Ranking the Metro Division’s Top 10 Centers

Islanders captain John Tavares ranks second among the Metro Division's top centers. Who else made our top 10?

Islanders captain John Tavares ranks second among the Metro Division’s top centers. Who else made our top 10?

The Metro Division features some of the league’s best centers. In fact, some marquee stars make up the top five. It consists of former Hart winners and finalists for MVP. With a strong crop along with some emerging stars, it’s safe to say that the Metro is deep at pivot. Let’s take a closer look at who are the division’s best.

1.Sidney Crosby Penguins The 28-year old superstar remains one of the games best players. A two-time MVP, Crosby is the East’s top center. Sid The Kid has been healthy the past two seasons totaling 188 points (64-124-188) in 157 games. Until proven otherwise, he takes our top spot.

2.John Tavares Islanders At 24, the Islanders franchise center is finally emerging as one of the game’s best. He continued to improve in ’14-15 achieving personal bests in goals (38) and points (86) in all 82 to lead the Isles back to the playoffs in their final season on Long Island. That performance earned him a second Hart nomination. As he continues to improve, so too do the Isles’ chances of finally making a deep run.

3.Claude Giroux Flyers The 27-year old is one of the league’s top pivots. Over the past five seasons, Giroux has averaged over a point-per-game totaling 376 points (119-257-376) in 370 games since ’10-11. That consistency is why we have him third in the Metro.

4.Evgeni Malkin Penguins Despite injuries that have prevented him from playing a full season since winning the Art Ross in ’08-09, the former Conn Smythe winner one of the game’s most physically gifted players. Since entering the NHL, Malkin has averaged over a point-per-game in eight of nine seasons. In fact, the 29-year old has tallied 268 goals and 434 points for a whopping 702 points in in 584 career games. That’s good for 1.20 points-per-game. When healthy and motivated, he is as good as anyone.

5.Nicklas Backstrom Capitals One of the game’s true play-makers, the 27-year old Backstrom is a smart pass first center who makes teammates better. With 60 assists in 14-15, it was the fourth time in his career that he totaled 60-or-more. In the Caps’ first round win over the Isles, he produced some of his best hockey notching six points (3-3-6). The Swede quietly continues to perform at a high level producing 572 points (145-427-572) in 577 career games.

6.Ryan Johansen Blue Jackets Only 23, the Vancouver native backed up a breakout year by setting personal bests in assists (45) and points (71). There’s no doubting his ability. Can he carry an improved Jackets into the postseason?

7.Derek Stepan Rangers A heady two-way pass first pivot, the 25-year old Stepan has excelled in all situations for the Blueshirts including as one of the club’s top penalty killers. Despite missing 14 games last season, Stepan registered 55 points (16-39-55) ranking third in team scoring. Most notable has been his clutch play in the postseason setting up tying and winning tallies against the Caps and scoring the series clincher in overtime. His 27 points (10-17-27) are second best on the team the last two playoffs.

8.Derick Brassard Rangers The 27-year old Brassard anchors the Blueshirts top line. In the first year of a new contract, he proved up to the task setting new career highs in goals (19), assists (41) and points (60). He continues to perform in the postseason pacing the team with 16 points (9-7-16) including a hat trick and two assists staving off elimination against the Lightning. Since joining the Rangers roster, nobody has more points in the playoffs than Brassard who’s totaled 40.

9.Eric Staal Hurricanes Even at 29, the elder Staal remains his team’s most important player. A former Stanley Cup winner who’s spent his whole career with the Canes, Staal has topped 20 goals nine times including 30-or-more five in a brilliant 11-year career. Overlooked is that he’s been very durable only missing 22 games. Consider that he’s put up 312 goals and 430 helpers for 742 points in 846 games. That’s very impressive. It’s a important season with Staal in a contract year. Does he want to stay in Raleigh for the rebuild or will he wind up elsewhere?

