Who will win the Metropolitan Division in 2014?

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As mentioned in last week’s post, the Metropolitan division has been nothing short of a disappointment as we enter the quarter mark of this season. There have already been many writers that have put their two cents in, but just before the season started, some thought that this was the toughest division in hockey. Personally, I felt like their is way too much bias from cities that demand expect their teams to win Stanley Cups every season. Carolina and Columbus will always be the outliers to this bias because both teams that usually perform terribly and are expected to finish where they should be in the standings. As for remaining six teams, everyone of them has either been to a conference final in the last five years (New Jersey, New York Rangers, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh) or has one of the six best players in the world (New York Islanders, Washington). However, only so few can qualify for the playoffs and that is where smart analysis and not poor journalism have to come in play in terms of this seasons predictions.

8. Carolina

19-25-4, 42 points, 13th in the East

-32 Goal Differential, 45.0 expected points (T7th unluckiest)

32.0 Even Strength SF60 (3rd), 31.3 Even Strength SA60 (27th)

51.6% Corsi (10th), 50.2% FO (14th), 985 PDO (26th)

14.6% PP (27th), 77.6% PK (27th), +4 Penalty Differential

From Rob Vollman’s player usage charts: http://www.hockeyabstract.com/playerusagecharts.

From Rob Vollman’s player usage charts: http://www.hockeyabstract.com/playerusagecharts.

Projected Average Age: 26.89, Playoff Experience: 261 games

After beating Washington 4-0 on the road on March 12th, the Carolina Hurricanes were sitting in first place in the Southeast division. However, they would soon lose seven games in a row not once but twice and go 4-16-3 the rest of the way. Head coach Kirk Muller was a defensive mastermind in his days with Montreal and will have to rally his group again in Carolina to have any shot of competing with the Metropolitan division. So far, they are holding their own, but like last season, they are losing Cam Ward to injury and will also be out with backup Anton Khudobin. In the offseason, GM Jim Rutherford did not do much to change the roster except for signing a few veterans in Khudobin, Ron Hainsey and Nathan Gerbe to short term contracts and acquiring Andrej Sekera in a draft day trade. Carolina is in a sticky situation because they have not been to the playoffs since their conference finals run in 2009, but they are also in a non-traditional hockey market and their checkbooks will look disgusting if their fanbase doesn’t fill the arena during hard times. As a result, the smart strategy of tearing the roster down and rebuilding may not be the best proposition.

1st Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Jiri Tlusty (26, 72-15-20-35-24-1.75, 1 yr/$3.2 million)
  • C: Eric Staal (29, 80-28-42-70-64-3.15-52.0%, 3 yrs/$8.25 million)
  • RW: Alexander Semin (30, 68-20-29-49-66-3.01, 5 yrs/$7 million)

2nd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Jeff Skinner (21, 73-27-28-55-50-3.80, 6 yrs/$5.725 million)
  • C: Jordan Staal (25, 73-20-31-51-44-2.30-50.1%, 10 yrs/$6 million)
  • RW: Elias Lindholm (19, 75-12-20-32-4-1.30, 3 yrs/$925,000)

3rd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Tuomo Ruutu (31, 69-16-22-38-46-1.94, 3 yrs/$4.75 million)
  • C: Riley Nash (24, 75-10-23-33-20-1.20-44.3%, 2 yrs/$575,000)
  • RW: Patrick Dwyer (30, 72-9-9-18-20-1.80, 2 yrs/$900,000)

4th Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Drayson Bowman (25, 73-8-7-15-32-1.85, 1 yr/$600,000)
  • C: Brett Sutter (26, 75-6-7-13-50-1.00, 1 yr/$600,000)
  • RW: Nathan Gerbe (26, 63-9-14-23-32-2.00, 1 yr/$550,000)

Bench (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • Kevin Westgarth (30, 29-1-1-2-40-0.47, 1 yr/$725,000)
  • Radek Dvorak (37, 29-5-6-11-6-1.89, 1 yr/$600,000)

Even with the idea of going broke and tanking, Carolina does have plenty of talented young forwards. Jordan Staal is one of the most underrated forwards, Jeff Skinner hopes to rebound and become one of the NHL’s up and coming stars and 18-year old Elias Lindholm is expected to make an impact after getting selected sixth overall in last summer’s draft. Staal’s little brother Jordan will hope to rebound from a subpar shooting season last year while Alexander Semin and Jiri Tlusty hope to continue their success from last year’s fantastic campaigns. The knock on Carolina over the years, however, has been their lack of depth in scoring. Sadly, that tradition may continue as the bottom six forwards do not bring that skill set outside of Tuomo Ruutu and Riley Nash. Nathan Gerbe has been off to a solid start in his first year in Carolina, but he has to find a way to sustain it for 82 games, which is what he did not do in his last two years in Buffalo. Brett Sutter and Patrick Dwyer will bring penalty killing minutes while Drayson Bowman is the team’s default fighter.

1st Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Tim Gleason (31, 71-2-14-16-68-0.90, 3 yrs/$4 million)
  • D: Justin Faulk (22, 73-11-19-30-30-2.25, 1 yr/$840,000)

2nd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Andrej Sekera (27, 70-3-15-18-22-1.14, 2 yrs/$2.75 million)
  • D: Ron Hainsey (33, 74-3-17-20-22-1.08, 1 yr/$2 million)

3rd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Jay Harrison (31, 65-4-10-14-68-1.11, 3 yrs/$1.5 million)
  • D: Brett Bellemore (25, 78-1-5-6-100-0.50, 1 yr/$600,000)
  • G: Cam Ward (30, 3 yrs/$6.3 million)

Bench (Age before May 2014, Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • Mike Komisarek (32, 15-0-1-1-6-0.70, 1 yr/$700,000)
  • Ryan Murphy (21, 16-2-4-6-6-1.73, 3 yrs/$863,333)
  • G: Anton Khudobin (27, 1 yr/$800,000)

Like the forward group, lack of depth has been an issue for Carolina’s defensive corps, and they will already be without Joni Pitkanen, who suffered a horrible leg injury against Washington that resulted in the implementation of hybrid icing. With that said, the top pairing of Tim Gleason and Justin Faulk is one you can talk yourself into as a pair you can count on for the playoffs. Gleason is one of the more underrated defensive defensemen, while Justin Faulk is one of the more underrated young puck movers. Hainsey will hope to keep his NHL career alive and well as he waited until the September to sign with an NHL team while Carolina hopes Sekera will be an upgrade to Jaimie McBain as both were involved in a trade that sent McBain and the draft rights to T.J. Compher to Buffalo. Bruising shot blockers Jay Harrison and Brett Bellemore round out the group, but watch out if former top-ten draft pick Ryan Murphy finally gets his chance to the lineup consistently.

As mentioned, both Cam Ward and Anton Khudobin are out injured and are now relying on the never-reliable Justin Peters to keep Carolina in hockey games. After a fantastic 2006 Stanley Cup run when he was 22-years old, Ward had a very solid four-season run from 2008-2012 when he saved 91.8% of his shots faced and had 15 of his 21 career shutouts. Now, into his age-30 season, Ward’s career is officially in the crossroads as he has missed 40 of the last 65 games to injury.

Power Play

  • 1st Unit: Semin-Eric Staal-Skinner-Lindholm-Faulk
  • 2nd Unit: Tlusty-Jordan Staal-Ruutu-Nash-Murphy

Penalty Kill

  • 1st Unit: Jordan Staal-Dwyer-Faulk-Hainsey
  • 2nd Unit: Eric Staal-Sutter-Gleason-Harrison

Considering the amount of top-tier skill Carolina now has, the power play unit was terrible for them last year. They were the fourth worst unit in the NHL and despite shooting at a league average rate, they had the worst shooting percentage with the man advantage. Considering that Muller came from the school of Jacques Martin, you would think the Hurricanes would be solid in some aspect on the penalty kill. Instead Carolina was dead last in shorthanded shooting rate and had the third worst penalty kill percentage.

