2015-16 Season Preview: Metropolitan Division

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Since it’s August, which is a dry month in the NHL hockey world other than NHL.com’s 30-in-30 coverage, I’m going to be doing an early preview of the 2015-16 season, which will be divided up into divisions, which means there will be four parts. For this fourth and final part, I will be covering the Metropolitan Division. Disclaimer: Here and there, I’ll be using advanced stats to try and justify my opinions, and since I’m new to this stuff I’m having various friends of mine help me. Therefore if I sound like a total idiot still, I’m sorry but bear with me on that. 

Previously, I’d covered the PacificCentral, and Atlantic Division in the first three parts in my 2015-16 NHL season preview. For the fourth and final part, here are my thoughts on the Metropolitan Division.

Carolina Hurricanes

The Hurricanes haven’t been back to the playoffs since they lost in the Eastern Conference Finals back in ’09. With their six-season postseason drought threatening to extend to seven, this team had to find a way to improve themselves.

Well, they did a little bit of that during the 2015 NHL Draft replacing Anton Khudobin with former Vancouver back-up Eddie Lack.

After Lack was traded to the Canes, it was obvious that it would either be Khudobin or Ward who would be on the move, and since Ward is still their undisputed starter in net, Khudobin was traded to the Ducks for James Wisniewski, who was underutilized by Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau.

Wisniewski had 8 goals and 29 points in 56 games back when he was with the Columbus Blue Jackets in the 2014-15 prior to being traded to Anaheim.

With the buyout of forward Alexander Semin, it’s clear that the coaches and front office are giving their players one last chance to turn things around, especially from guys like Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner.

Eric Staal, brother of Jordan Staal who’s also on the team and had a slight improvement compared to most of the team, scored 23 goals and amassed 54 points to lead the Canes. However, they were also his career lowest numbers since his rookie season in ’02-’03.

Skinner, a player known to be a goal scorer and reached the 30-goal mark twice, sank down to just 18 goals and 31 points last season, down from the 33 goals and 54 points he had in 2013-14.

On the positive side, aside from Jordan Staal’s improvements, young forward Elias Lindholm was one of very few who impressed and showed his worth, with 17 goals and 22 assists last season.

As for the defensive aspect of the game, adding to 2014 U.S. Olympian Justin Faulk and potential future NHL regular Haydn Fleury — the 2014 first round pick, the Canes drafted Noah Hanifin at no. 5 overall.

Head coach Bill Peters said this of the two prospects:

They’re not just big, stay-at-home defenders. How much offense they’re going to have at the NHL level, that’s going to have to play out over time. But they are guys who are going to get up in the rush, and their skating ability allows them to do that.

Overall, the 2014-15 season will be another huge test for this Carolina team, even more so offensively than defensively. So the question has always been and is still “does this team have enough offensively to carry this team back into the postseason?”, and another question– is this a playoff caliber team yet? My answer to both: I don’t think so.

 

New Jersey Devils

It wasn’t long ago that the Devils made the playoffs and advanced to the Stanley Cup Finals in 2012 against the Los Angeles Kings. They hadn’t made the playoffs the season prior to that, and have missed the postseason three times since.

Before we get to the offseason trades and signings, the Devils did have a bit of a front office makeover, as former GM Lou Lamoriello stepped down as GM of the franchise and hired former Penguins GM Ray Shero to take over, as noted talking about the Toronto Maple Leafs. Soon afterwards, Lamoriello decided to resign as President of the Devils as well.

Shero, the fourth GM in Devils’ history, served as the general manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins from 2006-14. The Penguins went to the Stanley Cup Finals for two consecutive seasons (2007-08 and 2008-09), winning the Cup in 2009.

Meanwhile, the Devils also hired John Hynes as their head coach. While Hynes has no coaching experience, he worked for Ray Shero when Shero was Pittsburgh Penguins GM. In 2010, Shero made Hynes coach of the Penguins AHL affiliate, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Hynes coached the AHL Penguins to a 231-126-10-17 record and qualified for the AHL playoffs in all five seasons.

Prior to his time as an AHL head coach, Hynes spent six seasons coaching the National Team Development Program with USA Hockey. Under him, they posted a 216-113-19-9 overall record. Hynes also led the U.S. U-18 national team to three medals at the World U-18 Championships, a gold in 2006, silver in 2004, and bronze in 2008. He was head coach of the U.S. national team at the 2008 World Junior championships, and was an assistant coach on the 2004 U.S. team that won gold at the World Juniors.