10.Brandon Dubinsky Blue Jackets There’s no doubting what the 29-year old Alaskan brings to the table. A gritty checking center who plays on the edge, Dubinsky isn’t easy to play against. Just ask his opponents. Unfortunately, his physical style has led to injuries. In ’14-15, he missed 35 games. When healthy, he makes an impact. In only 47 contests, Dubinsky tallied 36 points (13-23-36) and 43 penalty minutes. A pest who is critical to his team’s success, the Jackets need him on the ice.

Honorable Mentions:

Evgeny Kuznetsov Capitals The sky’s the limit for the talented 23-year old Russian who did in the Islanders. A breakout is without question.

Sean Couturier Flyers Already an effective checking pivot, the 23-year old is on the verge of breaking through.

Ryan Strome Islanders In Year 2, the 22-year old proved fully capable as the club’s second center achieving career bests in goals (17), assists (33) and points (50). The former 2011 first round pick should only get better.

Elias Lindholm Hurricanes Only 20, the 2013 fifth overall pick improved in his second year registering 17 goals and 22 helpers for 39 points in 81 contests. The Swede has good potential.

Adam Henrique Devils Offense was at a premium for the Devils last year. Henrique’s one of the few forwards capable of finishing. A bounce back year isn’t out of the question.

Kevin Hayes Rangers His rookie year was impressive. Hayes was a solid contributor netting 45 points (17-28-45) as the club’s third center. The question is will he remain there or shift to the wing?

That’s gonna do it for center. Do you agree with our top 10? Would you change the order? Is there someone I missed? Without a doubt, a couple of players didn’t make the cut. At season’s end, we’ll see how we did.

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The Metro Division Best

Metro Best: Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin are two of the Metro Division's best players. A division full of talent, who are the best by position? Find out over the next few days. www.centericechat.com

Metro Best: Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin are two of the Metro Division’s best players. A division full of talent, who are the best by position? Find out over the next few days.

The Metro Division has a list of superb players who are some of the best the NHL has to offer. Over the next few days, we’ll take a look at who they are by position. Rather than ranking each team which most have been doing since July, that’ll wait until preseason. There’s plenty of time for predictions in what should be a very competitive division.

So, who are the Metro’s best? With elite talent featuring Eastern stars Sidney Crosby, Alex Ovechkin, Henrik Lundqvist, John Tavares, Claude Giroux, Evgeni Malkin, Jakub Voracek, Rick Nash, Cory SchneiderKris Letang, Nicklas Backstrom and Ryan McDonagh, there’s plenty to choose from. With Phil Kessel and Brandon Saad now in the division, it’ll only get better.

We’ll start at center and work our way up. For forwards, I’ll rank the top 10 including left wing and right wing. The same number for defensemen. Goalies will be a shorter list. It should make looking forward to training camp fun.

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Bryce Salvador retires after 14 seasons

Former Devil Bryce Salvador announced his retirement. nj.com

Former Devil Bryce Salvador announced his retirement.

After 14 seasons, former Devils defenseman Bryce Salvador announced his retirement. A key member of the 2011-12 Devils that lost to the Kings in the Stanley Cup Finals, Salvador came over from the Blues on February 26, 2008 in a trade for Cam Janssen.

A stay at home defenseman who protected the front of the net, Salvador had a memorable 2012 playoffs registering four goals and 10 assists for 14 points in 24 games. His performance helped the Devils defeat the Rangers in the Eastern Conference Final allowing them to advance to the Cup Final. The offense came as a surprise because he wasn’t known for it. Oddly enough, the 4-10-14 line was identical to his ’09-10 season total which came over 79 games.

What made Salvador a great story was he missed all of ’10-11 due to a concussion. He didn’t miss a game in ’11-12 playing all 82 in the regular season tallying nine assists. That’s what made the postseason even more startling. He scored four goals after not scoring any.

The Devils rewarded him with a three-year contract even making Salvador the team captain. Unfortunately, he was marred by injuries and unable to duplicate the production. Sadly, fans turned against him. In decline, he was seen as a veteran taking up valuable minutes from younger players such as former first round pick Adam Larsson who is part of the team’s rebuild.

