is out, Vinny Lecavalier is in. A typical Flyer signing, really. For a million dollars less they could have signed side-kick extraordinaire and special teams ace Pascal Dupuis from the rival Penguins. Instead they went with name recognition. I’m just going to go on record right now as predicting they are burning Lecavalier jerseys in effigy within 16 months.

Since the start of 2009-10 season:

Lecavalier-71g (27PPG) 205 pts, -23

Dupuis-80g (8SHG) 172 pts, +70

I’m not the biggest believer in +/-, but if your team ranks in the top 5 in both PP and PK and still misses the playoffs…well, maybe you should start thinking about adding a few guys that can play the 5 on 5 game, too. Lecavalier hasn’t been that guy since 2006.

And Ray Emery in goal? That’s just silly. He was never that guy. He wasn’t the solution in net the first time Philly signed him, so what’s changed? And don’t talk to me about Steve Mason, either.

Instead of addressing their most glaring needs they simply added more pieces they already had in bulk. Even if they couldn’t have lured Dupuis out of Pittsburgh the 5 mil they spent on Lecavalier would have been better spent on a more long term goalie solution. With Schneider and Brian Elliot available for the right price, why go back to the future with Emery? Madness.

But then…it’s Philly. It’s the Flyers. Madness is all part of the plan. And every once in a while, for no apparent reason, the madness works. I know their goalie situation is a mess but they will score plenty to compensate. And maybe Bryzgalov really was just that &#(*$@^ crazy…Prediction 43 wins

nyiNew York Islanders (24-17-7)-

Key additions- Pierre-Marc Bouchard-C, Peter Regin-C,

Key loses- Keith Aucoin-C, Brad Boyes-C, Jesse Joensuu-LW

Believe it or not there was a time when the Islanders were the most feared team in all of hockey. Not the Oilers. Not the Blackhawks. Not the Flyers. But the New York Islanders. No, I’m not making that up. Seriously go read a history book already…

For a brief moment the glorious center of the hockey universe was on Long Island, the other New York hockey team. Bossy, Trottier, Potvin, Gillies and two of the three Sutter’s. In 1983 they beat the Edmonton Oilers (the same team that had Gretzky, Messier, Kuri and Coffey) in the Stanley Cup Finals 4 games to none, winning their third consecutive championship. They routed everyone that spring, losing only 5 games the entire postseason.

And then it all collapsed. For 30 years.

I’m not sure if the stench of Mike Milbury will ever be completely off this team until they win another cup, and they certainly took a big step towards that goal in 2013. They ended their playoff drought and gave the heavily favored Pittsburgh Penguins all they could handle in their first round loss.

John Tavares will captain a group of kids hungry to get out of the shadow of the “real” New York hockey team. They still have plenty of questions on defense and especially in goal. Nabokov is really better suited for a backup goalie role than every day starter at this age, but until one of the three young goalies (Poulin, Milner and Nilsson) makes the strides necessary to win the job outright the net will belong to the always steady, but unspectacular, Russian.

They can’t boast the star power of their division opponents. John Tavares isn’t even in the top 5 players in his division, but they have a roster full of +plus players who will score 12-15 goals. On Long Island it’s going to be all about team hockey. And team hockey wins. Prediction 40 wins.

was

Washington Capitals (27-18-3)-

Key additions- Mikhail Grabovski-C, David Leggio-G, Tyson Strachan-D, Matt Watkins-RW

Key loses- Joey Crabb-RW, Matt Hendricks-C, Mike Ribeiro-C, Jeff Schultz-D

I’ll be blunt: the Capitals could finish dead last in the Metro division. They could also win the President’s trophy.

Which Ovechkin shows up in October?

The dynamic juggernaut with the canon wrister that hits anything that moves? Or the fat, lazy disinterested sloth we saw for the first month last year? I don’t think Ovi even knows.

They still have Mike Greene, the best winger masquerading as a defenseman since Coffey. They still have Nick Backstrom. And if Holtby can compete the same way he did last year that’s going to be more than good enough for a playoff spot.

They upgraded their second line center big time with the addition of Grabovski. More importantly Grabovski will let Fehr and Laich slide  back into roles they are more suited for. In all honesty you would have a hard time finding a team stronger down the middle than Washington. With Malkin and Crosby Pittsburgh has the two best centers, hands down. But do they have the best foursome?

Find me a better looking group of centermen than  Backstrom-Grabovski-Fehr-Laich

How many teams don’t have space for an Erat-Grabovski-Brower as a second line? The third line of Chimera-Fehr-Ward looks absolutely brutal. That’s a checking line. Somewhere Dale Hunter is smiling.

The Caps will have a top 5 PP just on talent alone. Adam Oates will make sure they will have a top 10 PK unit, too.

