Seeing this recap of the Metropolitan Divison teams offseasons’ got the wheels turning on what could be in store for next season.
Since it’s inception for the 2013-14 season, the Pittsburgh Penguins have been near the top of the division. Makes sense being on a 12 year playoff streak and all. Still, for the past three seasons it’s been Washington Capitals #1, Pittsburgh #2 and everyone else in the background. Will anything change this year?
At this point, and on paper, it’s tough to believe there will be much.
To recap, major changes with last seasons standings:
#1 Washington: Didn’t have much change. Lost Jay Beagle and backup goalie Philipp Grubauer but their gang is basically all back for next season with a new bench boss. Tough this day and age to lose less from a top team.
#2 Pittsburgh: Again, not many changes here either from a top team. Had to shed Conor Sheary to fit Jack Johnson and it remains to be seen how that whole experiment goes, but overall it will be another prime year for the Pens.
#3 Philadelphia Flyers: Philly adding James van Riemsdyk gives them as talented a top-6 forward group as anyone in the league. Their depth beyond that it meh, as is the goalie situation, but if they were a playoff team last year, they should be in 2018-19 too. Tough to see them overtaking the WSH/PIT powerhouses though in regular season performance.
#4 Columbus Blue Jackets: the specter of what to do with impending free agent Artemi Panarin changes everything for 2018-19 and beyond. He doesn’t want to re-sign will they lose him for nothing after this season or look to get some value? The answer to that question shapes this team for a long time to come.
#5 New Jersey Devils: One of the top surprise teams in the NHL with a 97-point playoff year, NJD has done...Basically nothing this off-season. I don’t exactly see what their intended direction is, they’re slowly adding more talent to the club overall, but the keyword is slowly.
#6 Carolina Hurricanes: As usual, most of their off-season moves have been lauded. Adding Dougie Hamilton and Calvin de Haan have been almost universally praised. #2 overall pick Andrei Svechnikov could be an immediate skilled NHL player. But the team whose Achilles heel for the last decade is going with Petr Mrazek and Scott Darling? That could be the area that again keeps them from the playoffs.
#7 New York Islanders: Oof. The true losers of this offseason no matter how you spin it, with their franchise center-piece stringing them along and then leaving them. Brutal setback for the organization that will take some time to recover from. They were dragged for adding bad players like Leo Komarov and Matt Martin, but what else are they going to do? They weren’t going anywhere anytime soon regardless.
#8 New York Rangers: The Rangers are....actually being smart? They hired a new coach from the college ranks and basically sat still in free agency for once. They’ll look to play as well as they can, but are clearly in a mode to acquire young talent now and put it together in the next 3-5 years.
So what do we see? The Flyers and Hurricanes took steps forward talent-wise on their rosters but have some glaring holes (GOALIE!) that will keep them from the top of the heap. Columbus and New Jersey are there but don’t seem overly threatening (especially if CBJ deals Panarin). The New York teams are basically after-thoughts and out of the mix.
In 2018-19, the Metropolitan Division should come back down to the familiar faces of the Penguins and the Capitals. Traditionally, Washington has performed better in regular seasons and usually gotten better health and goaltending which has made the difference over a long season.
More than any other sport, in the NHL the important thing is making the playoffs more than seeding of where a team gets in. We’ve seen Wild Card teams get to the Stanley Cup Finals frequently. We’ve seen President Trophy teams lose in the first or second round. Anything can happen once the playoffs start.
But, first you have to get there. Offseason moves are mostly over and 2018-19 is shaping up to look a lot like previous years. The Pens and Caps are the teams to beat and everyone else is still going to be in chase modes on the top teams for most of the season.