After playing 15 games in ’14-15, Salvador missed the final 67 due to a back injury. In the last three seasons, he only got into 94 games with the team missing the postseason each year. Salvador finishes his career with 110 points (24-86-110) and 696 penalty minutes in 786 games with the Blues and Devils. He’ll now spend more time with his family including his two sons.

Updating this story, Salvador wrote a bone chilling piece in the Players Tribune about what he came back from. It’s a must read. It details how hard his rehab was from an inner ear concussion that nearly derailed his career. Here are a couple of excerpts.

I went and sat down with Devils general manager Lou Lamoriello and I admitted to him that I was not getting better. That was a tough moment. Here I am making good money, and I’m telling my GM that the doctors can’t figure out what’s wrong with me. But Lou was phenomenal about it. He said, “Bryce, just keep seeing specialists. Wherever you want to go, whatever you want to do, take as much time as you need.”

Lou, thank you.

Every single day, for hours on end, this was my rehab routine: I would walk, jog and run with my eyes closed. I would jump on a trampoline and call out the names of shapes and colors until my brain was in a fog. I would sit in an office chair and spin until I was so dizzy that I was on the verge of puking. They told me it should take a normal person 10 seconds after spinning in a chair for the dizziness to go away. That was my target. When I first started, it took me more than a minute to re-calibrate.

Salvador struggled with everyday functions due to the severity of the injury. It was hard for him to communicate with his wife and children. He suffered dizziness from driving. At 35, he even wondered if he would suffer the rest of his life. It’s an amazing tale. Thankfully, Salvador stuck with it rehabbing and got better. He plans to stay involved in hockey spreading his message to the community.

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Raanta upset with treatment from Blackhawks

Antti Raanta

If you believe a story printed by Puck Daddy’s Greg Wyshynski, new Rangers backup Antti Raanta was upset with how the Blackhawks treated him this past season. In a story that appeared on a Finnish site, Raanta revealed that he hoped his team would lose in the playoffs. He even hinted at wanting a Predators sweep.

Raanta was unsatisfied with how Chicago coach Joel Quenneville handled him. Raanta lost the backup job to journeyman Scott Darling, who became a folk hero after helping the Hawks defeat Nashville in the first round.

As for the validity, who knows if it’s true? The article has since been taken down. When it comes to such stories, it’s hard to figure out what really was said. Especially when it comes to European press. Quotes can be taken out of context. Even if the translation doesn’t look good for Raanta who has since relocated to Manhattan in a off-season deal for Ryan Haggerty. He’ll come in and back up Henrik Lundqvist. As long as he performs well, nobody will care.

At least Raanta won’t get the start on Opening Night when the Blueshirts visit the Blackhawks when they raise their Cup banner.

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Remembering Al Arbour

Al Arbour passed away at the age of 82 on Friday. He led the Islanders to four straight Stanley Cups and a sports record 19 consecutive playoff series wins.  usatoday30.com  Getty Images

Al Arbour passed away at the age of 82 on Friday. He led the Islanders to four straight Stanley Cups and a sports record 19 consecutive playoff series wins.
Getty Images

Al Arbour passed away on Friday. The great Islanders coach who guided them to four consecutive Stanley Cups between 1980 to 1983 was 82. A former NHL defenseman who spent over a decade with Detroit, Chicago, Toronto and St. Louis, he began his coaching career with the Blues in his final season as a player. After winning 42 games between ’70-71 through ’72-73, he took over the Islanders bench in their second season.

Arbour would go on to become the second all-time winningest coach in NHL history. His 782 wins trail only Scotty Bowman (1244). His success came in Long Island where he went 740-537-223 in 1500 games as Islanders coach. That included a return behind the bench for his 1500th game next to Ted Nolan for win number 740 at the age of 75 on November 3, 2007.

