The NHL finally got around to realigning their divisions this offseason and the Pittsburgh Penguins find themselves in arguably the most intriguing one. Albeit the worse named.
The brand spanking new Metropolitan Division consists of the old Atlantic Division with the Carolina Hurricanes and Washington Capitals moving up north and the Columbus Blue Jackets hopping over from the Western Conference. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman made rivalries a premium when constructing these new divisions and there is no better example then the Metro (that is never going to sound normal). Aside from the bitterness between the Pens and the Flyers and the Flyers and the Rangers and the Rangers and the Islanders, adding the 'Canes and Caps makes things even testier. The two of them already have a thing and the networks are drooling over having Sidney Crosby verses Alexander Ovechkin four times a year.
The other mindset going into this shake up was the years-long pleading of teams like Detroit and Columbus to get out of the West. Wishes granted as the Red Wings land in the new Atlantic (with logical new foes Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lightning) and the Blue Jackets head to the Metropolitan. Detroit being in the East means the Penguins conference schedule gets a lot tougher, which is worrisome considering the Eastern Conference teams have more competition for playoff spots. Both divisions in the East have eight teams. The West has seven apiece. Keep ears to the ground for possible league expansion in the coming years.
A quick scouting report on the three new guys:
Washington Capitals - Despite winning the Southeast last year and coming within a game of advancing in the playoffs, the Capitals are on the downslide. The Southeast was the weakest division by far last year (the only one sending a lone representative to the postseason). The stiffer competition in the Metro might frustrate the Capitals team like Ovechkin's playoff performance frustrated the fanbase. Plus, the team lost second leading scorer Mike Ribeiro to the Coyotes and replaced him with . . . no one.
Carolina Hurricanes - Was there a bigger disappointment in the NHL last year? The 'Canes signed productive center Alexander Semin and traded a first rounder for Jordon Staal. Both moves bolstered a lineup that needed it and the team took that momentum to a 19-25-4 record and tenth place conference finish. Like the Capitals, the stronger division might stump the team's progressive growth. Unlike the Caps, their roster looks sharper and more apt to a challenge, with youngsters Jiri Tlusty and Jeff Skinner adding spark.
Columbus Blue Jackets – For much of their existence, the Blue Jackets have been a joke. But with a strong playoff push and impressive defensive play (anchored by goalie Sergei Bobrovsky's Vezina Trophy winning greatness), the punchline might be on the NHL this year. The Blue Jackets are young, hungry, and having big name players walking through the door. They traded for Marian Gaborik and inked Nathan Horton to a seven-year contract. Big things are happening in the Ohio capital.
The new divisions were a long time coming. Pittsburgh and Columbus are three hours apart while the Motor City is only four hours away from the Steel City. It made no sense for the two to be in the West. Now that the NHL got it right, it makes the East better and the Penguins job tougher. But they will be up for it. After all, this is the NHL and nothing is easy.
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