Throughout this week, while the rest of the NHL gets into game action and the Capitals impatiently await Saturday’s season opener against the New Jersey Devils, we’ll take a look at how we think the Eastern and Western Conference standings will shake out and which team will sip from the Stanley Cup next June.
Today, we’ll predict how the Metropolitan Division will shake out:
1. Washington Capitals. With T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams fortifying an explosive top-six forward group and Braden Holtby an emerging star between the pipes, the Caps look like a team with all the pieces to contend for the Stanley Cup. The only question is a young third defense pairing of Dmitry Orlov and Nate Schmidt.
2. Pittsburgh Penguins. The hype around Phil Kessel being united with Sidney Crosby is justified, but the most important additions to the Penguins will be the return to health of defensemen Kris Letang and Olli Maatta.
3. New York Rangers. With the retirement of Marty St. Louis, look for forwards Chris Kreider and Kevin Hayesto have increased roles and a bigger impact. Henrik Lundqvist is still among the NHL’s elite, but at 34 he could take a minor step back.
4. Columbus Blue Jackets. With the addition of Brandon Saad and a much healthier lineup that includes breakout star forwards Ryan Johansen and Nick Foligno, the Blue Jackets will be a very difficult team to play against and battle their way to a playoff berth.
5. New York Islanders. They have one of the most talented players in the NHL in captain John Tavares but aside from Johnny Boychuk and Nicky Leddy they are thin on the blue line. Like the Blue Jackets, the Isles are a tough out, but of the two teams, the Jackets are better.
6. Philadelphia Flyers. Former University of North Dakota head coach Dave Hakstol has no NHL experience and his adaptation to the pro game will determine whether he can take a top-heavy roster with Claude Giroux and Jake Voracek into the playoffs. Truth is, there’s not enough talent on the blue line to get there.
7. New Jersey Devils. The house-cleaning of the Devils front office was long overdue and Ray Shero should breathe some fresh air into the organization. But the rebuild will take some time and that could mean the Devils and Hurricanes are battling for the bottom spots in the Metro, and the East.
8. Carolina Hurricanes. With Eric Staal entering the final year of his contract and anticipating a trade, this could be a long season of losing for the Hurricanes, who have begun their rebuild by drafting defenseman Noah Hanifin with the fifth pick overall.
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