Local NHL Teams Have a Real Chance in Metropolitan Division


courtesy of sportslogos.net

John Fiorino, Managing Editor

The 2018-19 NHL season has already brought surprises and letdowns throughout the league. The Metropolitan Division specifically has been a fun one to watch early on.

All of the local teams have been at the top of the division at some point in the first month and a half and with their competitiveness brings questions like are any of these teams for real? Each fan has their bias and reasonings for saying yes, but looking realistically, this may not be the year for anyone locally.

The New Jersey Devils

The Devils were a surprise in the 2017-18 campaign getting into the playoffs as the 8th seed only to lose in the first round to the powerhouse Tampa Bay Lightning. However, the season was not a waste. The Devils established themselves by putting their name back into the playoff picture, Nico Hischier showed flashes that he truly is the real deal and Taylor Hall had an MVP season. Then, they turned the 17th overall pick into a hyped prospect in offensive-defenseman Ty Smith. They didn’t take the Stanley Cup home, but there was excitement all around.

New Jersey started off hot this season and was atop the division for the first few weeks with goalie Keith Kinkaid leading the team. A difference between this year and last is that winger Kyle Palmeri was on fire to start the year. However, it was last year that Brian Boyle, 33, announced he had cancer and that he would do his best to keep playing. This year, the centerman scored the first hat-trick of his career on Hockey Fights Cancer night in New Jersey, just over a week after he announced his cancer was in remission.

Brian Boyle on the night of his first hat-trick. Courtesy of abc7ny.com.

Currently, the Devils have the injury bug and are low in the division. Hischier hasn’t played in a week, Boyle is on injured reserves and Sami Vatanen, a defenseman who can put the puck in the net, is also on injured reserves. All-Star goalie, Cory Schneider, is back from an early injury but doesn’t look like himself and is not playing well. On paper, the Devils don’t look too good against other powerhouse teams but they didn’t last year either and they found themselves in the playoffs. If they can recapture some of that magic, they could find themselves in the playoffs for a second straight year.

The New York Islanders

Last year was a disappointing one for Islanders fans, to say the least. Not only did the team fail to make the playoffs for the second straight year, but they watched their captain, John Tavares, go home to Toronto for less money than what they were offering. With the departure of the 2009 first overall pick, analysts quickly pegged the Islanders to be one of the worst teams in the league, let alone the division. Mat Barzal, the Rookie of the Year last season, would be all by himself, Josh Bailey would regress and Anders Lee would not be the same without Tavares. One thing analysts forgot about was the Stanley Cup-winning duo of General Manager Lou Lamoriello and Head Coach Barry Trotz.

No, the two did not win together, but Lamoriello built the Devils dynasty in the 90s and 2000s and Trotz won the Cup just last year with the Washington Capitals. They have essentially changed the dynamic of the team overnight. Accountability, clean slates and unity are in place now more than ever and the team has responded well thus far. The Isles are currently in the middle of the division and are getting scoring help from some unlikely faces like Valtteri Filppula, Brock Nelson and Tom Kuhnackl. If you don’t know those names, that’s okay, that’s normal.

Brock Nelson (left) celebrates a goal against Detroit. courtesy of nypost.com.

The style New York is playing is not a flashy one. They look to defend and check the opponent every night, to wear them down. Playing a systematic game is what Trotz does best and is the reason the Islanders aren’t last in the league right now. Similar to the Devils, on paper, this team doesn’t look intimidating, but to play against them is a different story. All players are contributing and doing the little things that matter like blocking shots and intercepting passes. They probably won’t make noise in the playoffs if they get there, but the Islanders are a fun team to watch regardless.

New York Rangers

The 2017-18 season was a season of change for the Rangers. The club publically announced that they were going through a rebuild and asked fans to stick with them through the transition period. Household names like Ryan McDonough, J.T. Miller and Rick Nash are all gone in just a few months time from the announcement of the rebuild. Now, the kids run the show by the likes of Pavel Buchnevich, Brady Skjei and young veteran Mika Zibanejad.

One of the mainstays is Henrik Lundqvist. Doubters were all over “The King” as his age continues to tick up without a Stanley Cup. Some questioned whether or not his loyalty would stay true to the blueshirts after the organization committed to a rebuild. About a quarter of the way through the season, not only is he still in Manhattan but not much as changed as he keeps the Rangers in most games. He also recently became seventh in all-time wins with 438.

Under David Quinn, the Rangers are a different team and are competing most nights. They’ve become a young team and they recently got younger with a trade that sent Ryan Spooner to Edmonton for former Islanders forward Ryan Strome. All the while veteran netminder Lundqvist has put up unbelievable numbers early in the year like a 2.72 goals against average and a .918 save percentage. Those numbers, realistically, can’t last. Therefore, the Rangers need to take advantage while they still have this brick wall version of Lundqvist. A playoff berth would do wonders for the young players’ confidence and the overall morale of the team, but if it happens or not is an entirely different story.

Lundqvist on the night he became 7th on the all-time wins list. Courtesy of nhl.com.

One thing all of the teams have in common is that a quarter of the way through the season, all have seen failure and success. All of them have also tested their depth already by experiencing injuries, the Devils more than the other two though. The Metropolitan Division is wide open this year and it would be a surprise if any of the three won the division, but a playoff berth for any of these teams is very much possible. Each team is in a different spot and the three-way rivalry is thriving under the new wave of talent.