Ryan Dadoun

In The Crease

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Metropolitan Division Preview

Tuesday, August 06, 2013


This week we’re going to be continuing our division previews with a look at the Metropolitan Division, so called because a collection of teams that used to play in the Northeast and Southeast Division apparently stole the Atlantic Division name during the realignment process.  Regardless, the newly named Metropolitan Division is arguably the toughest in the NHL and because of that, it should also be a lot of fun to watch next season.

 

Carolina Hurricanes

 

Forwards

 

After making some major adjustments last season, the Carolina Hurricanes will enter the 2013-14 campaign with largely the same crop of forwards.  That’s fine because their current core wasn’t really their problem last season.  Jordan Staal didn’t end up getting a ton of playing time with his older brother, Hurricanes captain Eric Staal, but Jordan still recorded a respectable 10 goals and 31 points in 48 games and the two should continue to serve as Carolina’s top two centers.  The elder Staal figures to continue to play alongside, Alexander Semin and both of them could end up with close to a point per game.  The bigger questions are whether or not Jeff Skinner will continue to be plagued by concussions and if top prospect Elias Lindholm can make a smooth transition from the Swedish Elite League to then NHL at the age of 18.  If Skinner and Lindholm can live up to expectations, Carolina’s offense will go from good to great.

 

Defensemen

 

Injuries plagued the Carolina Hurricanes last season and Joni Pitkanen in particular.  The Hurricanes use Pitkanen in all situations most notably with the man advantage, so his absence was devastating.  Pitkanen hasn’t played in more than 72 games in any of the last six seasons, though, so odds are he’ll sustain at least one noteworthy injury in 2013-14.  Outside of Pitkanen’s health, the other big question mark is 20-year-old Ryan Murphy.  He got a taste of the NHL last season and has a real shot of making the team out of training camp.  If he does, there’s a good chance he’ll end up getting plenty of power-play ice time.

 

Goaltenders

 

As bad as Pitkanen’s injury was for Carolina, the loss of Cam Ward for the better part of the season was what ultimately sank their team.  This time around, they’re less dependent on Ward after signing Anton Khudobin to a one-year contract.  Khudobin is coming off of a terrific season as Boston’s backup goaltender after a string of great years in the minors.  He’ll start the season as Ward’s understudy, but he should push him for playing time and is capable of stepping up, should Ward end up on the sidelines again.

 

Player To Watch

 

There are a couple good ones on this team, but I’m going to go with Ryan Murphy.  When it comes to a defenseman’s fantasy value, their power-play ice time is a huge factor and Murphy is in a great position in that regard.  On top of that, given Joni Pitkanen’s injury history, it wouldn’t be shocking if Murphy finds himself as the team’s top defenseman in power-play situations for a section of the season.  With that in mind, he could put up prolific numbers in his rookie season.

 

Columbus Blue Jackets

 

Forwards

 

The Columbus Blue Jackets made a big splash this summer by signing Nathan Horton to a seven-year, $37.1 million contract.  That might pay off in the long run, but Horton is recovering from shoulder surgery and could be out until the end of December or early January.  Even if he returns before that, this injury will mess with his summer workout routine, already shortened by Boston’s lengthy playoff run, and hinder his ability to seamlessly adapt to his new team.  On top of Horton, Marian Gaborik remains a big question mark.  He’s the type of guy who can lead a team when he’s at his best, but injuries and consistency issues make him far from a safe bet.  Still, he should be highly motivated, given that this is a contract year.

 

Defensemen

 

This is one of Columbus’ strengths as they’re lead by a superb trio in James Wisniewski, Jack Johnson, and Fedor Tyutin.  Between the three, Wisniewski is particularly noteworthy in fantasy leagues as he’s a candidate to have a 40-50 point season if he can stay healthy.  Beyond them, all eyes will be on Ryan Murray.  The Blue Jackets took Murray with the second overall pick in the 2012 NHL Entry Draft, but he never ended up playing with Columbus because he sustained a shoulder injury while he was with the WHL Everett Silvertips during the lockout.  Murray is healthy now, but might struggle to get power-play ice time next season, given his competition.

 

Goaltenders

 

This is what will define Columbus next season.  Sergei Bobrovsky won the Vezina Trophy in 2013, but it was a shortened campaign and he essentially won it on the strength of two amazing months.  If Bobrovsky regresses to the point where he’s merely good next season, Columbus won’t come close to making the playoffs in this fiercely competitive division.  The pressure on Bobrovsky was only heightened by the Blue Jackets’ decision to sign Curtis McElhinney as their backup.  While McElhinney, 30, is coming off of a strong season in the AHL, he’s not someone who can reliably take over for Bobrovsky if he struggles.

