The NHL made some big changes with realignment and a new playoff format, three teams from each division will automatically play for the Stanley Cup, which is good news for the Metropolitan Division as it looks to be the deepest in hockey this season.
With each team playing 30 games against new division rivals, it could get tough for the bottom half teams to make a run like in years past, but it should also give hockey fans some great games and new rivalries in the upcoming year.
Boston might have won their way to the Stanley Cup Finals last year, but Pittsburgh looks like the team to beat this season, especially if Sidney Crosby stays healthy for the entire year. The Penguins dropped several high-priced veterans during the off-season, but signed key contributors to last years success to long-term contracts. This is the best offensive unit in hockey with three of the top-15 goal scorers from the league wearing the Black and Gold, but confidence and better goal tending in the post-season is needed for this team to finally win the cup.
The NY Rangers made a couple moves during the off-season, but for the most part will have the same roster as last year. This team played better as the season went along and now with a full training camp and another year together, many experts are predicting big things from this squad. The one big change is head coach as former Vancouver Canucks head man Alain Vigneault is now on the bench and the hope is he can make this team better on the offensive end of the ice, something they lacked last season, but still have the defensive intensity needed to play against the likes of Pittsburgh and Washington. This team could start slowly with the new coach and nine straight games on the road to open the season, but look for big improvements as the year progresses and perhaps a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals if all goes as planned.
This division is tough if the Washington Capitals are picked to finish third. After winning 27 games and the Southeast Division in 2012-13, this team will need to find some youngsters to fill the need for depth on the back line and maybe some scoring from their third line to compete in the new Eastern Conference. The good news for the Capitals and their fans is Alex Ovechkin resurrected his career with the switch to right wing, something head coach Adam Oates can take credit for, but the loss of Mike Ribeiro and Matt Hendricks could create a problem, especially if newcomer Mikhail Grabovski struggled with his new team. Washington has enough talent on their top two lines to play with anyone in the league, but injuries and a full season playing in the new Metropolitan Division could take its toll and anything above a third place finish would be a tremendous accomplishment.
Philadelphia is the enigma in hockey as the team is very talented, but poor goal tending and a lack of discipline caused the Flyers to win just 23 games last season. The front office decided in the off-season to buyout the contract of goalie Ilya Bryzagalov and sign free agent Ray Emery from Chicago. Making this move the team should be stronger on the defensive side of the ice and adding center Vincent Lecavalier should help the offense, but health will play a major role for this team in 2013-14 and with some luck and good fortune, Philly will make a trip to the NHL Playoffs in April and could become a dark horse as a title contender.
Columbus played their first twelve years in the league in the Western Conference, but the new realignment now has the Blue Jackets in the East and that could hurt their growth. This team had 24 wins in the shortened season last year and missing the playoffs, but the same success in wins is highly unlikely and that will definitely hurt their shot at making the Eastern Conference Playoffs. The front office added Nathan Horton, but the former Bruins forward will miss the start of the year recovering from shoulder surgery, leaving head coach Todd Richards hoping youngsters Cam Atkinson and Ryan Johansen can contribute early and often on the offensive side of the ice. The Blue Jackets have a great goalie with Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky, but backup Curtis McElhinney struggled and with a full season of games and now playing in the East, things could get ugly if the injury bug hits this squad.
Carolina was one of the best early season stories in hockey last year, but winning just seven of their last 27 games to close out the season and missing the playoffs put a big damper on what looked like a promising year. Goalie Cam Ward and his health plays a big part on this teams success and a return from a knee sprain that caused him to miss the last month of last season at least gives this team and its fans some hope in 2013-14. The top two lines are good on offense, but the back line needs more depth and talent. The Hurricanes allowed 159 goals last season, second most in the league and a repeat performance will have this team battling to stay out of last place in the division and the bottom half of the Eastern Conference.
The new division will likely have a big impact on the NY Islanders this season. After a 24-17-7 record and a trip to the playoffs last season, this team will need to play better and more consistent this year to repeat that performance. This squad has some good talent with John Tavares, Josh Bailey, and Matt Moulson, but for this team to grow they need youngsters Griffin Reinhart and Ryan Strome to play beyond their years. Defense was solid last season, but they need more offensive production from their back line, especially with Pittsburgh and Washington now division rivals. Expectations for this year are guarded, but fans do expect a winning season and if the youngsters play to expectations, this team could move into the top half of the division by years end.
New Jersey is not expecting much, but that doesn't mean the Devils are throwing in the towel. This team has lost 40 percent of their scoring from off-season moves, but the front office did bring in Jaromir Jagr and Ryane Clowe to offset some losses, but this team needs more young talent, especially goal scorers and with an average age of over 30, injuries could really hurt their depth. The Devils are not expected to challenge in the division or Eastern Conference this season, but with a couple more solid drafts and perhaps some better free agent signings next summer, the rebuilding process should be completed quicker.