Metropolitan Division Stanley Cup Chances: Why Each Team Could or Couldn’t Win

Metropolitan Division Stanley Cup

That’s right, Hockey is back! Although these 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs make history in a formatted 24-game round-robin this year, it will be no less an intense battle for these Metropolitan Division Stanley Cup contenders. In this series, we will discuss which teams have what it takes to lift the most coveted prize.

Why Each Team Could or Couldn’t Win a Metropolitan Division Stanley Cup

New York Rangers

The New York Rangers finished with 80 points in 68 games for a points percentage of .588, which placed them close-to-last in the playoff seed. This original-six team has failed to make the playoffs since the 2016-17 season. During the last few years, the Rangers organization has almost completely rebuilt to effective success so far. They face the Carolina Hurricanes in the first qualifier and won 4-0 in the regular season against them.

Why They Could Win

Part of the Rangers long-term plan is injecting youth and enthusiasm into the team. Defensive issues are improving with the stability and skill of Jacob Trouba, who leads the team with 22:33 average time on ice minutes and 21-year-old Adam Fox who finished his rookie season with 70 games played and 18:54.

The biggest improvement that makes the Rangers a contender is their top Line.  Hart trophy finalist Artemi Panarin sits third in the league at 95 points and 47 assists. While his teammate Mika Zibanejad is fifth in the league for Goals. Together they make a fierce combination.  Linemate Pavel Buchnevitch, who was injured in a car accident earlier this year, is now healthy and will look to bask in some of his teammate’s productive glow.

Ranger’s special teams have also improved since last season due to the rebuild with a jump from 17th in the league at 19.4 percent to 7th at 22.9 percent.

The team of late struggled with physically but with the injection of Ryan Lindgren and Brendan Lemieux along with Anthony DeAngelo, the Rangers have a real presence on the ice.

Why They Couldn’t

The Rangers lack experience. Eight of the proposed starting roster is under 21 and has yet to have playoff experience. Playoff hockey is tougher, faster and more mentally demanding than the regular season, it is difficult to predict how less-experienced players will react.

Combine this with a complicated goalie situation, which has seen their only veteran goaltender Henrik Lundqvist play less than 30 regular-season games before the Covid-19 breakup; a career-low for the 37-year old.  The Swedes replacements, young Igor Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev are untested in the playoffs.

The Rangers currently do not have a designated Captain although there are some suited for the role. The less experienced members will need a leader to look up to. And although the Rangers hold a favorable record against Carolina, they may struggle against more established teams going forward.

Win or lose though, the Rangers are not to be underestimated and will gain valued experience from this playoff format. Underdogs from the beginning they have nothing to lose.

Columbus Blue Jackets

The Columbus Blue Jackets finished the season with 81 points in 70 games for a points percentage of .579. They look to continue their playoff success from last season where they made franchise history by sweeping Tampa Bay Lightning in the first round.

Why They Could

The Blue Jackets, led by Jack Adams Award finalist coach John Tortorella had a slow start to the season. The team has been plagued by multiple injuries during the regular season resulting in a skeleton roster, making their climb to the playoffs more impressive. The unscheduled break is a rare advantage for the Blue Jackets, as all but Josh Anderson should return from injury to commence the playoffs.

The contract extension for goaltenders Elvis Merzlikins and Joonas Korpisalo brings stability to the team. Both have achieved higher than .910 save percentage in the regular season.

Pierre-Luc Dubois leads the team with 31 assists and 49 points during the regular season. The chemistry between the 22-year-old and linemate Oliver Bjorkstrand will prove troublesome for any team’s defense.

The return of Cam Atkinson will also greatly improve the Blue Jackets productivity while the team’s physicality will smother opponents effectively. More importantly, the Blue Jackets are one of the most defensively solid teams in the NHL which in the past teams struggle to penetrate easily.

All-in-all, the Blue Jackets are formed by a strong defensive team, backed by two terrific – and happy – goalies. They’re coming into the return to play with a put-back-together lineup and plenty of momentum.

Why They Couldn’t

Although Columbus has made a comeback, the loss of the main components of the team, in particular Panarin, Matt Duchene, and top goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, may be too much for the team.

These absences were radically felt over the course of the regular season. They ranked 27th in total goals through the year and third-to-last in the league in goals-for shooting percentage. They also joined the league’s cellar in virtually every other offensive statistic, showing both a lack of offensive potency or any shred of good luck. While Merlikins and Korpisalo have done great jobs of getting Columbus where they are now, they won’t be able to bear the load for forever. The Blue Jackets offence has struggled all season and needs to find its groove quickly.

New York Islanders

The New York Islanders finished the season with 80 points in 68 games for a points percentage of .588 and face the Florida Panthers in the first round of Qualifiers.

Why They Could

The Islanders swept fan favorites the Pittsburgh Penguins 4-0 in the first round of the 2018-19 Stanley Cup playoffs. The team is flourishing from an unofficial rebuild under Head Coach Barry Trotz.

The teams top six are by far their biggest assets going into the playoffs and will lean particularly heavily on Mathew Barzal for productivity. Speed will be an advantage for the Islanders.

As will their goaltending. Despite doubts before the season began, both Semyon Varlamov and Thomas Greiss had terrific seasons. They tallied a .914 and .913 save percentage respectively; totals that, while not jaw-dropping, established their worthiness as the Islanders backbone. Much like Columbus, the Islanders will lean heavily on their potent goaltenders and terrific defence.

Why They Couldn’t

The Islanders tend to rely heavily on their top-six. The team is still relatively young and has much to learn going forward. And despite having the talent to work with, the Islanders special teams struggled during the regular season. Particularly on the powerplay, which currently sits 24th in the league at 17.3 percent.

