Believe it or not, we’re less than two weeks away from the start of a new season. A time for new beginnings. That’s especially true in the Metro Division, where as many as six of the eight teams should be competitive.
Not to discount the rebuilding Rangers under first-year man David Quinn. But it would be a shock if they topped 80 points and are in the playoff hunt. If both Lias Andersson and Filip Chytil play, they’ll be fun to watch along with Pavel Buchnevich. Who stays? Kevin Hayes or Mika Zibanejad.
I also have similar doubts over the Hurricanes, who might have the worst goaltending in the league. They may have added Dougie Hamilton to aid the blueline, but are very young up front. It should be a joy to watch Russian Andrei Svechnikov, who should make fans in Raleigh forget Jeff Skinner.
The Islanders are no longer where John Tavares plays. He took his Maple Leafs pajamas and went home to Toronto. It’s now a tighter ship run under the watch of ageless wonder Lou Lamoriello and Stanley Cup winning coach Barry Trotz. Can Mathew Barzal carry the team under a more structured system? What are the plans for Anders Lee? Is Robin Lehner a comeback story? A lot to answer.
The defending champion Capitals will finally have a target on their back. How will Conn Smythe winner Alexander Ovechkin and company deal with the pressure of a repeat? Evgeny Kuznetsov could make a run at the Hart.
Are the Sidney Crosby/Evgeni Malkin Penguins the Caps’ chief competition, or are one of the Blue Jackets or Flyers ready to step up? There might finally be a change on the horizon.
What about the MVP Taylor Hart Hall and the Devils, who hardly did anything to improve off the first postseason appearance in six years? Miles Wood is unsigned. Cory Schneider might not be fully recovered to start the season. That means more of Keith Kinkaid. How much will Nico Hischier improve in Year Two? Are the Devs in or out next Spring?
As we draw nearer, it’s time to have a little fun with preseason division rankings.
RANKING THE METRO
Team To Beat: Washington Capitals
Dark Horse: Philadelphia Flyers
Team With Most Pressure: Columbus Blue Jackets
Best Player: Sidney Crosby PIT
Best Finisher: Alexander Ovechkin WSH
Sweetest Finisher: Phil Kessel PIT
Sickest One-Timer: Alexander Ovechkin WSH
Highest Scorer: Evgeny Kuznetsov WSH, edging Claude Giroux and Geno Malkin
Top Defenseman: Seth Jones CBJ, edging Ivan Provorov and John Carlson
Top Goalie: Sergei Bobrovsky CBJ
Calder Contender: Andrei Svechnikov CAR
Best Passer: Nicklas Backstrom WSH, edging Kuznetsov and Josh Bailey
Best Playmaker: Jakub Voracek PHI
Best Hands: Sidney Crosby PIT
Most Exciting: Artemi Panarin CBJ, edging Mathew Barzal
Great Skater: Artemi Panarin CBJ, edging Kuznetsov and Zach Werenski
Most Valuable Forward: Taylor Hall NJD
Most Valuable Defenseman: Kris Letang PIT
Most Valuable Player To A Team: Sergei Bobrovsky CBJ
Top Defensive Forward: Sean Couturier PHI, edging Backstrom
Player Who Could Be Moved: Artemi Panarin CBJ
Breakout Player: Nolan Patrick PHI, edging Pavel Buchnevich
Underrated: Kyle Palmieri NJD
Overrated: Dougie Hamilton CAR, edging Mika Zibanejad
Player With Most Pressure: Sergei Bobrovsky CBJ
Player With Something To Prove: Chris Kreider NYR
ALL METRO TEAM
G Sergei Bobrovsky CBJ
C Evgeny Kuznetsov WSH
LW Alexander Ovechkin WSH
RW Phil Kessel PIT
D Ivan Provorov PHI
D Seth Jones CBJ
G Carter Hart PHI
C Filip Chytil NYR
C Lias Andersson NYR
C Martin Necas CAR
LW Kieffer Bellows NYI
RW Andrei Svechnikov CAR
D Ty Smith NJD ‘if’ they keep him