2017-18 NHL Preview: Metropolitan Division

How are the divisions going to shake out this season? Here’s a look at some pressing questions — and some not so much — facing the Atlantic (Oct. 3), Metropolitan, Central and Pacific.

Which team can shake up the division?

The Columbus Blue Jackets tossed a wrench into the Metropolitan Division last season, grabbing the top-three seed that had belonged to the New York Rangers since the NHL’s switch to a new postseason format. It was a rise that has made things a little more difficult on teams chasing the class of the division, but also one that might be repeatable.

The Carolina Hurricanes are too talented to remain idle for another season — especially after a summer spent continuing on the process of filling the gaps. Included in their harvest was Justin Williams, the three-time Stanley Cup winner and a player that established himself as reliable playoff performer back in 2006 when the Hurricanes won their first and only Stanley Cup.

Carolina’s chances, however, hinge on an unproven entity. Former Chicago Blackhawks backup Scott Darling – who is a handful of seasons removed from toiling in the depths of professional hockey – has to fix the club’s enormous hang-up in goal. His acquisition was a major gamble for a club that has otherwise eliminated the element of chance in their reconstruction.

The division’s X-factor?

Darling certainly fits the criteria here as well, but he’s not the only goaltender that will play a major role in how the Metropolitan Division shakes out.

Sergei Bobrovsky and Henrik Lundqvist are coming off two vastly different seasons. Bobrovsky was the driving force behind the Jackets’ turnaround and won his Vezina Trophy while Lundqvist, who had consistently put up brilliant numbers for the better part of a decade, saw his numbers taper off below replacement level. And still, six points separated the two teams at the end of the season.

Correction in terms of performance for these goaltenders could have serious implications on the division.

Team most likely to finish behind the Golden Knights?

The New Jersey Devils aren’t only the Metropolitan Division’s only candidate, but perhaps the strongest league-wide. Their defence is just abysmal.

The team with bust potential?

Given John Tortorella’s coaching history, things could slide off the rails at a moment’s notice in Columbus.

Which team falls the furthest?

Which team could fall the furthest is probably the more accurate description here — and that’s without question the Washington Capitals.

The back-to-back Presidents’ Trophy champions will not only have to manage the reality of having their excellence wasted once again, but the talent exodus normally associated with several seasons of dominance. Washington lost about of their capable defenders from one season ago to free agency or the expansion draft, and was forced to move Marcus Johansson and move on from Justin Williams.

It could be few years yet before the Capitals really slide, in terms of potential fallers in the Metropolitan Division there is no other choice.

Which team is irrelevant?

What sort of talent will Nico Hischier bring to the league in his first year? Report back, will ya Devils fans?

Which team is must-see TV?

Not sure how long this will last (a certain contract status may ultimately determine that), but how could you not be excited about the potential partnership between John Tavares and Jordan Eberle?

Islanders fans have been clamouring for a weapon for their captain, and in Eberle they have an intriguing option. He’s not a pure sniper and he doesn’t have terrific speed, but he seems to have a skillset perfectly catered to a superstar like Tavares, who dominates the game at the same sort of pace.

(Yeah, maybe the Penguins, Capitals, Blue Jackets, Rangers, Hurricanes and Flyers might all be a little more eye-pleasing, but we had to get something in on the Islanders, right?)

Which team will make you change the channel?

If Brian Elliott offers a similar performance to what he brought to the Flames early last season, looking elsewhere on GameCenter.

Finally, who takes it?

Pittsburgh Penguins.

Things, of course, will be a little harder on the two-time champs this season. Matt Murray will now have a complete workload to deal with in the absence of Marc-Andre Fleury. Nick Bonino’s loss takes some significant sting from the bottom six. And the club’s superstars up front — Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel — are each now on the wrong side of 30.

But while an otherwise impossible third consecutive Stanley Cup might be too tall of a task, the Penguins, even with, say, 85 percent every night, still have more than enough to wrest the division title from the Capitals and fend off the Rangers, Blue Jackets and Hurricanes.

With Kris Letang back in the fold and the proven depth pieces on the roster fully capable of picking up the slack every now and then, expect the Penguins to remain the class of the Metropolitan Division — and avoid that daunting divisional matchup in the opening round of the playoffs to help in pursuit of the trifecta.

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