O’Donnell: Metro Division preview

Finally, after an agonizingly long four-month wait, the NHL is back. October is upon us, and along with Halloween and candy comes the official start of the NHL regular season.
In order to prepare you for the upcoming season, Hockey Prospectus is previewing each division in the NHL. Let’s dive into the Metro Division.

Carolina Hurricanes

Key Stats (2014-15)

Goals For: 182

Goals Against: 219

Powerplay: 18.8%

Penalty Kill: 84.7%

Even Strength Stats

Shots For Percentage: 53.0%

Save Percentage: .902

Corsi For Percentage: 52.9% 

Strengths – The Carolina Hurricanes actually had one of the league’s stronger puck possession teams last season, finishing 13th in the league in score adjusted Corsi. They are returning most of their roster, and have added a solid defenseman in James Wisniewski, as well as a potential star in Noah Hanifin. They could be a surprise playoff team in the East.

Weaknesses – During the offseason, the Hurricanes also addressed their horrible goaltending issues by brining in Eddie Lack from the Vancouver Canucks. The question, however, is whether or not Lack will play more than Cam Ward. Ward is a below average NHL goaltender, and based on past history, Lack should be the starter for most of the season.

Biggest question – Will the scorers rebound? Not only did the Canes have terrible netminders last season, they also had most of their roster shoot well below league average. Jeff Skinner, Nathan Gerbe, Elias Lindholm, Eric Staal, and Victor Rask all had on ice shooting percentages below 6% (at 5 on 5). If Carolina is to have the type of season their possession numbers suggest they are capable of, these guys need to score. Regression suggests that they will, but until pucks start going into the net, the question is going to be there.

Predicted Division finish: 6th

VUKOTA Projection: 86

Columbus Blue Jackets

Key Stats (2014-15)

Goals For: 225

Goals Against: 248 

Powerplay: 21.7%

Penalty Kill: 80.2%

Even Strength Stats

Shots For Percentage: 46.3%

Save Percentage: .910

Corsi For Percentage: 47.0%

Strengths – There are some talented forwards on the Columbus Blue Jackets this season. Ryan Johansen, Brandon Saad, Nick Foligno, Brandon Dubinsky, Cam Atkinson, Scott Hartnell, and Boone Jenner form a solid group of skaters at the top half of the roster, though Gregory Campbell and David Clarkson don’t inspire confidence in the fourth line. Sergei Bobrovsky is also one of the NHL’s better goaltenders.

Weaknesses – There are massive holes in this team’s defensive group. Jack Johnson is a possession black hole, and beyond Ryan Murray, there isn’t anyone who has shown potential to be more than a third defenseman. Though the forwards may be good, they can’t do much if the defensemen don’t get them the puck.

Biggest question – How will Brandon Saad do next to Ryan Johansen? Brandon Saad is a very good winger, who has shown he can dominate next to a great center. Ryan Johansen is a great center, and though Johansen is no Toews, much of Columbus’ offensive production will start with these two talented youngsters. If they gel, and put up 70+ points each, the playoffs will be very reachable. If not, the team may not get to play an 83rd game.

Predicted Division finish: 4th

VUKOTA Projection: 92 points

New Jersey Devils

Key Stats (2014-15)

Goals For: 176

Goals Against: 208 

Powerplay: 19.3%

Penalty Kill: 80.6%

Even Strength Stats

Shots For Percentage: 48.1%

Save Percentage: .916

Corsi For Percentage: 47.2%

Strengths – The New Jersey Devils have the potential to be one of the strong defensive teams in the NHL, as they have a wealth of solid, young defenseman (Eric Gelinas, Jon Merrill, Damon Severson, Adam Larsson), and one of the best goaltenders in the league in Cory Schneider.

Weaknesses – As good as their defense is, the Devils are lacking any kind of punch up front. Who is going to score for this team? A 33-year-old Mike Cammalleri? A 39-year-old Patrik Elias? The offense in New Jersey is just too bleak for the team to have a legitimate chance at the playoffs.

Biggest question – Where does the team go from here? The Devils had one of the oldest rosters in the NHL last season, and their prospect cupboard is essentially empty. There’s a lengthy rebuild just waiting to happen.

Predicted Division finish: 8th

VUKOTA Projection: 82 points

New York Islanders

Key Stats (2014-15)

Goals For: 245

Goals Against: 224 

Powerplay: 18.7%

Penalty Kill: 78.0%

Even Strength Stats

Shots For Percentage: 54.0%

Save Percentage: .915

Corsi For Percentage: 52.7%

Strengths – The New York Islanders have one of the league’s best rosters, especially in terms of skaters, as they finished last season 5th in score adjusted Corsi. Their forward corps is full of young stars, and they have a solid group of defensemen.

Weaknesses – Jaroslav Halak had a rough season last year, as his .914 SV% was not only below average, but also lower than the .921% he posted in the three previous seasons. At the age of 30, the Slovakian netminder isn’t getting much better, and there aren’t many replacement options.

Biggest question – How far can Halak carry the Islanders? There’s no denying that this roster is strong enough to make the playoffs, but where they finish in the league standings (and how far they go in the postseason) depends on the netminder. If he plays well, the Islanders could win the Metro. If he has another off year, the team might have to settle for not having home-ice advantage in the playoffs.

