2019-20 Metropolitan Division Preview

NHL: APR 20 Stanley Cup Playoffs First Round - Hurricanes at CapitalsPhoto: Cardiac Cane

The Metropolitan Division features the Washington Capitals, the reigning division winners for the past four seasons, and the Pittsburgh Penguins, who have made the Stanley Cup Playoffs for 12 consecutive seasons (the longest active streak in the NHL). This year the division promises to be even more competitive with the Carolina Hurricanes — fresh off a trip to the Eastern Conference Finals — and the New Jersey Devils — winners of the Jack Hughes sweepstakes — poised to compete for a playoff spot. NoVa Caps concludes their annual division previews a look at the Metropolitan Division.

New York Islanders

2018-19 Result: 48-27-7 (Second In Metropolitan Division, Fourth In Eastern Conference, Fifth In NHL), Lost To Hurricanes In Four Games In Round 2

2018-19 Leaders: F Anders Lee (27 goals), C Matt Barzal (44 assists, 62 points), C Casey Cizikas/D Adam Pelech (+22 rating), G Robin Lehner (25 wins)

Key Offseason Additions: C Derick Brassard, G Semyon Varlamov

Key Offseason Subtractions: Lehner, C Valterri Filpulla, D Luca Sbisa

2019-20 Outlook: The Islanders only saw one significant roster change after surprising many in year one of the post-John Tavares era.

Moving out is Lehner, a Vezina-Trophy finalist last season when he was second in the NHL with a .930 save percentage and third with a 2.13 goals-against average, and moving in is Varlamov, who went 20-19-9 with a .909 save percentage, a 2.87 goals-against average, and two shutouts with the Colorado Avalanche last season. He will share the net with Thomas Greiss.

The Islanders will have the same defense (which finished with the fewest goals-against (191)), top-six forward group, and coaching staff that features the reigning Jack Adams Award winner in Barry Trotz. New York will have a new third-line center, with Brassard stepping in for Filpulla, who departed for the Detroit Red Wings as an unrestricted free agent.

While the Islanders have some holes on their third-line and their defense will likely drop off from last year with Lehner gone, Trotz and his staff will likely find a way to help them punch a ticket to the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second consecutive season.

Pittsburgh Penguins

2018-19 Result: 44-26-12 (Third In Metropolitan Division, Tied For Fifth In Eastern Conference, Seventh In NHL), Lost To Islanders In Four Games In Round 1

2018-19 Leaders: F Jake Guentzel (40 goals), C Sidney Crosby (65 assists, 100 points), D Brian Dumoulin (+31 rating), G Matt Murray (29 wins)

Key Offseason Additions: C Alex Galchenyuk, F Dominik Kahun, D Pierre-Olivier Joseph, F Brandon Tanev

Key Offseason Subtractions: F Phil Kessel, D Olli Maatta, C Matt Cullen

2019-20 Outlook: The Penguins underwent some major changes in the offseason after getting swept in the first round, trading away one of their star players in Kessel to the Arizona Coyotes in a deal that brought in Galchenyuk and Joseph.  Pittsburgh also moved one of their top-four defensemen in Maatta to the Chicago Blackhawks to pick up Kahun. With the Penguins currently over the salary cap, Pittsburgh fans could see another minor deal before the start of the season.

After trading Maatta and seeing Justin Schultz only playing 29 games last season due to a leg injury, there are questions surrounding the Penguins’ defense entering the season. Goalie Matt Murray once again had an inconsistent season but finished with a respectable .919 save percentage last year.

While Kessel might have been a pain for center Evgeni Malkin and head coach Mike Sullivan, replacing his 82 points will be a very tall task. With the Penguins’ aging core, their relatively thin defense, and a goalie who has been inconsistent, Pittsburgh’s 12-year Stanley Cup Playoff streak, the longest active streak in the league, could be in jeopardy. The fact that teams like the Devils and Philadelphia Flyers improved over the offseason certainly doesn’t help their case. However, with stars such as Crosby, Malkin, and defenseman Kris Letang, they will likely push for a wild-card spot in the Eastern Conference.

