The NHL’s Metropolitan Division has played home to the past three Stanley Cup championships. Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins were crowned as back-to-back Cup winners in 2016 and 2017, while Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals broke their curse after hoisting Lord Stanley last season.
Since the league’s divisional realignment back in 2013-14, the Metropolitan Division has been stronger than that of the Atlantic in the Eastern Conference. The Met has become accustomed to sending at least four or five teams per year to the Stanley Cup Playoffs since that time.
HOHM predicts the NHL’s Metropolitan Division standings for 2019, and expects that four teams will clinch a berth in the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs.
8.) Carolina Hurricanes
Expect the Carolina Hurricanes to take a step back in 2019, but for the better this time around.
Carolina hasn’t clinched a playoff berth since the Hurricanes advanced to the 2009 Eastern Conference Final. Yes, it’s been that long. While the future appears promising in Raleigh for the ‘Canes, there was too much turnover in talent this past offseason for the team to compete as a playoff contender with a stacked Metropolitan Division.
Newly appointed head coach, Rod Brind’Amour should do wonders for the up and coming talent with Carolina, but the organization will experience some major growing pains this season. Losing Noah Hanafin, Elias Lindholm and Jeff Skinner will take a huge toll on the team’s performance level on a nightly basis.
Those three skaters alone combined for 125 points last season.
Expect an advanced role in 2019 for youngsters, Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen, but after those two skaters, there’s not much to look forward to at the immediate time. Carolina should try to move on from defenseman Justin Faulk, too.
Goaltenders Scott Darling and Petr Mrazek are still unproven and have been consistently inconsistent between the pipes over the past two seasons.
Rebuild, and do it the right way. If Carolina does that in 2019 then perhaps we’ll be having a different conversation about the team in 2020.
7.) New York Islanders
While this hockey enthusiast believes that the New York Islanders will struggle early on to start the season, the team should show signs of drastic improvements in all areas on the ice come February.
The reality is that it’s an adjustment period for the Islanders…a major one. The growing pains will take place early on, but head coach Barry Trotz will rally his troops and the team will have a commendable finish to the 2019 campaign.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) January 13, 2018
Yes, the team will still finish in seventh for the Metropolitan Division, but New York will have plenty of entertaining games plus exciting finishes. A bold prediction is that the Islanders will play in the most overtime contest for the Eastern Conference next season.
The expectations aren’t high, but ‘change’ and dedication to improving and for the long haul is expected whether the Isles are at the Barlcays Center in Brooklyn, or back at the ol’ Barn on Long Island.
In division games are going be key for the Isles in 2019, and a good test for the future of the franchise.
2018 Calder Trophy winner Matthew Barzal will embrace his new role as the go-to leader for the Islanders, while forwards Josh Bailey and Jordan Eberle will chip in offensively to try and make up for the absence of John Tavares.
Hopefully, youngsters such as Kieffer Bellows and Josh Ho-Sang can crack the lineup come opening night, too. The Isles could witness lightning in a bottle with both of those players if they fit in nicely with Trotz and company.
The goaltending situation will improve, regardless of Robin Lehner’s number with the Buffalo Sabres over the past three seasons.
The Islanders can only go up from here on out.
6.) New York Rangers
Last season, for the first time since 2009-10 the New York Rangers failed to qualify for the Stanley Cup Playoffs. In fact, it was the team’s worst season since 2003-04.
However, there are positive characteristics too look forward to at Madison Square Garden, as the Rangers are ahead in a rebuilding phase than a team such as the New York Islanders. Plus, the Broadway Blueshirts still have one of the more dominant masked men in the NHL with the likes of Henrik Lundqvist.
Henrik Lundqvist bails out his defence with this dandy save on Sidney Crosby: pic.twitter.com/7z3xDZ9bjn
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) October 17, 2017
Sure, Lundqvist had a career low season in 2018, but a revamped Rangers’ squad will contribute towards a better statistical season for the New York’s King come 2019.
Though, the Swedish, native between the pipes will be relied upon heavy throughout the course of 2019 campaign.
While the Rangers won’t clinch a berth in the playoffs back-to-back seasons for the first time since 2003-2004, New York’s performance on the ice will be less frustrating for the Garden Faithful to watch than lasts season.
