Fantasy HockeyJosh Kay

2013 NHL Division Previews: Metropolitan Division

Here is our second division preview. The new-look Metropolitan Division! This is by far the weakest division right now in hockey. Our projected division standings at the end of the year look like this:

1.  Pittsburgh Penguins

2. New York Islanders

3. Philadelphia Flyers

4. New York Rangers

5. Columbus Blue Jackets

6. Washington Capitals

7. New Jersey Devils

8. Carolina Hurricanes

Here are the team previews:

Carolina Hurricanes:

Key Losses: RW- Adam Hall, D- Jamie McBain:

Key Additions: D- Andrej Sekera, G-Anton Khudobin.

Off-season: The Hurricanes finished the season 3rd in the Southeast division because of course, that sounds nicer than saying they finished 25th in points. The Canes made a trade-deadline deal last April that sent penalty kill specialist/grinder Adam Hall to the Tampa Bay Lightning for offensive-minded defenseman Marc-Andre Bergeron. Surprisingly, they didn’t retain his services as Bergeron is now playing in the Swiss League. By far their most important addition was goaltender Anton Khudobin. The 27-year-old has only started in 21 games in the NHL but he has an incredible 2.03 Goals-Against-Average and a .933 Save-Percentage. Khudobin has an excellent rapport in the minors as well. In 2011-2012 he posted a 2.61 GAA with a .919 save percentage in 44 games for Providence – Boston’s AHL affiliate.

Notable 2012-2013 stats:

  • 27th in the league in power-play percentage: 14.6 percent
  • Fifth best win percentage when leading after two periods: .933
  • 28th in the league in penalty-kill percentage: 77.6 percent
  • Allowed the second most goals per game

 2013-2014 Outlook: Perhaps the biggest question mark for the Hurricanes and for Fantasy hockey owners is whether or not the 38 points in 48 games put up by left winger Jiri Tlusty is real or not. Tlusty put up just 36 points in 79 games in 2012-2013 and 12 points in 57 games in 2011-2012. It’s worth noting that Tlusty’s shots per game have increased at an incredible rate in the past three years. Starting at one shot per game in 2011, he increased it to 1.74 shots per game in 2012, and then an impressive 2.4 shots per game in 2013. Coupled with that increase in shots was a 19.7 shot percentage, far and away a career high for the 25-year-old from Czech Republic. If he ends up on the first line with captain Eric Staal that could bode well for his scoring output once again. Other fantasy assets on Carolina are center Jeff Skinner, and left winger Jordan Staal. Finally, as I alluded to earlier, goaltender Anton Khudobin has a chance to emerge as a top 20 goaltender given Cam Ward’s inconsistency and frequent injuries.

Columbus Blue Jackets:

Key Losses: None

Key Additions: RW- Nathan Horton, G Michael Leighton, RW- Marian Gaborik

 Off-season: The move that saw super-star right winger Marian Gaborik go to the Blue Jackets from the New York Rangers actually happened at the trade deadline last April. Of course, in a lockout shortened season, Gaborik saw very little time with the Blue Jackets. He made the most of it though, as he recorded three shots per game to go with eight points and a +5 rating. The acquisition of Nathan Horton via free-agency is a double-edged sword. The money the Blue Jackets gave him – seven years, 37 million – is way too much for a player that has had issues with concussions and health in general. For fantasy purposes and the short term, it gives the Jackets a much needed offensive boost to go along with their young and improving blue line. Goaltender Michael Leighton isn’t much of an addition, but replacing Steve Mason makes it noteworthy. Leighton comes over from the Flyers to re-join his former backstop partner Sergei Bobrovsky, who had a breakout season last year for the Blue Jackets

Notable 2012-2013 stats:

  • 28th ranked power-play: 14.2 percent
  • 11th ranked penalty-kill 82.3 percent (was ranked last in PK% in 2011-2012)
  • 9th in Goals Against Average – ranked 28th in 2011-2012

2013-2014 Outlook: The Blue Jackets have made significant improvements heading into this season and with realignment, it couldn’t be coming at a better time. Columbus is now part of the Eastern Conference’s “Metropolitan” Division. Fortunately for the Jackets this division is significantly weaker than most divisions in hockey right now. The Pittsburgh Penguins obviously are a juggernaut but following the departure of Ilya Kovalchuk, the ownership debt situation, and the signing of Ryan Clowe, the New Jersey Devils look to be down-ward trending – this despite the signing of goalie Cory Schneider. The Philadelphia Flyers can’t play defense, and the Washington Capitals, New York Rangers, New York Islanders and Carolina Hurricanes all have significant flaws. If Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky’s performance last year was not a fluke (2.00 GAA, .932 save percentage) than the Blue Jackets have their first legitimate chance in franchise history to make the playoffs.

