By: Brennen Krikorian
Welcome back to our NHL prediction series here on Edge Sports Network. If you haven’t already, be sure to check out the Atlantic Division predictions. Here are the predictions for the Metropolitan Division.
*Italicized teams = Playoff Teams*
1) Washington Capitals (2018-19 Record: 48-26-8, 106 Points)
The Washington Capitals have been division winners for the past four seasons and are looking to make it five. The Capitals return the majority of their 2018 Stanley Cup team, maintaining a lot of playoff experience with players who know how to win in the postseason.
Washington is known for their offensive firepower and this year is no different.
Headlined by All-Star centers Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov, as well as future Hall of Famer Alex Ovechkin, they will have no problem putting the puck in the back of the net. Young guys like Jakub Vrana and Tom Wilson will also give opposing defenses problems this year. Olympic hero T.J. Oshie has had some reoccurring injury problems over the past few seasons, but can still provide some solid two-way hockey if he can stay on the ice.
The defense for the Capitals might be what inevitably hurts them down the stretch.
John Carlson is an undeniable elite defenseman, but the talent takes a significant drop after him. Washington is going to need productive seasons from guys like Dmitry Orlov and Christian Djoos if they are going to make another championship run.
The defense may give up a lot of opposing shots, but they should be able to outscore most teams with Braden Holtby in net.
Until age takes a notable toll on their stars, Washington is going to continue to be a safe bet to win the division.
2. Pittsburgh Penguins (2018-19 Record: 44-26-12, 100 Points)
Coming in at second, the team everyone loves to hate, the Pittsburgh Penguins.
GM Jim Rutherford made a lot of changes to the roster following their disappointing first-round exit to the Islanders. None were bigger than the decision to trade Phil Kessel to Arizona, a move that most people did not expect to become a reality.
Although this team may look a lot different than it did a season ago, they still have arguably the best duo in the league with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The duo has been able to bring three Stanley Cups to the city of Pittsburgh in the last decade, and they look to continue their reign of success this season.
Head coach Mike Sullivan will continue to roll with the same strategy that he has always used, which is to pair the young guys with the dominant duo of Crosby and Malkin.
In the past, we have seen Jake Guentzel and Conor Sheary torch defenses due to the fact that Crosby was the main facilitator on the ice. This year that young duo very well may be newly acquired Alex Galchenyuk and second-year player Jared McCann.
Pittsburgh’s defense may not light up the score sheet, but they are excellent in their own zone. Kris Letang, Brian Dumoulin, and Justin Schultz are experienced veterans who all have the ability to lock down the opponent’s top line. Goaltender Matt Murray also has the ability to be an elite goalie if he can stay healthy and consistent.
The cap space situation for the Penguins may cause a few more obstacles next off-season, but as long as they have Crosby and Malkin on their team, it’s impossible to rule the Penguins out of Stanley Cup contention.
3. Carolina Hurricanes (2018-19 Record: 46-29-7, 99 Points)
Last year, the Carolina Hurricanes took the league by storm, no pun intended, and made a surprising run in the playoffs before being swept by the Boston Bruins in the Conference Finals.
By the end of the season, opposing teams were dreading away games in Carolina. Not only was the team playing strong hockey, but the iconic “Storm Surge” that the players and fans created made the PNC Arena a tough place to play. Following every home win, the Hurricanes players would put on a show for the fans as a form of celebration and it gave the Hurricanes a huge momentum boost.
Looking forward to this season, the “bunch of jerks” are poised to be right back in the playoff mix.
Sebastian Aho had a breakout season last year which earned him a 5-year/$42 million deal and solidified his name as one of the game’s elite young stars. Alongside Aho, GM Don Waddell has constructed an offense that contains plenty of depth with a good mix of veterans and young talent. Don’t be surprised if a player like Andrei Svechnikov, last year’s second overall pick, ends up developing into Carolina’s second offensive star throughout the season.
The defense for the Hurricanes heavily underperformed in the Conference Finals last season, but on paper they are an elite group if they can play up to their potential.
Former first-round pick Dougie Hamilton showed everyone in Calgary that he has the ability to be a strong two-way defender if he can keep his emotions in check.
Their goalie situation is a bit of a concern as of right now, but Petr Mrazek showed some glimpses of strong goaltending at points last season.