Best Case Scenario: Considering the lack of standout teams not named Pittsburgh, Carolina finds a way to make the playoffs this time around. It all depends on how Washington and the two New York teams go, but considering none of their front offices find a way to consistently do anything right, the door is open for them. Eric Staal shocks everyone and hits 100 points while Alexander Semin and maybe Jeff Skinner get close to the 80-point mark. Tim Gleason and Justin Faulk become the best defensive pair in the conference.

Worst Case Scenario: Carolina is one of the worst teams in the league again. Once again, lack of depth is the major issue and Cam Ward no longer can stay healthy for the rest of his NHL career. Jim Rutherford has to be fired after the this season and maybe Kirk Muller as well. You would also like to say that Carolina has to relocate if the main objective in the Carolina front office is to maintain high attendance in a dwindling, yet prideful fanbase. However, Raleigh-Durham, Greensboro and Charlotte are among the fastest growing cities in the United States and Gary Bettman might actually be very stupid to move the Hurricane franchise somewhere else.

7. Columbus

24-17-7, 55 points, 9th in the West

+1 Goal Differential, 51.9 expected points (8th luckiest)

24.9 Even Strength SF60 (30th), 29.5 Even Strength SA60 (19th)

47.1% Corsi (27th), 52.0% FO (6th), 1017 PDO (4th)

14.2% PP (28th), 82.6% PK (11th), +11 Penalty Differential

From Rob Vollman’s player usage charts: http://www.hockeyabstract.com/playerusagecharts.

From Rob Vollman’s player usage charts: http://www.hockeyabstract.com/playerusagecharts.

Projected Average Age: 26.63, Playoff Experience: 273 games

Like Carolina, Columbus is not known as a hockey market. However, they made storylines throughout last season as they almost knocked off Detroit to make the playoffs for only the second time in Blue Jackets history. Sergey Bobrovsky, who was picked up in a draft day trade, went on to shock everyone and win the Vezina trophy and is now one of the hottest young goaltenders in the league. This offseason, they made a big splash in signing Cup winner, but now always-injured, Nathan Horton. Just where he left off in Boston, Horton is out until January recovering from shoulder surgery. Last season, there was fear that Columbus will consistently finish last place after trading Rick Nash to the New York Rangers for Artem Anisimov, prospect Tim Erixon and Brandon Dubinsky. Instead, Columbus is slowly collecting talent after trading for Marian Gaborik at the trade deadline and has one of the best farm systems in hockey. The key will be for the Blue Jackets to maintain their success from last year.

1st Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Cam Atkinson(24, 75-21-20-41-18-2.75, 2 yrs/$1.15 million)
  • C: Artem Anisimov(25, 78-16-19-35-30-1.85-48.9%, 3 yrs/$3.283333 million)
  • RW: Marian Gaborik(32, 70-30-31-61-26-3.25, 1 yr/$7.5 million)

2nd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: R.J. Umberger(31, 80-19-24-43-26-2.35-50.0%, 4 yrs/$4.6 million)
  • C: Ryan Johansen(21, 67-11-12-23-26-2.25-51.4%, 1 yr/$870,000)
  • RW: Nathan Horton(28, 71-25-21-46-66-2.40, 7 yrs/$5.3 million)

3rd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Matt Calvert(24, 77-13-15-28-46-1.21, 2 yrs/$987,500)
  • C: Brandon Dubinsky(28, 76-11-27-38-99-1.65-58.3%, 2 yrs/$4.2 million)
  • RW: Nick Foligno(26, 76-12-21-33-64-1.62, 2 yrs/$3.083333 million)

4th Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Blake Comeau(28, 72-8-14-22-36-1.05, 1 yr/$1 million)
  • C: Mark Letestu(29, 70-14-21-35-12-1.88, 2 yrs/$1.25 million)
  • RW: Jared Boll(27, 73-4-7-11-173-0.65, 1 yr/$1.05 million, 3 yrs/$1.7 million)

Bench (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • Derek Mackenzie(32, 25-3-3-6-14-59.4%, 1 yr/$1 million)
  • Boone Jenner(20, 25-6-5-11-26-1.80, 3 yrs/$778,333)

With Anisimov and Gaborik in the fold and speedster Cam Atkinson on the wing, head coach Todd Richards will hope to bring a top line that is fit for the playoffs. Afterwards, scoring will get interesting as they deal with the loss of Horton. Remember, this was the worst team at even strength shooting last year. Into his age-21 season, Columbus is hoping for a breakout season for former top-ten draft pick Ryan Johansen while R.J. Umberger and Nick Foligno have to produce on the scoresheet outside of hitting and blocking shots. Brandon Dubinsky and Matt Calvert round out the third line as both no longer shoot the puck at a high rate anymore. With that said, Dubinsky will at least lead the team in shorthanded minutes while Calvert can’t, and that’s sad to see a 24-year old without any role in the NHL. The fourth line will see Mark Letestu, who had a breakout season last year, pair up with penalty minutes leader Jared Boll and no-show Blake Comeau. Like Calvert, one wonders if Comeau can last in the league when his contract runs out. Boone Jenner has been one of the finds of this early season as the former second round pick has injected a scoring punch to the forward group. However, he suffered a leg injury before Halloween that will hopefully see him return to the ice soon.

1st Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Jack Johnson(27, 76-10-24-34-91-2.25, 5 yrs/$4.357143 million)
  • D: Fedor Tyutin(30, 76-6-25-31-46-1.60, 5 yrs/$4.5 million)

2nd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Nikita Nikitin(27, 63-5-18-23-30-1.55, 1 yr/$2.15 million)
  • D: James Wisniewski(30, 69-9-30-39-44-2.08, 4 yrs/$5.5 million)

3rd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Ryan Murray(20, 60-4-12-16-36-1.50, 3 yrs/$894,167)
  • D: Dalton Prout(24, 69-2-14-16-62-0.60, 1 yr/$666,667)
  • G: Sergei Bobrovsky(25, 2 yrs/$5.625 million)

Bench (Age before May 2014, Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • Tim Erixon(23, 40-1-7-8-18-0.70, 1 yr/$900,000)
  • G: Curtis McElhenny(30, 1 yr/$600,000)

One reason for Columbus’s success was the production that came from the blue line. Jack Johnson has continued to prove that he is among the best, yet underrated, puck movers in the NHL and Fedor Tyutin had a career season all across the board. James Wisniewski even had a solid season after starting off his tenure in Columbus terribly. Shot blocker Nikita Nikitin and hard hitting Dalton Prout are on the last years of their deals while there is anticipation to see how former second overall pick Ryan Murray’s rookie season turns out.

After winning the Vezina trophy, pressure will be on Bobrovsky to continue the success he pulled off last season. Remember that this followed three inconsistent seasons with Philadelphia. If production begins to fall, veteran backup Curtis McElhenny is there to pitch in.

Power Play

  • 1st Unit: Umberger-Gaborik-Horton-Johnson-Wisniewski
  • 2nd Unit: Dubinsky-Johansen-Foligno-Atkinson-Tyutin

Penalty Kill

  • 1st Unit: Dubinsky-Letestu-Johnson-Tyutin
  • 2nd Unit: Anisimov-Mackenzie-Nikitin-Wisniewski

Considering how Columbus’ forwards have been over the years, it is to no surprise that the power play was not all that great. Like Carolina, their bottom five unit was matched with a bottom five shooting percentage while on the man advantage. On the other hand, Columbus was very solid on the penalty kill and finished in the top-11 in all major categories.

Best Case Scenario: Columbus makes the playoffs as Bobrovsky does not skip a beat and Jack Johnson wins the Norris trophy. As a result, we have to rekindle the never ending debate about who is the best Jack Johnson of all-time. R.J. Umberger has a career season and the top line produces at a high level while the mobile defense continues to produce amongst the best in the NHL.

Worst Case Scenario: The lack of goal scoring rears its ugly head as Columbus misses the playoffs again. Bobrovsky returns to his mediocre self and Nathan Horton does not fully recover until next season. Frustration mounts as youngsters Jenner, Murray and Johansen don’t produce at a high level.