 

Player To Watch

 

Marian Gaborik has surpassed the 40-goal mark in every other season starting with 2007-08 only to follow it up with a disappointing campaign.  Will his hot-cold streak continue with a strong 2013-14 campaign?  As mentioned above, he shouldn’t lack motivation and getting away from John Tortorella’s system in New York shouldn’t hurt (although as it happens, he would have gotten away from it even if he hadn’t been traded).

 

New Jersey Devils

 

Forwards

 

I picked the New Jersey Devils as my offseason winners after they re-signed Patrik Elias and then inked Michael Ryder and Ryane Clowe to replace David Clarkson.  Combined with the acquisition of Cory Schneider, which we’ll touch on later, I thought they were having a terrific summer.  Then Ilya Kovalchuk left the team and threw a wrench in all their short-term plans.  They went out and got Jaromir Jagr as a stop-gap measure, but he’s not going to replace Kovalchuk’s scoring production.  You could argue that erasing Kovalchuk’s contract, even with the $250,000 annual recapture penalty, is in the team’s long-term financial interests, but there’s no question that it’s a big blow going into the 2013-14 campaign.

 

Defensemen

 

The Devils have some solid defensemen, but their core of blueliners isn’t particularly noteworthy from a fantasy perspective.  Marek Zidlicky is likely to lead the pack with around 30 points next season.  The main X-factor is Adam Larsson, who is getting ready for his third season in the NHL.  Larsson got next to no playing time with the man advantage last season, but he does have some offensive upside and is still worth keeping an eye on.

 

Goaltenders

 

The acquisition of Schneider ends the concerns people had about the New Jersey Devils’ goaltending future.  In the short term, though, the Devils are in a bit of an awkward position.  Schneider is better than Martin Brodeur at this point and the gap is significant.  At the same time, this is Brodeur’s last season and the team might be reluctant to have him serve it largely warming the bench.  Brodeur will probably end up splitting or even slightly edging out Schneider in terms of playing time, which will deal a significant blow to Schneider’s fantasy value.

 

Player To Watch

 

In 2013, Ilya Kovalchuk logged an insane 5:28 minutes per game with the man advantage and those responsibilities have to go somewhere.  With that in mind, it will be interesting to see what happens with Adam Henrique next season.  He broke out in 2010-11 while playing primarily on a line with Kovalchuk and Zach Parise.  He might never have linemates that good again and he’s coming off of a rough sophomore campaign.  Still, the Devils need him to be one of the players who steps up in Kovalchuk’s absence.

 

New York Islanders

 

Forwards

 

Although he’s still unsigned, right now it looks like the New York Islanders will enter the 2013-14 campaign without Brad Boyes.  That creates an opening on to play on the Islanders’ top line with Matt Moulson and John Tavares.  That’s an enviable assignment given that Tavares has already established himself as a player who records around a point per game and could find yet another level next season, and Moulson is a good bet to reach the 30-goal mark again.  Michael Grabner and Kyle Okposo figure to be among the top candidates and that situation will be worth keeping a close eye on during training camp.

 

Defensemen

 

The biggest setback the New York Islanders suffered over the summer was the loss of captain Mark Streit.  Still, that loss should be mitigated by Lubomir Visnovsky, who figures to bounce back in 2013-14 after a shaky campaign.  Andrew MacDonald is also worth keeping an eye on, as his playing time with the man advantage should increase now that Streit is gone.

 

Goaltenders

 

The Islanders leaned heavily on Evgeni Nabokov during the shortened campaign and that isn’t likely to change in 2013-14.  He should put up solid but unremarkable numbers with New York while starting in 60-70 games.  Kevin Poulin is projected to serve as the team’s backup and isn’t a serious threat to overthrow Nabokov at this time.

 

Player To Watch

 

The Islanders have some appealing prospects in their system and Ryan Strome is arguably the best of them.  After being taken with the fifth overall pick in 2011, Strome has dominated the Ontario Hockey League and remained effective in his 10-game AHL stint last season.  He’s a serious contender to make the Islanders’ opening game roster, although he will have trouble cracking one of their top two lines at first.

