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Metro Division Power Rankings; Did Penguins Improve Enough?



Pittsburgh Penguins game, Kris Letang, Anthony Mantha

It’s July, and a hockey game won’t be played for nearly another three months, but the heavy lifting has already been done this offseason. Excluding a potential Pittsburgh Penguins blockbuster trade for a Norris Trophy-winning defenseman, the GMs have done the bulk of their job.

That could also be a Carolina Hurricanes trade for Karlsson, which would affect the power structure of the division significantly less than a Penguins trade for him because Carolina is already at the top.

We can begin to look at the coming Metro Division battle and how the Penguins fit. The team is improvised, but other teams have matured and improved, too.

Since the Penguins were just one point out of a playoff spot last season, they should easily be in the hunt to resume their participation in Lord Stanley’s big dance, but it will not be easy. The Washington Capitals haven’t improved, but they will be healthy this coming season.

Last season, the Capitals missed Nick Backstrom and Tom Wilson for months. They missed John Carlson for the final few months. Those are big losses for a top-heavy team.

The top of the division will likely remain in place, though New Jersey could still use some help in goal, and the New York Rangers are perhaps a little worse for wear after losing Patrick Kane and Vladimir Tarasenko.

Metro Division Power Rankings:

1.  Carolina Hurricanes

They won the division by one point and then squashed New Jersey in Round Two. However, they’re still soft in goal, and Brent Burns turned 38 last March. The hot trade rumors surrounding Brett Pesce could change the team, but signing Dmitry Orlov gives them one of the best blue lines in the game. Forward Seth Jarvis could take another step forward, as could Jesper Kotkaniemi, and Carolina will remain very good (bordering on great).

2.New Jersey Devils

They got their first taste of success last season and learned much in their postseason performance. They rallied to beat the Rangers in seven games before getting humbled by Carolina. A year older, now with Timo Meier and Tyler Toffoli on the wings, they will again challenge Carolina. However, questions in goal and a so-so defense corps will limit their potential.

3.New York Rangers

The big additions this summer are Blake Wheeler and Nick Bonino. Those aren’t exactly game-changers for the blue shirts, and the rest of their lineup isn’t getting younger. Their top two lines and top four defensemen are formidable, but former first-overall pick Alexis Lafreniere was the subject of trade rumors early in the offseason because he has not progressed to a high-scoring top-six winger. The greatest strength of the team remains Igor Shesterkin. The Rangers haven’t improved and won’t climb higher.

4.Pittsburgh Penguins

The Penguins are better than last season. Reilly Smith replaces departed free agent Jason Zucker on the left wing, and 6-foot-5 Ryan Graves replaces Brian Dumoulin on the blue line. Graves is an especially good addition. Combined with significantly increased speed in their bottom six, the Penguins should be several wins better than last season and will be fighting for a wild-card spot.

5.New York Islanders

Nothing cooking this offseason. The Islanders limped along for much of last season, just good enough to stay in the race and good enough to be gifted a couple of big comeback wins over porous third-period Penguins’ efforts. They squeaked into the playoffs when the Penguins choked them away. On paper, they should be much better than they are and should challenge for second or third place, but not even the late-season addition of Bo Horvat kickstarted their heart last season. There’s just a bad wind blowing on Long Island (and it’s not the smell from the Jamaica subway station).

6.Washington Capitals

Wilson and Backstrom will be healthy, but the team also signed Max Pacioretty, who figures to slot on the second line with Backstrom and the increasingly injured T.J. Oshie. Pacioretty has suffered two achillies tendon tears in the last two years. Oshie has suffered various injuries and has played in only 102 games over the last two seasons. With Evgeny Kuznetsov and Anthony Mantha on their way out of Washington, the Capitals are solid but not good enough to pass the Penguins or New York.

7.Columbus Blue Jackets

Year 2 of Johnny Gaudreau. New coach Mike Babcock threw himself into the middle of a reclamation project. The team added Ivan Provorov on defense, and third-overall pick Adam Fantili might crack the lineup. Babcock’s tough-love approach and the Blue Jackets’ young roster could be a disaster or a big surprise. Feast or famine in the Ohio capital.

8.Philadelphia Flyers

The trainwreck in Philly is must-see TV for fans across the league. There are plenty of honest players in the Flyers’ lineup, and they showed genuine heart as they remained competitive in the second half of the season. However, goalie Carter Hart has been inconsistent at best. Sean Couturier and Cam Atkinson could greatly aid the team, but both are returning from serious back and neck injuries. The Flyers youngsters are a year older and should take another step forward. Morgan Frost and Joel Farabee are the cornerstones, which doesn’t measure up to the cornerstones of the rest of the division. If Couturier and Atkinson don’t return to 100% healthy, coach John Tortorella may need a bottle of Pepto for the stomach ulcers this group will cause.