Predicted Division finish: 1st

VUKOTA Projection: 97 points

New York Rangers

Key Stats (2014-15)

Goals For: 248

Goals Against: 187 

Powerplay: 16.8%

Penalty Kill: 84.3%

Even Strength Stats

Shots For Percentage: 50.6%

Save Percentage: .931

Corsi For Percentage: 51.5%

Strengths – The New York Rangers still have Henrik Lundqvist, who is one of the best netminders in the entire league. The King is more than capable of taking an average team, and making them great, and he just may have to do that in 2015-2016, as the rest of the Rangers’ roster just doesn’t seem to be incredibly impressive.

Weaknesses – Contrary to popular belief, this is not one of the league’s best rosters. The Rags finished 17th in the league in score adjusted Corsi, and rode an incredible goaltending performance by Cam Talbot to a President’s Trophy. There are enough quality pieces that give the team some possession skill, but there are also pieces that seem to only drag the rest of the group down.

Biggest question – Can the veterans still play? The Rangers have the 5th oldest roster in the NHL, and players such as Dan Boyle (39), Dan Girardi (31), Marc Staal (28), and Jarret Stoll (33) have already shown signs of decline. Rick Nash is now 31, and Mats Zuccarello is 28. If the veterans can stay good, this team will easily make the playoffs. If not, it could be a very interesting season for the Rangers.

Predicted Division finish: 2nd

VUKOTA Projection: 95 points

Philadelphia Flyers

Key Stats (2014-15)

Goals For: 212

Goals Against: 223

Powerplay: 23.4%

Penalty Kill: 77.1%

Even Strength Stats

Shots For Percentage: 48.1%

Save Percentage: .930

Corsi For Percentage: 49.3% 

Strengths – Jakub Voracek and Claude Giroux. The two form one of the most dangerous duos in the NHL, and could put up very good point totals yet again. Steve Mason is also one of the league’s better (and most underrated) goaltenders.

Weaknesses – Almost everything besides Giroux and Voracek. There are some good pieces at forward (Sean Couturier, Wayne Simmonds), but not enough to make the whole team dangerous. The defense is also incredibly weak, with Michael Del Zotto and 37-year-old Mark Streit likely making up the first pairing.

Biggest question – Can Steve Mason do it again? In 235 games before coming to Philadelphia, Steve Mason posted a .902 SV%. In 124 games with the Flyers, Mason has a .924 SV%. If this team wants any chance at being competitive, Mason needs to have a save percentage of at least .920. He’s proven he’s capable of it; it will be interesting to see if he can do it.

Predicted Division finish: 6th

VUKOTA Projection: 91 points

Pittsburgh Penguins

Key Stats (2014-15)

Goals For: 217

Goals Against: 203 

Powerplay: 19.3%

Penalty Kill: 84.8%

Even Strength Stats

Shots For Percentage: 52.6%

Save Percentage: .926

Corsi For Percentage: 52.8%

Strengths – The forward depth that the Pittsburgh Penguins boast this season is incredible. Not only do they have Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, AND Phil Kessel, but the Pens also have David Perron, Chris Kunitz, Nick Bonino, Sergei Plotnikov, and Pascal Dupuis. That’s an impressive group of offensive players.

Weaknesses – As strong as the forwards are, the defense certainly fails to match up. Beyond Kris Letang and Olli Maatta, there’s little high end talent, and though Ian Cole and Ben Lovejoy are solid players, they aren’t all that impressive. Prospects Derrick Pouliot and Adam Clendening could be ready for top-four minutes, but they aren’t proven at the NHL level.

Biggest question – Can the defense stay healthy? With Letang and Maatta in the lineup, this is arguably the best roster in the Metro. Maatta missed 62 games last season, and though Letang only missed 13, he’s still a year removed from having a stroke. Health is definitely an issue, and with the lack of depth, injuries to Maatta and Letang could derail Pittsburgh’s season.

Predicted Division finish: 3rd

VUKOTA Projection: 96 points

Washington Capitals

Key Stats (2014-15)

Goals For: 237

Goals Against: 199 

Powerplay: 25.3%

Penalty Kill: 81.2%

Even Strength Stats

Shots For Percentage: 50.8%

Save Percentage: .924

Corsi For Percentage: 52.1% 

Strengths – The Washington Capitals boast an impressive group of forwards, led by Alexander Ovechkin. The additions of T.J. Oshie and Justin Williams, along with the development of potential stars Andre Burakovsky and Evgeny Kuznetsov could push this team to the next level. Braden Holtby will also give the team the chance to win every night.

Weaknesses – There aren’t any glaring weaknesses with Washington’s roster (besides the fact that they employ Brooks Orpik), though the defense isn’t incredibly talented. Matt Niskanen is an under the radar top pairing defenseman, and there are enough solid players to give the team a solid defensive group, but it’s far from impressive.

Biggest question – Can this team win it all? Obviously the Capitals are a team that’s geared to win now. They have one of the best pure goal scorers in NHL history, a star goalie in his prime, and several great secondary pieces. Oshie and Williams bring playoff experience along with their skills, and the Caps are hoping that will be enough to finally get the team over the hump, and into the Stanley Cup

Predicted Division finish: 5th

VUKOTA Projection: 92 points

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