After the NHL’s Board Of Governors decided to pass the realignment, the league received quite a makeover. There are still 2 conferences, but there are now only 2 divisions for each conference. For the Eastern Conference: the Metropolitan and Atlantic, for the Western Conference: the Central and Pacific. Also, the East will now feature the Columbus Blue Jackets and Detroit Red Wings, two formidable opponents who will pose problems for other teams seeking a last second playoff birth.
For now though, we will focus on the Metropolitan division. The Metro will feature all 5 teams from the former Atlantic division, with the additions of the Carolina Hurricanes, Blue Jackets and the Washington Capitals.
Now, let’s do a team-by-team breakdown of the first 4 teams in the division:
New York Rangers
Coach: Alain Vigneault
2013 Record: 26-18-4, 6th in the Eastern Conference, lost in 5 games to the Boston Bruins in Conference Semis
Notable Additions: Justin Falk (Wild), Benoit Pouliot (Lightning), Dominic Moore (Did not play)
Notable losses: Ryane Clowe (Devils), Steve Eminger (Russia), Matt Gilroy (Panthers), Marian Gaborik (Columbus)
Opening day roster:
Forwards: Arron Asham, Brian Boyle, Derick Brassard, Ryan Callahan, Derek Dorsett, Jesper Fast, Carl Hagelin, J.T. Miller, Dominic Moore, Rick Nash, Benoit Pouliot, Taylor Pyatt, Brad Richards, Derek Stepan, Mats Zuccarello
Overview: After a disappointing second-round exit, this past summer saw the dismissal of head coach John Tortorella. Which allowed general manager Glen Sather to bring in Alain Vigneault, who coached the past several seasons north of the border in Vancouver. Tortorella’s hard-nosed and dismissive style ran it’s course with the team, and really took a toll on player confidence and awareness. A more fresh and laid-back style might just be the thing that could re-ignite forwards Brad Richards and Rick Nash, who both had poor postseason numbers.
After a trade which sent shockwaves through the league, Derick Brassard was shipped to New York from Columbus, and he provided the offensive spark that the team wanted, and is certainly due for a fantastic year. The defense is also much more solid now with the return of Marc Staal from a horrific eye injury which cost him most of last season. Henrik Lundqvist is arguably one of the best goaltenders in the league and is also in a contract year, so expect terrific numbers and another Vezina nomination from the Swedish-born goalie.
Coach: Dan Bylsma
2013 Record: 36-12-0, 1st in Eastern Conference, lost to the Bruins in Conf. Finals
Notable additions: Rob Scuderi (Kings), Matt D’Agostini (Devils)
Notable losses: Jarome Iginla (Bruins), Brendan Morrow (Blues), Douglas Murray (Canadiens), Matt Cooke (Wild), Tyler Kennedy (Sharks)
Projected depth chart:
Chris Kunitz – Sidney Crosby – Pascal Dupuis
Beau Bennett – Evgeni Malkin – James Neal
Jussi Jokinen – Brandon Sutter – Matt D’Agostini
Craig Adams – Joe Vitale – Dustin Jeffrey
Chuck Kobasew – Tanner Glass
Overview: It is quite obvious that Penguins GM Ray Shero is one of the smartest men in the league. It would have been quite easy to overreact to his team’s stunning exit from the playoffs after being swept by the Bruins and scoring only twice in the entire series. Instead, Shero kept a positive outlook on things, and remembered that his team dominated the Conference and won two playoff series for the first time since winning the Stanley Cup in 2009. A little tune-up was all his team needed, so he brought in defenseman Rob Scuderi from Los Angeles and added some veteran depth to round out the bottom six.
Some more notable additions were that of his coaching staff. Jacques Martin will work on the improvement of an already weak penalty kill, and all-around team defense. Mike Bales will be in charge of getting goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury in the right state of mind mentally and physically. If he succeeds, the Penguins are once again Cup contenders. If not, Fleury’s days with the organization are shortened.
Coach: Adam Oates
2013 Record: 27-18-3, 3rd in the East, lost in the first round to the Rangers
Notable additions: Mikhail Grabovski (Maple Leafs), Tyson Strachan (Panthers)
Notable losses: Mike Ribeiro (Coyotes), Joey Crabb (Panthers), Matt Hendricks (Predators), Jeff Schultz (Kings), Wojtek Wolski (Russia)
Projected Depth Chart
Marcus Johansson – Nicklas Backstrom – Alex Ovechkin
Brooks Laich – Mikhail Grabovski – Troy Brouwer
Jason Chimera – Eric Fehr – Joel Ward
Martin Erat – Jay Beagle – Tom Wilson
Aaron Volpatti – Mathieu Perreault
Overview: It took them a little bit to conform with the coaching style of Adam Oates, but once they bought into his system, they were nearly unstoppable, going berserk through the final two months of the season en route to their fifth Southeast division title in the past six years. Alex Ovechkin gets most of the credit for that two month rampage, and he certainly deserves it. His readiness to adapt set the tone for the rest of the team, but don’t neglect the impact of goaltender Braden Holtby. His .923 save percentage shows that he is on the road toward becoming one of the better netminders in this league. The loss of forward Mike Ribeiro will tone down their powerplay, but Mikhail Grabovski, his replacement, will make the Caps a tougher team to play against at five-on-five.
However, the defense is a cause for concern. There is a huge step down after the top three of John Carlson, Karl Alzner and Mike Green. Expect an upgrade on the defensive side of things at the trade deadline as the Caps look to stay in the hunt for the Metropolitan title.
Coach: Peter Laviolette
2013 record: 23-22-3, 10th in the East
Notable additions: Mark Streit (Islanders), Vincent Lecavalier (Lightning), Ray Emery (Blackhawks)
Notable losses: Daniel Briere (Canadiens), Ilya Bryzgalov (UFA), Ruslan Fedotenko (Russia), Kurtis Foster (Russia), Jody Shelley (retired)
Projected Depth Chart
Scott Hartnell – Claude Giroux – Jake Voracek
Brayden Schenn – Vincent Lecavalier – Wayne Simmonds
Chris Vandevelde – Sean Couturier – Matt Read
Zac Rinaldo – Adam Hall – Max Talbot
Scott Laughton – Jay Rosehill
Overview: The Flyers sported a top-ten offense and top of the line special teams last season, but injuries and inconsistency, especially in net, left them well short of a top-eight finish. The solution? Stock up on goods. GM Paul Holmgren is holding his breath on the idea of Ray Emery being the goaltender he was during the regular season for the defending champion Chicago Blackhawks, but that isn’t something to count on. Neither is Vincent Lecavalier, however if he can stay healthy, he is an upgrade over Daniel Briere.
A good pick-up for them was Mark Streit, a gifted marksman, but at the age of 35 how much does he have left in the tank? The team’s specialty is at forward, where youngsters Jakub Voracek, Wayne Simmonds and Brayden Schenn could be primed for huge campaigns and not to mention there is a good mix of skill and toughness. If Claude Giroux can live up to expectations, the Flyers could very well be in line for a playoff spot.
Stay tuned for part 2 of the preview tomorrow afternoon!