Shark Circle’s Metropolitan Division Preview and Standings Predictions

I’m continuing my season preview with the Metropolitan division. To see my Atlantic Division Preview, click here. I must repeat the disclaimer that I’ve only looked at the roster page for each team, and that’s it. No advanced stats, not even the power-play and penalty kill percentages for each team last year. Just my memory and intuition.



1. Pittsburgh Penguins: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, James Neal, Kris Letang, and the much-improved Chris Kunitz who has developed into an elite forward himself should provide enough offense to see the Penguins win their division, even if their defense and goaltending can be questionable at times. They definitely miss Jordan Staal, as Sutter has been disappointing replacing him in my opinion, but he’s still better than most third line centers, and they’re just a very talented team overall.

2. Columbus Blue Jackets: The Blue Jackets are one of those teams without a ton of huge names, but who have silently collected a ton of quality players in building up an extremely deep team. And unlike some other teams who have done this, like the Colorado Avalanche for example, the Blue Jackets have also done it in a very balanced way, with size, skill, forwards and defense, as opposed to the Avalanche, or even the Oilers, having a ton of fast, skilled forwards up front, but not a lot of size, and not the best defense, although the Avalanche made some underrated moves on defense this offseason such as bringing in Andre Benoit.

Regardless, I feel the Blue Jackets, who have long lacked a #1 center, now have two emerging thoroughbreds with size, skill, and puck-possession awesomeness in Artem Anisimov and Ryan Johansen, the latter of whom I believe he could have a huge breakout year if he gets the ice time. Brandon Dubinsky is a fantastic #3 if they use him there. They’re also stacked with wingers. Marian Gaborik, Cam Atkinson, Matt Calvert who is one of the fastest skaters in the NHL and looks to be like an emerging two-way horse himself in perhaps a less physical Brad Marchand mold, Boone Jenner has a fantastic training camp, Mark Letestu is underrated either as a wing or center depending on who plays third line center, him or Dubinsky… all these forwards are pure quality. R.J. Umberger and Nick Foligno especially blend size and skill very well. Derek Mckenzie is one of those A-grade grinders in the Matt Hendricks mold, with quality top-nine potential. They’re just stacked with forward depth.

And on defense it’s the same. Like at forward, they don’t have a true MVP candidate, but their depth is awesome. Nikita Nikitin personifies the prototypical size/skill mix for a defenseman. The St. Louis Blues will regret trading him for a long time. Fedor Tyutin has become a fantastic two-way #3 type of defenseman. James Wisniewski is injured a lot, but when he’s not, he’s wildly underrated. He might have the most accurate one-timer from the point in the NHL. When he’s healthy and he gets chances to shoot on the power-play from the point, he will get you goals, and lots of them. Tim Erixon is an excellent young defenseman with massive potential, and then there’s Ryan Murray, who looks the spitting image of Scott Neidermayer already. In his draft year I likened him to Neidermayer, except that he looked smaller, without the same frame and wingspan. No longer. He looks to have grown ten years in the past two. Now he looks just like Neidermayer. And then there’s Jack Johnson, who is often criticized by the stats community, but none of them can actually say what’s wrong with him. Clearly his results, at least according to their stats, aren’t good. But what he’s missing exactly, other than the general criticism-guess you can levee at any struggling defense, “positioning,” is a mystery, because he’s still a 6’3″, 220 lbs defenseman who can skate, shoot, and handle the puck pretty well, and if it weren’t for his horrible advanced stats, a lot of teams would love to have him. In other words, he still has potential, physically, if he can ever fix whatever it is the advanced stats crowd swears he’s doing wrong.

And in goal, the Blue Jackets have the reigning Vezina winner, although that was only one short season. Bobrovsky will have to build on his success last season otherwise the big contract extension the Jackets gave him over the offseason could turn into a bad contract, but for now, he’s a great asset for them as well.

Truly, I see a complete team that only lacks in star quality. But they could soon get that from Ryan Johansen and Ryan Murray, even James Wisniewski if he remains healthy, at least in terms of production. The Blue Jackets remind me a lot of the Los Angeles Kings going into their Cup-winning season. Different styles of play to a degree, and the Jackets don’t have a Kopitar or Doughty yet which is what I’ve been talking about, but in terms of having the depth at every position, the Blue Jackets could actually win the Cup this year if they work hard enough. As things are, I’m ranking them second in the division.

3. New York Rangers: The Rangers have an excellent team with depth at all positions, although they do lack star power up front and elite scoring forwards outside of Rick Nash. Still, Callahan, Nash, Stepan, Hagelin, Brassard, Brad Richards, and smart offseason signing Benoit Pouliot make up a deep forward group along with solid youngster J.T. Miller and awesome youngster Chris Kreider, except that they sent him down to the AHL. If they are to succeed this season, they will need to figure out what the deal is with Kreider and get him contributing in their top-six, because he’s basically their third or fourth most talented forward, so it makes no sense that he’s in the AHL right now.