Hynes has also been an NCAA assistant coach at the University of Massachusetts Lowell in 2000-01 and with the University of Wisconsin in 2002-03.

In their only offseason trade, they acquired Kyle Palmieri from Anaheim.

Drafted by the Ducks in the 1st round of the 2009 Entry Draft, Palmieri scored 43 goals and tallied 46 assists in 198 games in Anaheim. He put up 12 points in 33 playoff games with the Ducks.

The Devils also bought out left-winger Dainius Zubrus’ contract, and signed defenseman John Moore from Arizona.

Zubrus, like many of the other Devils’, struggled last season offensively, with just 4 goals and 6 assists in 74 games.

I asked former Pucks and Pitchforks** writer David Berger about what he thought about the Devils’ outlook in terms of offense in the 2014-15 season. Here are some of his thoughts:

 

DevilsConversation1

 

 

A few of those young players he mentioned, of course, have spent time down with New Jersey’s AHL affiliate, the Albany Devils.

Stefan Matteau, for example — drafted in the 1st round in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, spent two years down in Albany with 2 goals and 2 assists in 24 goals.

Paul Thompson originally signed a two-year, entry-level deal in 2010-11 with the Pittsburgh Penguins and played with their AHL affiliate, and was traded to Columbus in the middle of the 2013-14 season, finishing the year with 4 goals and 3 assists with the Springfield Falcons. He then signed a two-way contract with the Albany Devils. Last season, he scored 33 goals and 55 points in 73 AHL games.

According to EliteProspects.com, he is an offensive winger with a nice shot, and likes to crash the net.

David also pointed out that the New Jersey Devils do need a top-6 winger, one who can really score and give the Devils the offensive punch that they desperately need. Could GM Ray Shero acquire one before the season begins in about two months? Maybe. We’ll just have to see.

For now, though, the Devils will have to look to their young corps to help improve the team offensively. That means giving guys like Damon Severson, Adam Larsson, and Eric Gelinas quality minutes on the man-advantage as well as at even strength, 5-on-5.

While they have a terrific young defensive corps, even with the addition of John Moore from Arizona, let’s not discount their goaltending either. Cory Schneider really held them in last year. Originally a back-up for former Vancouver starter Roberto Luongo, he’s found a nice comfy home in New Jersey with a .925 save percentage and a 2.26 GAA with 5 shutouts in 69 games last season.

Although I don’t see them as a playoff contender for right now, we’ll see what happens. This is going to be an interesting team this year.

**Pucks and Pitchforks is a New Jersey Devils-based blog from FanSided.

 

Philadelphia Flyers

The Philadelphia Flyers had an interesting offseason. After missing the playoffs for only the second time in recent years, the Flyers decided to fire their former head coach Craig Berube, who coached them to a record of 33-31-18. In his place, they hired Dave Hakstol who comes over from coaching the University of North Dakota.

Hakstol spent the last 11 years coaching UND to an overall record of 289-143-43. In 2014-15, he led North Dakota to a 29-10-3 record and a berth in the NCAA Frozen Four. Hakstol had coached North Dakota to the NCAAs every season he’s coached for them and reached the Frozen Four seven times, the most of any country during that period. UND had a record of 17-11 in the NCAA Tournament during his tenure.

He first joined the University of North Dakota’s coaching staff in 200 as an assistant before moving up to head coaching position four years later. From there, North Dakota won three regular season conference championships, two in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association (2008-09, 2010-11) and one in the National Collegiate Hockey Conference (2014-15). North Dakota also won WCHA playoff championships in 2005-06, 2009-10, 2010-11, and 2011-12. Hakstol received conference coach of the year honors twice and was an eight-time finalist for the Spencer Penrose Award for national coach of the year.

Though Hakstol’s program has produced 20 NHL players and a total of 46 that have played professionally at some level, he does not have any NHL coaching experience whatsoever.

In terms of offseason tradings and signings, the Flyers got rid of Zac Rinaldo to the Bruins. They acquired Sam Gagner and a conditional draft pick from the Coyotes.

Gagner, a 1st round pick of Edmonton in the 2007 Entry Draft, spent seven years in Edmonton with 101 goals and 194 assists in 481 regular season games. He then moved to Arizona where he put up 41 points with the Desert Dogs.