6. New Jersey

19-19-10, 48 points, 11th in the East

-17 Goal Differential, 47.8 expected points

26.6 Even Strength SF60 (25th), 22.4 Even Strength SA60 (1st)

55.9% Corsi (2nd), 48.2% FO (24th), 976 PDO (27th)

15.9% PP (21st), 81.1% PK (16th), +7 Penalty Differential

From Rob Vollman’s player usage charts: http://www.hockeyabstract.com/playerusagecharts.

From Rob Vollman’s player usage charts: http://www.hockeyabstract.com/playerusagecharts.

Projected Average Age: 30.74, Playoff Experience: 1109 games

After a very disappointing season last year, New Jersey’s offseason was certainly not uneventful. First, the Devils traded their first round pick to Vancouver for goaltender Cory Schneider. Next, they signed Michael Ryder and Ryane Clowe in the beginning of the summer signing period. Then, their best player in Ilya Kovalchuk decided to retire from the NHL and then signed with the KHL’s SKA St. Petersburg four days later. Finally, Damien Brunner and Jaromir Jagr was added to the roster to finish the offseason. Since the beginning of his tenure, the Devils were a franchise that has been to the playoffs throughout the majority of GM Lou Lamoriello’s tenure. However, if things go south for them, the Devils will miss the postseason for the third time in four years. Oh, and they have the oldest roster in the NHL and will be facing a 2014 draft without a first round pick due attempting to front-load Kovulchuk’s last contract.

1st Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Patrik Elias(38, 75-22-39-61-30-2.40-43.6%, 3 yrs/$5.5 million)
  • C: Travis Zajac(28, 75-12-23-35-28-1.75-56.4%, 8 yrs/$5.75 million)
  • RW: Jaromir Jagr(42, 73-21-29-50-36-2.10, 1 yr/$2 million)

2nd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Ryane Clowe(31, 65-15-27-42-86-2.10, 5 yrs/$4.85 million)
  • C: Adam Henrique(24, 75-19-15-34-16-1.90-49.0%, 6 yrs/$4 million)
  • RW: Michael Ryder(34, 79-22-26-48-30-2.15, 2 yrs/$3.5 million)

3rd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Andrei Loktionov(23, 59-11-9-20-6-1.75-38.8%, 1 yr/$725,000)
  • C: Dainius Zubrus(35, 71-10-22-32-40-1.20, 3 yrs/$3.1 million)
  • RW: Damien Brunner(28, 75-24-25-49-20-3.00, 2 yrs/$2.5 million)

4th Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Ryan Carter(30, 66-6-7-13-67-1.05, 1 yr/$775,000)
  • C: Stephen Gionta(30, 70-5-11-16-24-1.25, 1 yr/$562,500)
  • RW: Steve Bernier(29, 74-13-12-25-30-1.62, 1 yr/$775,000)

Bench (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • Krys Barch(34, 17-1-1-2-38-0.36, 1 yr/$750,000)
  • Rostislav Olesz(28, 17-2-3-5-6-1.21, 1 yr/$700,000)

New Jersey’s forward lines are one of the best in the NHL, if this roster was constructed in 2008. However, this is 2014 and the likes of Patrick Elias, Jaromir Jagr, Ryane Clowe, Michael Ryder and Danius Zubrus are not getting older anytime soon. All those five will have to find a way to produce at the level they did throughout the primes of their careers. It will be critical that younger veterans Brunner, Adam Henrique and Travis Zajac step up and become the leaders of this franchise. Henrique was the hero of the 2012 Devils team by scoring the game winner to send them to the Stanley Cup Finals, but he has forgotten how to pass the puck since that season. As for the likes of Ryan Carter, Stephen Gionta, Steve Bernier and Andrei Loktionov, all but Loktionov can deliver hits, but none of them will be able to drive possession for any hockey team, let alone this one.

1st Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Andy Greene(31, 72-4-17-21-22-1.02, 2 yrs/$3 million)
  • D: Adam Larsson(21, 69-1-14-15-22-1.00, 1 yr/$925,000)

2nd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Bryce Salvador(38, 65-2-7-9-50-0.70, 2 yrs/$3.166667 million)
  • D: Marek Zidlicky(37, 72-6-24-30-48-1.27, 4 yrs/$4 million)

3rd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Mark Fayne(26, 73-3-12-15-30-1.05, 1 yr/$1.3 million)
  • D: Anton Volchenkov(32, 64-2-6-8-42-1.07, 3 yrs/$4.25 million)
  • G: Corey Schneider(28, 2 yrs/$4 million)

Bench (Age before May 2014, Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • Peter Harrold(30, 39-2-6-8-10-1.04, 2 yrs/$800,000)
  • G: Martin Brodeur(41, 1 yr/$4.5 million)

Throughout the glory years of the Devils, the one thing that has stayed consistent has been the prevention of shot attempts thanks to their blue line. However, considering that New Jersey does not score like they used to, another thing that stands out is that there is no true puck mover on this team. The last important point is that, like their forwards, this is one of the oldest defensive groups in the NHL and they have long contracts that will keep this unit old for quite a while.

Captain Bryce Salvador is in his age-38 season with two years left on his contract and is paired with Marek Zidlicky who is in his age-37 season and is just starting a four year contract himself. Shot blocker Anton Volchenkov has been a real dissapointment for the Devils as he has been only given third line minutes. Even though his possession numbers look solid, Volchenkov is also starting mostly on the offensive zone; which makes no sense considering he has never scored more than four goals an entire season. The rest of the defensive corps are two of its youngest members in Mark Fayne and Adam Larsson. Fayne has been off to a terrible start to his contract year as he has been surpassed by the likes of Eric Gelinas and Peter Harrold on the depth chart while Adam Larsson has already been suffering major injuries throughout his NHL career and hasn’t even finished his age-21 season. Now the former #4 overall pick isn’t even playing 18 minutes a night.

As much as Martin Brodeur will go down as the most influential player in Devils history, the addition of Corey Schneider is a massive upgrade in the short term and long term. The truth is that Martin Brodeur really hasn’t put together a fantastic season in three years and almost any Hall of Fame level player retires at the age Brodeur is in.

Power Play

  • 1st Unit: Elias-Jagr-Zajac-Brunner-Zidlicky
  • 2nd Unit: Henrique-Clowe-Ryder-Bernier-Greene

Penalty Kill

  • 1st Unit: Zubrus-Zajac-Salvador-Volchenkov
  • 2nd Unit: Henrique-Elias-Greene-Fayne

Like the last two teams mentioned, New Jersey’s tenth worst unit coincided with having a bottom ten power play shooting percentage. However, the Devils shot at the ninth best rate. Will that result in an improvement with all forward the additions? New Jersey’s penalty kill was pretty average, but if it wasn’t for having the worst shorthanded save percentage, they would have been significantly better. In fact, only the St. Louis Blues gave up fewer shots per 60 minutes on the penalty kill than the Devils did last year.

Best Case Scenario: Since last year, the Devils have been one of the better teams in terms of Corsi, yet one of the worst in terms of PDO. Plenty of that was because of poor goaltending and poor offensive quality, but all of that has changed because of the quality of their forwards and the upgrade from an aging Brodeur to a younger Schneider in net. This time around, the puck possession remains constant, yet the PDO gets better as they actually PROGRESS to the mean.

Worst Case Scenario: As evidence shows, we haven’t hit a point where PDO should be absolutely treated like a luck based stat. Also, it can not be overstated how old this hockey team is. As a result, injuries will ravage this team and that is why the goal scoring will not get better. Larsson and Henrique show no signs of long term improvement and Martin Brodeur will retire with his last season on a down note.

5. New York Islanders

24-17-7, 55 points, 8th in the East

0 Goal Differential, 52.5 expected points (10th luckiest)

29.9 Even Strength SF60 (8th), 27.0 Even Strength SA60 (8th)

50.0% Corsi (14th), 49.7% FO (17th), 990 (24th)

19.9% PP (11th), 80.3% PK (21st), +14 Penalty Differential

From Rob Vollman’s player usage charts: http://www.hockeyabstract.com/playerusagecharts.

From Rob Vollman’s player usage charts: http://www.hockeyabstract.com/playerusagecharts.

