The Metropolitan Division was one of the most competitive divisions in the NHL last season. Three teams (Washington, Pittsburgh, and Columbus) finished the 2016-17 regular season among the top four in the standings.
The 2017-18 season is shaping up to be another dandy, and the Metropolitan Division will likely be very competitive again. Each club has made a handful of changes during the summer, and things will look a bit different.
With all the changes made, which teams are legitimate playoff contenders? Which teams will be on the playoff bubble? Which teams will be near the bottom of the standings?
Let’s go through the Metropolitan Division and give each team the “Contender” or “Pretender” label.
Analysis: Even though they are labeled as a “contender,” I feel they will be on the playoff bubble. Why buy in to the Hurricanes? The Canes have established a quality young cast that will only improve and get better. Up front, the 20-year old Sebastian Aho is fun to watch and still improving his game. On the blueline, the Canes have promising young defenders with Brett Pesce, Jaccob Slavin, and Justin Faulk. Over the summer, the Canes added Scott Darling to help bolster their goaltending. There is a lot to like in Carolina, and this team will be in contention if they can improve their road record and get better goaltending.
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
Analysis: While Columbus finished near the top of the standings in 2016-17, the Jackets crashed and burned late in the regular season, and their low level of momentum carried into the playoffs. Will John Tortorella be able to keep his squad motivated throughout another regular season? The Jackets have never made the playoffs in back-to-back seasons.
NEW JERSEY DEVILS
Analysis: The Devils were the easiest Metropolitan Division team to label. The Devils are in a rebuild now and for the foreseeable future. The Devils lack depth in key areas, particularly on defense. #1 overall pick Nico Hischier is talented, and could be up for the Calder Trophy by the end of the year, but his presence in the lineup will not be enough to get the Devils even near the playoff bubble.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS
Analysis: The John Tavares contract situation will loom over the Islanders for the time being, unless they get him locked up before the start of the regular season. If the contract situation goes deep into the season, it will become a huge distraction for the organization. The Travis Hamonic trade was skeptical at best, considering the Islanders did not replace him with anyone during the summer. Replacing Ryan Strome with Jordan Eberle is an upgrade, but questions remain for the Islanders in between the pipes and on the blueline.
NEW YORK RANGERS
Analysis: With the signing of Kevin Shattenkirk, the Rangers landed the biggest defensive prize over the summer. Henrik Lundqvist should be healthy heading in to the regular season, and the Rangers have one of the deeper bluelines in the Metropolitan Division. If the Rangers do not win the Metropolitan Division, they will still make noise this season.
Analysis: Like the Hurricanes, the Flyers are labeled as a “contender,” but they will likely be a playoff bubble team. The Flyers have a handful of young players to be excited about. #2 overall pick Nolan Patrick is expected to contribute right away. If Brian Elliott can come into the goaltending mix and give the Flyers above average goaltending, the Flyers could sneak their way into the playoff hunt. Like the Hurricanes, the Flyers will also need to improve on their 14-22-5 road record from last season. If things go right for the Flyers, they will have a successful season.
Analysis: The Penguins will be shooting for a 3-peat, and will have a very good chance of accomplishing it. The Penguins did not make any significant changes over the summer, and they essentially have the same squad that won the Stanley Cup. The Penguins should be in line to win the Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference in 2017-18.
Analysis: The Capitals probably had the worst offseason of any of the Metropolitan Division teams. The salary cap forced the Capitals to let players walk, and forced the Capitals to make some tough choices for their lineup. While the Capitals lost a handful of players at forward and on defense, the Capitals are still loaded up the middle of the ice and on the blueline. Did I even mention Braden Holtby’s name yet?
By: George Foussekis