2013-14 NHL preview: Metropolitan Division

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2013-14 NHL preview: Metropolitan Division

We began our four-part series previewing the 2013-14 NHL season with a look at the Central Division on Sunday, the Pacific Division on Monday and the Atlantic Division on Tuesday.

Today, we break down the Metropolitan Division.

Capsules may not include latest injury or roster updates.

Metropolitan Division

1. Pittsburgh Penguins
Even though they only have one Cup this decade, the Penguins remain the class of the East just based on sheer talent -- and that's despite the fact that franchise goalie Marc-Andre Fleury has looked very mediocre in the playoffs two years running. Most people would have Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin in their top three of any poll and that says why the Pens are that good despite being blown out by Boston last spring. Key acquisitions at the trade deadline are gone, but the biggest addition was GM Ray Shero bringing back defenseman Rob Scuderi, whose underrated performance helped the Pens win the Cup in 2009. Fleury’s play needs to pick up substantially, given the shinny hockey the Pens often display. Tomas Vokoun’s blood clot injury is huge right now, especially if Fleury goes south.
 
2. New York Rangers
The days of terror at the rink have ended on Broadway with Alain Vigneault and John Tortorella essentially switching coaching locations. The crafty Vigneault promises to be a headache for the East. No one can explain the full meltdown of the Rangers late last season outside of the $60 million-bust, Brad Richards, but goalie Henrik Lundqvist needs to raise his game in the postseason. He is just 15-17 over the last two years. They've got a lot of new faces, though centerman Dominic Moore returns after a year off following the death of his wife. He is the most intriguing in terms of re-energizing a power play that has been mired in the bottom-third of the league. Look for more help in that area from defenseman Ryan McDonagh.
 
3. Philadelphia Flyers
On paper, the Flyers seem much improved with just a few acquisitions -- Mark Streit to move the puck quicker up the ice; rejuvenated Vinny Lecavalier to give them size at center; and a veteran goalie with a Cup -- Ray Emery -- to work in tandem with Steve Mason. Yet in training camp, neither goalie looked particularly sharp and the team’s overall defense and backchecking were terrible. The search for the missing left wing didn’t turn up anyone, instead the team moved some Flyers into different spots to make room for rookie center Scott Laughton. A healthy defense is absolutely essential for the Flyers to compete, let alone make the postseason when it’s anybody game. Danny Briere’s stick and playoff madness will be missed, but if Jakub Voracek and Brayden Schenn rebound, so could the Flyers.
 
4. Washington Capitals
The Caps won the Southeast Division seven times between 1998 and 2013. They won’t enjoy such success competing in the realigned East’s Metropolitan, which is actually a tougher division than the former Atlantic. Adam Oates’ decision to move Alex Ovechkin from left to right wing last year to jump-start his scoring juices paid off. Ovie’s 32 goals led the league; his 56 points were third-best. Problem has been the Caps never seem to generate postseason momentum and have lost in the conference semis three times this decade. With Alexander Semin gone, Ovie has a new Russian friend in Mikhail Grabovski, the Caps' top free-agent acquisition. There is good talent here led by goalie Braden Holtby (2.58, .920) and defenseman John Carlson.
 
5. New York Islanders
No one could have asked more of the Isles, who gave the Penguins all they could handle in their fascinating six-game playoff battle before folding last year. But the time has come for this young club, which soon will move to Barclays Center in Brooklyn, to make some headway in the East. John Tavares (28 goals) assumes the captaincy from the departed Streit. One thing you won’t see is that Rick DiPietro albatross hanging around the Isles’ necks. Evgeni Nabokov is again the No. 1 goalie. Forward prospect Ryan Strome appeared to have won a spot on the roster, but was sent back to juniors. He was the Isles’ fifth overall pick in 2011. More improvement is expected from Matt Moulson and Josh Bailey. Trade acquisition Cal Clutterbuck (skate cut injury) packs some muscle (155 hits).
 
6. New Jersey Devils
What a disastrous summer for the Devils and general manager Lou Lamoriello, starting with sniper Ilya Kovalchuk telling his boss he was leaving for Mother Russia after free agency had pretty much ended. Then came the financial reports of the Devils' misfortunes coupled with the sale of the club and subsequent release of a mountain of lawsuits against the Devils from various entities. Had Kovy made his intentions known sooner, maybe David Clarkson would still be there. He was replaced by Ryane Clowe and Michael Ryder and to a lesser degree, Rostislav Olesz. The other news is that Marty Brodeur may or may not be the starter in net by season’s end now that Cory Schneider is there. Jaromir Jagr looked cooked by the playoffs for Boston and may not offer much help.
 
