There are lots of things to love about the NHL’s new Metropolitan Division.
Okay, not the name. But you can learn to live with that. If you are a Capitals player, coach or executive - or just someone otherwise really invested in how they do - the increased difficulty in making the Stanley Cup playoffs is an issue, too, however.
There’s really no way around that. The top three teams in each of the NHL’s four divisions are guaranteed a playoff berth. Then there are two wild-card spots in each conference. The problem? Not only is Washington’s new division a harder proposition than the old, woeful Southeast Division, but the league added perennial playoff team, Detroit, to the Eastern Conference. The Red Wings last missed the playoffs in 1990 so good luck hoping they finally fall apart.
Also, the reconstituted Atlantic Division, with Detroit as a new member, is already pretty stacked itself with 2013 playoff teams Boston, Ottawa, Montreal and Toronto already in place.
Of course, any of those three Canadian teams could regress. All were in some way a surprise last season. Or new Metropolitan Division rivals like Columbus or Carolina, joining from the Southeast like Washington, could make a push forward. The Hurricanes need a better year from longtime goalie Cam Ward, but certainly have offensive talent. The Blue Jackets made a surprise run at a playoff spot in the Western Conference’s rugged Central Division last year before falling just short.
But there’s no question NHL teams will have to reconfigure their goals. First and foremost is to finish in the top three in your division. Do that and it doesn’t matter what happens in the other one.
Easier said than done for the Caps, of course. Pittsburgh still has a formidable lineup led by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, and the New York Rangers and New York Islanders were both playoff teams last year, too.
And that’s also hoping neither Philadelphia or New Jersey, two longtime playoff teams who missed last season, rebound. It might be tough for the Devils, who lost top forward Ilya Kovalchuk to the KHL. The Flyers have a shaky blueline, but still possess plenty of talent even if they have to weather a freak summer golfing injury to star center Claude Giroux (finger surgery).
The Caps haven’t made any changes this summer. The team that exited in the first round last year against the Rangers is basically – for now - the same one coming back. Did they do enough to keep up with the Metropolitans?