Carolina Hurricanes

2018-19 Result: 46-29-7 (Fourth In Metropolitan Division, Seventh In Eastern Conference, Tied For Tenth In NHL), Lost To Boston Bruins In Four Games In Eastern Conference Final

2018-19 Leaders: C Sebastian Aho (30 goals, 83 points), F Teuvo Teravainen (55 assists), D Brett Pesce (+35 rating), G Petr Mrazek (23 wins)

Key Offseason Additions: F Ryan Dzingel, D Jake Gardiner, C Erik Haula, D Gustav Forsling, G James Reimer, G Anton Forsberg, F Brian Gibbons, D Fredrik Claesson, D Joel Edmundson

Key Offseason Subtractions: D Justin Faulk, F Michael Ferland, D Calvin de Haan, G Curtis McElhinney, C Greg McKegg, F Justin Williams, G Scott Darling

2019-20 Outlook: The Hurricanes made some changes following an unexpected run to the Eastern Conference Final in 2018-19. They let go of de Haan and Faulk and added Gardiner, Forsling, and Claesson to a defense that tied the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning for the seventh-fewest in the NHL in goals-against (2.70 per game) last season. Carolina also saw top-nine forwards Ferland and Williams leave, but Dzingel and Haula should step in nicely for those two.

After they seemed to finally fix their goaltending, which plagued them for so many seasons, they let McElhinney, who posted a .930 save percentage in five Stanley Cup Playoff games last Spring, walk in free agency and replaced him with Reimer, who posted a .900 save percentage with the Florida Panthers a season ago. Mrazek, who was 23-14-3 with a .914 save percentage and a 2.39 goals-against average last year, has yet to prove he can be a consistent NHL goaltender and until he does so, questions in the crease remain there in Carolina.

The Hurricanes may have the deepest defense in the league this season and have a respectable forward group. If Mrazek and Reimer prove to be a reliable goaltending tandem, the team should make the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second consecutive season after missing out for nine straight. If not, it will be difficult for the Hurricanes to stay in the postseason hunt.

Columbus Blue Jackets

2018-19 Result: 44-26-12 (Fifth In Metropolitan Division, Eighth In Eastern Conference, 13th In NHL), Lost To Bruins In Six Games In Round 2

2018-19 Leaders: F Cam Atkinson (41 goals), F Artemi Panarin (59 assists, 87 points), F Josh Anderson (+25 rating), G Sergei Bobrovsky (37 wins)

Key Offseason Additions: F Gustav Nyquist, F Marko Dano

Key Offseason Subtractions: Panarin, Bobrovsky, Dzingel, C Matt Duchene, D Adam McQuaid, C Mark Letestu

2019-20 Outlook: The Blue Jackets’ offseason was among the NHL’s worst as they saw their leading scorer in Panarin and their two-time Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky walk out the door for nothing, not to mention Duchene, who was second on the team with 10 points during the postseason. While Nyquist was a nice addition, he will is unlikely to come close to the Panarin’s production level.

One thing that the Blue Jackets have going for them is that their blueline is among the league’s best after getting Zach Werenski re-signed to a three-year contract. Not many teams can match Columbus’ defensive core of Werenski, Seth Jones, Ryan Murray, David Savard, Markus Nutivaara, and Scott Harrington.

Even without Panarin, there are still some offensive weapons on this team that many other teams would be glad to have, including Anderson, Atkinson, center Pierre-Luc Dubois (27 goals and 61 points last season), forward Oliver Bjorkstrand (23 goals last season), and captain Nick Foligno (17 goals and 35 points a year ago).

While many are already counting Columbus out of the postseason, there is still significant talent on the team. The Blue Jackets’ chances of success will all come down to the goaltending. Joonas Korpisalo’s save percentage of .897 will have to jump dramatically and Elvis Merzlikins, who has never played an NHL game in his career, will have to prove himself as a solid backup.

