2014-2015 Season Preview: The Metro Division

Image from Michael Miller via Wikimedia Commons

Last year, in preseason, the Metro Division, was considered by far the strongest division in the East and the likely bet to take both Wild Cards.  The whole division, minus the Pens, promptly started the season by getting hammered, only recovering later in the season to grab one of the two wild cards.

This year again, the top 5 of the division looks strong enough to take two wild cards.  The bottom 3, particularly the bottom 2, are very weak, but the top 5 is strong and near evenly matched such that they could wind up in any order.  But, given the requirement to project the division, these are how I believe the division should finish up, from worst to first:

8.  Carolina Hurricanes:
Last Season: 36-35-11 (7th), 48.1% Fenwick Close (24th)
Key Departures: Manny Malhotra?
Key Additions: Jay McClement? Tim Gleason?

The Canes finished 2nd to last in the division last year, and are only expected
to be worse this year. They were 2nd to last in the division in possession, and
the Jordan Staal and Jeff Skinner injuries only hurt in that regards. Meanwhile,
Cam Ward is projected as the worst goaltender in the division per Hockey Marcels,
with a .9079. Ouch.

Course that last bit might not be as bad, as Anton Khudobin could seize the
starting job soon and he has a lot better projected numbers. Still, even there,
there’s a lot of uncertainty with Khudobin, and the Canes responded to free
agency by basically doing nothing, replacing defensive specialist Malhotra with
another bad defensive specialist (probably worse) in Jay McClement and re-adding
a washed up Tim Gleason.

Canes fans may be draft hunting all year long, and their new coach has a rough
start in front of him.

7.  Philadelphia Flyers:
Last Season: 42-30-10 (3rd), 48.2% Fenwick Close (23rd)
Key Departures: Kimmo Timonnen (Injury)
Key Additions: Andrew MacDonald (full season)

The Flyers finished 3rd in the Metro last year and took the Rangers to 7 games in
the first round of the playoffs. So why are they projected to finish second to
last in the Metro? Well, for one their underlying numbers last year weren’t very good
– that 48.2% Fenwick close had them closer to a bottom 5 team than a playoff
team. Moreover, they should only get worse in that department this year with the
loss of Kimmo Timmonen and the addition of a full year of Andrew MacDonald. This
is a bad possession team.

Unfortunately for Philly, they’re unlikely to beat those numbers for a second year
straight. Last year, Philly received an above average performance from Steve
Mason, which is what saved them from missing the playoffs (and even with that,
they were still only +1 in goal differential). Mason’s been a lousy goalie for
his career, so it’s unlikely he comes close to his play last year – Mason
Projects as a .909 goalie per Hockey Marcels, which is survivable(and better than
one might’ve expected in the past) if you have a good team – except the Flyers do
not.

Originally the Flyers were my pick for last in this division, and a certified
McDavid-chase team, but Carolina’s injuries give the Flyers a boost.

6.  Washington Capitals:
Last Season: 38-30-14 (5th), 47.5% Fenwick Close (25th)
Key Additions: Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen
Key Departures: Mikhail Grabovski

The Capitals were quietly the worst possession team in the Metro last year, which
didn’t bear well for their future. Unlike the above teams though, the Caps
actually had a goalie in Holtby (and 2 after the Halak trade) who could be reliably
be considered above average, so they can survive a little of that, but not too
much.

Despite the big signings, the biggest change Caps fans hope is from the change in
coach – Barry Trotz takes over from Adam Oates and will obviously put in place a
far more defensive style. The problem here is that well, Trotz never oversaw a
plus possession team in Nashville really, relying instead upon great goaltending
to get his team to the playoffs. I’m not sure the style change will really be an
upgrade.

Personnel wise, there were big shifts made by the Capitals this offseason, but
it’s unclear if they’re really a net positive. Matt Niskanen is a great
addition, but Brooks Orpik is lousy and will get lots of minutes. Adding a full
season of Evgeni Kuznetsov will help, although hard to say how much, but the loss
of arguably their best possession player in Grabovski will hurt.

This team is clearly better than the Flyers and Canes, but it’s clearly a solid step
below the other 5 teams in the division.

5.  Columbus Blue Jackets:
Last Season: 43-32-7 (4th), 50.7% Fenwick Close (14th)
Key Additions: Brian Gibbons
Key Departures: Blake Comeau

Columbus and the four teams I have projected above them are all seemingly very
close. All five should make the playoffs and projections seem to have the order
of these five teams all over the place. I think that’s probably fair.

But why do I have Columbus 5th? Well, Columbus basically is rocking the same
team as last year (Brian Gibbons for Blake Comeau is a wash), although Nathan
Horton and Brandon Dubinsky begin the season injured. They have a pretty good
forward lineup, but the defense is questionable outside of James Wisniewski and
Ryan Murray. Basically their D will mainly be dependent upon their goalie, and
to their credit, Bobrovsky is a terrific netminder (3rd in the league per hockey
marcels).

Still this wasn’t THAT positive a possession team last year, and it’s pretty much
the same team. Hence I think, with the improvements to some of the teams above
them, that fifth is about right.

