The NHL’s Metropolitan Division is in a very interesting place as the 2021-22 season begins.
The Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals and Philadelphia Flyers have been the mainstays of the division in recent years, with the Pens and Caps especially enjoying plenty of success. In recent years, though, the New York Islanders have established themselves as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender, while the New York Rangers and even the New Jersey Devils continue to rebuild their rosters with high hopes for the relatively near future.
Oh, and then there’s the Carolina Hurricanes just lingering as a perennial playoff team, knocking on the door and trying to find a way to break through.
Put in a far more simple manner: The Metropolitan Division could break any number of ways this season, making it one of the more interesting groups to watch as the NHL returns to normal.
Here’s a preview of the Metro with teams listed in predicted order of finish.
New York Islanders (Odds to win division: +275)
Notable additions: Zdeno Chara, Zach Parise, Richard Panik
Notable subtractions: Nick Leddy, Travis Zajac
Outlook: The sky’s the limit on Long Island this season, right? The Islanders made a deep playoff run before ultimately meeting their demise at the hands of Tampa Bay (again), but this team is as good as any. Nothing about the offseason is overly impressive or discouraging, though the Isles did get some intriguing veteran leadership in Chara and Parise. What better way to christen the new barn than with a run at the Cup?
Washington Capitals (+600)
Notable additions: None, really
Notable subtractions: Brenden Dillon, Zdeno Chara, Craig Anderson, Michael Raffl
Outlook: The Caps are cool with just running it back, apparently, as they did little to tweak the roster outside of two-way depth moves and letting some older players walk out the door. Their big addition really came at the deadline when they acquired Anthony Mantha, so how he fits in during his first full season is a noteworthy storyline. The Capitals should have one of the best top-six groups in the NHL. The defense is solid, as is the goaltending, and there’s enough depth up front to contend. If everyone stays healthy — which was a major issue into the playoffs last season — Washington might have one more run in it.
Carolina Hurricanes (+475)
Notable additions: Ethan Bear, Jesperi Kotkaniemi, Derek Stepan, Antti Raanta, Ian Cole, Tony DeAngelo, Frederik Andersen
Notable subtractions: Warren Foegele, Jake Bean, Alex Nedeljkovic, Dougie Hamilton, Petr Mrazek
Outlook: It’s a very talented roster, but will the Hurricanes be good enough between the pipes? Their three-headed attack worked last year, and in the playoffs, Alex Nedeljkovic looked like the real deal. So, naturally, the Canes blew up the position by trading Ndeljkovic and letting both Petr Mrazek and James Reimer walk. They’ll be replaced by Freddie Andersen and Antti Raanta. That could net out (no pun intended), in which case Carolina will probably look a lot like last season: a playoff team that ultimately bows out to a more talented team, especially with Dougie Hamilton also walking over the summer.
Pittsburgh Penguins (+475)
Notable additions: Louis Domingue, Danton Heinen, Brock McGinn, Teddy Blueger
Notable subtractions: Jared McCann, Brandon Tanev, Cody Ceci
Outlook: The Penguins feel somewhat stuck in neutral at this point, and tough decisions should be coming sooner than later. Until then, though, it’s hard to completely cast aside a team featuring Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, although both begin the year with injuries. And how good is Tristan Jarry in net? Pittsburgh feels like a good-not-great team that could be a problem if they get into the playoffs.
New York Rangers (+425)
Notable additions: Ryan Reaves, Barclay Goodrow, Sammy Blais
Notable subtractions: Pavel Buchnevich, Brett Howden
Outlook: Tom Wilson really did a number on the Rangers. New York felt it had to get tougher, and it certainly did that, but at what cost? Barclay Goodrow is a spark plug, but that contract is unlikely to age well. Ryan Reaves, meanwhile, might be the most expensive boxing instructor on the planet. All of that being said: They still have some high-end talent (most notably Artemi Panarin), and Gerard Gallant is an excellent NHL head coach. If nothing else, the Blueshirts should be one of the NHL’s most interesting teams.
Philadelphia Flyers (+900)
Notable additions: Cam Atkinson, Rasmus Ristolainen, Ryan Ellis, Derrick Brassard, Nate Thompson, Martin Jones, Keith Yandle
Notable subtractions: Jakub Voracek, Shayne Gostisbehere, Robert Hagg
Outlook: Carter Hart crashed back to earth last season, so the Flyers went out and got … Martin Jones? If Hart bounces back, Philly should be fine, but if he doesn’t, that’s a rough goaltending situation. Getting Ryan Ellis from Nashville gives the Flyers a legitimate top pairing with Ellis and Ivan Provorov. It’s a good top pairing and a great first line, with top-end potential for Hart. If all breaks right for the Flyers, and they stay healthy, Philly might have a deep run ahead.
New Jersey Devils (+1700)
Notable additions: Tomas Tatar, Dougie Hamilton, Jonathan Bernier, Christian Jaros, Ryan Graves
Notable subtractions: Nathan Bastian, Mikhail Maltsev
Outlook: It’s not hard to see the direction the Devils are trying to take this thing, and good on them for building what looks like a solid young core. The Devils took the next step toward completing that core by signing Dougie Hamilton to a massive deal. At 28, he’s a bit of an elder statesman alongside the likes of Nico Hischier (22), Jack Huges (20) and Pavel Zacha (24). Head coach Lindy Ruff has a solid reputation when it comes to developing young players. Assuming goalie Mackenzie Blackwood finishes his own personal COVID-19 vaccine research before getting too deep into the season, there’s a decent chance the Devils catch fire and start irritating some division rivals.
Columbus Blue Jackets (+13000)
Notable additions: Zac Rinaldo, Sean Kuraly, Jakub Voracek, Jake Bean, Adam Boqvist
Notable subtractions: Cam Atkinson, Seth Jones
Outlook: There really isn’t much at all to get excited about in Columbus this season. CBJ is in the midst of a retooling on the fly, and they’ve done well to stock up on high draft picks and young players with seemingly bright futures. But when you trade away someone like Seth Jones — on the heels of their deadline sell-off — there’s a noticeable lack of talent. Hiring Brad Larsen to succeed John Tortorella is an interesting decision. It was time for Tortorella to go, but Larsen spent the last seven years on that staff. Can he take the positive lessons from Torts while learning from the, uh, old-school motivational tactics? That might be the most fascinating thing to watch with the Jackets this season.