The Metropolitan Division has become arguably the best division in hockey over the past couple seasons. Last season, the division sent five teams to the playoffs which is the most for any division. It has a lot of teams that will be in contention for a playoff spot this season and also has a couple teams who will definitely be Stanley Cup Contenders. It also has the defending Stanley Cup Champions, the Pittsburgh Penguins. The talent level in this division is just amazing as it has players such as Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Claude Giroux, Henrik Lundqvist, John Tavares, etc. Going into this season, the two favourites for the division will be the Washington Capitals and the Pittsburgh Penguins because of how stacked their rosters are. The other spots, except last place, will likely be open for whoever wants to take it and it's going to be interesting to see where everyone finishes once the playoffs start. Here's a look at where I think each team will finish next season and who their best player will be.
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16 Columbus Blue Jackets
This team is on the decline and they likely won't be making the playoffs anytime soon. The Jackets have too much money invested in players who are past their peak and are being paid for past performances. For example, goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky makes $7.4 million per season and Nick Foligno gets paid $5.5 million per season. Not to mention that center Brandon Dubinsky makes $5.8 million per season. These players had very down years last year as Bobrovsky was hurt for a lot of the season, Foligno only had 12 goals, and Dubinsky only had 17 goals. They're also a team that are coached by John Tortorella and the teams he's coached ever since he won the Stanley Cup in Tampa Bay have not been good. They have some good young talent on the roster with Brandon Saad, Cam Atkinson, and Boone Jenner but they won't be making the playoffs this season due to the division just being too tough for them.
15 Best Player: Brandon Saad
This was a pretty hard choice since there really isn't a wrong answer for three players but I went with Brandon Saad. Saad had a career last year with Columbus as he had 31 goals and was tied with Cam Atkinson in points at the end of the season with 53. He'll likely have numbers like that again this season. He definitely earned his $6 million average last season and that'll continue for each year he has that contract since he's well into his prime years. Players such as Cam Atkinson or Boone Jenner definitely have a chance at potentially having more points then Saad but right now, he's the best player on the team. Look for Saad to lead the Blue Jackets in scoring at the end of this upcoming season but do not expect Columbus to be competing in the playoff.
14 New Jersey Devils
New Jersey got better this offseason but I'm not ready to call them a playoff team just yet. They could potentially sneak into a Wild Card spot but that depends on how insane goaltender Cory Schneider is this season. If he plays how he did last year before he got injured, they may have a shot but this division right now is too strong for them. The Devils did get some much needed scoring help when they acquired left winger Taylor Hall from the Edmonton Oilers in exchange for defenseman Adam Larsson. However, I still don't think anyone knows how general manager Ray Shero pulled that off as Taylor Hall is arguably the best left winger in the NHL. It'll be interesting to see if Kyle Palmieri can have another 30 goal year after he had his first 30 goal campaign this past season. The defense is still a question mark as they only have Ben Lovejoy, Jon Merrill, and John Moore. New Jersey is still a team rebuilding a bit but it won't be too much longer until they get back into the playoffs.
13 Best Player: Cory Schneider
Cory Schneider is one of the top five best goaltenders in the league and it's sad that the Devils are wasting his prime years away during a rebuild. By the time they're ready to get back into the playoffs, he'll most likely be out of his prime. He's just on the wrong team at the wrong time but that won't stop him from putting up some insane numbers again this season. Last season before he got hurt, Schneider had 27 wins and a .924 save percetnage. He was likely going to be named one of the Vezina trophy finalists had he not suffered the injry and it would be for a team who wouldn't even be making the playoffs. Schneider will definitely start close to 60 games this coming season if not more and he'll definitely be in the running for the Vezina trophy if he stays healthy. He also should start for Team USA in the World Cup that starts in a couple weeks.
12 Carolina Hurricanes
This was the toughest decision for me as I do think Carolina can challenge for a playoff spot next season. The one thing holding me back from putting them in a playoff spot is their goaltending. Had Ron Francis not gone out and signed Cam Ward to a two year deal, they would've been in a spot but Ward will play a fair share of games this season with Eddie Lack which will likely leave them without a playoff spot. Carolina has done well during this rebuild and they have a lot of young and skilled forwards on their team this season such as Jeff Skinner, Jordan Staal, Teuvo Teravainen, Elias Lindholm, Viktor Rask, and Lee Stempniak. The defense is led by Noah Hanifin and Justin Faulk. The Hurricanes are setup for success in the future as general manager Ron Francis has done a very good job rebuilding the team and they also very well could grab one of the Wild Card spots this coming season if all goes well. It'll just depend on their goaltending and how much they play Cam Ward.