New Jersey Devils:

Key Losses: LW- Ilya Kovalchuk, C- David Clarkson,

Key Additions: RW- Jaromir Jagr, RW- Michael Ryder, C- Rostislav Olesz, RW- Ryan Clowe, G- Cory Schneider

Off-season: The New Jersey Devils had one of the most eventful off-season’s an NHL franchise has had in quite a long time. For starters, their superstar winger Ilya Kovalchuk abruptly decided to retire, leaving his remaining 12 years and $77 million dollars on the table. Kovalchuk’s decision to retire so he could play in Russia and spend more time with his family, leaves the Devils with a scoring problem. Perhaps the biggest move made by the Devils was the trade that sent goaltender Cory Schneider across the continent from Vancouver. The Devils gave up the 9th overall pick in the draft which became 18-year-old center Bo Horvat.

Notable 2012-2013 stats:

  • 28th ranked in goals per game with just 2.29
  • Ranked last in win percentage when outshot (ranked 13th in 2011-2012)
  • Ranked first in shots allowed per game; 23.1 shots allowed per game.

 2013-2014 Outlook: The Devils are quickly becoming the Nashville Predators of the East. With the departures of Kovalchuk this off-season and former Devil Zach Parise the off-season prior, the Devils have quickly become a team starving for offense. The Devils were 28th in goals per game last year with 2.29. Take away their top scorer and only dynamic offensive player and what does that give you? It gives you a team that will have no choice but to win a bunch of games 2-1. Worse, the Devils barely addressed the scoring need in free agency because of an ownership situation that was leaving GM Lou Lamoriello completely hamstrung. The team was recently sold to a group headed by Josh Harris who said he will keep Lamoriello as the teams GM. Almost immediately after the team was sold, Lamoriello responded well by immediately re-signing young up-and-comer center Adam Henrique to complement prior free agency additions Jaromir Jagr, Michael Ryder, and Ryan Clowe. The Devils putrid offense will manifest itself fantasy wise in the production of goaltenders Schneider and future hall of famer Martin Brodeur.  At this point in time it’s difficult to project how the goalie situation will work itself out, but we should expect a 50/50 playing time split. With both goalies likely not receiving enough starts to roll out every week, getting wins will be all the more important, which unfortunately will not happen. Expect the Devils to finish near the bottom if not at the bottom of the Metropolitan Division as they scramble to search for answers to their anemic offense.

New York Islanders

Key Losses: D- Mark Streit

Key Additions: RW- Cal Clutterbuck, G- Rick DiPietro’s release,

Off-season: The Islanders off-season began in June with a big trade as they sent top defenseman and Captain Mark Streit to the Philadelphia Flyers for winger Shane Harper (no longer with the team) and a fourth round 2014 pick. In July, the team got rid of goaltender Rick DiPietro who is best known for signing a 15-year contract worth $67.6 million dollars in 2006 and supplying a total of 50 games of (lousy) goaltending since then. The Islanders wrapped up July by signing defenseman Travis Hamonic to a long-term 7-year extension and inking expected second-line center Joshua Bailey to a 5-year extension worth $16.5 million, as well as adding free-agent winger Cal Clutterbuck. Clutterbuck is an excellent hitter and is a power-forward that will help keep opposing players from beating up on super-star John Tavares.

Notable 2012-2013 stats:

  • 17th in the league in goals per game after being 28th in 2011-2012
  • 10th ranked in shots-against per game; first time in Top-10 in the last 15 years
  • First time in the playoffs since 2006

2013-2014 Outlook: The New York Islanders are an incredibly intriguing team for 2013-2014. Their defense, which is comprised of a balanced blend of youth and experience, has improved significantly in the past two seasons (although losing captain Mark Streit is a big step back). Their offense, led by Super-star center John Tavares is complemented by crafty left-winger Matt Moulson, speedster Michael Grabner, experienced right-winger Kyle Okposo, blossoming center Frans Nielsen, and power-forwards Cal Clutterbuck and Matt Martin. As always with the Islanders, goaltending is going to be the key. Evgeni Nabokov is 38 years old but still clicking. How much longer can he go? If he does break down can new-comer and 23-year-old goaltender Kevin Poulin fill the void? Poulin has only 21 appearances at the professional level but has done a respectable job having yielded just 48 goals. However, his save percentages of .907 and .893 the past two seasons raise significant questions about his ability to perform if needed. The Islanders should make the playoffs once again barring a massive defensive regression.