Projected Average Age: 27.26, Playoff Experience: 226 games

After years of being among the doormats of the NHL, the New York Islanders finally make the playoffs. They might have lost to Pittsburgh in the first round, but the Islanders fought valiantly. It gave the chance for superstar John Tavares to showcase his skills in front of the hockey world and has now proven why he is at least one of the six best players in the world. Now heading into age-23 season and his first year as captain of the team, Tavares is striving to get better. There have been changes to the roster, as Pierre-Marc Bouchard and Cal Clutterbuck come from the Minnesota Wild and Thomas Vanek was recently acquired in a trade in exchange for Matt Moulson and draft picks. Time will tell if this trade will work for the Islanders in the long term and there have been rumors that Vanek will stop at nothing to sign with Minnesota next July. However, the Islanders have the most cap space in the NHL, so there is a chance this team is built to make more trades for the mid-season trade deadline. Either way, the Islanders are now on the map and the league is on notice.

1st Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Thomas Vanek(30, 77-32-32-64-46-2.75, 1 yr/$7.142857 million)
  • C: John Tavares(23, 81-36-38-74-32-3.40-49.4%, 5 yrs/$5.5 million)
  • RW: Pierre-Marc Bouchard(30, 63-11-35-46-20-1.64, 1 yr/$2 million)

2nd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Josh Bailey(24, 74-15-19-34-24-1.52, 5 yrs/$3.3 million)
  • C: Frans Nielsen(30, 72-12-29-41-18-1.80-48.0%, 3 yrs/$2.75 million)
  • RW: Kyle Okposo(26, 71-16-25-41-44-2.25, 3 yrs/$2.8 million)

3rd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Michael Grabner(26, 73-22-7-29-18-2.35, 3 yrs/$3 million)
  • C: Peter Regin(28, 60-5-12-17-16-1.15-43.8%, 1 yr/$750,000)
  • RW: Cal Clutterbuck(26, 75-14-11-25-74-2.05, 4 yrs/$2.75 million)

4th Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Matt Martin(24, 80-7-10-17-96-1.50, 3 yrs/$1 million)
  • C: Casey Cizikas(23, 71-9-15-24-22-1.10-52.2%, 1 yr/$793,333)
  • RW: Colin McDonald(29, 77-12-14-26-50-1.80, 2 yrs/$637,500)

Bench (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • Anders Lee(23, 27-2-2-4-24-1.00, 1 yr/$900,000)
  • Eric Boulton(37, 27-0-1-1-62-0.30, 1 yr/$550,000)

If the New York Islanders are going to match what they did offensively, they will have to do it without Matt Moulson and Brad Boyes, who finished second and third on the team in scoring last season. GM Garth Snow will hope the acquisitions of Vanek and Bouchard will help the Islanders maintain a strong top line with Tavares as the centerpiece. The second line of Frans Nielson, Kyle Okposo and Josh Bailey is also one that can put great numbers against really strong competition, but they do not drive as much possession as a second line unit should. The third line was supposed to consist of training camp invite Peter Regin, but he is no longer on the roster and has been surpassed by rookie Brock Nelson. He will be teamed with speedster Michael Grabner and new signing Clutterbuck. The fourth line will consist of defensively used players in Casey Cizikas, Matt Martin and Colin McDonald. All three players are capable of scoring goals, but instead are used to deliver plenty of hits en masse. Last year, if you believed that all statisticians counted hits the same way, you would have believed that Martin led the league in that very category.

1st Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Andrew MacDonald(27, 70-4-14-18-34-1.01, 1 yr/$550,000)
  • D: Travis Hamonic(23, 78-4-23-27-46-1.78, 7 yrs/$3.857143 million)

2nd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Lubomir Visnovsky(37, 70-11-25-36-30-1.75, 2 yrs/$4.75 million)
  • D: Brian Strait(26, 66-2-11-13-36-0.57, 3 yrs/$775,000)

3rd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Matt Donovan(23, 79-7-16-23-118-1.15, 1 yr/$875,000)
  • D: Thomas Hickey(25, 67-2-5-7-14-1.20, 2 yrs/$675,000)
  • G: Evgeni Nabokov(38, 1 yr/$3.25 million)

Bench (Age before May 2014, Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • Matt Carkner(33, 31-1-3-4-68-0.85, 2 yrs/$1.5 million)
  • G: Kevin Poulin(24, 1 yr/$577,500)

What will make or break the Islanders this year will be how well their defense and goaltending perform. There is real concern that 38-year old Evgeni Nabokov is not the answer in goal and backup Kevin Poulin still lacks the pedigree to start in the NHL. They have already made a trade with Buffalo, but if this is not the perfect destination for Ryan Miller after February’s trade deadline, I really don’t know where else he’ll go.

As for the defenseman, they will be without their captain from last year as Mark Streit decided to sign with Philadelphia during offseason. However, this team still has Travis Hamonic and Andrew MacDonald, who could be the most underrated top pairing in the NHL. From here on out, however, it is a crapshoot. Brian Strait and Lubomir Visnovsky were solid last year as an all-out offensive second unit, but none of them had to worry about shutting down top opponents every night. Meanwhile, Thomas Hickey was also brilliant in rebuilding his NHL career, but now he has to continue his production with rookie Matt Donovan.

Power Play

  • 1st Unit: Tavares-Vanek-Nielsen-Bouchard-Visnovsky
  • 2nd Unit: Okposo-Bailey-Grabner-MacDonald-Hamonic

Penalty Kill

  • 1st Unit: Nielsen-Grabner-MacDonald-Hamonic
  • 2nd Unit: Clutterbuck-Martin-Strait-Hickey

Last year, everything about the Islanders’ power play was solid. The eleventh best unit had the eighth best shots per 60 and the seventh best shooting percentage. Will there be changes now that Vanek and Moulson have switched teams? With the power play being so efficient, the Islanders’s penalty kill was pretty mediocre. Last year, they were the tenth worst unit and gave up the fifth most shots per 60. The addition of Clutterbuck to the penalty killing group will hope to change their fortunes. Sadly, that hasn’t come close to being the case so far this season.

Best Case Scenario: John Tavares wins the Hart Trophy as the Islanders continue their progression in becoming one of the up and coming teams in the NHL. The defense continues to improve and Garth Snow is able to bring Ryan Miller to the team for a late season push to the playoffs. They may not make it passed round one again, but Miller resigns with the team and the Islanders becomes one of the best destinations for any free agent in the NHL as they get ready for their move to Brooklyn.

Worst Case Scenario: Clutterbuck and Bouchard do not bring anything to the offense and the team as a whole sees a drop off in offensive production. The Islanders start out so far back from the playoffs, that no trades occur to make the team better during the mid-season trade deadline. The Islanders are then found out to be a cheap franchise as no one is paid over $5.5 million long term and does not show any signs to be aggressive and spend a good chunk of their league leading $14 million in cap space.

4. Philadelphia

23-22-3, 49 points, 10th in the East

-8 Goal Differential, 52.6 expected points (T4th unluckiest)

27.9 Even Strength SF60 (16th), 28.9 Even Strength SA60 (15th)

47.6% Corsi (23rd), 48.5% FO (23rd), 988 PDO (25th)

21.6% PP (3rd), 85.9% PK (5th), -13 Penalty Differential

From Rob Vollman’s player usage charts: http://www.hockeyabstract.com/playerusagecharts.

From Rob Vollman’s player usage charts: http://www.hockeyabstract.com/playerusagecharts.

Projected Average Age: 28.16, Playoff Experience: 661 games

In the 46-year history of the Philadelphia Flyers, they have only missed the playoffs nine times. Of those nine times, five of them came from their dark years of 1989-1990 to 1993-1994. So missing the playoffs is an absolute rarity and the fanbase demands change if signs show that the team is falling apart. That already happened in the beginning of the season with Craig Berube replacing longtime head coach Peter Laviolette. However, Philadelphia’s major issue has been giving exorbitant contracts to aging veterans and ignoring the development of young talent, such as James Van Riemsdyk and potentially, Sean Couturier.

