It is finally that time of year folks.
For better or for worse, hockey season is upon us. By now, the search for supremacy has already begun as the long season kicks off, however, who actually has a shot of winning it all this year? The Flyers will have many challenges to overcome, both internally in their own division as well against all of their out-of-division opponents. For now, however, let’s focus on the immediate future.
The Metropolitan Division is very evenly matched, but this does not mean that it is particularly strong per se. Yes, the competition at the top will be close, but in the wider Eastern Conference, teams like Toronto and Tampa Bay will dominate. The Metropolitan mostly contains good to pretty great teams, some of which made key improvements to their roster. Others, however, lost nearly all of their talent and will probably sit towards the basement of the league overall. Ranked by where I think they will finish (first to worst), here is Broad Street Hockey’s Metropolitan Division preview:
Key Additions: Richard Panik, Brendan Leipsic, Radko Gudas
Key Departures: Brooks Orpik (retired), Andre Burakovsky, Brett Connolly, Matt Niskanen
Washington didn’t necessarily have a standout offseason, but they did make two interesting moves. They traded Andre Burakovsky, which was mainly a strategic move to secure more picks in order to build up the farm system. Then, they swapped Matt Niskanen for Radko Gudas, which is less of an upgrade in player quality and more of an upgrade in salary allocation considering the Flyers retained salary on Gudas for reasons unfathomable to me.
Still, despite mainly adding depth talent to the roster, the Capitals look set to win the Metropolitan division yet again. Their top end talent such as Nicklas Backstrom, Alexander Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, John Carlson, and Brayden Holtby are dominant even in tough matchups, and considering their improved depth, the top lines only need to break even. I’m pegging Washington to make it past the first round of the playoffs this coming season, provided they don’t run into injury problems or a Carolina Hurricanes team that likes to actually have fun.
Key Additions: Kevin Hayes, Matt Niskanen, Justin Braun,
Key Departures: Andrew MacDonald (hallelujah), Jori Lehtera (hallelujah), Radko Gudas, Ryan Hartman
Oh hey look, it’s yours, ours, and my Philadelphia Flyers, the Hockey Team The Flyers. Just looking at their offseason from a distance, it’s clear that they were more about clearing away some of the driftwood rather than building an entirely new ship. Gone are human pylons Lehtera and MacDonald and in comes Kevin Hayes to play center on the second line.
This roster is clearly improved, and with a new system brought in by an offensively-minded coach, the team should perform better. However, many Flyers fans were expecting promising youngsters like Joel Farabee and Phil Myers to make the roster for opening night, however that has not been the case. Regardless, the team are almost certainly greatly improved, both at the top of the line-up and in depth. Combined with the brilliance of Carter Hart so far, they should finish second this year. I can’t see them finishing lower than 3rd. They are better than a wild card team.
New Jersey Devils
Key Additions: PK Subban, Wayne Simmonds, Nikita Gusev, Jack Hughes,
Key Departures: Kenny Agostino, most of their fanbase still despite the additions (get dunked on)
The Devils, to my personal dismay, had one of the strongest offseasons in the NHL. They added an elite defenseman in Subban (he is at the least very good, I personally think he is due for a bounce back). They also added Nikita Gusev and Jack Hughes, two top six (even now!) forwards with legitimate first line potential. To round it off, they signed Wayne Simmonds to provide depth down the wing. They also still have Taylor Hall, Sami Vatanen, and Nico Hischier.
While I do think their defense is suspect, they are bound to have a high powered offense. They also have Mackenzie Blackwood in net, who I am personally a big fan of. They’ll have a full season to tell for themselves, but I think that he is quite good. They are at the very least a solid wild card team in my eyes, but I think they’ll be able to slip into the third spot in the Metro.
Pittsburgh Penguins (WC)
Key Additions: Brandon Tanev, Andrew Agozzino, Alex Galchenyuk
Key Departures: Matt Cullen (retired), Chris Wideman, Phil Kessel
The Penguins moved on from a key top six piece in 32 year old Phil Kessel and brought in 25 year old Alex Galchenyuk to replace him. While Kessel is without a doubt better than Galchenyuk at the moment, we will wait and see how the move works out in the long term (if Galchenyuk can score at a higher rate in a different team). They also signed Brandon Tanev, a depth player, to a six year 3.5 million AAV contract with a modified no-trade clause. That’s...not the best move in the world.