New York Rangers:

 Key Losses: RW- Marian Gaborik, RW- Ryane Clowe

Key Additions: C- Dominic Moore, LW- Benoit Pouliot, D- Aaron Johnson, D- Justin Falk

Off-season: At the trade deadline last year the Rangers traded right-winger Marion Gaborik to the Columbus Blue Jackets for right-winger Derek Dorsett and center Derik Brassard (other minor players were involved for both teams, as was a 2014 sixth round draft pick received by the Rangers). At the end of the year the team announced the firing of Head Coach John Tortorella, later replacing him with former Vancouver Canucks Head Coach Alain Vigneault. At the end of June the Rangers traded forward Benn Ferriero and the aforementioned 2014 sixth round pick to the Minnesota Wild for defenseman Justin Falk. The potentially fantasy relevant players that were added by the Rangers were forwards Dominic Moore, and Benoit Pouliot.

Notable 2012-2013 stats:

  • 23rd ranked power-play: 15.7 percent
  • Fourth best in goals allowed per game; 2.25
  • Third best 5-on-5 for and against goal ratio; 1.30

2013-2014 Outlook: The Rangers project to be an excellent defensive team once again as Marc Staal seems healthy for a change. Additionally, Ryan McDonagh, Michael Del Zotto and Dan Girardi are excellent defenseman in their own right. With the additions of Falk and Johnson now, the Rangers not only have a great top-six, they are deep at the position in case Staal is bitten by injury once again. The Rangers will be steady in goal once again as top goaltender Henrik Lundqvist will have a chip on his shoulder following his disappointing play in the playoffs a year ago. The good news stops there however, as the departure of Gaborik and the sharp decline of Brad Richards last season, leaves the Rangers with significant offensive question marks. In addition, left-winger Carl Hagelin and right-winger Ryan Callahan are expected to miss the start of the season with injuries. The saving grace for New York must be Derek Stepan, who if Brad Richards struggles, will jump to the #1 center role and will skate with Hagelin (when healthy) and Rick Nash. After 45 points and 51 points respectively in 2010 and 2011 in 82 games, Stepan put up 44 points in just 48 games in 2012 in what was an excellent breakout campaign. The 23-year-old Stepan is undoubtedly the “x-factor” for New York this season. He’s got Top-30 forward upside.

Philadelphia Flyers:

Key Losses: C- Daniel Briere, G- Ilya Bryzgalov

Key Additions: C- Vincent Lecavalier, RW- Adam Hall, G- Ray Emery, D- Mark Streit

Off-season: The Flyers off-season began with buyouts of both, center Daniel Briere and goaltender Ilya Bryzgalov. However, following that, in an anti-common-sense move, they signed veteran center Vincent Lecavalier to a five-year $22.5 million dollar deal. Lecavalier still has some left in the tank, and at the age of 33 there seems to be no concern about him getting too old, but many forget he started playing in the NHL at only 18-years-old. Giving Lecavalier that lengthy a contract can only lead to one thing: another buyout eventually. The Flyers also signed goaltender Ray Emery who was in net for Chicago’s well publicized 17-1 run last year during the regular season. Emery has talent but can be quite inconsistent meaning that in reality he’s no better than Bryzgalov. Finally, the Flyers acquired defenseman Mark Streit last year and have retained him for this season. The defense still looks awful though.

Notable 2012-2013 stats:

  • 25th in the league in 5-on-5 for and against ratio (meaning that when neither team was on special teams, Philadelphia struggled)
  • Third ranked power-play; 21.6 percent
  • Fifth ranked penalty-kill; 85 percent

2013-2014 Outlook: As always with the Flyers, goaltending will be the absolute key to their season. This season they sport two incredibly mediocre goaltenders in Emery and Steve Mason. Both goaltenders look to split the majority of the starts but as always, a favorite will likely emerge due to performance. The Flyers were in the bottom third of the league in goals against average last year and in 2011-2012. On paper, the Flyers seem to have a decent defense with names like Streit, Kimmo Timonen, Braydon Coburn, and Luke Schenn populating the list. However, most of these guys (Coburn and Schenn specifically) are quite offensive minded and struggle in their own zone. The defense must play a huge role if the Flyers hope to return to the playoffs. On offense, the Flyers are excellent. Starting as it always does with their super-star center Claude Giroux who will center Scot Hartnell and Jakub Voracek. The second line is strong as well as veteran Vincent Lecavalier will be centering Brayden Schenn and Wayne Simmonds. All of these forwards are fantasy relevant with Simmonds being one of my sleepers. Simmonds can put the puck in the net (30 goals??) and really sees the ice well. Rounding out his skill-set is the fact that he will drop the gloves and he’s usually good for 100 penalty minutes a season.

