With the 2014-15 NHL season getting ready to kick off, Madhouse Enforcer will be previewing the upcoming campaign with a series of articles predicting how the season will shake out.
Today, we will be focusing on the Metropolitan Division of the Eastern Conference.
1. Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins are one of the more interesting teams in the NHL, with a new head coach and a new general manager and a slew of new faces on the ice too. Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling headline the latter group on offense, and on defense Christian Ehrhoff joins a group looking to prove that they can maintain last season’s top-10 goals-against performance.
2. Columbus Blue Jackets
Speaking of interesting teams, the Blue Jackets are primed to make some serious noise in a tough division this year. Ryan Johansen is back under contract, which really helps the team on offense, and they also added winger Scott Hartnell to the mix to add some veteran presence to the top-six forwards. Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky will benefit from playing in front of a solid defense again, and the Jackets could very well surprise some people after sneaking into the playoffs last year.
3. Washington Capitals
The Capitals missed the playoffs last season, and as a result both their GM and their head coach were fired. Bringing in Barry Trotz could mean that the run-and-gun Capitals could be a bit more defensively-minded this year (especially with Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik as the new second defensive pairing), but you’re never going to get fully away from scoring goals when you have Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin on the team.
4. New York Islanders
The Islanders are a team that many have expected to make a jump in recent years, but this could finally be the year that they vault into routine contention. Having John Tavares always helps, and Kyle Okposo had a breakout season last year. Adding Mikhail Grabovski and Cory Conacher to the mix definitely helps, and new goaltender Jaroslav Halak could really help lower their anemic 3.18 GAA from last season as well.
5. Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers are a team that started out last season on a real down note, fired their head coach, and then stormed back to make the postseason. Craig Berube’s turnaround of the team was remarkable as he took advantage of having Claude Giroux and Wayne Simmonds’ prodigious talents. This season could be even better for the team with a full year under Berube ahead of them, but one thing to keep an eye on is the health of their defense with guys like Mark Streit and Kimmo Timmonen both being well over 30 years of age.
6. New York Rangers
It’s always risky business to pick against a team that went to the Stanley Cup Final a year ago, but we’re going to roll the dice a bit on picking the Rangers to miss the playoffs. The Metropolitan is a weird division, and it wouldn’t surprise us if the Rangers finished higher, but with an offense that took some hits in losing Brad Richards and Benoit Pouliot this offseason, we think the ascending Islanders and Blue Jackets will help keep the Rangers out of the postseason.
7. New Jersey Devils
Adding two new forwards to the top six is usually a good thing for a team, but Martin Havlat and Mike Cammalleri come with plenty of question marks to go along with their scoring. The Devils will now rely fully on Cory Schneider in net with Martin Brodeur leaving the team, but it doesn’t seem to us like having him will be enough to mask the fact that the team simply can’t score enough to reach the playoffs.
8. Carolina Hurricanes
The barbecue may be delicious in Raleigh, but fans of the team might feel like they’re over burning coals this season. The Hurricanes are dealing with an injury to Jeff Skinner to start the year, and Jordan Staal will miss three to four months with a broken leg. Add to that the question mars that the team has on defense and on the power play, and it probably won’t be a good season for the Caniacs.