When it comes to overall competitiveness and star power, the NHL’s Metropolitan Division has it all. Look no further than the storied rivalry between Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin. The rivalry between these two stars draws plenty of interest into professional hockey for diehards and casual hockey fans.
The proof is on the ice when any of the Metropolitan teams play one another. Last season, the Metropolitan Division got five teams into the Stanley Cup Playoffs. By the end of the regular season, the postseason teams are battled-tested and are usually ready for the spring grind of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
Between the 2019 NHL Draft and free agency period, the Metropolitan Division saw many changes in on-ice personnel. Which teams are trending in the right and wrong directions? Which teams will likely stay the same as a season ago?
Analysis: The Capitals have a veteran group that has been through all the playoff grinds. While the core group is getting a bit older, Alex Ovechkin is still cranking out 50+ goal seasons like normal routine. The Capitals added some depth to their forward lines over the summer, but did lose veteran Matt Niskanen on the blueline. Overall, the team is still deep in all the key areas on the ice. The Capitals should push for another 100+ point campaign in 2019-20.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS
Analysis: Like the Capitals, the Islanders remain unchanged from a season ago. Their biggest loss came in net as Robin Lehner departed for Chicago. Despite the loss of Lehner, the Islanders signed Semyon Varlamov to a four-year deal to take control of the net. If Varlamov can perform at a similar level in net as Lehner, the Islanders should remain in the playoff picture and compete for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division.
Analysis: The Hurricanes stormed onto the scene a season ago and even made a little bit of noise in the 2019 postseason. The additions of forwards Ryan Dzingel and Erik Haula over the summer should give the Hurricanes additional scoring in their top-nine forward group. There is a lot to like with their talented defense core and talented forwards Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen. The Hurricanes will not be flying under the radar this season, but they have the depth at key positions to compete for the top spot in the Division.
Analysis: The Flyers have a new GM with Chuck Fletcher and Head Coach with Alain Vigneault. Chuck Fletcher tweaked this Flyers team a bit over the summer, in hopes of getting back into the postseason. Fletcher brought in veteran defensemen Justin Braun and Matt Niskanen in separate trades to bring more stability and leadership to the blueline. In addition to those deals, Fletcher traded for centre Kevin Hayes from the Winnipeg Jets. He later extended Hayes with a massive seven-year, $50 million deal. On paper, the Flyers are likely improved from a season ago. Unfortunately for them, the bad health bug has hit them in net over the last few seasons. If the Flyers can stay healthy in goal and can get good goaltending to boot, they could linger late in the year in a wild card spot.
TRENDING IN THE WRONG DIRECTION
Analysis: It seemed like there was a dark cloud hovering over the Penguins organization a season ago. Look no further than their devastating first round sweep against the New York Islanders. GM Jim Rutherford spoke of this during the summer when he said that players did not gel with one another last season. Rutherford did not hesitate to make a splash over the summer. He sent star winger Phil Kessel to the Arizona Coyotes in a deal that included forward Alex Galchenyuk. Kessel was second on the Penguins in scoring a season ago, as he racked up 27 goals and 82 points in 82 games. While Galchenyuk is a serviceable player, he hit just 41 points a season ago with the Coyotes. In addition to the Kessel deal, he added Brandon Tanev from the Winnipeg Jets to complete the forward depth. The Penguins lost a legit scorer with Kessel departing for Arizona. One can only wonder if the dark cloud that hovered over the Penguins a season ago is gone. If it is, the Penguins are a legit contender for the Metropolitan Division crown. If the cloud is not gone, the Penguins could very well slip into a battle for a wild card spot.
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
Analysis: The Blue Jackets put all their chips in last spring for the Stanley Cup. The Jackets advanced to the second round for the first time in franchise history, but fell short of their goal. The Jackets lost key forwards Matt Duchene and Artemi Panarin in free agency. In addition to losing their top forwards, they lost veteran goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky in the summer too. The Jackets added forward Gustav Nyquist over the summer, but he is not the same caliber of player as Duchene or Panarin. Their goaltending has gone from stable to a bit of an unknown for next season. The Jackets are likely hoping that Joonas Korpisalo will take the starting job for the club in goal next season. The Jackets took some big hits over the summer in the free agency period. It is hard to see them make the playoffs again, but if their forwards and goaltending ranks can overcome their summer losses, they could hover in the wildcard position.
TRENDING IN THE RIGHT DIRECTION
NEW JERSEY DEVILS
Analysis: The Devils had a wonderful summer. They added Jack Hughes with the #1 overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, and they made a big deal with the Nashville Predators and acquired defenseman P.K. Subban. In addition to the Subban deal, they traded for forward Nikita Gusev from the Vegas Golden Knights. Suddenly, the Devils are trending up and have some quality young talent that will soon take the NHL by storm. While the Devils still will likely remain on the outside looking in, there is plenty of hope and optimism in Newark.
NEW YORK RANGERS
Analysis: The Rangers probably had the best summer out of all of the Metropolitan Division teams. Besides adding star forward Kaapo Kakko with the #2 overall pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, the Rangers added the best free agent forward of the summer with Artemi Panarin. Panarin received a huge seven-year, $81.5 million deal from the Rangers. The Rangers certainly accelerated their rebuild this summer. While they finished with just 78 points a season ago, the Rangers should get closer to the wild card positioning with their summer additions.
By: George Foussekis