7. Carolina Hurricanes
Injuries wrecked the Hurricanes last season across the board, then forward Eric Staal (53 points) injured his knee at the World Championships. The Canes’ health is vital to this club getting back into the hunt, which is why GM Jim Rutherford took a chance on Mike Komisarek with a one-year deal after he was bought out by Toronto and then rolled the dice in trading for nasty and dirty defenseman Andrej Sekera from Buffalo. Carolina also picked up diminutive forward Nathan Gerbe after he was bought out by the Sabres. In all, Rutherford added six players. Cam Ward’s knee is of huge concern, which is likely why the club added goalie Anton Khudobin. Top prospect Elias Lindholm will start the season with the team.
 
8. Columbus Blue Jackets
There have been a lot of changes in Ohio since the arrival of John Davidson as team president in charge of hockey operations. There is optimism for the first time in awhile coming off the heels of the revamped administrative wing of the organization and the pleasantries of having goalie Sergei Bobrovsky win the Vezina Trophy. Even bigger, however, was how Davidson managed to score a coup with the signing of ex-Bruins forward Nathan Horton, perhaps the best free agent on the market. He’ll have seven years to do what Rick Nash was never able to do -- make this club respectable and a playoff contender. Alas, Horton should still be recovering from shoulder surgery when the puck drops, which puts more pressure on Marian Gaborik to carry the offense.

Flyers free-agent goalie fits: Antti Niemi

Flyers free-agent goalie fits: Antti Niemi

Each day this week until July 1, the day free agency begins, Tom Dougherty, Jordan Hall and Greg Paone will profile the five best goalie options for the Flyers on the open market and project their likelihood of signing.

Antti Niemi
Age: 33
Height: 6-2
Weight: 215
Last team: Dallas Stars
2016-17 cap hit: $4.5 million

Scouting report
Niemi signed with the Blackhawks as an undrafted free agent in 2008 and played three games for Chicago in 2008-09. He broke training camp with the Blackhawks in 2009-10 and eventually took over as the team's No. 1 goalie by the end of the season and for the playoffs.

The Vantaa, Finland, native started 22 games in the postseason and helped the Blackhawks to a Stanley Cup win over the Flyers in 2010, though his numbers in the Final weren't pretty. In six games against the Flyers, he posted an .882 save percentage. Overall, Niemi had a 2.63 goals-against average and .910 save percentage in the 2010 playoffs.

After winning the Cup with Chicago, Niemi filed for arbitration but the Blackhawks didn't want to pay the $2.75 million he was awarded and walked away. He signed a one-year deal with the San Jose Sharks, where he ended up spending the next five seasons.

In those five seasons, Niemi compiled a .917 save percentage and 2.40 goals-against average along with 25 shutouts. In the lockout-shortened 2012-13 season, Niemi was 24-12-6 with a 2.16 GAA, .924 save percentage and four shutouts. He was a finalist for the Vezina Trophy, which Sergei Bobrovsky won.

San Jose traded Niemi's rights to the Dallas Stars at the 2015 draft. Dallas signed Niemi to a three-year, $13.5 million contract to pair with Kari Lehtonen. In 2015-16, Niemi posted a 2.67 GAA with a .905 save percentage. He was 25-13-7 and was the backup in the playoffs.

Last season was a disaster in net for the Stars. Both Lehtonen and Niemi struggled, and Dallas missed the playoffs. Niemi had an NHL-worst 3.30 goals-against average and his .892 save percentage was the second worst in the league to Michal Neuvirth (.891).

Dallas acquired Ben Bishop this offseason and then placed Niemi on waivers with the intention to buy out his final year. The Stars will carry a $1.5 million cap hit over the next two seasons while Niemi is an unrestricted free agent.

Dougherty's projection
Niemi is the worst possible option on the market for the Flyers. Going into next season with the two worst goalies from last season based off save percentage would be a major slap in the face of Steve Mason. With that said, I do think he's an option, unfortunately. 