Youngsters such as Pavel Buchnevich, Mika Zibanejad, Jimmy Vesey, Vladislov Namestnikov and Brady Skeji will headline the Rangers next season, and the team may end up parting ways with Mats Zuccarello to acquire more youthful assets for the team’s future sake.
It will be a tight face for fifth place between the Rangers and their heated rivals across the Hudson River.
5.) New Jersey Devils
That’s right – the New Jersey Devils will finish in fifth place for the Metropolitan Division for the second-straight season. However, 2019 may not entail a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the Garden State.
Yes, New Jersey’s youngsters on the rise are going to receive more exposure and mature as the 2018-19 season progresses, but a repeat performance from last season just doesn’t seem feasible with how competitive the Eastern Conference is.
There a few big question-marks right from puck drop with Jersey.
Taylor Hall extends the point streak to 2️⃣6️⃣ games with an assist on Travis Zajac's goal! ? pic.twitter.com/I26lrq1ltq
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) March 7, 2018
Are either goaltenders in Keith Kinkaid and Cory Schneider capable of taking over the reigns are leading the Devils back to the playoffs; is the defense core weaker (depth wise) in comparison to a majority of teams in the division; what other offensive skaters will consistently produce on the score sheet aside from Taylor Hall and Nico Hischier?
Last season was a fantastic stepping stone for a rebuilding New Jersey Devils squad, but the reality is that Jersey’s team is still experiencing a rebuild while teams such as the Columbus Blue Jackets, Philadelphia Flyers, Washington Capitals and Pittsburgh Penguins are in a “win now” mode.
One aspect to keep a close eye on for the Devils next season will be the team’s record against divisional opponents. Picking up points in the standings against the likes of Pittsburgh and Washington is something that New Jersey needs to build off of from last season; especially considering that the Devils went 3-0-1 against the Penguins last season, but were 1-3-0 vs. Washington.
There’s no doubting that the Devils will again be exciting to watch in 2019, but the chances are that the Devils will be playing the role of “spoiler” come April.
4.) Columbus Blue Jackets
After clinching back-to-back berths in the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time in franchise history, the Columbus Blue Jackets have finally taken that next step towards becoming a legitimate Stanley Cup contender.
However, the Blue Jackets have also experienced a negative distraction with the potential trade talks involving Artemi Panarin after the team’s leading goal-scorer from last season has refused to sign a long-term contract extension with Columbus.
— Sportsnet (@Sportsnet) November 18, 2017
Yes, the Blue Jackets displayed minor roster improvements when they inked center Riley Nash and Anthony Duclair to short-term contracts, but will those skaters offer enough for the team to drastically improve on offense?
Two-time Vezina Trophy winner in Sergei Bobrovsky is entering a contract year, and the 29-year-old is fresh off of a disappointing showing in the postseason after the Jackets were eliminated from the first round of the playoffs for the second-straight year.
Columbus’ defensive-unit is what will turn heads this season and guide the team back in to the Stanley Cup Playoff race. Youngsters Zach Werenski and Seth Jones are a year wiser, and the departure of Jack Johnson will have a positive effect on the growth for both of Columbus’ blue liners.
Columbus is a Wild Card team at best, unless of course the Jackets find a way to acquire more depth on offense as the season progresses.
3.) Philadelphia Flyers
Don’t let a third-place finish for the 2019 Metropolitan Division standings fool you. The Philadelphia Flyers are going to be a force to be reckoned with next season, and the City of Brotherly Love can expect a deep run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs from its beloved Flyers, too.
Yes, goaltending has always been the major issue entering each season for Philadelphia, but Michal Neuvirth and Brian Elliott will find a way to not only coexist, but feed off of each other’s success to get the Flyers back into the playoffs.
A memorable first playoff goal for Travis Konecny.
— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) April 14, 2018
While the Flyers finished last season with an average power play (ranked 15th, 20.7 percent), Philadelphia upgraded that department after it reacquired forward James van Riemsdyk via unrestricted free agency.
van Riemsdyk, 29, netted 11 power-play goals last season, which would have tied Wayne Simmonds (11) for the team lead. van Riemsdyk and Simonds joined by the likes of Claude Giroux, Sean Couturier and defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere should make for a top five power-play unit in the NHL.