So what did maligned GM Paul Holmgren do? He did what he always does. Find the most creative way to find cap space by amnestying fan favorite Daniel Briere and public enemy number one Ilya Bryzgalov then signing future Hall of Famer Vincent Lecavlier and established veteran Mark Streit to four year or over contracts. Both players are still productive, but both are over 34-years old. Can Philadelphia maintain the success that their history expects or will the team have to face the music, tear down the roster and start a major renovation?

1st Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Scott Hartnell(32, 76-20-24-44-118-2.35, 6 yrs/$4.75 million)
  • C: Claude Giroux(26, 80-28-60-88-38-2.90-54.5%, 1 yr/$3.75 million, then 8 yrs/$8.275 million)
  • RW: Jakub Voracek(24, 80-22-36-58-36-2.75, 3 yrs/$4.25 million)

2nd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Brayden Schenn(22, 64-12-16-28-34-1.75, 1 yr/$870,000)
  • C: Vincent Lecavlier(34, 76-20-36-56-54-2.20-54.4%, 5 yrs/$4.5 million)
  • RW: Wayne Simmonds(25, 80-24-24-48-112-2.50, 6 yrs/$3.975 million)

3rd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Maxim Talbot(30, 78-12-12-24-54-1.30, 3 yrs/$1.75 million)
  • C: Sean Couturier(21, 78-12-22-34-20-1.70-43.9%, 1 yr/$925,000, then 2 yrs/$1.75 million)
  • RW: Matt Read(27, 76-22-24-46-8-1.90, 1 yr/$900,000, then 4 yrs/$3.625 million)

4th Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Jay Rosehill(28, 58-3-2-5-181-0.65, 2 yrs/$675,000)
  • C: Adam Hall(33, 72-3-9-12-28-1.10, 1 yr/$600,000)
  • RW: Zac Rinaldo(23, 64-3-6-9-200-0.70, 2 yrs/$750,000)

Bench (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • Kris Newberry(32, 51-2-4-6-92-0.70, 1 yr/$600,000)

What has been consistent about Philadelphia over the years is their strength in scoring depth. Consistently, they have put out three lines that can shoot the puck and score. So far, that is not even close to being the case, but their even strength shooting percentage is the third worst in the league so far. Progression to the mean is due.

Concerns are really sprouting for two of their top line players in Scott Hartnell and Claude Giroux. We understand that having a glorious ginger mullet is required to play for Philadelphia, but Hartnell and Giroux have been terrible when they shaved their haircuts. Kidding aside, Hartnell is 32 years old and is starting a six year contract while Giroux is hitting the peak of his powers, yet is shooting the puck way less and seeing his shooting percentage dwindle. Oh, and he just received an 8-year, $64 million contract extension and looks more like a conservative passer than a free willing scorer. Can you build a team around a guy like that?

Other players that need to step up are Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier. Facing their age-22 and age-21 seasons respectively, Schenn and Couturier were the centerpieces of the Mike Richards-Jeff Carter trade and both were sub-par for what is expected of them last season. This season, Schenn has been brilliant, but Couturier continues to shoot terribly despite being counted upon to be among the team’s best defensive forwards at such a young age.

Players you can count on offensively, however, have been Matt Read, Wayne Simmonds and Jakub Voracek. Voracek had such a breakout season that he is now among the best trade values in the NHL. Maxime Talbot is the most dependable penalty killer, but he has an expensive contract for a player officially hitting his 30s and is on a downward trend offensively. Finally, the fourth line is full of bludgeons and fighters and, outside of Adam Hall on the penalty kill, offers you nothing else in the game of hockey. Yes, I am shocked the Flyers have a line like this.

1st Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Kimmo Timmonen(39, 77-8-35-43-54-1.76, 1 yr/$6 million)
  • D: Luke Schenn(24, 79-4-16-20-56-1.45, 3 yrs/$3.6 million)

2nd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Mark Streit(36, 78-9-37-46-42-1.60, 4 yrs/$5.25 million)
  • D: Braydon Coburn(29, 77-4-15-19-66-1.10, 3 yrs/$4.5 million)

3rd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Andrej Meszaros(28, 73-7-18-25-44-1.79, 1 yr/$4 million)
  • D: Nicklas Grossman(29, 70-1-8-9-38-0.72, 3 yrs/$3.5 million)
  • G: Steve Mason(25, 1 yr/$1.5 million)

Bench (Age before May 2014, Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • Erik Gustafsson(25, 10-1-2-3-2-1.00, 1 yr/$1 million)
  • Marc-Andre Bourdon(24, 10-1-1-2-12-1.00, 1 yr/$612,500)
  • G: Ray Emery(31, 1 yr/$1.65 million)

The real weakness of this team was the depth at defense and the never ending problems at goal. During the mid-season trade deadline, Philadelphia traded for Steve Mason and then signed for Ray Emery during the offseason. Despite his reputation, Mason actually made the goaltending better and is continuing his strong start to he is Flyers career.

As for the team’s blue line, all six of their starters are making them over $3.5 million this season. Kimmo Timmonen and Luke Schenn had solid seasons as the team’s top pairing, but Timmonen is in his age-39 season while Schenn is expected to repeat his first solid season of his career after having a tumultuous time with the Toronto Maple Leafs. New signing Streit is partnered with Brayden Coburn, who is expected to deliver more defensively after a poor season from a possession standpoint. As much as Streit was so dependable with the New York Islanders, he too is getting up there in age as he is hitting his age-36 season. The bottom pair is that of Nicklas Grossman, another defensive defenseman who had a sub-par season, and Andrej Meszaros, who is on the last year of his contract and only played 11 games last year due to a shoulder injury. Streit was also brought in with the assumption that future Hall of Famer Chris Pronger will retire and never recover from a concussion he suffered two years ago. As insurance, veteran Hal Gill was signed to a one-year deal as well.

Power Play

  • 1st Unit: Giroux-Voracek-Lecavlier-Timmonen-Streit
  • 2nd Unit: Simmonds-Hartnell-Schenn-Read-Meszaros

Penalty Kill

  • 1st Unit: Talbot-Couturier-Coburn-Grossman
  • 2nd Unit: Hall-Read-Timmonen-Schenn

Despite all the misery we are witnessing this season, it can not be forgotten that this forward crop has a lot of skill, especially on the man advantage. Last year’s 3rd best unit in the NHL had the fifth best shooting rate and the seventh best shooting percentage. Like their power play, Philadelphia’s penalty kill was among the best in the NHL. They had the fifth best unit in terms of efficiency last year and gave up the fourth least amount of shots per 60. And for all the crap given to their goaltenders, they actually had the tenth best save percentage while shorthanded.

Best Case Scenario: Philadelphia rebounds offensively and finds a way to make the playoffs. Steve Mason is one of the success stories of the season and Brayden Schenn continues his break out season. Claude Giroux regains his scoring touch and finds a way to hit 25 goals and 70 points.

Worst Case Scenario: Steve Mason turns into the same Steve Mason that had him shipped out of Columbus and the offense continues to not put pucks in the net. Couturier, Voracek, Giroux and Schenn do not find that gear that takes their games to the next level and a second era of the Flyers dark years begins. GM Paul Holmgren finds a way to amnesty Scott Hartnell. How, you might ask? He can’t!!! Holmgren went against the league rules and the Flyers will have to face the same penalties New Jersey had when they front loaded Ilya Kovalchuk’s contract. Holmgren gets fired and, why not, Bobby Clarke is hired as GM again.

UPDATE: Last week, a trade was made to send Max Talbot to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for former Flyer Steve Downie. Downie should bring additional scoring punch, but Philadelphia will be losing their best penalty killing forward in Talbot. However, I would not be concerned about Philadelphia’s penalty kill as forwards like Claude Giroux have even proven to be solid defenders when shorthanded.

3. Washington

27-18-3, 57 points, 3rd in the East

+19 Goal Differential, 60.0 expected points (T7th unluckiest)

27.7 Even Strength SF60 (17th), 30.6 Even Strength SA60 (26th)

48.7% Corsi (21st), 50.8% FO (12th), 1014 PDO (6th)

26.8% PP (1st), 77.9% PK (27th), +3 Penalty Differential

From Rob Vollman’s player usage charts: http://www.hockeyabstract.com/playerusagecharts.