With Ryan Miller reportedly likely to sign in Anaheim, Mike Condon staying in Ottawa, Chad Johnson likely going back to Buffalo, the free-agent goalie market is filling up quickly. There appear to be three teams in the market for either a starter or tandem goalie.

The Flyers are one of them. Winnipeg and Vancouver are the other two. The three best options on the market are Mason, Jonathan Bernier and Brian Elliott. But that doesn't necessarily mean the Flyers view it the same or that any of those three will sign here.

So, it's fair to examine Niemi as a potential fit, albeit not a good one. Let's keep it simple.

Positive: He's cost effective. Since the Stars are still paying him and with his numbers from last season, it's hard to imagine a team handing out a lot of money for him.

Negative: Well, he's not very good. The Flyers may be better off calling Ilya Bryzgalov than signing Niemi. This is a hard pass from me.

Hall's projection
This shouldn't happen for the Flyers.

Niemi turns 34 years old in August and his goals-against average has ballooned each of the past five seasons, with the 2016-17 campaign being his most futile, as his 3.30 GAA was worst in the NHL among netminders with 25 or more games played.

Like Tom said above, Niemi would not take much out of the Flyers' pockets. Maybe the Flyers can get him on a strict one-year insurance policy for dirt cheap — still, extremely unlikely. The Flyers want some quality here, too, not just a bargain.

The Flyers will do their due diligence. Provided the goalie market, Niemi should be evaluated but not seriously considered. The Finn looks in decline and Dallas couldn't get anything in exchange for his services and contract before buying him out.

Paone's projection
The Flyers should be steering way clear of Niemi here.

It’s easy to see why the Stars, a team that was in desperate need of goaltending help before they landed Bishop, decided to cut ties with Niemi last week with a buyout and were willing to eat his cap hit that came with it. Niemi had the chance to take the reins on a star-studded Dallas team and responded by playing like a sieve last season. The numbers Tom and Jordan mentioned above are the proof you need. 

Sure, Niemi would come to Philadelphia on a bargain and that no doubt is a fact that would catch the eyes of Hextall and the Flyers’ brass. And they should do their due diligence on Niemi, as they should with every goaltender on the market. They’d be doing a disservice to the team if they didn’t closely examine any goalie on the market.

But a goaltender on the clear decline isn’t one of the criteria on the Flyers’ checklist here.

And that decline has been steady for Niemi. His goals against average has consistently risen from 2.16 in 2012-13 to that gaudy 3.30 mark last season. And his save percentage has steadily dipped from .924 in 2012-13 to an ugly .892 last year. There’s a reason San Jose decided to move on two offseasons ago and then give up an asset like a precious first-round pick for Martin Jones to shore up their net.

Think about it this way: Isn’t the point of signing and investing in a free agent to make an improvement over what you had last season? 

Would a Niemi-Neuvirth tandem be an improvement over a Mason-Neuvirth tandem? Nope.

NHL Notes: Blues lose Patrik Berglund until December after shoulder surgery

NHL Notes: Blues lose Patrik Berglund until December after shoulder surgery

ST. LOUIS -- Blues center Patrik Berglund is expected to be out until December after having surgery to repair a dislocated left shoulder.

The Blues say Berglund was injured during an offseason conditioning program in Sweden and flew to St. Louis for Tuesday's procedure. The team called it a successful surgery.

The 29-year-old Berglund scored a career-high 23 goals and finished with 34 points in 2016-17, adding four assists in 11 playoff games.

Berglund has spent his entire nine-year NHL career with the Blues, scoring 296 points in 637 regular-season games.

St. Louis fell to Nashville in the second round of the playoffs last season.

Red Wings: Worker dies after fall from new arena
DETROIT -- A worker has died after falling 75 feet (23 meters) at the Little Caesars Arena worksite north of downtown Detroit.

Deputy Detroit Fire Commissioner David Fornell says the 46-year-old man was in cardiac arrest when paramedics arrived about 8 a.m. Wednesday.

Other workers had started cardiopulmonary resuscitation which first responders continued. The man was taken to a Detroit hospital where he was pronounced dead.

Fornell says officials were told the man was an electrical worker and may have fallen from a catwalk. He says the Michigan Occupational Safety and Health Administration likely will investigate.

The arena will be home to the NHL's Detroit Red Wings and the NBA's Pistons. It is scheduled to open this fall.