From ’74-75 thru ’85-86, the Islanders never missed the playoffs. With architect Bill Torrey building a dynasty around Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy, Denis Potvin, Billy SmithKen Morrow, Clark Gillies, Bob Nystrom, Butch Goring, Brent Sutter and Bob Bourne, the Islanders became one of the greatest teams in sports history winning a record 19 consecutive playoff series. It all came under Arbour who also guided them to a epic comeback from 3-0 down to stun the Penguins in 1975. They nearly turned the trick against the eventual Cup champion Flyers rallying from a identical deficit before losing Game 7.

Despite some great teams, the Islanders didn’t have success right away suffering upsets to the Maple Leafs in ’78 and the hated Rangers in ’79. After falling to their crosstown rivals, the Islanders found the missing piece with Torrey adding Goring in a trade that allowed them to jell. They won their first Cup in 1980 on Nystrom’s overtime goal beating the Flyers in six. They won it again over the North Stars and defeated the Canucks the following year. Their last championship came against the young talented Oilers. They taught them a lesson sweeping for a fourth straight Cup. Interestingly, Wayne Gretzky and Mark Messier admitted that seeing the Islanders in their locker room exhausted is what inspired them to lead Edmonton to greatness. They dethroned the Islanders in 1984.

After Arbour retired following ’85-86 to move upstairs, he returned behind the bench replacing Terry Simpson in ’88-89. With a new cast of characters, Arbour led the Islanders to a Eastern Conference Semifinal seven-game upset of the two-time defending champion Pens in 1993. Their run to the Conference Finals featured Pierre Turgeon, Ray Ferraro, Steve Thomas, Benoit Hogue, Patrick FlatleyGlenn Healy, Darius Kasparaitis, Vladimir Malakhov, Uwe Krupp and overtime hero David Volek. Volek scored the OT winner to stun the Pens in Game 7 allowing the Islanders to advance and face the Canadiens. They lost in five to the eventual Cup champs.

The final playoff series Arbour ever coached came against the Rangers the following year. They were no match for the heavily favorite Rangers who swept them in a one-sided first round. Following the ouster, he retired a second time. He finished his Islanders career with a 114-76 playoff record leading the Islanders to four Cups, five Finals and 15 postseasons. A remarkable career for a former player who also won Cups with the Red Wings (’54), Blackhawks (’61) and Maple Leafs (’62, ’64) He is one of only 10 players to win a Cup with three different teams.

Arbour also was the final NHL player to wear eye glasses during competition. He was also the first ever Blues captain in franchise history. In what will be the Islanders’ first season in Brooklyn at Barclays Center, a new era begins. They’ll dedicate it to the greatest coach in franchise history.

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Zuccarello medically cleared for training camp

Mats Zuccarello gets congrats at the bench following his goal in the first period. AP Photo by Frank Franklin II/Getty Images

Mats Zuccarello has been medically cleared by team doctors for training camp.
AP Photo by Frank Franklin II/Getty Images

A month before training camp, Mats Zuccarello has been medically cleared. In a story written by Dan Rosen that appeared on NHL.com, Rangers coach Alain Vigneault revealed the good news.

“I’ve heard he’s 100 percent from our medical staff,” Vigneault told Rosen during a phone interview. “He’s been cleared to skate and have contact. He’s made a full recovery so we’re very pleased about that. He’s a big part of our team.”

Zuccarello sustained a brain contusion after taking a Ryan McDonagh slap shot to the helmet in the first period of Game 5 in the first round against the Penguins. Due to the severity of the injury, he needed the aid of a speech therapist to be able to speak again. He suffered bleeding to the brain and had a hairline fracture. Pretty scary stuff.

Quite honestly, it’s a miracle Zuccarello will be able to return. The Rangers re-signed him before the trade deadline to a four-year $18 million extension. The diminutive Norwegian is a key forward who Vigneault can count on. His combination of speed, skill and grit were missed the rest of the postseason. A very heady player, the 27-year old fan favorite is a strong forechecker who brings a lunch pail work ethic which New Yorkers identify with. Not unlike former Blueshirt Ryan Callahan, “Zucc” brings it every shift and isn’t afraid to mix it up.