From Rob Vollman’s player usage charts: http://www.hockeyabstract.com/playerusagecharts.

Projected Average Age: 27.89, Playoff Experience: 667 games

During the Bruce Boudreau years, the Washington Capitals were among the best teams in the NHL during the regular season. But after three coaches in two years and countless injuries to some of the team’s most important pieces with a lack of top tier talent to replace them, the Capitals are no longer considered a guaranteed Stanley Cup contender. Sure, GM George McPhee has consistently made this team relatively young through solid drafting, but with his conservative approach to resign players to exorbitant contracts, the roster has become stale and who knows if this team can get better despite being together for so long. The few changes that have been made wer the addition of Mikhail Grabovski to replace Mike Ribeiro at second line center and the promotion of 2012 #16 overall pick Tom Wilson to the 23-man roster. Can those additions impact the roster in a positive light, or will it be more of the same for Adam Oates’s men?

1st Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Marcus Johansson(23, 71-12-32-44-10-1.20, 2 yrs/$2 million)
  • C: Nicklas Backstrom(26, 78-17-58-75-40-1.80-51.4%, 7 yrs/$6.7 million)
  • RW: Alex Ovechkin(28, 79-42-40-82-53-4.45, 8 yrs/$9.538462 million)

2nd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Martin Erat(32, 73-14-34-48-44-1.65, 2 yrs/$4.5 million)
  • C: Mikhail Grabovski(30, 71-18-24-42-48-2.10-50.6%, 1 yr/$3 million)
  • RW: Troy Brouwer(28, 78-18-20-38-54-1.68, 3 yrs/$3.666667 million)

3rd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Jason Chimera(34, 75-13-17-30-74-1.95, 1 yr/$1.75 million, then 2 yrs/$2 million)
  • C: Brooks Laich(30, 76-16-23-39-30-2.15, 4 yrs/$4.5 million)
  • RW: Joel Ward(33, 75-11-18-29-25-1.50, 2 yrs/$3 million)  

4th Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Tom Wilson(20, 60-8-13-21-130-1.25, 3 yrs/$900,000)
  • C: Jay Beagle(28, 65-4-5-9-25-1.13, 2 yrs/$900,000)
  • RW: Eric Fehr(28, 62-11-11-22-20-1.80, 2 yrs/$1.5 million)

Bench (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • Michael Latta(22, 30-1-6-7-60-0.85, 1 yr/$785,833)
  • Aaron Volpatti(28, 30-1-1-2-35-0.62, 2 yrs/$575,000)

The Capitals forward crop has shifted a little bit as a result of the two changes McPhee made in the offseason. With Grabovski in the fold, he will be paired with Martin Erat and Troy Brouwer. Both players have solid offensive numbers throughout their careers, but none of them will wow you as guys that will stand out in the top six on a cup contender. Meanwhile, Tom Wilson will be paired with Jay Beagle and Eric Fehr on the fourth line as Wilson gets more acclimated to professional hockey. Beagle has been demoted to the press box behind the likes of Michael Latta and Aaron Volpatti as both players bring a more physical skillset while putting up points at the same rate as Beagle. The top line of Marcus Johansson, Nicklas Backstrom and Alex Ovechkin continue to form the Capitals top line and have not skipped a beat from last year’s productive season. However, one has to wonder if Backstrom and Johansson can deliver as goal scorers when the chips are on the line (a.k.a. the playoffs) if Ovechkin struggles. After all, Johansson’s second contract of his career is only for $1.8 million per season solely because his shot rate is that of a typical fourth liner. That has to get better significantly, as well as Backstrom’s paltry shot rate, if Washington ever wants to make it passed round two of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The third line has been the story of this current season as Joel Ward and Jason Chimera have started out brilliantly. Brooks Laich rounds out the group as he hopes to come back to full strength after only playing nine games because of a groin injury.

1st Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Karl Alzner(25, 80-1-12-13-23-0.78, 4 yrs/$2.8 million)
  • D: Mike Green(28, 67-15-28-43-48-2.45, 2 yrs/$6.083333 million)

2nd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: John Carlson(24, 79-10-26-36-30-2.10, 5 yrs/$3.966667 million)
  • D: John Erskine(33, 68-2-5-7-103-0.80, 2 yrs/$1.9625 million)

3rd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Jack Hillen(28, 67-4-17-21-48-1.20, 2 yrs/$700,000)
  • D: Steve Oleksey(28, 82-3-23-26-97-0.90, 2 yrs/$541,667)
  • G: Braden Holtby(24, 2 yrs/$1.85 million)

Bench (Age before May 2014, Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • Connor Carrick(20, 30-2-4-6-35-0.77, 3 yrs/$636,667)
  • G: Michal Neuvirth(26, 2 yrs/$2.5 million)

Meanwhile, Washington’s defensive corps has been as you were in terms of their three best players. Karl Alzner, John Carlson and Mike Green have been the backbone of this group for the last three years. Green and Carlson lead the puck moving side of the group while Alzner has been the team’s best defensive defenseman. One thing that worries management has been Green’s inability to stay healthy. The former Norris trophy contender has only played 145 of the last 294 games and is now making over $6.5 million per year.

As for the rest of the defensive corps, it has been a house of cards. It’s this part of the group that is why it has been among the worst defensive teams, in terms of even strength shot rate, in the last year and a half. One of the mainstays have been Steve Oleksey, who was a revelation last year after years of playing beer league hockey. Another is John Erskine, who despite having a fantastic last regular season, has been traditionally terrible in the playoffs. His lack of foot speed have always made him not useful for a top four spot and especially any starting spot on a cup contender. 2012 6th round pick Connor Carrick started the season on the 23-man roster, but is now on the AHL in order to not use up the first year on his contract. Jack Hillen (odds are, he’ll be done for the season with a broken leg), Alexander Urbom, Nate Schmidt and Tyson Strachan have been used to round out the group.

Throughout the last two years, the Capitals have developed some of the better young goaltenders in the NHL in Braden Holtby and Michal Neuvirth. Holtby has had the starting job since the end of 2012 regular season and is now among the best goaltenders in the league. For Neuvirth, if he was to regain the starting job he had in the 2o11 playoffs, he might need to go to another team via trade. That is ok, as the Caps have another young goaltenber in Philipp Grubauer that could come in and make his first full NHL season.

Power Play

  • 1st Unit: Ovechkin-Backstrom-Erat-Brouwer-Green
  • 2nd Unit: Ward-Grabovski-Johansson-Perrault-Carlson

Penalty Kill

  • 1st Unit: Laich-Beagle-Carlson-Alzner
  • 2nd Unit: Backstrom-Brouwer-Erskine-Oleksey

On special teams, Washington’s units were about as Jekyll and Hyde as you are going to get. Last year, they lead the league in power play efficiency, but they were the fourth least efficient on the penalty kill. Despite the power play unit only shot the puck with the 12th best rate, they compensated it with having the best shooting percentage in the league and it was not even a contest (by close to four percent!!!!). As Grabovski replaces Ribeiro on the penalty kill, can they find a way to keep their sticks firing accurately, or will the “regression to the mean” virus infect the group? With Brooks Laich being healthy, one would hope the penalty kill can get better in some capacity as the unit gave up the second most shorthanded shots per 60 minutes.

Best Case Scenario: Washington continues their dominance on the power play and improve their penalty killing thanks to the return of Brooks Laich. Tom Wilson becomes a Calder Trophy candidate and the defense improves as the bottom pairing gains more NHL experience. Most importantly, Washington remembers how to drive possession at the level they did three to four years ago. This will help the Caps make the playoffs and hopefully get into, at least, the Conference finals.

Worst Case Scenario: Washington misses the playoffs for the first time in seven years because the goal scoring dries up and the defense worsens as the season goes along. Mike Green’s injuries continue to persist as his $6.5 million contract becomes the worst in hockey. Losing Mathieu Perreault to make space for Tom Wilson becomes one of the biggest mistakes in George McPhee’s career, but Ted Leonsis is embarrassingly loyal to anyone, let along McPhee. So he keeps him until his death as the Capitals never make it to the Stanley Cup Finals for, at least, a generation.

