We're listing these alphabetically, which is pretty obvious when you see the first team.
The Metropolitan Division
They knew they needed to make changes, but wanted to be nice. So they offered Jim Rutherford a soft symbolic office job, so he couldn't screw the team up any further. Then something happened and now he's the GM of another team in the division.
This is an excellent strategy. Instead of letting Rutherford continue his demolition of a team featuring Eric Staal, Jeff Skinner, a good band of second line players, and some decent defense prospects to build around, the Canes promoted him, and then forced him out to go ruin another team. More on this later.
As of right now, the Canes are victims to "guilt contracts". Carolina needs to take a long look in the mirror, and realize they don't need to keep paying Cam Ward for what he did years ago. The guilt payments can stop; he's not getting any better. And neither is the defense in front of him, so his salary already has a reallocation destination. As of now, the Hurricanes are the bad version of the Avalanche; several quality forwards, iffy supporting cast, and a well-paid goalie. And to add to how bad this team was... they managed to lose using this formula while the Avs won the division. Oh, and welcome back Tim Gleason.
Sure, everyone wants to pat Jarmo on the back for the great job he's doing, but lets not forget he sold off the guy who helped L.A. win the west for basically nothing in return, and he extended Brandon Dubinsky to stupid money while battling with his franchise center, Ryan Johansen, over money. If Duby is worth six years of nearly six million US Dollars, then what is Johansen worth? RyJo's agent likely smiled like James Wisniewski does every time he checks his account.
One thing the Blue Jackets do very well is take advantage of Philly's desperation. They've done this better than no other team, including the current champions. This year, it's Scott Hartnell taking the beaten path across the Ohio River along I-70. Hartnell, his hair and his awesome personality come at the expense of the services of R.J. Umberger, whose loss will be felt hard among the Ohio media types. Without his "He went to school right here in Columbus" narrative, the writers and TV folks will be forced to remind the people of Columbus that there team is getting good at hockey without having a Buckeye tie-in. It's questionable whether or not the public will buy in.
This team has all the tools to challenge for those wildcard spots, and the goalie to make sure no one "want to play them" in the first round. Assuming they don't botch Johansen's contract to the point of trading him, this team is destined to lose in the first round again.
They re-signed Jaromir Jagr, which isn't a bad move, but an odd move for a team that loves to not pay people. The Devils also decided that Cory Schneider is worth a whole bunch of money, despite never being "the guy" anywhere. And in Jersey, "the guy" means "the guy that's expected to stop a slough of shots just like the guy you're replacing" and other such reasonable expectations. Wish him luck; at least he's used to toxic situations.
The Devils are aiming to be the token Old Guy Team that makes a run into the playoffs, then crumbles in the first round so we can make all the .gifs of old players crying. NBC loves them some crying old guys, a target demo they're trying win back from CBS. And with Patrik Elias, Dainius Zubrus, Ryane Clowe, Bryce Salvador... expect this team to be the equivalent of basset hounds chasing rabbits.
If the Islanders ever have a hockey arena built for them again, it'll look like the home of an only child. John Tavares can't be that bad of a guy to where all of his friends get traded away. It's to the point now where GM Garth Snow is waiting Josh Bailey's value to mature so he and Kyle Okposo can be packaged together to get some older forward working on an expiring contract, and the Isles can get back to being that tough underdog that goes out in six games.
But until then, Snow got bored and did some smart hockey stuff. With Jaroslav Halak in the building, the Islanders might just have enough to snatch a playoff spot away from a team that might actually win in the first round. We should praise them.
At least Garth Snow is self-aware.
Remember last year when the Rangers had Brad Richards be their de-facto captain? Sather ain't got time for that. Instead, the Blueshirts continue to amass talent around Rick Nash, putting him further and further out of his element. Nash was hardened by years of being "the guy" on the team. In Columbus, that meant "the guy who plays offense" so he's not with this whole "cycle" crap that Alain Vigneault brought to NYC.
Will the Rangers be better this year? It's hard to say. They lost Richards and Anton Stralman, and are depending on the development of Chris Kreider, Carl Hagelin, and a bunch of other guys that Sather may trade for someone over 30. Being a scout for the Rangers has to be one of the most lucrative and saddest jobs ever.