 

New York Rangers

 

Forwards

 

The New York Rangers didn’t significantly alter their team over the summer, at least as far as players go, but they did change directions by firing head coach John Tortorella and hiring new bench boss Alain Vigneault.  Tortorella’s gritty, shock blocking style is out and the result should be an increase in offensive production from the Rangers’ top players.  That’s great news for guys like Rick Nash and Derek StepanBrad Richards should get a boost, too, as he looks to put his disastrous finish to the 2013 campaign behind him.

 

Defensemen

 

Vigneault is also looking for defensemen to join the rush, which should result in Michael Del Zotto, Dan Girardi, and Ryan McDonagh seeing a marginal increase in their point totals.  That aside, the big question mark for the Rangers going into the season is Marc Staal.  He made one comeback attempt since being struck near his right eye by the puck on March 5th and it only lasted one game.  The injury left him with headaches and dizziness.  Staal’s vision was also impacted and he might never fully regain what he’s lost.

 

Goaltenders

 

Henrik Lundqvist won’t always be placed at the top of the NHL’s best goaltenders list, but in a fantasy draft, you’d be hard pressed to take anyone over him.  Why?  It’s not just that Lundqvist has been dominant, it’s how long he’s been dominant for.  Not counting the lockout-shortened season, he hasn’t started in fewer than 60 games since his rookie campaign.  Including last season, his GAA has never exceeded 2.43 in a single campaign and his save percentage has never dipped below .912.  He’s the safest bet in the league and he’s the cornerstone of the Rangers.  Although with his contract set to expire next summer, his future with the team remains uncertain.

 

Player To Watch

 

Brad Richards was reduced to a healthy scratch by the end of the playoffs, but there are a lot of reasons to believe he will bounce back.  First off, he was far from disastrous in the regular season with 34 points in 46 games.  He’s also one of the players who should benefit from the coaching change.  Finally, this is essentially a contract season for Richards.  While the Rangers didn’t spend a compliance buyout on Richards this summer, there’s a very good chance they will after the 2013-14 campaign.  It will be their last chance to get out of a contract with the 33-year-old that runs through 2019-20.  His $6,666,667 cap hit will start to look very bad in a few years even if he bounces back next season and more importantly, the new CBA leaves the Rangers vulnerable to a nasty cap recapture penalty if Richards decides to retire before his contract is up.  That’s a real possibility, considering his salary drops to $1 million for each of the final three years of his deal as a result of the heavily frontloaded nature of the contract.

 

Philadelphia Flyers

 

Forwards

 

The Philadelphia Flyers are parting ways with Mike Knuble and likely Simon Gagne and their tight cap situation forced them to buy out Daniel Briere’s contract.  Even still, they managed to sign Vincent Lecavalier to a five-year, $22.5 million deal.  Lecavalier won’t be expected to lead the Flyers’ offense, but he will be a terrific addition to it.  If he stays healthy, a 70-point campaign wouldn’t be out of the question, but Lecavalier has suffered significant injuries in each of his last three campaigns, so staying healthy is a tall order.  Overall, the Flyers have a great offense that features established players like Claude Giroux, recent breakouts like Jakub Voracek and Wayne Simmonds, and very promising youngsters like Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier.

 

Defensemen

 

Philadelphia will probably end up trading a defenseman before the start of the 2013-14 campaign, given that they have 10 currently signed to one-way deals.  That said, they have two great offensive defensemen in Kimmo Timonen and Mark Streit to lead the charge.  Streit is the younger of the two and he’ll turn 36 in December, so in the long run they’ll need some of their younger players to step up, but for now, Timonen is good for 30-40 points and Streit could best him by about 10 points.  The rest of their prominent defensemen, like Luke Schenn, Braydon Coburn, and Andrej Meszaros, lean more towards the defensive side of the game and aren’t significant factors in most fantasy leagues.

 

Goaltenders

 

With Ilya Bryzgalov’s contract bought out, the Flyers will enter the season with Steve Mason and Ray Emery.  Mason enjoyed a great seven-game stint with Philadelphia, but that came after years of subpar play with the Columbus Blue Jackets.  Maybe a change of scenery was all he needed, but he is nevertheless a huge gamble.  Fortunately the Flyers mitigated their risks by signing Emery this summer.  He’s coming off of a strong season as the backup goaltender with the Chicago Blackhawks and it wouldn’t be surprising in the least if he ends up winning the starting job.

