Tha Sports Junkies 101

Early prediction: Metropolitan Division

Metropolitan Division Nazrul Islam via Flickr


The Metropolitan Division standings are dangerously close and they have been for some time. The 2017-18 season has not quite reached its midway mark, indicating a lot may change by the first round of playoffs. The New Jersey Devils currently have a hold on the division’s top spot, yet they are followed by seven teams under 10 points away. With roughly 40 games to be played, the Metropolitan Division may look very different by April. See if you agree:

1. Washington Capitals

The Capitals will finish as the Metropolitan’s top team for one big reason: they are a regular season team. Since the 2010 season, they have only missed the playoffs once. In addition, they have failed to finish first or second in the division only once.

Considering their frustrating offseason losses, finishing atop the Metropolitan would be seen a big win for the Caps. Many critics even labeled them as a non-playoff team in the preseason. But for Caps fans, another second-round departure would diminish any regular season success.

The Capitals have not been by any means stellar all year, but their top two lines simply have too much firepower. Younger talent like Kutznetsov, Burakovsky and Vrana have clearly complimented a scary top six that already consisted of Ovechkin and Backstrom.

Come April, expect the Capitals to remain atop the Metropolitan Division, but also expect a dogfight. There are a lot of good teams who have yet to play to their potential.

2. New Jersey Devils

This is where it gets difficult. The Devils have been great this year and like the Golden Knights have surprised many people. Their youth have been great, featuring the likes of Nico Hischier, Miles Wood and Will Butcher.

However, the Devils will end in second not because of their own play, but rather because of the poor play of others. The Penguins have dug themselves too big a hole, the Blue Jackets are struggling with injuries, and the Rangers are too inconsistent.

The Devils currently sit in first of the Metropolitan with 49 points (22-9-5), but with the Capitals game developing and taking form, it may not last long.

3. Pittsburgh Penguins

One team that has yet to play to their potential are the Pittsburgh Penguins and that should scare some teams. Finishing in third is the biggest stretch on this list, but never count Crosby and Malkin out.

Pittsburgh currently sit in 7th with 41 points (19-6-3), but it sounds worse than it is. They’re only nine points off the Devils in first, and within six points or less of five teams.

However, the Penguins have simply been hard to watch. Weak goaltending, costly turnovers and limited depth scoring have all contributed to the their struggles.

Yet, it is really hard to picture the Penguins on the outside looking in, let alone removed from a top spot.

Similar to the Caps, their top six is difficult to compete with. Neither Crosby or Malkin have been lights out, but Kessel has been spectacular, along with speedy youngsters Sheary and Guentzel.

The deadline will most likely be a busy one for GM Jim Rutherford, because there’s clearly room for additions to the bottom six. The Penguins have trade bait in young forwards as well as Ian Cole at the backend. If Rutherford can find the right piece to the bottom six group, Crosby and Malkin will have the help they desperately need.

4. Columbus Blue Jackets

This may very well be the Jackets’ year to do something great, but recent injuries could certainly hurt their April playoff positioning. On Christmas day, the Jackets announced Cam Atkinson would be off the ice for no less than four weeks. Atkinson hasn’t played well all year, but losing a top six forward in a playoff push is not ideal.

In their last ten games, they have posted a 5-3-2 record, proving their current depth may cause serious future problems.The season is long and grueling and every team rides on hot and cold streaks.

I don’t expect this small trend to cause them the playoffs, for they have too much good young talent. Young teams buy in to their coaches system because they have something to prove, and little to lose. Every player on the Jackets has something to prove.

One guy, however, who has already proven his ability is Artemi Panarin. Since being traded from the Blackhawks for Brandon Saad in June, Panarin has proved a change in colors hasn’t hurt his prolific scoring. Panarin may very well be the key to Columbus’ success, and their ability to forget their recent slump.

5. New York Rangers

The Rangers will slip into fifth and fight for a wildcard playoff spot come April. With the Metropolitan Division being so competitive, it wouldn’t be surprising to see five Metropolitan teams in the playoffs. With that said, the Rangers will most likely lock up the final wild card spot.