The Islanders have, again much like Columbus, failed to find their offensive spark just yet. However, unlike the Blue Jackets, names like Barzal, Anders Lee, and Brock Nelson could very quickly change that fate. They’ll need to find their footing under the bright stage lights of the post-season but they have all of the talent to do so.

Carolina Hurricanes

Rod Brind’Amour‘s young Carolina Hurricanes team aim to enhance further success in this unique playoff run. The revamped team finished the season with 81 points in 68 games for a points percentage of .596. And play playoff spot rivals the New York Rangers in the first round of qualifiers.

Why They Could

Similar to the Rangers, the Hurricanes have a young skillful team. Unlike the Rangers, they now have some playoffs experience under their belt. They exceed all expectations last season by sweeping playoff contenders the New York Islanders.

Their  biggest asset is their top line with Andrei Svechnikov, Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen all achieving greater than 60 points in the shortened regular season. The Hurricanes also have experienced depth and much-needed knowledge with an experienced passionate coach and his teammate Justin Williams.

The team also has plenty of new faces that didn’t get much time to show their worth after being acquired at the Trade Deadline. Vincent Trochek, Sami Vatanen, and Brady Skjei could all make very noticeable impacts on a Hurricanes lineup that already looked strong. These additions, combined with great goaltending, give Carolina a truly flushed-out lineup.

Why They Couldn’t

Although the Hurricanes have speed and offensive skill, their inexperienced showed in the last playoffs and were physically outmatched by a tougher Bruins team. They will have to develop this to succeed further this time. However, with a more intensive playoff schedule may benefit the younger team.

The ‘Canes lineup may also fall victim to having too much to work with. The team is rumoured to be bringing at least nine defencemen, all perfectly NHL-capable, to Toronto. While this gives them plenty of tools to work with, it could also notably shake their chemistry, or cause the coaching staff to become a bit too heavy with roster changes. A groove will need to be found for Carolina if they want to replicate last year’s success.

Pittsburgh Penguins

The five-time Stanley Cup Winning team finished the season with 86 points in 69 games for a points percentage of .623

Why They Could

The Penguins are one of the more established teams in the Metropolitan Division and are no strangers to playoff success in the past. Sidney Crosby is healthy and will yet again be expected to produce the majority of the Penguins offense with Evgeni Malkin. The Penguins could have a healthy Jake Guentzel back in the lineup too, which would significantly boost the already productive offensive team. Bryan Rust has also shown to step up when the obvious offensive choices are tied up. John Marino and Brian Dumoulin are also returning from injury, putting the Penguins lineup in a great position to succeed after a serious battle with the injury bug.

Why They Couldn’t

Although the Penguins have an impressive top six, they lack depth. The fourth line consisting of Zach Aston-ReeseTeddy Blueger, and Brandon Tanev has chemistry and is effectively defensively but the Pens will need more. They had a bad start to the regular season with goaltending and defensive issues. Matt Murray had an uncharacteristic career decline with a .899 save percentage and 2.87 goals-against-average in only 38 games. The Ontario native will need to step up and become dependable between the pipes for the Pens to succeed.

Philadelphia Flyers

The Philadelphia Flyers finished the season with 89 points in 69 games for a points percentage of .645 and face the Boston Bruins in the first round-robin matchup.

Why They Could

Coach Alain Vigneault has surprisingly led his team to a second-place finish in the Metropolitan Division. Holding a 41-21-7 record and achieving a second Jack Adams nomination, Vigneault’s experience will be key in this intensive matchup with Stanley Cup favorites the Boston Bruins. Sean Couturier, another award finalist, will be relied upon heavily to boost the Flyer’s productivity.  This season the two-way forward recorded 22 goals and 37 assists totaling 59 points and averaging 19:50 of ice time. However, their top six are solid, particularly with the ex-Rangers Kevin Hayes joining the fold,

Flyers will be able to match Boston physically and have a good core defense with Ivan Provorov and ex-Capitals Matt Niskanen at the helm.

Why They Couldn’t

The Flyers bottom-six depth still needs work and it is still unclear whether Oskar Lindblom will join the roster. Goaltending is still an issue going into the playoffs. The Flyers have not had a consistent healthy goaltender throughout the regular season. Young Carter Hart has no playoff experience but achieved good numbers in his 43 games played.

Washington Capitals

Washington Capitals finished the season with 90 points in 69 games for a points percentage of .652 and face the Lightning in the round-robin.

Why They Could

There are many reasons why statistically the Capitals should make a genuine run for the Cup again these playoffs. Always a highly stacked team with ultimate playmaker Nicklas Backstrom and superstar Alex Ovechkin showing no signs of slowing down. Injecting some new talent such as Carl Hagelin and Richard Panik should be an advantage. However, the Capital’s secret weapon is Jakob Vrana, who has shown throughout the regular season vast improvement.

The hard-hitting team always packs a punch and will physically dominate teams, it has been particularly effective against teams like the Tampa Bay Lightning in the past.

Why They Couldn’t

The Capitals curse is always forefront in everyone’s mind as they are so inconsistent at times. They tend to be predictable and lose focus when faced with scrappy chaotic opponents. Head coach Todd Reirden is relatively inexperienced in his new role compared to Barry Trotz. They need experience and a calming presence going forward.

Overview

This format is completely different from anything experienced before. Because of this, it is difficult to predict a definitive Metropolitan Divison Stanley Cup winner in this group, especially as the Division is highly competitive. This intensive format may benefit younger teams like Carolina and New York in the early rounds.

However, all teams have had an extended period off with a limited time to practice, it levels the playing field considerably. Statistically, the Capitals are the stronger team overall and better all-round but its all to play for.

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