From 1998 to 2013, the Washington Capitals won seven Southeast Division titles. That feat, however, doesn’t impress many people. Despite producing two Stanley Cup winners and a President’s Trophy winner, the Southeast Division, formed in 1998 after expansion, was widely thought of as one of the NHL’s weakest over its 14-season history.
Realignment means the dissolution of the Southeast and places the Capitals in the daunting Metropolitan Division, a collection of teams that includes the New York Rangers, New York Islanders, New Jersey Devils, Philadelphia Flyers, Pittsburgh Penguins, Columbus Blue Jackets and Carolina Hurricanes. While the move reunites Washington with their Patrick Division rivals, it will also make securing a playoff spot considerably more difficult.
“It’s going to be a huge change,” Capitals defenseman Karl Alzner said. “It’s going to be very, very tough for us.”
While Alzner recognizes that competing against better teams, especially those from the old Atlantic Division, will mean a tougher schedule, he thinks it will benefit the Caps in terms of playoff preparedness.
“I think it’s going to keep the team really honest for all 82 games,” he said.
Center Nicklas Backstrom agreed with those sentiments, noting that division titles, which the Capitals recently won after a dismal start to the lockout-shortened season, won’t be so easy to capture anymore.
“We’re used to the system we played last year at the beginning, so hopefully we can take advantage of that and get going right away this season,” Backstrom said. “We’re playing a tougher division this year, so we need a good start.”
Not all Capitals think that a different division will mean any big changes for the team.
“It’s a bit of a curveball for us, but we’re not the only ones,” defenseman Mike Green said. “Everybody is going through it, so we’ll see what happens. It’s going to be unexpected to see how things turn out, but we’re excited. We’re worried about us and that’s all that matters.”
Washington General Manger George McPhee is even more nonchalant about realignment and doesn’t feel that it will significantly alter the Capitals schedule or season.
“It’s not like we’re playing them a whole lot more than we’ve been playing them,” he said. “We played all those teams four times in years past and now we play them four or five. That’s 30 games out of 82, so how much different will that be? I don’t know, but I think we’re in the right place now, we’re in the right division.”
While not all players and management agree on how realignment will affect their season and playoff chances, everyone asked about the new schedule seems to believe that it will make every game more intense and enjoyable.
“We’re looking forward to it,” McPhee said. “It should be great. They are our natural rivals – close by, easy to get to, easier travel for everyone.”