With a range of regular season finishes in the last five years, it’s quite hard to predict the Rangers’ success. They are frustratingly inconsistent and often times solely ride on the Henrik Lundqvists’ talent.

But with tough decisions to make in the offseason, expect the trade deadline to make or break the Rangers’ playoff chances. The biggest decision is with aging Rick Nash, who hasn’t lived up to expectations. That doesn’t mean he’s not an impact player though.

Nash will likely leave during the summer so trading him in February may help them long term, but would certainly hurt in the final push for playoffs. The Rangers may need to be sellers at the deadline to be successful in the future, but with tight division standings, it could come back to haunt them.

6. New York Islanders

Similar to their New York rivals, the Islanders will likely have to make deadline adjustments. The rumor that won’t stop circling involves John Tavares.

Tavares, 27, remains the Islanders best player and captain, recording 48 points (21G, 27A) through 37 games so far. With ongoing contract issues, Tavares may very well leave Brooklyn for a team that agrees to pay him what he deserves, and also offers a better chance at a cup. That could certainly cause the Islanders to trade and cash in on their captain’s repeated success before he leaves himself.

Without Tavares, the Islanders simply don’t have enough to win big. I’m not saying Tavares will leave, because it’s the last thing New York wants, but if he does it would be devastating.

The Islanders are getting point production from their top players, but depth scoring drops off quick. They once had the best fourth line in hockey with Casey Cizikas, Matt Martin, and Cal Clutterbuck. Though with Martin gone, who keep in mind was the least talented of the three, the Islanders depth scoring hasn’t been the same.

Even if Tavares stays through the February deadline, don’t expect the Islanders to make the playoffs. They have great young talent, but have too many holes in their lineup, most importantly goaltending. Halak and Greiss have been good at times, but when it matters most have struggled. You can’t expect to win in this league without good goaltending.

7. Philadelphia Flyers

At the start of the season, it seemed the Flyers had it all figured out. It doesn’t seem that way anymore. During the month of November, which featured a 10 game losing streak, they were frustratingly awful.

One reason is their defense. Give them five years, and this may be the best defensive unit in the league, but for now they may be too young. four of their six defensemen are under the age of 25, in which those four have only combined for roughly five years of NHL experience.

Another reason is Nolan Patrick’s slow development. Patrick, who was drafted second overall in the 2017 draft, has only posted seven points (2G, 5A) in 27 games. He’s currently playing as the Flyers’ second line center and that’s not exactly the point production you want from a top six player.

The Flyers undoubtedly had little hope for a Stanley Cup push this offseason, so it’s likely they are trying to put their young players in positions to succeed and develop. But it’s slowly starting to hurt them. They have elite veterans like Giroux and Voracek, but besides that, the success of the team lies solely on their youth.

Expect the Flyers to finish towards the bottom come April, and possibly a seller come the trade deadline.

8. Carolina Hurricanes

It would be a shame if the Hurricanes actually finished last. They are an exciting young team, similar to the Winnipeg Jets and they surely have a bright future.

However, unlike Winnipeg and other Cup contenders, they lack someone who can take over a game. Jeff Skinner is the team’s best player but he has not had the best year, especially defensively. Teuvo Teravainen has stepped up big time but he’s not a player who can control the game’s flow.

I’ve always been a big fan of Jordan Staal’s game, but not as a first line center. He is solid defensively and wins more than half of his faceoffs. Yet for someone who leads Hurricane forwards in ice time, he is fifth in team points with only 22 points in 36 games.

Justin Faulk, who realistically is the only Hurricane who can change the flow of a game, has not be stellar. Unfortunately for Faulk, his poor defensive statistics are usually overshadowed by his team’s poor play. But Faulk has consistently been an attacking defensemen. This year hasn’t been the case and it’s certainly hurt the Canes.

Carolina have struggled ever since joining the Metropolitan Division. In fact, they have not made the playoffs since the division was created in 2013. That likely will not change this year, but for the Hurricanes organization, the future looks bright.