The NHL Metro Division: A Changing of the Guard?
The New York Rangers won the Presidents' Trophy last season before losing to Tampa Bay in a stirring seven-game series that kept them from going to the Stanley Cup Finals for the second straight year.
Next season could be a different story however, as the Rangers are close to running over the salary cap. That's meant changes, of course. And while some of the division's other teams have improved, New York may have taken a step backwards. But don't tell them that. Not yet.
Martin St Louis announced his retirement, as well. Although he struggled this past season, the diminuative speedster was a positive influence in the locker room during his two-year Blueshirt stint.
One move that hurt was trading fan favorite Carl Hagelin to Anaheim for Emerson Etem, which was a win for the Ducks. Then, the dude who saved their season last year when Henrik Lundqvist was injured, Cam Talbot, got shipped to Edmonton. Given the Oil's defense, at least he won't get bored up there.
Washington, who should've beaten the Rangers in Round 2 this spring, has improved with the additions of TJ Oshie, Justin Williams, and Chris Bourque. The Islanders, who were in first place for most of the season, will be tough again, especially with their move to Brooklyn after leaving the Nassau
Mauseleum Coliseum. But believe it or not, they're still on Long Island, so the nickname is still accurate.
Pittsburgh has underachieved the past couple years and was well and truly banged up last season while playing the Rangers' tough in the first round. The Penguins have added Phil Kessel from Toronto, who should fit in well with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The Pens have a young defense and will be better in 2016.
Of the four non-playoff teams from 2014-2015, watch out for Columbus next year.
The Blue Jackets were struck hard by the injury bug last season but came on strong once they were healthy. They've added Chicago Blackhawks playoff star Brandon Saad, so with a healthy roster and goalie Sergei Bobrovsky, the Blue Jackets are one of the favorites going into the new campaign.
Philadelphia, New Jersey, and Carolina have serious work to do, but things change quickly in the NHL.
The Flyers have a new coach in Dave Hakstol and will need to re-tool to return to the playoffs. New Jersey has replaced longtime general manager Lou Lamoriello with Ray Shero after not making the playoffs for four out of the last five seasons.
Then there's Carolina. The most notable headlines out of Raleigh has been owner Peter Karmanos trashing Jim Rutherford's moves at Pittsburgh. If the dude was that incompetent -- and an argument could be made to support it -- why was he heading the Hurricanes for so long?
Doesn't say much for how Karmanos runs an organization.
They'd be better served to concentrate on keeping the biggest star from their championship team, Eric Staal.
It's possible the late summer will feature more twists and turns, but right now, it looks like Washington and Pittsburgh have improved the most while the Rangers have slipped. Labor Day's right around the corner and camps open soon, even though Chicago is still celebrating its third Cup in six years.
Whether the gap between them and the Metropolitan favorites has closed significantly remains to be seen.