They also added Chris Porter (from St. Louis), Colin McDonald (from the Islanders), Jason LaBarbera (from the Coyotes), Davis Drewiskie (from Montreal), Chris Connor (from Washington), and Michal Neuvirth (from the Islanders) via free agency. They lost Jake Akeson and Carlo Colaiacovo.

Porter, drafted by Chicago, spent six seasons with the Blues, with 11 goals and 16 points in 173 games.

McDonald, a 2nd round pick of the Oilers in 2003, spent a year in Edmonton (1 point in 2 games) before moving to Pittsburgh in 2011-12, where he didn’t register a point in 5 games. He moved on and spent the next three years with the New York islanders where he put up 17 goals and 43 points in 133 games.

LaBarbera, the 35-year-old back-up from the Rangers, has spent his whole career so far with six different teams (Rangers, Kings, Canucks, Coyotes, Oilers, Ducks). His career totals include a 62-73-20 record overall in 187 regular season games, and a .907 save percentage, 2.85 GAA, and 6 shutouts.

Davis Drewiskie, undrafted, spent the first five years of his career with the Los Angeles Kings, where he had 22 points and was a -1 in 126 games played. He then moved to Montreal where he had a goal and 2 assists in 9 games.

Connor, also undrafted, had 7 goals and 14 assists with the Washington Capitals last season.

Neuvrith, a 2006 2nd round draft pick of Washington, spent six years with the Caps before going onto play for the Buffalo Sabres, where he had a save percentage of .921 and GAA of 2.96. He then played the 2014-15 season with the New York Islanders, where he had a record of 5-1-3, a save percentage of .881 and 2.94 GAA. He has recorded 7 shutouts during the course of his career, all with the Capitals.

It should be an interesting situation with the Philadelphia Flyers, especially with three goaltenders now in their system. With Steve Mason as their undisputed starting netminder and Neuvirth perhaps as their back-up, it’s only logical to say that LaBarbera is the other back-up if and when Neuvirth goes down with an injury.

While they now rely on Hakstol to perhaps coach them successfully through the regular season and playoffs (perhaps), I don’t think they’re going to make it. However, one pleasant surprise for them — I think — was the rise of Jakub Voracek leading the offense for the team. He finished last season tied fifth in the League in points (59 assists, 81 points).

 

Columbus Blue Jackets

It’s not that the Blue Jackets were bad last season when they missed the playoffs. They were just unlucky. While they have had a tendency to miss the playoffs often (12 times since their team debut in 2000-01), they were injury-riddled during the 2014-15 season.

According to mangameslost.com, a site that keeps track of all the team games lost to injuries in the professional sports world, the Blue Jackets led the team with 508 man games lost due to injuries and suspensions.

Ouch.

While that’s a huge blow to the team, especially with guys like Nathan Horton out of the line-up (he last played two seasons ago), they do have reasons to be optimistic again.

Earlier in my four-part season preview, one of the things I talked about was moves that the defending Champs, the Chicago Blackhawks, had to make with salary cap issues. That included trading forward Brandon Saad to Columbus.

Saad, who’s always had a huge impact with the Hawks, was drafted by Chicago in 2011 at 43rd overall. During his four seasons spent with the Blackhawks, he recorded a total of 52 goals and 74 assists in 208 regular season games played (all points were scored in his last three seasons with Chicago, as he did record a point in his first 2 games with the team in 2011-12). He had also split time between the NHL and the Rockford IceHogs of the AHL during the 2012-13 season, with 8 goals and 20 points in 31 AHL games.

He’s not a bad playoff performer either, having won two out of the team’s three Stanley Cups. He had 15 goals and 19 assists in 67 postseason games. Three of those goals were game-winners.

In that trade, their only one of the postseason thus far, the Blue Jackets also acquired defenseman Michael Paliotta and forward Alex Broadhurst.

Paliotta, a 3rd round pick of the Hawks, spent the majority of the 2014-15 season with the University of Vermont, from which he was drafted, scoring 9 goals and 36 points. He appeared in a single NHL game where he recorded an assist.

Broadhurst, a 2011 7th rounder draft pick also from Chicago, played a total of 104 AHL games with the Rockford IceHogs, with 6 goals and 8 assists.

While Columbus has managed to keep their roster almost very much in tact, they added a few players too in Gregory Campbell and John Ramage via free agency.