The Penguins still find themselves in a very precocious situation. They have one of the best one-two punches in the league with Crosby and Malkin up the middle, and added to their depth at forward. However, besides Kris “Kristopher” Letang, they have a completely inept defense. They very heavily rely on goaltending to bail them out, and whether Matt Murray can provide that is a big question for them. He posted a 0.919% save percentage last season after his dismal 0.907% in 2017-18. I think he’ll post similar numbers to last season, which should be enough for the Penguins to make the playoffs as a wild card. They always find a way to make the playoffs with that “second gear” they go in to in the second half of the season.
Carolina Hurricanes (WC)
Key Additions: Ryan Dzingel, Jake Gardiner, Erik Haula, James Reimer, Joel Edmundson
Key Departures: Patrick Marleau (rip), Justin Faulk, Scott Darling, Calvin De Haan, Gregroy McKeggory
The Hurricanes made some pretty good moves this summer. Though they traded away Justin Faulk, they managed to bring in some pretty good defensemen in Jake Gardiner and Joel Edmundson. In net, they’ll have Petr Mrazek and James Reimer. I do like Carolina’s top end talent. Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen are excellent forwards, and the pair of Dougie Hamilton and Jaccob Slavin would rival any D pairing in the league.
However, besides them, I don’t particularly rate any of their depth players. Erik Haula helps out in that regard, but other than him, I see a lot of “average”. Jordan Staal is a fine choice at captain, but his best playing days are behind him. Maybe they’ll surprise me. After all, they have smartly ran organization and take advanced metrics into account. They also have fun celebrations, so I’m 100% rooting for them. Except if they stand in the way of the Flyers.
New York Islanders
Key Additions: Semyon Varlamov, Derrick Brassard
Key Departures: Robin Lehner, Val Filppula
There are some pundits who are high on the Islanders because of their 2018-19 season in which they out-performed all expectations and made it to the second round of the playoffs, sweeping the Penguins in the first round. However, I am not very high on this team. They lost Robin Lehner, who had an amazing 2018-19 and replaced him with Semyon Varlamov who had a poor season. Sure they added Brassard, who will ease pressure off of Matthew Barzal, but their defense is still a weak spot. My feeling is that eventually, the club reliant on the “best 4th line in hockey” will see its flaws, especially when Leo Komarov is still logging ice-time.
The Islanders have some good, young players as well as veteran leadership, so they have a very viable path to dominance in the Metro division, however they are a few years away in my opinion. Right now, the teams in this division are too close for the Islanders to merit a playoff spot, so yes I am more on the side of last year being a fluke (like the Sens a few years back).
New York Rangers
Key Additions: Kappo Kakko, Jacob Trouba, Artemi Panarin, Gregroy McKeggory, Micheal Haley
Key Departures: Kevin Shattenkirk, Jimmy Vesey
The Rangers had a good offseason, and perhaps made the biggest signing of the window when they inked Artemi Panarin to a seven year $11.6 million AAV contract. However, they...aren’t going to be competitive this year. Sure they made the flashy signings, but they have nobody to back them up. The only forwards that belong on an NHL roster on this team are Panarin, Kakko, Buchnevich, Kreider, Namestnikov, Zibanejad, and maybe Ryan Strome. Otherwise, this is an AHL roster. They are also weak defensively, though Trouba will help with those issues slightly. They also cannot be as reliant on Henrik Lundqvist, who is starting to really show is age.
In short: good additions, bad team. They’ll be near the bottom of the division. They also play in a train station. At least Kappo Kakko may win the Calder trophy if he looks like he remotely belongs in the NHL. Though, that could possibly be the team’s only bright spot.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Key Additions: Gustav Nyquist, Marko Dano
Key Departures: Sergei Bobrobsky, Matt Duchene, Artemi Panarin, Keith Kinkaid, Ryan Dzingel, Mark Letestu, their hopes and dreams
So...they’re gonna be really bad.
Atkinson, Dubois, Werenski and Jones are this team’s core, and they are very good players, but again, like most bad teams, they are unsupported. The Blue Jackets lost pretty much all of the players they brought in to be competitive last year, and it will show. They also lost their goaltender in Bobrovsky, and I’m not at all convinced that Korpisalo is an NHL goaltender.
Generally speaking, when you lose most of your key talent, you won’t perform too well, and that’s why I think Columbus will finish dead last in the division, though I can easily see them swapping with the Rangers if some of the Jackets’ young talent can step up. In particular, I wonder if Sonny Milano can stick with them this year. I’ve always been high on him.