The Metropolitan Division has belonged to the Washington Capitals each of the last two seasons but has also been a very tough and competitive division as well. There have been four 100-point teams in this division the last two seasons while the Atlantic Division has seen only one team reach the 100-point plateau in each of the last two seasons. That said, Washington will see some very stiff competition this season and I would be surprised to see any team win this division by or equal to the seven-point margin the Capitals won it by last season. With this in mind, let’s take a look at the current odds and some predictions when it comes to the Metropolitan Division.
Pittsburgh Penguins: +190
Washington Capitals: +250
New York Rangers: +350
Columbus Blue Jackets: +600
New York Islanders: +1200
Philadelphia Flyers: +1200
Carolina Hurricanes: +1400
New Jersey Devils: +2500
Division Winner: Pittsburgh Penguins (+190)
After winning the cup in back-to-back seasons, I don’t see any regression for the Pittsburgh Penguins. Mike Sullivan’s group has been able to deal with various injuries, coaching changes and deep playoff runs to remain an elite group and I believe they overtake the Capitals for the Metropolitan Division crown this season. The Pittsburgh offense that led the league by a wide margin with 3.39 goals per game last season remains largely in tact as they boast the strongest top two lines in the game. Having a second line of Evgeni Malkin, Patric Hornqvist and Phil Kessel and a power play unit that includes these three along with Sidney Crosby simply ensures you of offensive success over the course of the season. The Penguins power play from last season ended in a tie for third at 23.1% with the Capitals while their shots per game of 33.5 led the league. While the fire power up front is of course lethal, I believe the largest reason for why the Penguins will take this division this season is due to what is happening behind this group. With the Marc-Andre Fleury saga finally coming to a close via the expansion draft, this is now Matt Murray’s crease in Pittsburgh. This is the same Matt Murray that posted a 2.41 GAA and a .923 save percentage as a rookie in the regular season, but followed that up with a 1.70 GAA and a .937 save percentage in the postseason en route to winning the Stanley Cup in his first full season in the NHL. Murray’s demeanor is quiet, but his game is big. He’s only 23 years old, and this league can be cruel to young players at times, but I truly believe the Penguins have a guy who can quickly turn into a top five goalie in short order. Murray posted a 1.58 GAA and a .941 save percentage as a 20-year-old for the AHL’s Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins in the ’14/’15 season, his first as a pro. This kid is ready to take the reigns and the Penguins are more than ready to hand them over. With an offense capable of leading the league in scoring again this season and a goalie that has proved more than capable of elite NHL production, the Penguins are a very good bet to continuing wreaking havoc, this time in the form of a Metropolitan Division crown.
Value Pick: Columbus Blue Jackets (+600)
Last year was no fluke, the Blue Jackets are for real. The Blue Jackets stunned their way to 108 points last season, a campaign that included a 16-game winning streak that fell just one victory short of the NHL record. It’s safe to say that the Blue Jackets won’t be catching anyone off guard this time around, however you will be hard pressed to find a more balanced team, from offense to defense to goaltending, across the entire NHL. Columbus ranked sixth in the NHL by scoring 3.01 goals per game last season while they ranked second by allowing only 2.35 goals per game. Goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky led all goalies in GAA (2.06), save percentage (.931), ranked second with 41 wins and ranked third with seven shutouts en route to his second Vezina Trophy. The Blue Jackets’ blueline is led by youngster Seth Jones who appears set for a big season as a number one NHL defenseman, but he is complemented by last season’s Calder Trophy candidate Zach Werenski, who together form a young and excellent duo that the Blue Jackets will rely on heavily. The biggest change of the offseason came up front when Columbus shipped Brandon Saad to Chicago in exchange for Artemi Panarin who recorded 151 points in 162 games across two seasons with the Blackhawks. While it’s said Panarin’s success had a lot to do with playing on a line with Patrick Kane, Panarin finds himself on a rather talented top line in Columbus alongside breakout star Cam Atkinson and fellow youngster (and playmaker) Alex Wennberg. Wennberg is a pass-first center that helped Atkinson explode to a career high 35 goals last season, and he will do a lot of assisting this season in between these two talents. With Brandon Dubinsky and Nick Foligno lining up down the middle behind Wennberg, Columbus has a solid group of forwards and nice depth throughout. It’s going to a fun season again in Columbus and perhaps one that will lead to a Metropolitan Division title.
*Bonus Value Pick: New York Islanders (+1200)
Don’t sleep on the Islanders. After a horrible start last season, the Islanders fell just short of a playoff spot and have finally added a winger in Jordan Eberle to play alongside superstar John Tavares. The biggest question here is goaltending and whether one of Thomas Greiss or Jaroslav Halak can take and keep the number one spot while providing the Islanders with consistent goaltending. I don’t expect the Islanders to win the division, but if you want to go with a long shot who should show even more improvement this season, this is the team.
Avoid: New York Rangers (+350)
I expect the Rangers to be a playoff team this season, but I also expect them to be in a fight for a Wild Card spot. The Rangers were a popular pick to regress last season, and they did to some extent as they finished in the first Wild Card spot, but still posted an impressive 102 points. The problem is 102 points is not going to win this division, and furthermore I don’t expect this Rangers team to come too close to the 100-point plateau. While Henrik Lundqvist proved his doubters wrong in the playoffs with a stellar round one upset over the Canadiens, there is no denying the fact he is a year older and will be 36 when the playoff races are in full force. While Lundqvist is a concern, the largest reason why I believe the Rangers regress this season is their depth at the center ice position. While I believe Mika Zibanejad is probably ready to take on a first line center role, the depth behind him is scary. Kevin Hayes is a nice young player and could hover around the 50-point range again this season, but he’s certainly not a game breaker. Besides, after Hayes it appears 2017 first round pick Filip Chytil is going to be entrusted with a roster spot while David Desharnais appears to have won a spot as well. Most playoff teams have significant depth down the middle, but I just don’t see it with the Rangers. On the wings, Chris Kreider and Mats Zuccarello will have fine seasons, but after that it’s questionable. Rick Nash has tallied just 74 points over his last two seasons combined and saw just 16:28 of average ice time last season, the lowest number of his NHL career. The Rangers will be heavily relying on Pavel Buchnevich to become a first or second line scorer while Jimmy Vesey will have to step up big time for this team to contend for a division. The Rangers defensive corps will be solid with Ryan McDonagh and Kevin Shattenkirk leading the way on the top pairing and their top six is a good core group. This defensive group is what will keep the Rangers in the playoff picture, but up front they are thin and goaltending will be a question mark all season, especially if Lundqvist comes out of the gates shaky. The lights of Broadway may be bright, but I can’t say the same about the future of the Rangers, so put your money elsewhere when it comes to the Metropolitan Division.