The old lions, the upstarts, the middle child, and the wannabes. Welcome to life in the Metropolitan Division as the long-running domination of the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals will collide with the arrival of the New York Islanders and Carolina Hurricanes.
The division probably took a step back from the multiple Stanley Cup contender-laden lineups from last season, including the Boston Bruins. Now the division has an air of transition, just like those Pittsburgh Penguins and the rosters of a few of their longtime rivals.
The times they are a-changin’.
After the Penguins and Washington kept the Stanley Cup in the division from 2016-2018, the New York Islanders and Carolina Hurricanes have supplanted the stalwarts as the last team standing each spring.
Both teams are largely intact for 2021-22, though Carolina suffered a significant loss when Dougie Hamilton took the money and ran to New Jersey.
Of course, the Penguins will be without Sidney Crosby for the start of the season and Evgeni Malkin for a longer but yet to be determined amount of time.
The Penguins injuries combined with additions by the Philadelphia Flyers and New York Rangers should make for an interesting horse race.
Las Vegas oddsmakers at MGM set the OVER/UNDER on points for the division, and if you think they know what they’re doing, the Penguins are fifth in the Metro, though Las Vegas also thinks the Metro Division will be a jumbled mess.
- New York Islanders 97 1/2
- Carolina Hurricanes 96 1/2
- Washington Capitals 96 1/2
- New York Rangers 95 1/2
- Pittsburgh Penguins 95 1/2
- Philadelphia Flyers 94 1/2
- New Jersey Devils 88 1/2
- Columbus Blue Jackets 76 1/2
If you want to take the best, our friends at MGM will give you a few bonuses, too.
PHN’s Metro Division Predictions
After the top two, it gets jumbled.
1. New York Islanders
Despite not announcing their moves for weeks, the Islanders kept forwards Kyle Palmieri, Casey Czikas, and Anthony Beauvillier. They signed Zach Parise. Defenseman Andy Greene re-signed, and Adam Pelech got a splashy payday, too. Anders Lee, who missed the playoffs after a season-ending injury in March, will also return.
The long-rumored trade for Vladimir Tarasenko fell through, but the Islanders are essentially the same team that took the Tampa Bay Lightning to the matt in the NHL Semi-Final.
2. Carolina Hurricanes
The big out was Hamilton, but Carolina signed Jesper Kotkaniemi to an RFA offer sheet. GM Don Waddell replaced Hamilton with a few new faces, including Ian Cole, Ethan Bear, and the lightning rod for controversy and turmoil, Tony DeAngelo.
If DeAngelo can shut up and play, he’s a 50-point NHL defenseman. The bunch of jerks in Carolina probably upgraded in goal, too. Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta are now between the pipes.
Speed, finish, culture, some grit, and plenty of push on defense will make Carolina a good regular-season team.
3. Washington Capitals
It’s easier to pick the Washington Capitals to snag the last guaranteed playoff spot because of Alex Ovechkin. Ovechkin doesn’t miss games, and Washington treats the regular season with an intensity that other teams don’t.
The Capitals generally don’t suffer the injury issues which plague the Penguins and haven’t lost much during the offseason. Ovechkin and Tom Wilson will sidesaddle Nick Backstrom or Evgeny Kuznetsov on the top line. The other center will pivot T.J. Oshie and Anthony Mantha.
That’s a pretty good top-six. The defense is still soft, but goalies Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanecek are a year older and probably a bit better, too.
4. New York Rangers
Here’s your best bet for a surprise. The Rangers needed a major attitude adjustment, and they got it. Ryan Reaves may only play five minutes per game, but combined with Barclay Goodrow in the top-nine, teams will no longer run over the Rangers. That pair will add 10 pounds to each player.
The Rangers kids, (Norris Trophy winner) Adam Fox, (2020 first-overall pick) Alexis Lafreniere, Vitaly Kravstov, Kaapo Kakko, will join Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, and Chris Kreider.
The Rangers are going to be a high-scoring team with tempo. If they catch lightning, they could easily win the division, but there are still some unknowns, so we’re putting them fourth.
5. The Dogfight
The Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers.
The Flyers added top-tier defenseman Ryan Ellis from Nashville, rough (and polarizing) defenseman Rasmus Ristolainen. They swapped Jakub Voracek on the right wing for Cam Atkinson for fun, added Derick Brassard as their third-line center.
The Flyers’ bottom six isn’t their strength with Brassard and Nate Thompson as the bottom centers, but the defense is greatly improved, and goalie Carter Hart is more likely to regain his elite form than slump to his last season mess.
We’ve written about 200,000 words on the Penguins in the last 30 days. From Crosby’s wrist surgery to Evgeni Malkin’s knee, the lack of replacement for Jared McCann, the hole at right-side defense and making sure goalie Tristan Jarry wasn’t permanently rattled by the Round One playoff meltdown.
Eventually, the Pittsburgh Penguins top-nine will be superior to the Flyers, as Crosby, Malkin, and Jeff Carter will anchor the middle. The Penguins’ best wingers (Jake Guentzel, Bryan Rust, Kasperi Kapanen) are more productive than the Flyers’ top wingers.
On paper, the Philadelphia Flyers are a little better. The Penguins’ ability to win without their best players is a proven fact.
Our only prediction is this battle will last to Game 82, but if we’re betting, the Flyers have an advantage.
No. 7-8: We think both the New Jersey Devils and Columbus Blue Jackets are prime surprise candidates. Columbus will battle the Buffalo Sabres for the most inept team, or the cast of misfits will jell into a tough team.
New Jersey is improved as 2019 first-overall pick Jack Hughes gets better, but they’re not deep, nor are they tough. Ryan Graves is likely a top-pair defenseman, and Jonathan Bernier is their top goalie.
The Strong and the Falls
The Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals are on the chopping block for a fall. Washington is much less likely to slip too far, but the Penguins are teetering on the edge.
The Islanders are strong. They may not exceed expectations or be a dominant team, but they are stout. They’re a lock to make the top three in the division.
The Flyers and the Rangers will be the surprises. Fan-pinion assumes Ristolainen is a bad defenseman. We’ll take the counter bet, and the Flyers will be a tough team to play. When a team flops as the Flyers did, there exists the danger it could happen again, which begets a house cleaning, or the team is motivated to change the script.
Watch the Flyers. And the Rangers. If both teams hit their stride, the Penguins will need their best to make the playoffs.
Coach on Hot Seat: Alain Vigneault (PHI). Everyone else is fairly safe or new. If the Flyers stumble, Vigneault is a likely scapegoat.
GM on Hot Seat: Tom Fitzgerald (NJ). Insiders have been chattering. The Devils are veering hard towards analytics, and the Hamilton signing was initiated by the numbers folks, not the GM. New Jersey ownership let Fitzgerald twist in the wind without a contract for a while, and the kindling for a power struggle is ready to be lit. Losing brings out such things.