2. New York Rangers

26-18-4, 56 points, 6th in the East

+18 Goal Differential, 59.6 expected points (T4th unluckiest)

31.3 Even Strength SF60 (4th), 26.6 Even Strength SA60 (6th)

52.0% Corsi (9th), 50.0% FO (16th), 1009 (10th)

15.7% PP (23rd), 81.1% PK (15th), +5 Penalty Differential

From Rob Vollman’s player usage charts: http://www.hockeyabstract.com/playerusagecharts.

From Rob Vollman’s player usage charts: http://www.hockeyabstract.com/playerusagecharts.

Projected Average Age: 27.63, Playoff Experience: 723 games

Since the 2008-2009 season, the New York Rangers went from being a flashy, underachieving hockey team, into a grind it out over-achieving one while John Tortorella was the head coach. Many growing pains and temper tantrums later, Tortorella led the Rangers to the Conference finals in 2012 with goaltender Henrik Lundquist winning the Vezina trophyand becoming the best trade value in hockey. However, 2013 was a total disaster as the Rangers struggled to make the playoffs and were eliminated easily by Boston in the second round. As New York developed young and exciting skaters, Tortorella’s style could not continue and was fired this summer. Alain Vigneault arrives as he hopes to develop the likes of Carl Hagelin and Derek Stepan into the same way he developed Daniel and Henrik Sedin during his tenure in Vancouver. For the exception of adding draft bust Benoit Pouliot, the Rangers did not do much to change their roster. Anything short of another cup run is more than a disappointment as almost half the team is on the last years of their contracts, including Lundquist, Dan Girardi and captain Ryan Callahan.

1st Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Carl Hagelin(25, 81-22-27-49-30-3.00, 1 yr/$2.25 million)
  • C: Derek Stepan(23, 82-25-49-74-20-2.30-45.8%, 2 yrs/$3.075 million)
  • RW: Rick Nash(29, 75-36-32-68-50-3.95, 5 yrs/$7.8 million)

2nd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Mats Zuccarello(26, 79-11-26-37-48-1.40, 1 yr/$1.15 million)
  • C: Derick Brassard(26, 69-13-25-38-40-1.85-52.8%, 1 yr/$3.2 million)
  • RW: Ryan Callahan(29, 73-26-24-50-56-3.25, 1 yr/$4.275 million)

3rd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Benoit Pouliot(27, 67-14-14-28-46-1.60, 1 yr/$1.3 million)
  • C: Brad Richards(33, 78-16-48-64-22-2.25-50.6%, 7 yrs/$6.666667 million)
  • RW: Brian Boyle(29, 75-11-9-20-62-1.75, 1 yr/$1.7 million)  

4th Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Taylor Pyatt(32, 74-13-10-23-24-1.55, 1 yr/$1.55 million)
  • C: Dominic Moore(33, 79-10-19-29-52-1.72, 1 yr/$1 million)
  • RW: Derek Dorsett(27, 68-9-8-17-176-1.60, 2 yrs/$1.633333 million)

Bench (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • Aaron Asham(36, 23-2-3-5-28-0.60, 1 yr/$1 million)
  • Jesper Fasth(22, 23-5-5-10-2-1.57, 2 yrs/$805,000)

The biggest mission for Alain Vigenault is to find a way to loosen up the reigns of the forwards and find a way to get the goal scorers to score goals again. The lack of trust from Tortorella in the likes of Brad Richards and Marian Gaborik over the years lead to them being demoted on the forward lines or getting traded. The top two lines will be crucial to get that job done with players like Hagelin, Stepan, Rick Nash and captain Ryan Callahan who is also one of the better two-way forwards in hockey. Mats Zuccarello and Derick Brassard were fantastic after being picked up in last season’s trade deadline, but they will have to continue to produce at that level if the Rangers want to be a Cup contending offense. Richards could be and should be the team’s best center, but instead has started the season where he left off: on the third line. He will be paired by latest signing Pouliot and fellow heavy hitter Brian Boyle. The fourth line was another source of criticism as the group had a lack of stereotypical grit and goal scoring. Sadly, nothing has changed as Taylor Pyatt and Derek Dorsett return. They will be paired with Dominic Moore, who returns to professional hockey after taking a year long sabbatical. Thoughts will be with him as he regains his love for the game during a trying time in his life.

1st Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Ryan McDonagh(24, 80-9-26-35-38-1.85, 6 yr/$4.7 million)
  • D: Dan Girardi(30, 81-5-20-25-32-1.60, 1 yr/$3.325 million)

2nd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Marc Staal(27, 77-4-21-25-46-1.16, 2 yrs/$3.975 million)
  • D: Anton Stralman(27, 70-4-18-22-30-1.40, 1 yr/$1.7 million)

3rd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Michael Del Zotto(23, 73-9-29-38-32-1.85, 1 yr/$2.55 million)
  • D: John Moore(23, 70-2-8-10-22-1.00, 1 yr/$840,000)
  • G: Henrik Lundqvist(32, 1 yr/$6.785 million)

Bench (Age before May 2014, Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • Justin Falk(25, 20-0-3-3-22-0.80, 1 yr/$975,000)
  • G: Cameron Talbot(26, 2 yrs/$562,500)

The strength of this team throughout the Tortorella era has always been strong shot blocking from the blueline meshing well with the best goaltending in hockey. This year will be no different as more of the same will be expected. Henrik Lundquist returns for his final year on his contract. If he does not resign by the beginning of July, he will possibly be the most important free agent in recent memory. After having Martin Biron retire, Cameron Talbot steps in as the team’s backup.

On paper, there could be no better top pairing in hockey outside of Ryan McDonagh and Dan Girardi. Girardi lead the league last year in blocked shots while McDonagh continued to improve his offensive game. Marc Staal and Anton Stralman form the second pairing and are solid offensive players that can drive possession. The key will be for Staal to avoid injury as he has missed 63 of the last 112 games coming into this season. Michael Del Zotto could be one of the more underrated offensive defenseman and is partnered with John Moore to round out the group.

Power Play

  • 1st Unit: Richards-Callahan-Nash-Brassard-Del Zotto
  • 2nd Unit: Stepan-Zuccarello-Hagelin-Girardi-Stralman

Penalty Kill

  • 1st Unit: Callahan-Stepan-Staal-Dorsett
  • 2nd Unit: Boyle-Dorsett-McDonagh-Del Zotto

Under Tortarella last year, the Rangers’s power play was very poor considering their quality in the skills department. The ninth worst power play unit shot also had the worst shot rate of any team in the Eastern Conference. That is flat out unacceptable with players like Rick Nash, Brad Richards and young stars in Carl Hagelin and Derek Stepan. Considering that the Tortarella era for the Rangers was known for its conservative approach, you would think that the Rangers would have a strong penalty kill. Instead, they only finished 15th in efficiency, gave up the 11th most shots per 60 and had the sixth worst shorthanded save percentage.

Best Case Scenario: The Rangers get the offense buzzing again and Brad Richards has a bounce back season. Carl Hagelin and Derek Stepan continue their developments and Henrik Lundquist continues to be the most dependable goaltender in hockey. Finally, the Rangers find their aggressive grit that got them to the conference finals in 2012 and they will at least make it that far in the playoffs this year.

Worst Case Scenario: The offense continues to struggle and the Rangers underachieve by being eliminated in the first round. As a result, the majority of the players that are on the last season of their deals will be gone. Among those players could be Henrik Lundquist as he becomes the richest goaltender in the league with a eight years and $64 million contract.

1. Pittsburgh

36-12-0, 72 points, 1st in the East

+46 Goal Differential, 68.7 expected points (7th luckiest)

29.4 Even Strength SF60 (12th), 29.3 Even Strength SA60 (19th)

49.0% Corsi (18th), 51.7% FO (7th), 1030 PDO (1st)

24.7% PP (2nd), 79.6% PK (25th), +3 Penalty Differential

From Rob Vollman’s player usage charts: http://www.hockeyabstract.com/playerusagecharts.

From Rob Vollman’s player usage charts: http://www.hockeyabstract.com/playerusagecharts.