They may not have the overall talent to be Stanley Cup contenders, but the Hurricanes should have the grit and toughness to make the playoffs this season and continue their storm surge in the standings.
4. Philadelphia Flyers (2018-19 37-37-8, 82 Points)
The Philadelphia Flyers have had some ups and downs during the past few seasons, but this year may be the beginning of some major dominance in Philly.
Bringing in an experienced coach in Alain Vigneault, who was a member of two Stanley Cup teams (Canucks and Rangers), may be a fantastic move for the organization, or one that the Flyers will regret.
The former Jack Adams winner is excellent at easing younger players into certain roles, but also tends to overplay his veterans during crucial situations.
Vigneault should have no problem getting young guys playing time due to the immense young talent throughout this Flyers roster.
Travis Konecny (current RFA) and Nolan Patrick have the potential to make huge impacts on offense with both their scoring, and ability to battle for the puck in the corners. Pairing those guys with veterans such as Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek, Sean Couturier and Kevin Hayes will make for an elite top two lines throughout the season.
However, the X-factor of this team is goaltender Carter Hart. This season will be Hart’s first full year as a starter, but he showed that he is capable of that role after posting a .917 SV% and 2.83 GAA last season in just 31 games.
This team as a whole may need another year or two before they can be considered as legitimate title contenders, but they are definitely on the right path to become the Broad Street Bullies 2.0.
5. New York Islanders (2018-19 Record: 48-27-7, 103 Points)
There’s no question that the last season for the Islanders was one that not many people expected. They secured the second seed in the division and swept the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first-round.
Head coach Barry Trotz proved yet again why he is the best coach in the league and took home the Jack Adams award for the second time in his career. However, looking at the roster this year, it seems that last year was a fluke.
On offense, they simply could not put the puck in the net, posting just 2.7 goals per game, which finished as sixth worst in the NHL.
Matt Barzal had an incredible rookie campaign, but that was when John Tavares was still on the team and Barzal did not have the same responsibilities that he does now. This past year, the former Rookie of the Year took some time getting acclimated to his new role. His points total decreased, recording only 62 points, compared to his 85 points from two years ago.
Other top forwards like Anders Lee, Jordan Eberle, and Brock Nelson are going to need to prove that the long-term deals they received were worth the money. If the team can’t score in bunches to start the season, look for top draft pick Oliver Wahlstrom to make the jump and provide some much needed support.
The defense for the Islanders was the real reason for their success last season, as they held opponents to a league-low 2.21 goals per game.
Devon Toews, Ryan Pulock, and Nick Leddy were surprise leaders for the defense, and could have similar success this year if they can all stay healthy. New York also has excellent defensive prospects in the minors such as Bode Wilde and Noah Dobson who, alongside Wahlstrom, may also get the call-up at some point this year.
Trotz will most likely split time between Varlamov and Thomas Greiss, as he did last year. With that being said, the long-term role for Varlamov looks like it will be as a mentor for goalie prospect and fellow Russian Ilya Sorokin. Once his KHL contract ends, he is allowed to join the NHL.
The Islanders don’t have a bad team whatsoever, but if people are looking forward to a season similar to a year ago, they might be disappointed with the final result.
6. New York Rangers (2018-19 Record: 32-36-14, 78 Points)
The New York Rangers have a much different roster than they did a season ago and they were active in every phase of player acquisition.
In the trade department, New York parted ways with long time Ranger Mats Zuccarello, Kevin Hayes, and former Hobey Baker Award winner Jimmy Vesey. They were then able to bring in Jacob Trouba and Adam Fox for defensive support.
In free agency, the Rangers made one of the biggest deals in the league by signing Artemi Panarin to a 7-year/$81.5 million contract.
As for the draft, New York took Finnish rising star Kaapo Kakko with the second overall pick, who should make an immediate impact with his new team alongside last year’s first-round pick Vitali Kravtsov.
The Rangers have excellent depth returning to their team on both sides of the ice. Mika Zibanejad is one of the most underrated players in the game and Filip Chytil, Jesper Fast, and Vladislav Namestnikov will all contribute as bottom six forwards. On the blue line, Brady Skjei and Marc Staal will help the new defensemen learn the Rangers system quickly.
The biggest question for the Rangers is the goaltending situation. Henrik Lundqvist is a first ballot Hall of Famer and one of the best Rangers players of all time. However, Hank is now 36-years-old and is noticeably less dominant than he was a few years ago.