11 Best Player: Jeff Skinner
Jeff Skinner has battled injuries a lot throughout this career but this past season he was injury free and had 28 goals and led the team in points with 51. He's only 24-years-old so he is playing in the peak of his career and will only continue to produce more points until he's out of his prime years. He will have to be big again this coming season if the Hurricanes are to make the playoffs for the first time since the 2008-2009 season when they made it to the Eastern Conference Finals. Playing with Jordan Staal for a full season will help even more and there's definitely the potential for him to have the first 30 goal season of his career this upcoming season. Look for Skinner to shine on a Hurricanes teams that will struggle this season.
10 New York Rangers
New York took a step back this past season as they finished fourth in the Metropolitan Division and then got blitzed in five games by the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. They were a team that looked old and slow through the series but Jeff Gorton went out and made some moves this offseason by trading Derick Brassard for Mika Zibanjed, and signing forwards Michael Grabner, Brandon Pirri, Nathan Gerbe, and Josh Jooris. They then won the Jimmy Vesey sweepstakes a little less then two weeks ago. It all sounds good until you realize that they have one of the worst defensive corps in the NHL. Ryan McDonagh is their number one defenseman but he's been hampered with injuries the past few seasons and they also lost Keith Yandle this offseason to the Florida Panthers. Kevin Klein would be their number two but then they have over ten million invested in Marc Staal and Dan Girardi who are way past their primes. They'll be a team who likely gets a Wild Card spot this season depending on what happens with the Atlantic division.
9 Best Player: Henrik Lundqvist
Lundqvist is arguably the best goaltender in the world right alongside Carey Price but he's going to start declining soon which will be troubling for the Rangers. He's going to be 35 during the season and whether or not New York makes the playoffs will be on how he plays during the season. His defense made him look bad in the playoffs against the Penguins but Lundqvist should be back to his old self this season. There's no doubt in my mind he will be a Vezina candidate again this season but this could be the last big season of his career before his decline really starts. It feels like a "now or never" season for Lundqvist. The Rangers will rely heavily on his exception play in order to make the playoffs, and more importantly, take a run at the Stanley Cup.
8 Philadelphia Flyers
Philadelphia was a surprise playoff team this past season as many people thought they would be a playoff team this coming season instead. They ended up losing to the Capitals in six games in the first round but the future is bright for the Flyers and they'll be back in the playoffs this year. The emergence of rookie defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere last year was incredible to watch as he had 17 goals and 46 points which put him fifth on the team in scoring. He was named a Calder finalist and could've won if everyone didn't vote for Artemi Panarin. Wayne Simmonds also had an amazing year for the Flyers as he had the first 30 goal season of his career. Jakub Voracek would probably love to score more than 11 goals this upcoming season when his new contract kicks in which will pay him $8.25 million per season. Rest assured that the Flyers will be back in the playoffs this season and will finish higher then they did last year in the division when they finished fifth.
7 Best Player: Claude Giroux
Claude Giroux is still the player on the Philadelphia Flyers and easily a top 15 player in this league. He was once thought of as a top five player in this league but a lot of players have emerged ahead of him in recent years. He's still going to be a huge reason why the Flyers make the playoffs again this season. He led the team in points last year with 67 and had 22 goals. It's getting increasingly harder to get a lot of points in this league because scoring is down but Giroux is a player who could potentially hit 80 points this coming season if Jakub Voracek has a better season. Watching those two on the power play this season together should be a treat. Giroux will once again led the Flyers to the playoffs this season as Philadelphia will attempt to return to Stanley Cup glory.
6 New York Islanders
The Islanders had a very good campaign this past season as they finished third in the Metropolitan division and they also won a playoff series for the first time in over 20 years. They ended up losing to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the second round of the playoffs in five games after they knocked out the Florida Panthers in six games. New York ended up with a weakened offense as they lost free agents Frans Nielsen, Kyle Okposo, and Matt Martin and then replaced them with Andrew Ladd, Jason Chimera, and PA Parenteau. Andrew Ladd is signed for seven years and will make $5.5 million per season. That's a bit too much for a player who's 30 and will be 37 when that deal expires. He'll give them good production during the first couple years of the deal but then his decline may kick in. The interesting question for this team will be how much they play Jaroslav Halak and Thomas Greiss this season. Greiss looked really good during the playoffs when Halak was out injured and they could potentially do a 1A/1B kind of goaltender situation. Despite them getting a little worse, they should still finish third because they have one of the best players on the planet in John Tavares and their defense has Travis Hamonic, Nick Leddy, and Johnny Boychuk, which is still pretty good.
