The Pittsburgh Penguins had an eventful summer, and they figure to battle for the top of the Metro Division.
The summer unofficially ends this weekend. As the U.S. Labor Day holiday signals the end of the long days and warm sunshine, it also signals the beginning of ice sheets, captains’ practices, and the start of NHL training camps.
NHL GMs have all but put their pencils down and are preparing to turn in their tests. For some in the Metropolitan Division, it was a summer of rebuilding and chasing the goal of being competitive. For the New York Islanders, it was about chasing the big-name players and losing. The Carolina Hurricanes did very well but also had some bad luck when presumptive second-line center Max Pacioretty tore his Achillies tendon.
The New York Rangers will also be strong. Ryan Strome walked but was replaced with Vincent Trocheck. That’s an upgrade for New York, which elbowed its way past the Penguins and Carolina on their way to the Eastern Conference Final.
Can New York goalie Igor Shesterkin flirt with a .940 save percentage again?
The other New York team, the Islanders, are an unknown. After a couple of extended postseason runs in COVID-shortened seasons, the Islanders floundered last season. Wrecked by COVID and injuries, they were not a playoff contender and fired coach Barry Trotz for new bench boss Lane Lambert.
Last season, Carolina won the division with the Rangers closing quickly. The Penguins finished third, and the Washington Capitals earned the wild card.
In 2022-23, the top three teams will remain the top three, but the gap between them will be small. The team which places the most importance on winning the division will probably win.
Metro Division Power Rankings
1. New York Rangers
Shesterkin. Mika Zbinejad. Artemi Panarin. An improving Alexis Lafreniere. And Norris candidate Adam Fox. New York got lucky in their playoff run, mainly facing third goalies until the ECF. However, they should be better this season. Trocheck is a nice upgrade over Strome, which fortifies their top-six.
2. Pittsburgh Penguins
A healthy Evgeni Malkin with the revamped blue line featuring Jeff Petry behind Kris Letang. With Jake Guentzel, Bryan Rust, and Rickard Rakell, the Penguins have a top-six that is equal to New York, if not a bit better, because of Sidney Crosby.
The Pittsburgh Penguins improved defense corps will add goals and puck possession. If the team truly wants it, they could win the division. However, the veteran team understands that regular season success means much less than winning a few rounds next May.
3. Carolina Hurricanes
Losing Pacioretty and replacing him with 37-year-old free agent Paul Statsny is the primary reason we dropped Carolina to third.
Carolina traded away Tony DeAngelo this offseason but added Brent Burns to the top pairing. Burns’ age and Carolina’s third pair with Ethan Bear and Dylan Coughlan could be improved.
However, Carolina plays with speed, has talent and typically gives the Penguins fits. Seth Jarvis should take another step forward in his progression, as will Andrei Svechnikov.
The top three in the Metro Division will score a lot of goals…
4. Washington Capitals
There’s a big drop after the top three. Washington will be without Nicklas Backstrom for most or all of the season. Tom Wilson will be out for months, too.
Dylan Strome is a stretch for a second-line center, even with sidecars Anthony Mantha and T.J. Oshie. Washington’s bottom six, which was once a strength, continues to lag, too.
The Washington Capitals are in danger of falling in the standings. Alex Ovechkin is what stands between them and missing the playoffs.
5. New York Islanders
Turn Mathew Barzal loose. The team should improve if new coach Lane Lambert unleashes the Islanders’ talented center. Better seasons from Kyle Palmieri, Josh Bailey, and Anthony Beauvillier could push the Islanders past the Capitals.
Injuries and lack of production from the veterans were the issues for the New York Islanders. If those issues change, they could again be stout competition.
6. Columbus Blue Jackets
Tragedy put the Blue Jackets on the wrong foot last season. Popular goalie Matiss Kivlenieks was killed in a fireworks accident, and the team didn’t recover.
With time to heal, Columbus will be competitive this season. Elvis Merzlikins is a quality goalie. Johnny Gaudreau and Patrik Laine will provide goals from the wings. Unfortunately, Columbus doesn’t have enough down the middle, and their defense is suspect.
7. New Jersey Devils
We like the Devils’ progression. Jack Hughes seems poised for his offensive breakout season. Adding Ondrej Palat helps. Tomas Tatar can score goals, and Yegor Sherangovich continues to improve. Dawson Mercer had a 42-point rookie season, and the 20-year-old with speed and hands could go even further this season.
There’s a lot to like about New Jersey. Vitek Vanecek isn’t a top-shelf starting goalie, but he represents a significant improvement.
If there’s a surprise coming, it’s New Jersey.
8. Philadelphia Flyers
The Flyers are not the worst team on paper, but there is a malaise and chaotic feeling around the Flyers. The “stink” is on the Flyers, and new head coach John Tortorella is known for making things worse before he makes them better.
The Flyers could challenge for a playoff spot if a few of their kids, such as Morgan Frost and Owen Tippet, pay off. Tortorella already circled Kevin Hayes for a player who has more to give.
On paper, the blue line is also pretty good with Travis Sanheim, Tony DeAngelo, and Ivan Provorov. Carter Hart should be a good goalie but has suffered inconsistency and long rough patches.
On paper, the Philadelphia Flyers should be in the top five. However, the last two seasons have created brisk negativity that must be cleansed before things turn around. Expect friction as Tortorella gets tough on a few players and begins to replace them with his players.