Campbell, their second most valuable acquisition of the offseason, spent his first six seasons with the Florida Panthers (the team that drafted him) and recorded 29 goals and 56 assists (from ’05-06 onwards as he did not record a point in his first season in the NHL). He then went on to play for the Boston Bruins for five season and scored 91 points. During his time with the Bruins he’s also appeared in the postseason for four straight years, winning a Cup with them in 2011. he had also spent time in the AHL with the San Antonio Rampage and Rochester Americans, with a total of 28 goals, 35 assists, and 63 points.

Ramage, a 4th round Calgary pick in 2010, spent three more years with the University of Wisconsin, scoring 12 goals, 29 assists, and 41 points in 116 games total in the WCHA. He then spent a year with the Abbotsford Heat in the AHL, with just an assist in 50 games before going to the Alaska Aces of the ECHL in 2013-14. He had a goal in six games. In the 2014-15 season, he played with the Adirondack Flames of the AHL, with 3 goals and 15 points in 57 AHL games played. He appeared in one NHL game with the Flames, and did not record a point.

The Blue Jackets have reason for a lot of optimism, and if they can stay healthy, they could just very well be in the playoff mix.

New York Islanders

While the Islanders didn’t make much of a postseason splash in the trade market, only giving up Griffin Reinhart to the Oilers, much of their deals happened in free agency.

Forward Louis Leblanc joins them from Anaheim, and a few other unknowns in Joe Whitney, Ben Holmstrom, and Justin Florek. One key addition, presumably due to the departure of Michal Neuvirth to the Philadelphia Flyers, is back-up Thomas Greiss who wasn’t too solid with the Pittsburgh Penguins (career lows of .908 SV%, 2.47 GAA)

Leblanc, drafted 18th overall by the Montreal Canadiens in ’09, spent a year at Harvard University with 11 goals and 12 assists. From 2011-2014, he split time between the Montreal Canadiens and the Hamilton Bulldogs of the AHL (Habs: 5 goals, 5 assists; AHL: 34 goals, 68 points) before getting traded to the Ducks, where he spent the 2014-15 season down in the AHL with the Norfolk Admirals, scoring 14 goals and 29 points in 71 AHL games.

Holmstrom split time between the Flyers and their AHL team, the Adirondack Phantoms from ’09-14. He had 49 goals and 73 assists with the Phantoms and 7 points with the Flyers before signing with the Hurricanes last season, where he had 5 goals and 15 assists.

Florek, drafted by the Bruins in the 2010 Entry Draft, spent a total of four seasons with the AHL’s Providence Bruins, with 54 goals and 104 points. He had a goal and an assist with Boston in 4 NHL regular season games.

After falling to the Washington Capitals in the second round of the 2015 playoffs in their final games at Nassau Coliseum, the Islanders will have a new building to welcome them in the 2014-15 as they make the move to Barclay’s Center in Brooklyn.

As a result, look for them repeat last season’s success, since they’re going to want to put on a good impression as the new tenants of the arena.

As I mentioned before, Thomas Greiss didn’t particularly have a good outing as the Penguins’ back-up netminder, so look for him to have a bounce-back year as well.

New York Rangers

After falling to the Montreal Canadiens in the second round of the playoffs this past season, the Rangers had a pretty eventful offseason, as longtime GM Glen Sather stepped down to make room for new GM Jeff Gorton.

At the 2015 NHL Draft, the Rangers traded away Talbot to Edmonton, and in another trade they acquired back-up Antti Raanta from Chicago in place of Talbot.

Raanta, who’d gone back and forth between the Blackhawks and the AHL’s Rockford IceHogs, had a combined total of .912 SV% as well as a 2.41 GAA at NHL level. In 2013-14, he posted a .914 SV% and 2.83 GAA in the AHL, and made 267 saves last season with the IceHogs.

The Rangers also added a bit more speed with Emerson Etem from Anaheim and rights to back-up goalie Magnus Hellberg from Nashville.

Hellberg, a 2nd round draft pick of the Predators from the 2011 Draft, split time between the Milwaukee Admirals of the AHL, the Cincinnati Cyclones of the ECHL, and the Nashville Predators up at NHL level. Last season, he posted a 15-10-6 record and 3 shutouts with the Admirals.

The Rangers also added a few pieces via free agency, the most recent being former LA Kings forward Jarret Stoll (81 goals, 133 assists).