Their defense is a strength as always, with Del Zotto, Girardi, Mcdonaugh, the return of Marc Staal, and the always-underrated Anton Stralman. Last year’s newcomer in the Marian Gaborik trade, John Moore, has excellent puck-moving potential himself. And in goal, Lundqvist is as good as they come.

Their lack of elite offense, and their poor power-play last season, keeps them out of my two-two ranking, but they should be right up there in the mix after Pittsburgh come end of the season.

4. Washington Capitals: It’s hard to pick between the Capitals, Flyers, Islanders and Devils, but seeing as the Islanders lost their #1 defenseman over the summer, and the Capitals didn’t, I’m going to go with the Capitals in the fourth spot. Ovechkin is Ovechkin, Backstrom looks better than he has in a while, and the rest of the team is pretty strong overall. If Mike Green can stay healthy for once, people don’t realize just how good he was before he started getting injured constantly. He was the Erik Karlsson before Erik Karlsson. Their goaltending is still somewhat of a question, but I’m ranking them fourth.

5. Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers remain a talented team, and the additions of Lecavalier and Streit will help them more than most realize in the short-term, provided they stay healthy. With Giroux, Hartnell, Simmonds, Couterier, and others, the Flyers remain deep at forward, and Streit, Timonen, Meszaros, and Coburn give the Flyers a talented, if aging, top-four on defense.

Their goaltending remains a question mark, which is why it’s difficult to separate them from the Devils, Islanders, even the Capitals. But for some subconscious reason I’ve ranked them here, so there you have it.

6. New Jersey Devils: They lost Kovalchuk to the KHL over the offseason, but people forget this is the team that made the Stanley Cup Finals two seasons ago, and they also added three quality forwards in the offseason in Michael Ryder, Ryane Clowe, and Damien Brunner, who should between the tree of them more than make up for the loss of Ilya Kovalchuk. And Jaromir Jagr, I almost forgot. They could honestly be better this year than last year. Perhaps even better than the year they made the Finals, which makes you wonder if they shouldn’t be ranked even higher. Adam Henrique has developed into one of the better centers in the NHL, and Travis Zajac is a reliable second line center. Patrick Elias is still one of the better top-six forwards in the NHL, and Ryan Carter remains ever underrated on the fourth line. Dainius Zubrus is an underrated third liner as well.

On defense, the Devils still lack big names, and Zidlicky’s defense has seemed to decline over the years, but names like Mark Fayne and Bryce Salvador are underrated two-way defensemen, and Anton Volchenkov is still an above average defensive defenseman. They willhope for more from Adam Larsson, and as long as Peter Harrold retains his spot quarterbacking their power-play in a mysteriously misplaced coaching decision by a very good coach in Pete Debour, their power-play with suffer for it. But overall their defense showed in their run to the Finals that it can be an underrated band of misfits who keep it simple and get the job done, letting their forwards take care of the more fancy aspects of the game, so you shouldn’t write this team off.

In goal, it will be interesting to see how things pan out with Martin Brodeur and Cory Schneider, but they should have at the very least one good option in net between the two once they short that out.

7. New York Islanders: Mark Streit was a very underrated player for them, and I think they will miss him, but they also have a very underrated young defense with guys like Travis Hamonic and Andrew Macdonald. And they somewhat made up for their loss on defense with solid, under-the-radar additions at forward in Cal Clutterbuck and Pierre-Marc Bouchard, who has a truly elite finesse skill set but is, in a way, the Cam Fowler of forwards in that he struggles to actually impact the game positively most nights despite his skill. But if he gets good ice time, and power-play time, with good linemates, he’s a very talented play-maker who should put up some assists. Regardless, you can count on John Tavares and Matt Moulson for big time offense, and Michael Grabner is a very talented goal scorer if they can put him in better positions to succeed this year.

In goal, Nabokov is still the man, and he’s not bad. Has the potential to be better than Washington’s goaltenders, or worse, we’ll just have to see.

8. Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes, led by Eric and Jordan Staal, also have their fair share of talent up front, but overall the team lacks two-way forwards and top defensemen, especially with Joni Pitkanen out injured. I like the addition of Nathan Gerbe for their lower lines, and if Elias Lindholm is ready this season, he could be a boon to their forward group. But I still worry about their defense going into the season compared to the rest of the division. Anton Khudobin was a good signing as a backup goaltender, however, and other teams like the Edmonton Oilers who desperately need better goaltending very much puzzled me by not signing Khudobin, who instead had to settle for a situation where he has very little shot at gaining the crease.

Written by Shark Circle