Our preview of the 2017-18 NHL season continues, Mojoholics! Today we continue our coverage with arguably the toughest division in the entire league: the Metropolitan. With the defending Cup champs in Pittsburgh set to duke it out with the Caps and the fast-rising Blue Jackets for top spot, it’ll be an interesting race for position in the Metro down the stretch. Here’s our preview. (Also, click here for our preview of the Atlantic division, in case you missed it!)
1. Columbus Blue Jackets
Years and years of cellar-dwelling finally seem to have paid off for the Blue Jackets. Following a breakthrough season that saw them back in the playoffs – including one point earlier in the season where they won 16 straight games – this young Jackets team look set to come into their own this year. Having made one major move with trading Brandon Saad back to Chicago for Artemi Panarin, they’ll be looking ready to capitalize on their core of Nick Foligno, Cam Atkinson, Seth Jones and Vezina winner Sergei Bobrovsky.
2. Pittsburgh Penguins
Can they make it three in a row? Fans in Pittsburgh certainly hope so. Despite losing longtime goalie (and former 2003 first overall pick) Marc-Andre Fleury to the expansion Golden Knights, the Pens still have most of their Cup-winning team from last year intact, and mostly making depth moves throughout the offseason. In addition to the usual suspects like Crosby and Malkin, expect Jake Guentzel to try carrying his blistering playoff PPG from last spring into the new campaign.
3. Washington Capitals
To say this 2017-18 campaign is a make-or-break season for the Capitals is quite the understatement. While the team’s offensive core of Ovechkin, Backstrom and Kuznetsov remain, the Caps still carry the burden of being a great regular season team who underperform in the postseason, and they lost Karl Alzner, Kevin Shattenkirk and Justin Williams through free agency. It would be quite a feat if they still manage to take the Metro division title, but that won’t matter unless they finally figure out how to translate their regular season fortunes into the playoffs.
WILDCARD 1. New York Rangers
A surprise first-round series win against the Habs would end in the Rangers losing in the following round to the Sens, but most of the team from last season remain with the Blueshirts – minus longtime centre Derek Stepan, traded to the Coyotes. Though their offensive depth might look a bit suspect in places (and not many young offensive pieces looking to break in aside from Pavel Buchnevich), their defensive group is among the best in the Eastern Conference, and Henrik Lundqvist is still an extremely serviceable goalie.
5. New York Islanders
It’s not immediately clear what John Tavares’ future with the Isles will be, as the franchise centre’s contract is set to expire after this season, but it’s a team with a decent amount of young talent and offensive skill – aided further by acquiring Jordan Eberle this offseason. Their defense, anchored partially by Nick Leddy and Calvin de Haan, isn’t too shabby either. The question mark remains their goaltending – not to mention how they will fill the void from Travis Hamonic’s departure – and those variables, plus a full season of head coach Doug Weight, will go a long way in determining how likely their playoff hopes are.
6. Philadelphia Flyers
It’s really hard to tell what’s going to happen to the Philadelphiua Flyers this season. On the one hand, they managed to win big at the draft lottery and select WHL centre Nolan Patrick, and their stacked young defensive group of Shayne Gostisbehere, Travis Sanheim, Ivan Provorov and more will be ones to watch this season. On the other, their goalie tandem of Brian Elliott and Michal Neuvirth isn’t exactly world-class, and they’ll need to be strong night in and night out for the Flyers to stand a chance at the postseason in possibly the league’s strongest division.
7. Carolina Hurricanes
Although we’ve put them seventh in the Metro, the Hurricanes are closer to being back in the playoff picture than they have in some time. Jeff Skinner is one of the league’s most underrated wingers, and young forward Sebastian Aho could be poised for a big season. Their defensive core of Jaccob Slavin, Justin Faulk, Brett Pesce and Noah Hanifin is among the best in the East. That said, their goaltending and offensive depth is questionable as a whole, and may not be enough to cut the mustard this time. If the Canes were in another division, their chances of a wildcard spot would undoubtedly be stronger.
8. New Jersey Devils
Sorry Taylor Hall, but it looks like your horrendous playoff-making luck is about to continue. While the Devils bagged themselves talented Swiss centre Nico Hischier with the first overall pick in this year’s draft, this team is still going to need time in the cellar before returning to the dynastic ways of Devils teams past. Although Hischier and Pavel Zacha give them an exciting one-two punch at C going forward, this New Jersey team is sure to feel the hit from a mediocre defense, Cory Schneider’s shakiness in net, and Travis Zajac being on the IR until the new year.
Featured image credit: NHL.com