Forward Luke Adam, Brian Gibbons, Viktor Stalberg, Matt Lindblad, Jayson Megna, and Raphael Diaz joined the Blue Shirts as well.

Adam, a 2008 Draft pick of Buffalo, spent four years with the Sabres with 26 points and had 8 goals for the Rochester Americans of the AHL before going to Columbus midseason last year, where he was held pointless for three games. He spent the majority of the season playing for the Springfield Falcons, with 14 assists and 22 points in 46 AHL games.

Gibbons played much of his pro career in the AHL. He spent three seasons with the Wilkes-Barre/Scanton Penguins where he had 30 goals and 60 assists before being sent up to the NHL with the Pittsburgh Penguins, where had 5 goals and 12 assists in 41 regular season games.

He then signed for the Columbus Blue Jackets in free agency of 2014, where he split time between Columbus and the Falcons. He had 5 points with the Blue Jackets and 8 assists and 11 points with Springfield.

Stalberg, a 6th round pick of Toronto, played his past two seasons with Nashville, scoring 10 goals and 18 assists in 95 regular season games.

Lindblad split time in his past two seasons with the Providence Bruins and Boston. He was held scoreless for all four games in the NHL, and had 46 points in the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons with Providence.

Megna also split time in his past two seasons between the NHL and AHL. He totaled 5 goals and 5 assists in 48 regular season games with the Pittsburgh Penguins and had 19 assists and 44 points in the 2013-14 and 2014-15 seasons with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.

Diaz, who played in 56 games last season, had 2 goals and 2 assists with the Calgary Flames.

I definitely think the Rangers are still a playoff team. However, I’m not sure they have enough to take that next step to get back to the Stanley Cup Finals like they did against the LA Kings in 2014, especially considering the retirement of Martin St. Louis.

Pittsburgh Penguins

After yet another early playoff exit for the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Penguins found themselves on the receiving end on two huge trades in the offseason. They acquired Phil Kessel, Tim Erixon, Tyler Biggs, plus a conditional draft pick in the blockbuster trade of the year, as well as Nick Bonino, Adam Clendening, and a 2016 2nd-rounder in a separate trade with Vancouver.

Phil Kessel, definitely known to be a goal scorer and not a two-way player, was highly chastised as part of the Toronto Maple Leafs. He had 25 goals and 61 points, but was a -34 last season. Time will tell if that plus-minus stat turns around.

Erixon, who was moved around quite a bit last season from Columbus to Chicago and claimed off waivers by the Leafs, had just a goal in 15 games in Toronto.

Biggs spent last season in the ECHL with the Orlando Solar Bears, scoring 6 points in eight games.

Bonino, whom I’d talked a bit about in my Pacific Division preview, was a lethal weapon for the Canucks, and could very well fit in with the Penguins as well.

Defenseman Adam Clendening, drafted in the 2nd round by Chicago, spent last season splitting time with the Hawks and IceHogs before getting traded to Vancouver, where he had 2 assists in 17 games. He was then sent down to the AHL with the Utica Comets, where he had a goal and four assists in 11 AHL games.

In terms of signings, the Penguins got Matt Cullen (from Nashville) and Eric Fehr (from Washington) while also losing a whole bunch of players like Paul Martin.

Overall, I think the Penguins got better. Again, the only thing is whether or not Kessel will improve his game defensively because it’s obvious that offense is not the issue for him. With the addition of Bonino as well, I like this team’s chances to potentially go deep in the playoffs.

 

Washington Capitals

The Capitals also had a pretty eventful offseason with some pretty big trades and signings. Actually, the only player they acquired through trade was the Blues’ T.J. Oshie, but still pretty decent.

Oshie, while well known for his shootout heroics  for Team USA back in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, isn’t known to perform well in the playoffs. However, they could very well change with the Washington Capitals. Who knows?

Last season, Oshie had 19 goals and 36 assists.

While the Capitals lost a few players to free agency, they also gained some, most notably Justin Williams who will definitely help their cause in the playoffs.

They also added players like Ryan Stanton from Vancouver and Zack Sill from Toronto.

Overall, I think this should be a much improved Caps team, like I said especially with the addition of Justin Williams. Oshie should be an interesting player they could figure out where to slot him into the line-up.

Follow Felix Chow on Twitter, and while you’re at it follow Ice Nation UK for all the best hockey talk!

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