4.  New York Rangers:
Last Season: 45-31-6 (2nd), 53.6% Fenwick Close (6th)
Key Additions: Dan Boyle, Tanner Glass, Lee Stempniak, Martin St. Louis, Anthony
Duclair
Key Departures: Ryan Callahan (full season), Anton Stralman, Benoit Pouliot,
Brian Boyle, Brad Richards

The Rangers won the Eastern Conference last year and were a dominant possession
team in the East. They also have one of the best goalies in the league in Henrik
Lundqvist. So why 4th?

Well for one, this is a vastly different team from last year. Possession beasts
Anton Stralman and Benoit Pouliot both are gone, without being replaced by anyone
with a history of positive possession play (Tanner Glass hurts just by addition).
They’re missing Derek Stepan for about 10 games, which will put them further
behind. And Marty St. Louis is 39 and is likely to decline, especially if he’s
playing center for a few games.

The wild cards that should help the Rangers are again, the King, Henrik
Lundqvist, and the play of the young rookie Anthony Duclair. Duclair is a super
talented prospect who blew up in juniors last year and whose play in preseason
was so good he forced his way onto the roster despite the Rangers being at 50
contracts. If he’s able to play ot his potential, he can alleviate some of the
losses NYR have suffered.

Overall this should still be a playoff team, but a greatly reduced one. Those
losses will hurt and NYR has not made up for them unless Duclair really breaks
out.

3.  New Jersey Devils:
Last Season: 35-29-18 (6th), 53.9% Fenwick Close (5th)
Key Additions: Mike Cammalleri, Martin Havlat
Key Departures: Martin Brodeur, Mark Fayne

Figuring out the Devils every year is a freaking nightmare. They’re seemingly
guaranteed to be a great possession team with below average shooting, and
seemingly disappoint their possession numberss each year. Hence last year’s 6th place
finish despite the 53.9% Fen Close.

Still as we all know, there are reasons to be very hopeful. The team loses the
inept Broduer, and an extra 15-20 games of Scheider should be a big upgrade. The
team should win a few shootouts this year -and that’s another few points-
and Mike Cammalleri should improve the scoring, a little bit.

A concern of course has to do with how old this Devils team is. The team’s two
best skaters are 38 (Elias) and 42 (Jagr). And surely Jagr has to decline at
some point, right? Right? But even with that decline, they should still be a better
possession team than the Rangers and Jackets, with comparable goaltending. I
think that’s enough to grab the division’s 3rd playoff spot.

2.  New York Islanders:
Last Season: 34-37-11 (8th), 49.5% Fenwick Close (19th)
Key Additions: Mikhail Grabovski, Cory Conacher, Nikolay Kulemin, Jaroslav
Halak, Chad Johnson, Nick Leddy, Johnny Boychuk
Key Departures: Andrew MacDonald, Thomas Vanek/Matt Moulson, Evgeni Nabokov

The Islanders are the opposite of the Rangers in terms of team makeovers.
Whereas the Rangers lost some of their better possession players and didn’t
replace them, the Isles brought in a bunch of plus possession players. They also
drastically upgraded at the goalie position. Basically this team drastically
improved at the forward, defense, and goalie position.

Of course last year’s team finished last in the division, so they had a lot to
improve. But they weren’t a bad possession team (just below average), and full
years from Brock Nelson and Ryan Strome, plus new additions in Grabovski, Leddy,
and Boychuk (plus the loss of MacDonald) should push them into the top third in
possession.

And then there was the Isles’ biggest problem: the lack of any sort of quality
goaltending. Halak is easily an above average goalie and was the top FA
goaltender on the market, while Johnson (and 3rd string David Leggio) should be
reasonable backups. This is a team that suddenly is extremely deep at every
position, which can survive injuries to guys like Michael Grabner, Lubomir
Visnovsky, and Calvin de Haan yet will thrive when those guys are in the lineup.
A breakout is likely.

1.  Pittsburgh Penguins:
Last Season: 51-24-7 (1st), 50.2% Fenwick Close (15th)
Key Additions: Christian Ehrhoff, Thomas Greiss, Blake Comeau, Nick Spaling,
Patric Hornqvist
Key Departures: James Neal, Matt Niskanen, Brooks Orpik, Tanner Glass

The King is dead, Long Live the King. The Pens have won the division for what
seems like an eternity, and this year should be no different. Obviously injury
is the big potential screw up of this this year, but well, the Pens continue to
have the best player in hockey and another one of the top ten. That’ll always
put you in the playoffs assuming the rest of the team isn’t an absolute tire
fire.

The previous two years, it often was pretty close. But this year, despite the
loss of James Neal (Hornqvist is a drop off), the Pens have really fixed up their
depth. They’ve built a reasonable bottom 6, which won’t continue to get
annhilated as it was the prior two years.

And the team has compensated for the loss of Matt Niskanen with the addition of
Christian Ehrhoff, while losing dead weight Brooks Orpik. Greiss makes a
reasonable backup to Fleury, who is still an average netminder. As long as they
avoid long term injuries to Crosby and Malkin, they should take the division, yet
again.

Final Projected Division standings:
1. Penguins
2. Islanders
3. Devils
4. Rangers (WC)
5. Blue Jackets (WC)
6. Capitals
7. Flyers
8. Hurricanes.

5 thoughts on “2014-2015 Season Preview: The Metro Division

  1. Leddy might help possession but you wonder if he was mostly carried in that regard by his teammates in CHI as well as favorable zone starts and low QOC. I would agree that Halak should help though as well as Grabovski.

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