The Rangers have an excellent team and the talent to make the playoffs, but it is likely that they will get off to a slow start. Not many meaningful players on the roster have played with one another and the team chemistry just isn’t there yet.
In the deepest division in the league, New York should focus on the near future and stay competitive for the time being.
7. New Jersey Devils (2018-19 Record: 31-41-10, 72 Points)
The New Jersey Devils are very similar to the Rangers in terms of talent, depth, and activity this off-season.
Jack Hughes is the biggest addition to the team after being selected first overall in this year’s draft, although many believe it will take him a year or two in order to fully develop.
GM Ray Shero made a few surprise acquisitions by obtaining P.K. Subban from Nashville and Nikita Gusev from Vegas. The one thing that separates this team from New York is the fact that the majority of their key players have expiring contracts within the next two seasons.
Taylor Hall was the MVP two seasons ago, but will become a free agent next year. According to many NHL experts, Hall is one of the players that will most likely be dealt at the deadline in late February.
Travis Zajac, Wayne Simmonds, and Sami Vatanen’s contracts are also coming to an end, and with all of them aging, it’s unlikely that New Jersey will re-sign them. Will Butcher and Nico Hischier have the ability to make up for the lost veterans, but only to an extent.
One contract that isn’t expiring in the near future is that of goaltender Cory Schneider. Since being acquired from Vancouver in 2013, Schneider’s tenure with New Jersey has been inconsistent to say the least.
In his first three seasons with the Devils, Schneider was excellent and posted a GAA below 2.3 in all three seasons. However, the New Jersey goalie has struggled over the past three years. His GAA has increased each year and he has been unable to stay healthy for an extended period of time.
MacKenzie Blackwood did show promise while Schneider was injured, but it will be very tough for the coaching staff to bench a goalie that they are putting so much money into.
This team, like the Rangers, has the chance to exceed expectations and get close to the playoffs, although it ultimately seems like we will see New Jersey in the draft lottery for at least one more season.
8. Columbus Blue Jackets (2018-19 Record: 47-31-4, 98 Points)
At the beginning of last season, everyone had the mindset that the Blue Jackets would be sellers at the deadline. With most of their key players having expiring contracts and no cap space to sign them, it seems rational that they would begin their rebuild to get some pieces back for their stars.
However, that was before the Blue Jackets started winning games. After starting the season hot, GM Jarmo Kekalainen decided to become a buyer at the deadline with the hopes of having one final playoff run before losing all of their players.
After barely getting into the playoffs, they shocked the world by sweeping the Presidents’ Trophy winning Tampa Bay Lightning before losing to the Boston Bruins in the second-round.
This off-season, as expected, Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky, Matt Duchene, and Ryan Dzingel all left in free agency, and the Blue Jackets have started their projected rebuild.
While a rebuild is never fun to watch as a fan, Columbus is in a great spot for the future.
Alex Wennberg is a questionable forward due to his disagreements with head coach John Tortorella, but with the 24-year-old getting paid almost five million a year for the next four seasons, the coaching staff has no choice but to find a role for him.
The defense seems like it is in a great spot as well. It seems inevitable that Seth Jones will eventually win a Norris Trophy sooner rather than later, and both Zach Werenski and Ryan Murray are very good on both ends of the ice.
This team has one of the best penalty kill units in the league which will significantly help in crucial games. No matter how good this group performs, it won’t matter if they don’t get strong goaltender play.
As of right now, it looks like the net will be split between Joonas Korpisalo and Elvis Merzlikins, which doesn’t give too much hope to the Columbus faithful. As a backup last season, Korpisalo had a .897 SV%, which is very poor for someone who is getting 25-30 starts in a season. As for Merzlikins, he has the potential to be productive, but he just doesn’t have the experience to make an impact right away.
This Columbus team is clearly not what it was last season, and the chances for a spot in the playoffs are nearly impossible. Don’t expect this team to tank this year, but in a division as tough as the Metropolitan, it seems safe to pencil the Blue Jackets in the lottery.
Cover Photo via: Geoff Burke/USA TODAY Sports
Follow Edge Sports Network on Twitter: @TheEdgeSN
Follow Brennan Krikorian on Twitter: @KrikorianB15