His creativity has made him a perfect complement for Derick Brassard and Rick Nash. An unselfish player, Zuccarello sees the whole ice and comes back hard defensively. He’s one of the most likable players in the league. Easy to root for, the 5-7 179-pound right wing is all heart. Hopefully, he’ll still be the same player.

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Lundqvist not in The Hockey News top 20

King Henrik: Henrik Lundqvist responded in a big way making 38 saves to lead the Rangers to a 5-1 Game 4 victory evening the Eastern Conference Final against the Lightning.  AP Photo by Phelan M. Ebenhack/Getty Images

Henrik Lundqvist didn’t make The Hockey News top 20 getting beaten out by Pekka Rinne.
AP Photo by Phelan M. Ebenhack/Getty Images

The Hockey News recently came out with their top 50 list. Curiously, Henrik Lundqvist didn’t make the top 20. Here is a screen shot.

A screen shot of THN’s top 20 which omitted Henrik Lundqvist.

Two goalies made the cut. Carey Price is ranked number one after his dominant ’14-15 season in which he swept the Hart and Vezina. He beat out Jonathan Toews, who moved up to number two ahead of Alex Ovechkin and Sidney Crosby. A second Blackhawk is fifth with Conn Smythe winner Duncan Keith rounding it out. Islanders star center John Tavares is sixth. Here’s the rest:

7.Erik Karlsson

8.Drew Doughty

9.Steven Stamkos

10.Victor Hedman

11.Patrick Kane

12.Jamie Benn

13.Anze Kopitar

14.Ryan Getzlaf

15.Pekka Rinne

16.Tyler Seguin

17.Shea Weber

18.Claude Giroux

19.Corey Perry

20.Patrice Bergeron

These lists are always subjective. It’s hard to believe they stuck Pekka Rinne at 15 over Lundqvist. Granted, Rinne had a bounce back year after coming back from injury. Nothing against the Nashville goaltender. He’s superb. I just don’t buy putting him ahead of Lundqvist whose credentials include a Vezina along with carrying the Rangers to the 2014 Stanley Cup Final. Since entering the league, he’s won 30-or-more in nine of 10 seasons.

Interestingly, Lundqvist has never reached 40 wins in a single season. Rinne has done it twice including the past season recording 41 victories with the Predators. There’s no doubt he’s a terrific goalie and one of the best puck stoppers. Very athletic, he’s fun to watch. Rinne boasts two of the best defensemen in front of him in Shea Weber and Roman Josi. Offensively, the Preds scored 20 fewer goals than the Rangers. They didn’t have a 30 goalscorer with rookie Filip Forsberg pacing them with 26. He should reach 30 and become a star. James Neal disappointed with 23 markers in a inconsistent season after coming over from the Pens. Craig Smith and Colin Wilson both cracked 20.

Rick Nash led the Blueshirts with 42 goals. Double the total of Chris Kreider and now retired Martin St. Louis. The Rangers boast one elite defenseman in captain Ryan McDonagh who has been skating after recovering from a broken foot. It’ll be interesting to see where McDonagh ranks in THN’s list when it’s finally released. With the retirement of St. Louis and the trade of Carl Hagelin (17 goals), they’ll look to Kreider, Kevin Hayes and J.T. Miller to fill the void.

Speaking of Lundqvist, he wasn’t the only omission from the top 20. Pens star center Evgeni Malkin didn’t make the cut either. I don’t have any issue with it due to Malkin’s inconsistency. Partially due to injuries, he missed 13 games but totaled 70 points (28-42-70). A tremendous talent, the lanky 29-year old Russian is a former Hart winner who has topped 100 points three times. He also won the Conn Smythe in 2009. Injuries have cost him a lot of time. No one knows how healthy he was during the Pens’ first round loss to the Rangers. Malkin didn’t record a point in five games. That probably was the underlying factor in him dropping in THN’s list.  Honestly, if he comes back with a big season Malkin will silence critics.

Lundqvist ranked just outside the top 20. I don’t think he cares. One thing about King Henrik. He’s unflappable. It’ll be business as usual when camp hits in mid-September. With less than a month to go, let the countdown begin!

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