But again, which Ovechkin shows up? Don’t forget, the Olympics are this year and he is already been named the man to carry the torch into the stadium. Do not underestimate the toll this takes on russian hockey players. Russia takes its hockey seriously. Too seriously. So seriously that Evgeni Malkin was estranged from his brother for leaving the KHL and Kovalchuk was willing to walk away from 76 million dollars just to go back. The closer the season gets to the Olympics the more demands all of Russia will be placing on Ovi, and that’s to say nothing of the pressure he will be placing on himself. I think we have all seen how he has responded to the weight of expectations before. Sometimes good, sometimes… well… sometimes not so good.

A signifigant amount of how the inaugural season in the Metro plays out won’t be decided on the ice, but by what happens inside the 3 pounds of squishy grey matter between the ears of Alexander Ovechkin.

They almost certainly will not finish last. And probably won’t win the President’s trophy either. This team is as much an enigma as its captain. Prediction 39 wins.

njdNew Jersey Devils (19-19-10)-

Key additions- Damien Brunner-C, Ryan Clowe-RW, Jaromir Jagr-RW, Rostislav Olesz-C, Michael Ryder-RW, Corey Schneider-G

Key loses- David Clarkson-RW, Matt D’Agostini-RW, Ilya Kovalchuk-RW

It would be easy to write off the New Jersey Devils. Like nomads they wandered America from KC to Denver before deciding to make their home in Newark (because nothing screams METROPOLITAN quite like Newark, NJ). Maybe it’s because they share a fan base with the New York teams, maybe it’s because they can never seem to hold onto a player that can sell tickets or maybe because they are just plain boring to watch. For whatever reason everyone seems to forget about the Devils almost every year.

If Ilya ever goes back to Newark they are probably going to stab him, buit not before raping the bullet hole they make in his torso. Not because he ran out like a coward on the team or anythign...but just because that's what happens to white people in Newark.

If Ilya ever goes back to Newark they are probably going to stab him, but not before raping the bullet hole they make in his torso.
Not because he ran out like a coward on the team or anything. That’s just what happens to white people in Newark.

They happen to be the most successful franchise in hockey over the last 21 years. And it isn’t even close.

The loss of Parise in 2012 hurt, but the head-shaking decision by enigmatic winger Ilya Kovalchuk to walk away from 76 million dollars was just cruel. Considering he waited until after the draft and initial free agency period nobody can wonder why many teams in the league would rather ink the beer vendors to a contract before a Russian. Had he given GM Lou Lamoriello some kind of heads up he could have (and almost certainly would have) made a bigger push to keep David Clarkson.

But lost in the Kovalchuk fiasco were the under-rated and impressive additions of Brunner, Clowe and Ryder. These are classic “Devils” players: Smart, committed two-way forwards that just know how to play hockey. Brunner is a bit raw but showed plenty of potential last season in Detroit. And let’s face it, that’s a tough place to earn ice time.

They added Corey Schneider and still have the greatest goalie ever as a backup. With the addition of the ageless Jaromir Jagr, and paired with Norris candidate Adam Henrique, they are guaranteed to have a top 10 power play. And in this league steady goaltending and special teams will win you games.

Do not make the mistake of writing this team off. Prediction 37 wins

clsColumbus Blue Jackets (24-17-7)-

Key additions- Nathan Horton-RW, Mike McKenna-G, Frederic St. Denis-D

Key loses- Umm..like, none.

It’s almost unfair what happened to the Blue Jackets. For the first decade plus they had to be in the same division as Chicago and Detroit. Now they get thrown into the meat grinder of the Metro Division. Some of the most intense and hate filled rivalries in the NHL today take place there, and every team will be looking at Columbus as fodder.

To say nothing of joining the division that holds 6-7 of the top ten hockey players in the world. Nothing against the old central division but I have serious doubts on Bobrovsky repeating as Vezina finalist when he has to see Ovi, Crosby, Malkin and Giroux 4 times apiece. Just a hunch.

But I do like where they are headed. With three picks in the first round they are certainly loaded with young talent, just like Chicago and Pittsburgh 7-8 years ago.

Obviously the Horton signing was huge, for lots of reasons. He brings veteran leadership, a wealth playoff experience and exactly the type of dirty skill the Jackets will need to be successful in 2013. They aren’t going to be able to skate and score with most of the teams in the Metro, so most of their scoring is going to come from pink ice areas. (pink ice=ice soaked with frozen blood. Yes, that’s a real thing).

But Nathan Horton does not a playoff team make. It’s a substantial signing in that it proves Columbus is willing to pay to be competitive, further proven by giving Anisimov and Bobrovsky extensions. And no one can really argue that they weren’t the clear winners in some of the bigger trades the last few years.

I still think they are a year away from making the playoffs, if only because this year is going to be a tough adjustment to the East as well as better division opponents. But with three kids in Springfield itching to fulfill the dream, it won’t be much longer. And honestly…if they made it in as the 7th or 8th seed I wouldn’t be shocked.

