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Revisiting my preseason predictions for the Metropolitan division

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You don’t always bat 1.000 folks...

NHL: JAN 21 Penguins at Flyers Photo by Kyle Ross/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As the all-star break continues, and the empty feeling that is no-hockey creeps into our collective conscious, we hockey fans are simply left to ponder the recent history of the season gone, and to anticipate what is left of the season to come. Fans across North America — no, the world — have been left either excited, disappointed, or dreading the final outcome of the 2019-20 NHL season, especially for teams with initially lofty expectations at season’s start. Last October, just before the puck was set to drop on the new hockey calendar, I set out to preview (and predict) the Metropolitan Division, with a fair prediction that the Flyers would be better than the mediocrity that was 2018-19, yet albeit with a ranking that in the end seems to not be befitting of their skill level. As we’ve gone beyond the mid-way point of the season, let’s take a look back to see just how right, or wrong, I was:

Washington Capitals

Preseason prediction - 1st

Actual position - 1st

Predicting the Capitals to finish first in the division wasn’t a hard choice to make. Their top players over the past few seasons are still there, and are still playing at an elite level. Alex Ovechkin’s 34 goals is only second to David Pastrnak with 37, Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov are excellent forwards, and John Carlson is having a Norris Trophy winning calibre season. It’s really no surprise they lead the division with 71 points. I wrote of them in the October preview that:

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.

I’d still stake the same claim today. I could easily see Washington making it to the second round of the playoffs, though as a whole, the Metropolitan division has been very tough overall. If any season were to be the one for major upsets, it would be 2019-20.

Philadelphia Flyers

Preseason prediction - 2nd

Actual position - 6th

Yes, I rated the Flyers far too highly. However, they aren’t a 6th place team. Not in the slightest.

Over the remaining stretches of games left, the Flyers will play division opponents 14 times (meaning around 30% of their games are against other Metro division teams). As I said earlier, the Metropolitan Division is one of the toughest in the NHL, and the standings currently sit at a logjam that will eventually sort itself out once in-division games are played. Look at it this way: if the Flyers played in the Atlantic division, they’d be in 4th place with 60 points.

We’ve seen enough from the Flyers to suggest they could be a playoff team if they continue to play well. Kevin Hayes has been the 2C we expected, Carter Hart is looking set to be the Flyers’ long term solution in net, and my word has Travis Konecny broken out. I’ve said all of this without even mentioning that Sean Couturier is playing like a Selke Trophy candidate. The Flyers probably won’t claim a top three divisional spot, not unless the Islanders suddenly realize they’re the Islanders. But, they could certainly take a wild card spot.

New Jersey Devils

Preseason prediction - 3rd

Actual position - 8th (ha)

I have never been more happy to be wrong.

Despite adding Nikita Gusev, Jack Hughes, and P.K. Subban, the Devils are the basement dwellers of the Metro Division. With only 41 points, the Devils pretty much have a 0.0% chance of making the playoffs, and I can’t think of a more appropriate outcome for this useless franchise.

Never did I think Taylor Hall moving to Phoenix would be good for his career. Ever since moving to the Coyotes, he’s been nearly a point-per-game player. For sure, the Devils are missing Hall, as none of their forwards have played particularly well so far. Gusev hasn’t lit the world on fire as some expected, Wayne Simmonds has been underwhelming, and their leading scorer is Kyle Palmieri with 31 points in 44 games.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Preseason prediction - 4th

Actual position - 2nd

Well, Sydney Crosby came back with a vengeance from injury; in fact, the whole team has been very injury prone this season. Yet, despite that, they’re still 2nd in the Metro with 67 points.

I wasn’t keen to write off the Penguins this year. As I said in the preview:

They always find a way to make the playoffs with that “second gear” they go in to in the second half of the season.

Yet, I didn’t think they’d be doing this well. Truthfully, I should’ve expected that Evgeny Malkin would step up in the absence of Crosby, he usually manages to do just that. Malkin has managed 50 points in 37 games, which is good for 18th in the NHL. They’ve also got NHL video game re-gens Bryan Rust and Jake Guentzel playing extraordinarily well. Though perhaps above all, Tristan Jarry has stood up for them in net. He has a 0.929% save percentage so far this year in 25 games. NINE-TWO-NINE.

Carolina Hurricanes

Preseason prediction - 5th

Actual position - 5th

Oh yay, another one I got right!

The Hurricanes have had a number of players take charge so far. Notably, Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen, Andrei “Michigan” Svechnikov, and Dougie Hamilton. The absence of Hamilton for the rest of the season due to injury will hurt Carolina, but I don’t think it will drastically alter their path as they look set to claim a wild card spot.

The scariest thing about the Hurricanes is just how good they will be in a few years time. Rod Brind’Amour has them playing like, well, a Hurricane out there. Just look at the ages on those four players I mentioned: 25, 19, 22, and 26. Those guys are going to improve, and when that happens, look out NHL.

New York Islanders

Preseason prediction - 6th

Actual position - 3rd

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.

I hate this team. I really do.

I simply don’t understand how they manage to do so well given their lackluster defense. In fairness, Semyon Varlamov and Thomas Greiss have been great this year, which has bailed them out. Additionally, Barry Trotz is an excellent coach, and perhaps his system just leads to few goals against. HOWEVER, at 5-on-5, when only ONE of your defensemen has a positive Corsi-For (Noah Dobson with 51.11 CF%), that’s when I throw in the towel.

New York Rangers

Preseason prediction - 7th

Actual position - 7th

Despite the addition of Artemi Panarin, who to be fair is having a monster season (26 G, 42 A, 68 P), the Rangers are still bad. As I said in October:

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.

While he is definitely an NHL player, newcomer Kappo Kakko only finds himself with 16 points in 44 games. Heck, Adam Fox has more points than Kakko! Really, they’ve had nobody besides Panarin stand out, which is why they find themselves only above the Devils. Also, Henrik Lundqvist hasn’t been openly bad, but he’s not been very good either. See you later Rangers.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Preseason prediction - 8th

Actual position - 4th

Another case of “how are they good?”. Except, this one has a fairly clear answer.

None of their skaters have had breakout seasons, nor have they looked very above or below what they were expected to be (with perhaps the exception of Pierre-Luc Dubois). However, goaltender Elvis Merzlikins hasn’t just stood on his head, he’s been doing a handstand for 21 games now. The 21 year old has a 0.926% save percentage, bettering Joonas Korpisalo’s 0.913%. I predicted that the loss of Bobrovsky would tank them, along with all their other departures. However, that’s been far from the case.

Will they make the playoffs? I’m not entirely sure yet. But, they’ve massively surprised me.