The Flyers needed size and scoring depth at the winger position and acquired exactly that with their former No. 2 overall selection from the 2007 NHL Entry Draft.
Let’s not forget about youngsters such as Nolan Patrick, Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov, either. All three of those skaters will not only take significant strides forward, but also have a positive impact in all areas on the ice next season.
It’s an exciting time to be a Flyers fan, and the wait of rebuilding under general manager Ron Hextall’s guidance was worth it – all of it. A right mix of youthful assets plus veteran leaders that still have prime years left to offer is the right formula for the Flyers to at least finish in the top three spots for the division in 2019.
2.) Washington Capitals
While the Washington Capitals won’t repeat as Metropolitan Division champions in 2019, that doesn’t mean the Caps will experience a Stanley Cup championship hangover.
Washington is set to make another run at Lord Stanley, and the Caps will be just as exciting to watch next season as they were in 2018 and their run to the Stanley Cup Final. The only significant roster subtraction that Washington experienced during the offseason was losing depth forward, Jay Beagle.
This goal by Kuznetsov was truly magical ??♂️ pic.twitter.com/u6IAmA7fll
— NBC Sports Capitals (@NBCSCapitals) October 29, 2017
Well, then there is the loss of the team’s first ever Stanley Cup winning head coach, Barry Trotz. The longtime Predators coach’s absence will be missed moving forward in the Nation’s Capital, and there’s plenty of pressure on newly appointed head coach Todd Reirden to exceed expectations entering 2019.
Don’t be surprised if the Caps struggle to collect wins during the first month of the season, but those struggles won’t last long.
Yes, a majority of the Stanley Cup roster returns, but Braden Holtby is still a potential Vezina Trophy candidate for years to come and with him between the pipes after last year’s postseason performance – the 29-year-old may just act as the team’s most valuable player in 2019.
Let’s not forget about the rise of Evgeny Kutznetsov, who gave Alex Ovechkin a run for his money at the 2018 Conn Smythe Trophy last spring. The sky is the limit here on out for Kuznetsov.
Speaking of Ovechkin, finally winning a Stanley Cup is only going to fuel the Great 8 to take his game to a whole another level. The seven-time Maurice Richard Trophy winner may just ink another 50-goal season onto his uncanny hockey resume after season’s end.
Watch out, Pittsburgh.
1.) Pittsburgh Penguins
There’s no doubting that witnessing Alex Ovechkin and the Washington Capitals win their first-ever Stanley Cup title, after eliminating the Pittsburgh Penguins from the Stanley Cup Playoffs in the process, will forever sting Sidney Crosby until he and the Pens win a fourth Cup.
There’s no other substitute for the Steel City to have the last laugh.
For the first time in over two seasons, the Penguins are finally fresh for an October puck drop. Pittsburgh had plenty of time to rest and reevaluate what’s necessary to improve on for the 2019 campaign, and the Pens are going to be a legitimate threat from day one.
The unthinkable has been achieved… Yet again.
We are running out of words to describe the out-of-control, insane, miraculous goals that Sidney Crosby has been scoring. pic.twitter.com/0CCOWFh4pv
— Pittsburgh Penguins (@penguins) April 12, 2018
While the Penguins finished fifth in the Eastern Conference standings last season, a more experienced goaltending tandem/trio with the likes of Matt Murray, Casey DeSmith and Tristan Jarry should stand out in a positive sense and help carry Pittsburgh back into a top three spot in the standings.
General manager Jimmy Rutherford came through with a clutch and underrated signing after he inked defenseman Jack Johnson to a contract this past offseason. Johnson, 31, will thrive and embrace a new scenery and one that’s an established championship culture such as Pittsburgh.
The former third-overall selection (2005) will fit right in and drastically improve a defense-core that was missing veteran depth last season. Johnson is dynamic and will complement, plus take pressure off of, Kris Letang.
NHL fans alike can expect forwards other than Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel to produce on a nightly basis, too.
With the departure of Conor Sheary and Ian Cole, skaters such as Jake Guentzel, Bryan Rust and Brian Dumoulin should all play bigger and more productive roles for the Pens in 2019. Room for growth is always a positive when you have skater such as Crobsy, Malkin and Letang on your side of the ice.