Pittsburgh Penguins:

Key Losses: D- Douglas Murray, RW- Jarome Iginla, LW- Matt Cooke, C- Tyler Kennedy

Key Additions: D- Rob Scuderi, RW- Matt D’Agostini,

Off-season: After a disappointing playoff run which ended in getting swept by the Boston Bruins, the Pittsburgh Penguins are searching for answers to their cup drought. Although it doesn’t seem like it, the Penguins have been a failure since 2008 when they won the cup. Since winning the cup in 08’ and losing in the cup finals to Detroit in 2007, the Penguins have reached the conference finals just once (last season) and have yet to return to the cup. In the salary cap era that may seem like a fine amount of success, but for a team with two of the top three forwards in hockey in Sydney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin as well as one of the best defenseman in Kris Letang, those results are actually a measured amount of failure. The Penguins added veteran experience in the form of defenseman Rob Scuderi to their blue line in the off-season. The Penguins front-office and their fans hope that his addition can cover up any issues goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury may carry over from last season’s playoffs.

Notable 2012-2013 stats:

  • Second best power-play in the league; 24.7 percent
  • Most goals per-game; 3.38
  • 7th best face-off percentage; 51.5 percent

 2013-2014 Outlook: Every discussion involving the Penguins starts up front with their super-stars Crosby and Malkin. Both are capable of putting up more a point per game every season. Armed with a new contract extension, winger Chris Kunitz no longer has something to prove to the Pittsburgh front office but for fantasy, he does. Before Kunitz deserves respect as a Top-15 forward, he must show that his 52 points in 48 games last season, along with a +30 plus/minus rating, is for real. Kunitz had 26 goals and 35 assists in 82 games in 2011 then nearly duplicated those numbers in just 48 games as he potted 22 goals last year. Kunitz benefitted from a career high 19.3 shooting percentage last year that is without a doubt going to regress. Kunitz and fellow “nearly super-star” James Neal must provide excellent production all season long thanks to the salary cap era that has left Pittsburgh scrambling for depth. On defense, Letang, Paul Martin, Matt Niskanen, and Brooks Orpik join newly added Rob Scuderi in what will be one of the most potent blue lines in the National Hockey League. Goaltending of course, remains a problem after Fleury’s mental collapse in the playoffs. Will he be ready to put that behind him or will Tomas Vokoun force Head Coach Dan Bylsma’s hand?

Washington Capitals:

Key Losses: C- Mike Ribiero, D- Jeff Schultz

Key Additions: C- Mikhail Grabovski

 

Off-season: The Capitals didn’t really do much of anything this off-season except swap Mike Ribiero for Mikhail Grabovski at second-line center. In addition, they received winger Martin Erat from the Nashville Predators at last years trade deadline and re-signed Marcus Johansson to a two-year $4-million deal.

Notable 2012-2013 stats:

  • Allowed third most shots on net per game; 32.3
  • Top ranked power-play unit; 26.7 percent
  • Fourth worst penalty-kill unit; 77.9 percent

2013-2014 Outlook: Washington needs to improve in quite a few areas. First and foremost defenseman Mike Green must stay healthy for a full season. Since that won’t happen, let’s tackle the next aspect of this team that needs to improve; drawing penalties  The Capitals sported the leagues’ best power-play percentage last season at 26.7 percent. On a side note, the Nashville Predators led the league in power-play percentage in 2011-2012 at just 21.6 percent. If the Capitals can draw more penalties they will be able to take advantage of that lethal power-play. Additionally, Washington’s penalty-kill must improve. They were the fourth worst penalty killing unit last year and seventh worst the year before that. The year 2010 was the most recent season in which the Caps had penalty-kill success; they were ranked second. Not surprisingly, the Caps finished the regular season with the third best record in 2010. The Capitals are in serious danger of missing the playoffs this year if their special teams don’t improve as a whole.

 

 

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