 

Player To Watch

 

Brayden Schenn took a step forward last season with eight goals and 26 points in 47 games.  He averaged 15:32 minutes in 2013 and while playing time is hard to come by with Philadelphia, he might work his way into a more prominent role with the team next season.  That would allow him to take another step forward and surpass the 50-point mark by a healthy margin.

 

Pittsburgh Penguins

 

Forwards

 

The Pittsburgh Penguins weren’t able to re-sign Jarome Iginla, which was hardly surprising, given their cap situation.  Still they were able to lock up Evgeni Malkin, Chris Kunitz, and Pascal Dupuis, with the latter two taking less than they likely would have gotten on the open market.  Combined with Sidney Crosby and James Neal, Pittsburgh’s top two lines are the envy of the league.  The big question is who will take that final slot and Beau Bennett is a very good contender for that role, but more on him later.  The X-factor with the Penguins is Jussi Jokinen, who scored seven goals and 11 points in 10 games with Pittsburgh after being acquired from Carolina.  The question is if he’ll get enough playing time to come remotely close to replicating those results. There’s a good chance he won’t unless some of Pittsburgh’s better players start getting injured.

 

 Defensemen

 

Along with the three forwards mentioned above, the Pittsburgh Penguins also managed to sign Kris Letang to a long-term deal over the summer.  If Letang can stay healthy, he could get over 70 points next season, but he has missed significant chunks of the last two seasons.  Paul Martin is also worth owning in fantasy leagues after stepping up with six goals and 23 points in 34 games last season.  Aside from that, Pittsburgh also signed Rob Scuderi to a four-year, $13.5 million deal over the summer.  He’s not going to do too much offensively, but he’s a great defensive defenseman who should be particularly useful during the playoffs.

 

Goaltenders

 

Marc-Andre Fleury’s playoff collapses are a big concern for a team that hopes to reclaim the Stanley Cup, but he should still enter the season as the team’s starter.  He probably won’t be bad either.  Fleury has suffered through regular season cold patches before, but typically averaging out to be a pretty good goaltender during the 82-game grind.  It’s when the postseason starts that things become problematic.  Tomas Vokoun will continue to serve as the backup and should get a healthy number of starts, given that he’s overqualified for that role.

 

Player To Watch

 

As mentioned above, there’s a good chance Beau Bennett will end up playing either alongside Evgeni Malkin or Sidney Crosby.  Bennett is highly regarded and coming off of an impressive stint with the Pittsburgh Penguins during which he scored three goals and 14 points in 26 games while averaging just 12:18 minutes.  In 2013-14, he’s a good candidate to establish himself by getting around 50 points.

 

Washington Capitals

 

Forwards

 

The Washington Capitals lost Mike Ribeiro over the summer as an unrestricted free agent and thus far they have not signed anyone capable of filling that void.  That said, Brooks Laich is penciled in slide into the role of the team’s second line center as a result of Ribeiro’s departure.  The Capitals certainly aren’t the deepest team offensively, but they have two big weapons in Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom.  Ovechkin in particular should be in for a big season under the guidance of Capitals coach Adam Oates, whose plan to shift Ovechkin to the right wing has already paid dividends.

 

Defensemen

 

They have two great young blueliners who have grown into prominent roles with the team in John Carlson and Karl Alzner, although only the prior has any fantasy value.  Then of course there’s Mike Green, who posted back-to-back 70-plus point seasons from 2008 to 2010 and followed them up with 57 points over the last three years.  That drop has largely been due to injury problems that have plagued him for years.  He has only played in more than 75 games once in his career and has reached the 70-game milestone three times.  If he can stay healthy, he would battle for the scoring title among defensemen.

 

Goaltenders

 

Braden Holtby’s first “full” NHL season was far from picture perfect, but he got better as the year progressed and looks like one of the better starters in the league.  That said, Michal Neuvirth is a talented netminder in his own right and can’t be overlooked.  While Holtby should end up holding the number one gig, Neuvirth should battle him for playing time all season and win significantly more than a typical backup.

 

Player To Watch

 

This could be a big year for Marcus Johansson, although that’s somewhat dependent on the role he ends up in.  He had success with Alex Ovechkin last season and if he ends up in a similar role in 2013-14, he’s capable of taking a significant step forward with 50-60 points.

 

Click here for the latest NHL player news, and follow @RyanDadoun and @Rotoworld_HK if you're on Twitter.

 



Ryan Dadoun is an Associate Editor for Hockey on Rotoworld. Feel free to follow him on Twitter or check out his blog.
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