All that said, Henrik Lundqvist is about as good as it gets in net. If this team doesn't go far this year, don't blame the King Henrik. Blame his GM and his owner for being too desperate to win one while Henrik is in the building. Sather likely hit rock bottom this week when he decided to pay Matthew Lombardi to play hockey for two years.
After watching Ray Shero fail to assemble a better team around Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins fired Shero. So after watching Carolina fail to build around Eric Staal and Jeff Skinner, the Pens decided Jim Rutherford was the man for the job. He immediately turned the gifted and affordable James Neal into the slow skating and gritty Patric Hornqvist, who is still one of our favorite players ever around here, and Nick Spaling who is destined for the third line AT BEST. Seriously, I hope David Poile still struts like Jackie Fargo around the office once a week for that trade.
Also, they let Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik walk for nothing, instead of keeping Niskanen and trading "Ladyhair" Kris Letang. They did manage to wrangle in Christian Ehrhoff to a sweet deal, but unless they turn their bottom six into something functional and Marc-Andre Fleury doesn't slip into non-playoff mode in the playoffs, it'll be another disappointing season.
Much like the Hurricanes last year were the bad version of the Avalanche, the Penguins are the mismanaged version of the Blackhawks. Don't forget, the Pens have managed to not make a final since 2009 despite having what many people consider is a better pair of forwards. But don't worry, they have the man for the job as GM.
And then, there are the Flyers. Philly has a good financial advantage over the entire league, a fair amount of talent among the forwards, but not able to address their needs due to mistakes you've made in the prior year(s). And when the team does decide to make moves, their fans cringe. Even they know the Flyers are the kings of bad trades these days.
There are "bench the goalie" cities/markets, there are "fire the coach" cities/markets, then there are teams that want to do both over and over. Bless you, Philly. I know deep down inside you want to hate Steve Mason so bad, but he's not letting you hate him yet. Give it time, it'll mean more.
Just going off of this year, the Flyers moved Scott Hartnell for R.J. Umberger. While Hartnell's contract isn't cap friendly (another thing Philly is excellent at), plenty of teams would've liked to have had him. But Philly moves him out for a faster and worse player because that's what GM Ron Hextall wants. At least Carolina promoted their old GM to a place where they could get rid of him and send him off to sabotage another team. Philly promoted their old GM, kept him around, and their new GM just told the city's favorite player he wasn't useful to them anymore. We expected the first "Hextall Moment" to happen during a game, not months before the season.
Unlike every other team listed here, the Caps did what we want every underachieving team to do; change everything. General Manager George McPhee is gone, enter Brian MacLellan. Adam Oates is gone, enter Barry Trotz as the coach (and psuedo-GM). Exciting times for a club in need of a new direction. Immediately, the Trotz effect has taken hold of the city. As of press time, the Caps have eight (8) defensemen under NHL contract. They even found it worth while to pay Brooks Orpik $5.5 million. By comparison, Brooks Laich's deal was viewed as a bad one in terms of salary, and he's getting paid a million less than Orpik.
"Everyone has a plan 'till they get punched in the mouth."
When Barry Trotz coached teams get hit in the mouth over a three game span, the coach tends to revert back to what he knows best. This is human nature, just like the philosopher above has noted.
It's going to be very hard to hate the Caps this year, especially once they lose 3 games in a row for the first time during the season, and the lines get scrambled, and Jay Beagle begins skating with Joel Ward and Alex Ovechkin, and Evgeny Kutznetsov is scratched for no real reason, and Eric Fehr supplants Nicklas Backstrom on the top line, and Trotz gains a new dimple smiling about Tom Wilson's game, and.... well, you get the idea.
Whereas the Atlantic Division has three legit contenders, I have a real tough time convincing myself that any of these teams will be better than the favorite in the Atlantic. There is some promise shown by the Rangers, and the Penguins and Capitals will be better this year, but who really thinks any of these outfits can handle the Bruins in a series? That same logic applies to the Lightning and the Habs as well. Still, this should be fun to watch. We have plenty of questions we want answers to: "Which team fires their coach first: Philly or the field?" "Which team makes a stupid deadline deal?" and others. What makes this division fun is the amount of people who care, and what level in which they're able to throw money at problems. Combined in this division alone, over $13.5 million is being paid to players to NOT play hockey for their team. And that's not including a pending Vincent Lecavalier trade/buyout.
Just by comparison, the Leafs alone are paying $3.79 million.