Projected Average Age: 29.21, Playoff Experience: 1042 games

After years of being a perennial contender, the Pittsburgh Penguins are entering their first season in a while where some of the questions heading into this season may not be answered without a major makeover on the roster. The roster is getting older, rookies will have to be used en masse for the first time in over six seasons and goaltending has officially become a major concern. Even though last year’s rentals in Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow and Douglas Murray are gone, GM Ray Shero was forced to sign players at or near veterans minimums or rely on lesser named rookies to fill out the roster. This was all because Sidney Crosby’s 14 year contract starts and Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang were resigned to long term deals worth over $7 million each. As a result, despite the Penguins having three of the 20 to 30 best players in hockey as their core, they have now limited themselves to make the rest of the team better in the long term.

1st Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Chris Kunitz(34, 75-23-30-53-56-2.31, 1 yr/$3.725 million, then 3 yrs/$3.85 million)
  • C: Sidney Crosby(26, 67-34-77-111-44-3.40-54.3%, 12 yrs/$8.7 million)
  • RW: Pascal Dupuis(35, 75-23-26-49-40-3.00, 4 yrs/$3.75 million)

2nd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Beau Bennett(22, 67-11-34-45-17-1.65, 2 yrs/$900,000)
  • C: Evgeni Malkin(28, 73-35-55-90-74-3.70-47.2%, 1 yr/$8.7 million, then 8 yrs/$9.5 million)
  • RW: James Neal(26, 77-33-27-60-62-3.25, 5 yrs/$5 million)

3rd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Jussi Jokinen(31, 76-16-30-46-42-1.65, 1 yr/$2.1 million)
  • C: Brandon Sutter(25, 80-15-14-29-16-1.85-50.2%, 1 yr/$2.07 million)
  • RW: Matt D’Agostini(27, 77-8-14-22-38-1.00, 1 yr/$550,000)  

4th Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • LW: Tanner Glass(30, 75-3-7-10-82-0.75, 1 yr/$1.1 million)
  • C: Joe Vitale(28, 66-3-6-9-34-0.75-61.1%, 1 yr/$550,000)
  • RW: Craig Adams(37, 74-4-9-13-56-1.00, 2 yrs/$700,000)

Bench (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • Dustin Jeffrey(27, 28-5-4-9-2-1.29, 1 yr/$625,000)
  • Chuck Kobasew(32, 28-4-5-9-16-1.15, 1 yr/$550,000)

Like every other Sidney Crosby era season for the Penguins, the offensive side of the puck is among the best in the league. Last year was no different as Crosby continued playing like one of the best players in the world when he stayed healthy. Uncharacteristically however, the likes of Pascal Dupuis and Chris Kunitz had career seasons that would have had both reach over 70 points (Kunitz was on pace for 99 points!!!) if last year was 82 games long instead of 48. Both had shockingly high shooting percentages that should drop to their averages, but their production with respect to their age (Kunitz at 34 and Dupuis at 35) will be crucial to where Pittsburgh goes this season.

The second line of Evgeni Malkin and James Neal will be joined by rookie Beau Bennett. The 2010 first round pick will have to show that he does not look lost in this forward group in order to maintain a regular spot on this hockey team. Do not be surprised if he drops to the third or fourth line. That is because Jussi Jokinen will be promoted as  was a fantastic steal by GM Ray Sher after being traded by Carolina. Carolina basically received nothing in return since the Penguins failed to make it to the Cup finals. But if Jokinen plays where he was expected, he will be on the third line with fellow ex-Hurricane Brandon Sutter and latest signing Matt D’Agostini. Recently, Chuck Kobasew has passed D’Agostini on the depth chart and got off to a solid start, offensively. The fourth line will be crucial to Pittsburgh’s success as none of them bring a scoring punch or any hope of driving puck possession. Despite Tanner Glass and Craig Adams delivering big hits, they usually leave plenty to be desired in other departments. Remember, this Penguins team did not have a even strength corsi percentage of 50% last year and their penalty kill was a disaster. Thus, it is critical that Shero delivers more magic by finding forwards that can give you scoring depth, strong two-way play and can kill penalties.

1st Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Rob Scuderi(35, 77-1-11-12-20-0.65, 4 yrs/$3.375 million)
  • D: Kris Letang(27, 72-10-54-64-44-2.70, 1 yr/$3.5 million, 8 yrs/$7.25 million)

2nd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Paul Martin(33, 71-4-28-32-20-1.10, 2 yrs/$5 million)
  • D: Brooks Orpik(33, 74-2-13-15-66-0.68, 1 yr/$3.75 million)

3rd Line (Age before May 2014, Projected Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • D: Simon Despres(22, 60-4-10-14-36-1.10, 1 yr/$840,000)
  • D: Matt Niskanen(27, 73-5-18-23-38-1.55, 1 yr/$2.3 million)
  • G: Marc-Andre Fleury(29, 2 yrs/$5 million)

Bench (Age before May 2014, Gms-G-A-Pts-PIM-SPG-FO%, Yrs left/Cap Hit)

  • Robert Bortuzzo(25, 17-1-1-2-22-0.71, 2 yrs/$600,000)
  • Deryk Engelland(32, 17-1-3-4-22-0.91, 1 yr/$566,667)
  • G: Tomas Vokoun(38, 1 yr/$2 million)

Since the 2009 Stanley Cup title, the Penguins’s blue line has been depleted due to trade or free agency and it has been rearing its ugly head during the playoffs. The blue line has been a group that is aging with little young players expected to make the lineup on a regular basis. However, the majority of the projected future Penguins come from the blue line and it is critical to have these players develop this year. So far, that has happened with Olli Maata, and others like Simon Despres, Derick Pouliot and Scott Harrington are expected to come up the ranks in the long term. The current crop is lead by Kris Letang, who when healthy, is among the best offensive defenseman in hockey. He partners with Rob Scuderi, who returns to the Penguins after winning a Stanley Cup with Los Angeles in 2012. The second line of puck mover Paul Martin and heavy hitter Brooks Orpik is dependable when the game slows down. However, considering both are in their age-33 seasons, both will have to be hidden from their lack of foot speed during the playoffs. Maata will be paired with Matt Niskanen who will be counted on being the teams best puck mover as Martin hits the tail end of his career.

Another final piece of concern is the same problem for the Penguins since the 2010 playoffs. During the regular season, Marc Andre Fleury is a solid but dependable goaltender. However, the complete opposite happens by the time the playoffs come around and that can not happen if this current crop of Penguins ever want to become a lockout era dynasty. Tomas Vokoun replaced Fleury during the playoffs, but he is now out for several months due to recovery from a blood clot. As a result, Fleury will have to lead Pittsburgh on his own with possibly 65-70 games in the regular season, plus the playoffs.

Power Play

  • 1st Unit: Malkin-Crosby-Neal-Kunitz-Letang
  • 2nd Unit: Jokinen-Bennett-Sutter-Martin-Niskanen

Penalty Kill

  • 1st Unit: Adams-Dupuis-Scuderi-Orpik
  • 2nd Unit: Sutter-Glass-Martin-Letang
Like Washington, Pittsburgh depth in skillful players shot them towards being among the best power play units in hockey. Unlike Washington, the Penguins matched their efficiency with a shot rate that good enough for third best in hockey. Like Washington again, Pittsburgh’s penalty kill was embarrassing. The sixth worst unit only gave up the 13th most shorthanded shots per 60, but the goaltending was atrocious for having the fifth worst save percentage. With Rob Scuderi back in the fold, there are major expectations for the penalty kill to get better.

Best Case Scenario: The kids are alright. The likes of Beau Bennett and Olli Maata do not out of place. Crosby finally plays a full 82-game season along with Malkin and Letang. Finally, Marc Angre Fleury proves the critics wrong and he leads the Penguins back to the Stanley Cup finals.

Worst Case Scenario: Crosby, Malkin and Letang miss another combined 60 games due to injury and Pittsburgh struggles again defensively as the better shut down players age terribly. More of the same continues with Flower, yet Vokoun does not recover from his blood clot injury and Pittsburgh gets upset in the second round.

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