Goalies win games. Prediction 35 wins

nyrNew York Rangers (26-18-4)-

Key additions- Aaron Johnson-D, Dominic Moore-C, Benoit Pouliot-LW

Key loses- Ryane Clowe-RW,

It wouldn’t surprise me if the 2013-14 NY Rangers set records for least amount of points scored. Ever.

With a roster full of players more inclined to block shots than take them, they will be adjusting to a system the complete opposite of the one they played for the last 6 years under exiled coach/media bane John Tortorella. Replacing him is the coach that he replaced in Vancouver, Alain Vigneault. To say he is accustomed to having a few more offensive weapons in his arsenal than enigmatic winger Rick Nash is a bit of an understatement.

Coach Vigneault is a former Jack Adams winner as the league’s best coach, so I’m sure he will be able to adapt his philosophy to match his players. But then, that’s kind of the problem.

Look don’t get me wrong, the Rangers are a very talented team. They will roll 3 defensive pairings that are easily the deepest in the league. They have 7 defensemen that can skate, bang and play just as well skating backwards as forward. And of course they also have perennial Vezina favorite Henrik Lundqvist between the pipes.

But where do the goals come from? Last time I checked you still need to score to win, and aside from Nash and Callahan, the Blue shirts have precious few proven scorers. And they didn’t really address those needs via free agency, grabbing only Johnson, Pouliot and Moore. In over 1,100 NHL games those three have combined to score 20 more goals than Ryan Callahan has all by himself in a third of the time. For God’s sake what was the point of signing Johnson anyways? Did you really need that 17th defenseman? Especially one that has been on seven teams in his 9 year career? Was that really necessary?

Last year they tried to walk the fine line of winning every game 2-1 or 1-0 and wound up on the outside looking in come playoff time. At some point they will have to find someone else to score some goals. Unless they want to give Lundqvist a skinny stick. Prediction 34 wins

car

Carolina Hurricanes (19-25-4)-

Key additions- Joe Corvo-D, Nathan Gerbe-C, Anton Khudobin-G, Mike Komisarek-D, Aaron Palushaj-RW

Key loses- Dan Ellis-G, Jerome Samson-RW

You would think a team that finished near the bottom of the league would do more than replace their backup goalie (with someone else’s backup) and add some defensemen that can’t score.

You would think.

I’m not sure what the plan is down in Raleigh. Maybe they are just biding their time until Marc Staal hits Free Agency, I don’t know. Last year’s Hurricanes were more like a gentle fall breeze than a tropical storm.

Essentially it’s the same team that lost more than all but two teams, and both of those teams were in their division. If they had been in a division that actually had depth top to bottom they easily would have lost 30. And they get to join the loaded Metro Division?

Yea…good luck with that.

They finished 27th in PK, 26th in PP and 29th in Goals allowed. They had only one player finish with more than 20 goals. Only two scored more than 15, worst in the NHL. So based on that, the guy they target in Free agency is Mike Komisarek, the guy who isn’t even good enough to play defense for Toronto?

Umm…uhh…?

Maybe they just needed a Hunky, lumberjacky looking guy to make the women of Charlotte stop squirming for Earnhardt Jr. for 10 minutes. And that may be cynicism, but it still makes more sense than signing Mike Komisarek for anything other than maintaining a league mandated roster minimum of Canadian defensemen 1st round busts.

Look, Carolina still has 6 top line forwards that can score. For whatever reason, they didn’t score last year, bu that doesn’t mean they all simply forgot how. Defense is an issue but it’s the same issue 15 out of 30 teams have, and since 16 teams make the playoffs, Carolina has shot. It’s just a very,very small chance. This ain’t the southwest division, boys. Prediction-27 wins

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Sports Blog Movement NHL Preview: Metropolitan Division

  1. Reblogged this on Dubsism and commented:

    Over the next few days, Sports Blog Movement will be your home for the most comprehensive NHL preview out there!

  2. Shawnee

    I think 50 wins for the Pens might be pushing it a little bit. I’m all for optimism, but that is nuts! Especially if Letang stays hurt and Brooks Orpik doesn’t show up. And remember, Fleury is still a little wobbly and I don’t even know the name of the back up now! Vokun was an amazing back up last year but who knows when he will be back. I agree that the Pens will probably finish first, but not by that many wins.

    I would also give the Crapitals a little more credit. They came on pretty strong at the end of last year and Ovechkin started to look like his old self. I would put the Craps in 2nd place in the division behind the Pens. As for the Islanders, they did give the Pens all they could handle but I think that was moreso the Pens not being prepared than the Islanders being that good. They are still young and will get better, but I would put them 3rd.

    The Flyers are Jagoffs.

  3. Oh hurricanes, you made me fall in love with you during my stint in NC and now that i care i see you’re just a heart breaker. Oh well, the spoerts radio shows will be interesting to listen to this season.

  4. Pingback: Sports Blog Movement NHL Previews: The Link Post | Sports with Neil

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