In just a couple of years the Metropolitan division (henceforth referred to at "the Metro") has gone from a joke, to one of the best in the league. It has the potential to send five teams to the playoffs this year, and any one of those five could realistically take the Metro crown.
The New York Rangers were the best team in the league last year, and have remained largely intact for 2015. Pittsburgh and Washington both made some suave offseason moves to keep them near the top of the division, but don't sleep on the upstart Islanders or Blue Jackets. Each of them are going to want to take the next step forward with the young teams they have. The Flyers are straddling the no-man's land between not being good enough, but not being near as bad as the Hurricanes or the Devils are going to be.
Best Off-Season Acquisition
The Pittsburgh Penguins actually got Phil Kessel.
The team that already had a Ferrari and Lamborghini in its garage went out and acquired a Bentley, because why not? Not only that, but they paid way less than market value for the Bentley. And, if it crashes and burns, they don't even have to pay full price (WHY WOULD THE LEAFS ACCEPT A LOTTERY PROTECTED PICK?).
But the rest of their team is held together with duct tape, so if any part goes down they could be in for some trouble. Patric Hornqvist, Eric Fehr and Matt Cullen are made of glass, while Kris Letang (freaking stroke/concussion), Pascal Dupuis (freaking blood clots), and Olli Maatta (freaking cancer) are all returning from some serious, serious conditions.
Worst Off-Season Acquisition
Brandon Saad, Columbus Blue Jackets. Look, it's not that he's a bad player. Far from it. But the Jackets gave up a talented first-round prospect, two more other prospects, and the guy who once pissed off the entire Lightning team, for a kid who racked up points playing on the best team in hockey. Columbus then threw $36 million dollars at him ($6 per season) for the next six years.
This very well could be one of the best acquisitions made this summer by the end of the year. However, until then the fans in Columbus are going to wait with bated breath that Saad is good in his own right. Not just riding the coattails of Jonathan Toews, Patrick Sharp, Patrick Kane, and Marian Hossa. Most people aren't so sure.
Other Notable Additions
- TJ Oshie and Justin Williams, Capitals: Solidifying the right wing was a priority of Brian MacLellan this summer, and he was true to his word. Both players should more than make up for losing Troy Brouwer and Joel Ward, and give the Caps a scary top-six.
- James Wisniewski and Eddie Lack, Hurricanes: A sign that the Cam Ward era is coming to a close in Raleigh, perhaps? Ward's contract is done after this season, so giving Lack a hard look may open their eyes as to which netminder to re-sign. Wisniewski comes in an provides some stability to a blue line that's looking like it's going to be extremely talented in the coming years.
- Thomas Greiss, Islanders: Yeah, I got nothing. After Kessel, Saad, and the ones listed above, other names don't ring as loud. The Isles seem content that their roster can carry them into the playoffs and beyond.
Breakout Player for 2015-16
Put your money on Washington's Andre Burakovsky. Though the 20-year-old was given limited minutes for most of last season, he was still one of the most productive players on the Caps, as Japers' Rink points out:
Essentially no Capitals forward saw offense generated at a faster rate than Burakovsky and despite playing a large portion of his season with a puck possession anchor (Troy Brouwer) he led the team in SASAT (score-adusted shot attempt %). Burakovsky's ability to both exit the defensive zone with control of the puck and enter the offensive zone without surrendering possession are likely strong contributing factors to the team's improved puck retention when he is on the ice.
Depending on where Marcus Johansson lines up, the first-round pick may slot in on a line with a Evgeny Kuznetsov (another breakout candidate, if he plays like he did in the playoffs) and one of Oshie or Williams. That's a huge jump in quality line mates. However, with Nicklas Backstrom looking like he may miss the start of the regular season, Kuznetsov may temporarily center the first line, leaving the door open for Burra to once again try his hand centering the second line.
Washington has a strong top-six, and Burakovsky should factor in to it. Given how he was used against the Islanders and Rangers in the playoffs, there's no reason to think he won't.
Person You Forgot About
This is John Hynes. He's the new head coach of the New Jersey Devils. In fact, his hiring was so under the radar and underwhelming, you didn't even realize we linked to a picture of Kane from WWE. This is actually him.
At 40, he'll become the youngest coach in the league (and challenge for youngest on the roster), and has never coached a game in the NHL. However, this is preferable to having a three-headed monster behind the bench, especially when one of those is Adam Oates.
The Devils are going to be bad this year, so Hynes will have plenty of opportunity to cut his teeth at the position while not being blamed for the team's pratfalls.
Fans Should Most Look Forward To
Seeing Pittsburgh, New York and Philadelphia on NBC every second of every minute. Every minute of every hour. Every hour of every day, Every day of *snaps out of it* ...I was prepared to go to century.
But really, outside the Central this division is as tough as it gets. The star-power alone is insane: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, John Tavares, Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Henrik Lundqvist, Claude Giroux, and on and on. You may already be tired of seeing some of these teams, but whenever they play each other it is going to result in some pretty great hockey. I MEAN LOOK AT THIS GAME. GOALS EVERYWHERE.
Coach or GM in the Hot Seat
If Jack Capuano doesn't get his team to the playoffs (or past the first round), he'll be back to breaking kneecaps and pickup lunch orders for the Mafia.
It feels weird to say, but Alain Vigneault should be feeling the pressure to win. Despite guiding a team to the Stanley Cup Final in his first year, and missing out on a second-straight appearance by one game, the Rangers are built to win now. Lundqvist is getting older, they are pressed up against the salary cap with even more guys to sign this summer, and they haven't had a first-round pick since 2012, and don't have one for next year either.
Vigneault is a very good coach and most teams would kill to have the success he's had in a short amount of time. But New York is a results-based market, so if he can't finally get the Rangers over the hump (nine dee fowah), the shouts for his head will be deafening.