Over the next six weeks, I will be revealing my predictions for this upcoming NHL season. We will start in the Metropolitan Division. The Metro is the deepest division in hockey, with three Stanley Cup contenders. While the Atlantic Division has three Cup contenders as well, the other four teams in the division are not as talented as the teams of the Metropolitan. The Metropolitan Division hosts the winners of the past three Stanley Cups, Pittsburgh and Washington. Those two should be Cup favorites again, but there’s another team in the division who may take the NHL by storm.
Philadelphia: 110 points
With the addition of James Van Riemsdyk on the wing opposite Claude Giroux and Jakub Voracek, the Flyers now have arguably the most talented first line in hockey. Along with the potential emergence of Nolan Patrick, and solid depth in Wayne Simmons and Sean Couturier, this Flyers team is a dark horse cup contender. Philadelphia finished 7 points back of the Metropolitan division title last season, and that was with a 10 game pointless streak early on. This team got better, and should be contenders to make a deep playoff run in the stacked eastern conference.
Washington: 108 points
The reigning Stanley Cup Champions finally broke their infamous “They can’t get past the second round” label. Ovechkin has his deserved cup, and now Washington faces the task of reloading for another run following the loss of head coach Barry Trotz to the Islanders. This roster is very deep, from top to bottom, and they have one of hockey’s best netminders in Braden Holtby. They still have all the talent that won them a cup, so they could get back to at least the conference finals, but the eastern conference is loaded.
Pittsburgh: 107 points
The core is still together for Pittsburgh. Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, Letang, Murray, and the rest of the usually loaded Penguins roster. They’ll do their usual slow start but then rapidly increase their play as the season goes on. With Crosby, Malkin, Letang, Kessel, and Brassard all over the 30 mark in age, the window for this Penguins squad won’t be open forever. And with several younger, faster teams developing around them, it may shut sooner than they think. They should still be in contention for a run to the finals.
Columbus: 98 points (Wild Card 1)
The Blue Jackets have long been dubbed the NHL’s least successful franchise. While they haven’t been around that long, this billing is earned. They have improved in recent seasons, but still are yet to win a playoff series in franchise history. They led the Capitals 2-0 in the playoffs last season, but then they conceded four losses in a row and were bounced in the first round again. They have some remarkable talent in Cam Atkinson, Seth Jones, Nick Foligno, and NHL.com’s number one rated goalie in Sergei Bobrovsky. It seems as if one of their talents, Artemi Panarin, will likely be dealt soon though. This team is good, but they are an unfortunate victim of a stacked Metropolitan division.
New Jersey: 90 points (Wild Card 2)
The Devils would have been the league’s biggest surprise story last year, had Vegas not gone on the tear that they did. They went from picking first overall, to making the playoffs. The emergence of Taylor Hall as a perennial Hart trophy contender, as well as the growth of Nico Hischier, should only help New Jersey get better. While they regress in points, it is only because how loaded the top of the Metropolitan division is. With a solid mix of youth talent and veteran presence, the Devils should get back to the playoffs, and maybe even take a division winner to seven games.
New York (I): 87 points
Yes, the loss of John Tavares is big, as is the loss of Calvin De Haan. While the Islanders lost some big pieces this offseason, they may have finally nabbed themselves a goaltender in Robin Lehner. Under new management, this season is all about building towards the future for the Isles, with promising pieces like Calder-winner Matt Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier. The Isles also have nice future pieces in Noah Dobson and Oliver Wahlstrom who may not be ready this season. They also will have one of the most physical 4th lines in hockey that should establish an identity for them. Expect the Isles to hang around in playoff contention, but fall short in the end.
Carolina: 85 points
The Canes have some talent, in Sebastian Aho, Justin Faulk, and new acquisitions Dougie Hamilton and Calvin De Haan. But this team has no depth to speak of, and while Petr Mrazek is solid at times, he is inconsistent. Many have picked Carolina to make the jump to the playoffs over the last couple of years. This offseason, they downgraded, so expect them to miss out on the playoffs yet again. The worst attendance in the NHL won’t help their cause either.
New York (R): 80 points
The Rangers are rebuilding, they even sent out a letter to their fans last season. They also sent out a figurative message to their fans by trading the likes of Rick Nash, Ryan McDonough, Ryan Callahan, and Dan Girardi to name a few. The Rangers do have a couple of nice pieces in Brady Skjei and Ryan Spooner, but this roster is under a big transition, with Zuccarello and Zibanejad likely being dealt this year as well. They will likely finish bottom of a loaded Metropolitan division for the next two, maybe three years.