With the season upon us, it's time to see how the Devils stack up with the rest of the Metropolitan Division. With plenty of talent across the board, the Metro division should be one of the most competitive in the league.
1. Pittsburgh Penguins – Goaltending/Defensive issues aside, this team is still the class of the division. The only way they won’t finish first is if Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin both miss a considerable amount of time. As long as Marc-Andre Fleury doesn’t melt down, they’ll be just fine.
2. Washington Capitals – The Caps struggled early on in 2013, but once they figured out Adam Oates’s system, they played excellent hockey down the stretch. Their X-factor is Braden Holtby. If he can take another step towards being a top-flight goalie, they’ll be fine. If not, they could easily slip.
3. New York Rangers – This team may struggle out of the gate with a new coach, but they’ll rebound in time to make a push for the top. With a better offensive system, look for Rick Nash and Derek Stepan to have an excellent season together. Things may get interesting if the team isn’t able to lock up Henrik Lundqvist during the season.
4. New Jersey Devils – Picking the Devils to finish fourth almost seems sacrilegious, considering where they’re being picked everywhere else. They lack a big-time scorer, but they’re a much deeper team than they were last season. Cory Schneider will emerge as a top-ten caliber goalie.
5. New York Islanders – They took a huge step forward by making the playoffs last season, but over the course of an 82-game span, their goaltending and defensive deficiencies will show. That being said, they’ll score a lot of goals and be a fun team to watch. It wouldn’t be the least bit surprising if they finished in the top-four or even snuck in as the wildcard in the Atlantic Division.
6. Philadelphia Flyers – I’m still searching for the answer as to how this team got that much better from last season. They replaced Danny Briere with Vincent Lecavalier, which is a minor upgrade. In net, they didn't improve much. Though Ilya Bryzgalov was wildly inconsistent, he actually had some good moments. Ray Emery and Steve Mason are not going to cut it.
7. Columbus Blue Jackets – The Jackets made a great run at the playoffs in 2013, but they’re still a year away. They can grind you and as long as Sergei Bobrovsky can put up somewhat similar numbers to the ones he posted last year, they’ll be competitive.
8. Carolina Hurricanes – If the Canes are able to get some consistent goalie play, they might finish a lot higher than the bottom. Cam Ward is coming off of a major injury, so it’s not out of the question to see a lot of Anton Khudobin. They won with the Alexander Semin gamble last season; can they win again with Mike Komisarek?
1. Pittsburgh Penguins – Even with the losses of guys like Iginla, Morrow and Cooke, the Penguins have plenty of youth ready to contribute on the third and fourth lines. Bringing back Rob Scuderi should provide a huge left to their D? Winning the division won’t be the issue…will Marc-Andre Fleury show up for the postseason?
2. New York Islanders – Bouchard and Clutterbuck will add a bit more grit to this young squad. Their young forwards will only get better. Nabokov is a known commodity in goal but the bottom two pairings for the Isles defense leaves a lot to be desired. If they want to go further than last year, they’ll need to pick up a blueliner at the deadline.
3. New York Rangers – Alain Vigneault’s system will certainly open things up offensively. How will the defensive side of things go? Well, they’ll have the same six back on defense so expect them to be just as sturdy as they were on John Tortorella. Their forwards are mostly the same as well. Expect the Rangers to have a better season, solely because Brad Richards cannot be worse than he was last year.
4. Washington Capitals – The pickup of Mikhail Grabovski is going to make Caps fans quickly forget about Mike Ribeiro’s production. Their roster mostly stayed intact and it appears their young goaltender is on the upward trend. Braden Holtby showed flashes of being a top-notch goaltender. One can only think he’ll take another step towards reaching that potential this year.
5. Philadelphia Flyers – Adding Mark Streit will immediately strengthen a weak Philly backline. If Vincent Lecavalier can find the fountain of youth, the veteran absence Danny Briere won’t be felt as much. As always for them…it comes down to goaltending. Can Ray Emery come close to reproducing his magical start with the Blackhawks last season? If so, they’re in good shape.
6. New Jersey Devils – Given the hand GM Lou Lamoriello was dealt, he did a very solid job patching up the top few lines. Ryane Clowe, Michael Ryder and Jaromir Jagr won’t singularly be able to replace the productivity of Ilya Kovalchuk but that trio should make them a deeper squad. Can Cory Schneider push Martin Brodeur to play at a high level?
7. Columbus Blue Jackets – The Blue Jackets showed they are on the rise last year, but that was in a wide open West. Welcome to the East. Adding Nathan Horton will help, but he can’t carry a team. They just don’t appear to have the depth right now at either end of the ice, and it’s highly likely that goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky can’t repeat his 2013.
8. Carolina Hurricanes – Their defense has a ton of question marks and their bottom two lines don’t appear reliable at this point. Cam Ward will have to be much better than last year’s 2.84 GAA.
There's no doubt that the first year of the new four-division format will make for some exciting playoff races. It wouldn't be surprising at all if spots two through seven are separated by something like six to eight points. This division will be close and every game will be important.