5 Best Player: John Tavares
There is absolutely no question that John Tavares is the best player on the Islanders and frankly, he's almost a top five player in this league. Tavares led the team with 33 goals last season and 70 points while also putting up nine points in the opening round of the playoffs against the Florida Panthers. He is likely to have another amazing season for the Islanders and it wouldn't shock me if he gets a huge contract extension during the season since he only has two years left on his current deal which pays him $5.5 million per season. He'll have to get used to playing without Kyle Okposo on the power play but there's no doubt he will lead the Islanders back to the playoffs again this season. Tavares has the potential to lead the lead in scoring and this season could turn out to be his best yet as he attempts to do so while leading the Islanders to the playoffs.
4 Pittsburgh Penguins
The Penguins had the best season in 2016 as they won the Stanley Cup for the fourth time in franchise history. A lot happened before that though as Sidney Crosby was in the worst slump OF his career and Mike Johnston got fired in December. The team took a little while to actually take off under Mike Sullivan but when they did, they were just unstoppable. Crosby went on a tear to end the season and finished third in the NHL's scoring race and was also nominated for the Hart trophy. Kris Letang ended up finishing top five in the league for points among defenseman and he somehow didn't even get nominated for the Norris trophy. Pittsburgh is returning basically their entire roster from the 2016 season except for Ben Lovejoy and Jeff Zatkoff so they're in great shape to potentially repeat next season. Look out for the Penguins as they will remain a legitimate threat to once again bring the Stanley Cup back to Pittsburgh.
3 Best Player: Sidney Crosby
Sidney Crosby is the best player in the world even though Patrick Kane did have a 106 point season for the Blackhawks. Crosby won the Conn Smythe in the playoffs as the MVP and was on a mission to win the Stanley Cup again after Mike Sullivan took over the Penguins. He was also on a 100 point pace when Sullivan took over so it's going to be very interesting to watch how many points he will put up this season. I'd say around 90-95 points because it's getting harder each and every year to put up those kind of numbers. The power play for the Penguins should also be lethal this coming season while he's on it and we all shouldn't forget how great his two-way play is as he finished seventh in the Selke voting this past year. Crosby draws comparison to Wayne Gretzky for a reason. While he will never match the numbers of Gretzky, Crosby is considered just a valuable to his team.
2 Washington Capitals
The Capitals were the best team in the NHL this past regular season and ran away with the President's trophy dating back to January. Their entire roster is basically returning and they should score a lot of goals again this season due to having the best goal scorer in the league in Alex Ovechkin. Washington also has a great power play and it was ranked in the top five during the season. They have so many weapons on it that range from Ovechkin shooting bombs from the left circle, to Matt Niskanen shooting bombs from the point, to Nicklas Backstrom's amazing passing. Braden Holtby should also have another amazing season after he won the Vezina trophy this past season and almost broke the single-season wins record set by Martin Brodeur. They're my pick to win the Metropolitan Division again this season but as always, their season always comes down to if they can finally do well in the playoffs and get passed the second round for the first time during the Alex Ovechkin era.
1 Best Player: Alex Ovechkin
Alex Ovechkin has been the best player on the Capitals for many seasons and that's not likely to change for a while. He's one of the best pure goal scorers in NHL history and has seven seasons of 50 or more goals which is just unbelievable. One of those was a 60 goal season which is even more amazing. He currently sits at 33rd in NHL history for most goals but will likely pass a lot more players before his career is over. He's only 75 goals away from 600 career goals which would put him at 20th in NHL history. Eventually, he won't be able to put up 50 goal seasons anymore since he's getting older but should still be able to put up 30-40 goal seasons. He's going to win the Rocket Richard trophy again this season for most goals and it'll be interesting to see if this is finally the year he gets to a Conference Final. Ovechkin is going to to continue to score while the Capitals will continue to win. Washington will be a serious Cup contender.
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