Every now and then, hockey fans like to argue over which division is the league’s strongest. Those fans have been out of luck in recent years, as the Central took hold of the title and didn’t seem interested in giving it up. But this year, there’s a new king of the hill, and it’s not even close. The Metro is crushing everyone.
We could crunch the numbers a few different ways. As of this morning, five of the division’s teams find themselves holding down spots in the top seven of the overall standings. The Metro boasts the two best goal differentials in the NHL, courtesy of the Rangers and Blue Jackets, as well as the league’s hottest team, the Flyers. Oh, and there’s also the defending Stanley Cup champion Penguins and defending Presidents Trophy-winning Capitals. The Metro features the three highest-scoring teams in the NHL, and two of the three top teams in goals allowed.
The division is stacked. And they’ve spent the last week absolutely stomping the rest of the league.
The Metro isn't unbeatable top-to-bottom, of course. But even the Devils and Hurricanes have had their moments, and both are probably better than their records show. And even the division's only truly bad team—the last-place Islanders—have been trending up lately, beating some good teams over the past two weeks before falling flat in a 6-2 loss to the Blue Jackets on Saturday.
Here's something to keep an eye on: If things keep trending in this direction, we have the possibility of running into a scenario that's long been possible in the NHL but rarely actually happens: a top-eight team in a conference not making the postseason. That would require the relatively unlikely outcome of one division's sixth place team ending up ahead of the other's third place finisher, and we're almost there right now.
The Devils are technically the East's ninth-place team, tied with the Panthers, Lightning and Red Wings. But those three Atlantic teams are all two points out of a playoff spot because they can catch the Bruins, while New Jersey is seven back of the Capitals for the last wildcard spot. The Devils (or Hurricanes) could theoretically finish eighth or even seventh in the East and still miss out on a postseason invite. The NHL playoff format is weird.
On to this week's power rankings. Hey, you'll never guess which division is dominating the top five…
Road to the Cup
The five teams that look like they're headed towards Stanley Cup-favourite status.
5. New York Rangers (19-9-1, +31 true goals differential*): We always knew their starting goaltender would start winning them some games eventually. We just kind of assumed that would be Henrik Lundqvist.
4. Columbus Blue Jackets (17-5-4, +31): I give up. I said I wouldn't put them in the top five until they left me with no other choice. Here we are.