Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2019-20, where Last Word On Hockey gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Make sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2019-20 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today the series continues with the 2019-20 Metropolitan Division.
2019-20 Metropolitan Division
1. Washington Capitals
Since its inception, the Metropolitan division has always been one of the toughest divisions in the NHL. Until another team steps up, the Washington Capitals are still the team to beat in the division. The Capitals core that won the Stanley Cup in 2018 is still intact. The only change is on defence as they traded Matt Niskanen to Philadelphia for Radko Gudas.
It was a disappointing end to last season for the Capitals. They lost to Carolina in the first round of playoffs. Considering the party Washington threw after winning the Stanley Cup that was a good result. With the team refreshed look for Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, and company to win the division. Even with Evgeny Kuznetsov missing the first three games of the season.
2. Pittsburgh Penguins
Jim Biringer writes:
It was a disappointing season, to say the least for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2018-19. After battling all year just to make the playoffs, their flaws came to the forefront in their first-round loss to the Islanders. General manager Jim Rutherford stated changes needed to be made. Those changes came in the form of Phil Kessel getting traded to the Arizona Coyotes for Alex Galchenyuk and Olli Maatta being traded to the Chicago Blackhawks for Dominik Kahun. With the way the Penguins defence struggled last season this was one area Rutherford would address.
For the run at the 2019-20 Metropolitan Division lead, The Penguins signed Brandon Tanev to bolster the offence that already has Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Jake Guentzel. The Penguins are out to show they are still one of the teams to beat in the division. They have their eyes on another Stanley Cup, but it will not be easy. The division is much improved so every divisional game is very important. One question remains did the Penguins do enough to bolster a defence that was pretty awful last season?
3. Carolina Hurricanes
The Carolina Hurricanes finished off a season better than many had anticipated. Winding down the season with a record of 46-29-7 and the first wild card spot. The Hurricanes made the playoffs for the first time since 2009. Defeating the defending Stanley Cup Champion Capitals in the first round to eventually make it to the Eastern Conference Finals where they were swept by the Boston Bruins.
Mixed emotions surround the Hurricanes this off-season. Justin Williams is taking a step back from the game. Yet, they signed free agent Jake Gardiner, adding to an already very impressive defence. If both Petr Mrazek and second-year head coach Rod Brind’Amour can live up to last year’s standards? Well then, be on the lookout for this young team to be one to reckon with in the 2019-20 Metropolitan Division.
4. New Jersey Devils
Jim Biringer writes:
The New Jersey Devils had a busy off-season after missing the playoffs for the sixth time in seven seasons. At the end of the season, Taylor Hall felt the team was not good enough to compete. Devils GM Ray Shero went to work. It did not hurt to get the first pick in the NHL draft where they selected Jack Hughes. Then the Devils traded for defenceman P.K. Subban, along with John Hayden. When free agency opened the Devils signed Wayne Simmonds to a one-year deal before locking up their RFAs in Will Butcher, Connor Carrick, Mirco Mueller, and Pavel Zacha. Not to mention the Devils acquired Nikita Gusev to add even more depth to the top-six forwards. With a retooled lineup, the Devils look to get back to the playoffs.
Outside the defence, which will be better, the biggest question mark is the goaltending. Are MacKenzie Blackwood and Cory Schneider good enough to carry this team to the playoffs? The Devils are deep at the forward position and will surprise teams this season. They will battle for a playoff spot and look to sneak into a wild card spot. With the final spot in the Metro division up for grabs, if the Devils play the right way they could even grab that spot.
5. New York Rangers
General manager Jeff Gorton has worked quickly to rebuild the New York Rangers with the signing of Artemi Panarin and landing Jacob Trouba from the Winnipeg Jets. Getting second-overall pick Kaapo Kakko will infuse some life into their offence and has excitement coming to Madison Square Garden. He’s a marketable commodity and likely the most NHL-ready player from the 2019 NHL Draft. Marketing departments are already salivating over the impending rivalry with Hughes across the river. Henrik Lundqvist wants to make one last push at a Stanley Cup before he retires. Trouba leads a retooled defence that also added Adam Fox and Yegor Rykov from Russia.
The lack of centre depth behind Mika Zibanejad is troublesome. Can someone like a Filip Chytil, Lias Andersson, Ryan Strome or Brett Howden slide into the second pivot role? New York has solid young prospects like Vitali Kravtsov, but are they ready for primetime. The Rangers might be a year or two away from competing, but they’ll be fun to watch.
Dan Mount writes:
The Dave Hakstol experiment ended in December and the team also fired Ron Hextall earlier in the campaign. Scott Gordon tried to salvage the season, but could not get the team into contention for a playoff berth. Alain Vigneault takes over to try to get the Flyers back into the post-season. Simmonds was shipped out as the upheaval in the organization commenced from new general manager Chuck Fletcher.
Things weren’t all bad as Carter Hart looks to be Philadelphia’s franchise goalie. Philadelphia also inked Ivan Provorov and Travis Konecny to new contracts just recently. Sean Couturier, Claude Giroux and Konecny are one of the best first-lines in the 2019-20 Metropolitan Division and the acquisition of Kevin Hayes (despite the large contract) gives the team a solid second line. Niskanen and Justin Braun also supplement a defence with Provorov, Travis Sanheim and Shayne Gostisbehere. Depth issues, adjusting to Vigneault and wondering how Hart will handle the increased workload surround the Flyers. Like the rival Rangers, the Flyers are a year or two away from challenging the established teams in the division.
7. New York Islanders
Dan Mount writes:
Barry Trotz found a way to make the New York Islanders a contender despite the loss of John Tavares. The Isles placed second and swept the Penguins in the opening round before falling to Carolina. Trotz instilled his trademark tough defence and limited teams scoring chances.
However, Robin Lehner did not re-sign and they had to go elsewhere. Semyon Varlamov will split time with Thomas Greiss in net, but that’s a significant drop-off from Lehner. New York general manager Lou Lamoriello managed to re-sign players like Brock Nelson, Anthony Beauvillier, Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle to new deals. They join talented forwards Mathew Barzal and Josh Bailey to form a solid top-six. However, goaltending, defensive concerns and the drop off of talent in the bottom-six raise red flags. Trotz has surprised people before, but this may be a tough road back for the Islanders this year. With so many of the teams getting better and them losing a key piece in Lehner the Isles may be in tough to find themselves back in the playoffs.
8. Columbus Blue Jackets
Nick Mancini writes:
Another team that was able to shock a lot of people this last season was the Columbus Blue Jackets. Finishing in the second wild card spot the Blue Jackets had to face the Stanley Cup favourites. Sweeping the Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round and capturing their first playoff series win in franchise history is quite a way to remember that series victory.
>While the regular season ended well the off-season did not. Losing franchise goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky and star forwards Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel. The Blue Jackets brought in Gustav Nyquist and goaltender Elvis Merzlikins from HC Lugano of Switzerland. Questions surround the depth and goaltending for this team and makes many wonder what will happen in Columbus at the start of the season. Young players like Pierre-Luc Dubois, Alexandre Texier and Oliver Bjorkstrand will be asked to fill the large holes on offence. The Jackets do boast a strong top pair of the recently re-signed Zach Werenski and Seth Jones. However, head coach will do a lot experiementing with the other two defensive pairings.