After seeing what Trotz did on the Island, fans should at least give a John Tortorella-coached team a chance, especially since Tortorella is in a much stronger position than Trotz was a year ago. The Blue Jackets will likely finish near the bottom of the division given how many teams around them made upgrades while they got significantly worse, but they could be one of the league’s most surprising teams if their goaltending holds up.

Philadelphia Flyers

2018-19 Result: 37-37-8 (Sixth In Metropolitan Division, 11th In Eastern Conference, 22nd In NHL), Missed Stanley Cup Playoffs

2018-19 Leaders: C Sean Couturier (33 goals), F Claude Giroux (63 assists, 85 points, +9 rating), G Carter Hart (16 wins)

Key Offseason Additions: D Matt Niskanen, C Kevin Hayes, C Andy Andreoff, D Justin Braun

Key Offseason Subtractions: D Radko Gudas, F Dale Weise, F Ryan Hartman, F Phil Varone, D Andrew MacDonald, C Jori Lehtera, G Cam Talbot, G Michal Neuvirth

2019-20 Outlook: The Flyers went on a 21-9-2 run before losing their last five games of the regular season, giving Philadelphia fans a sense of optimism heading into the new season. The Flyers added veteran leaders in Niskanen and Braun on the backend and a 55-point center in Hayes to solidify their center group and add some much-needed scoring.

Philadelphia’s offense is in good shape with five forwards reaching at least the 20-goal mark and 48-point mark last season. They also have some nice depth with pieces like center Nolan Patrick and forward Oskar Lindblom, who recorded 17 goals and 33 points a year ago.

Braun and Niskanen will help a strong group of young defensemen led by Ivan Provorov, who re-signed to a six-year contract earlier this month, Travis Sanheim, Robert Hagg, and Samuel Morin. Despite all of the talent on the backend, the Flyers’ average of 3.41 goals-against per game was the third-highest in the NHL last year.

After setting an NHL record for most starting goalies used in a single season (8) last year, the Flyers have passed the torch to Hart as the No. 1 goaltender after he posted a 16-13-1 record, a .917 save percentage, and a 2.83 goals-against average in his rookie season. If the Flyers hope to make any noise this year, he will certainly have to have a strong campaign.

The Flyers are well-positioned to make a run at a playoff spot but will likely land just outside given the tough competition around them.

New York Rangers

2018-19 Result: 32-36-14 (Seventh In Metropolitan Division, 12th In Eastern Conference, 26th In NHL), Missed Stanley Cup Playoffs

2018-19 Leaders: C Mika Zibanejad (30 goals, 44 assists, 74 points), D Anthony DeAngelo (+6 rating), G Henrik Lundqvist (18 wins)

Key Offseason Additions: Panarin, McKegg, F Kaapo Kakko, D Jacob Trouba, D Adam Fox

Key Offseason Subtractions: Claesson, D Kevin Shattenkirk, D Neal Pionk

2019-20 Outlook: The Rangers are starting to come out from their rebuild, which they have been committed to for the past two years, after signing a game-changer in Panarin and acquiring a top-four defenseman in Trouba. In addition, they added another solid top-six forward in Kakko through the NHL Draft.

While the signs are pointing in the right direction for New York, there are plenty of questions surrounding the team regarding their center and defensive depth. Filip Chytil, Ryan Strome, and Lias Andersson have yet to prove themselves to be a strong No. 2 center in the NHL and there is a big drop off on the blueline after the top-pair of Trouba and Brady Skjei. While DeAngelo, who recorded 30 points and a +6 rating in 61 regular-season games last season, and Fox, a Hobey Baker finalist from last season, have shown potential in the past, they are unproven at the NHL level. If the Rangers are forced to have both of those players on their second-pair, that does not bode well for the team.

Goaltending is also a question make for the team. The fact that Lundqvist is 37 and coming off a season where he set career-lows in wins (18), save percentage (.907), and goals-against average (3.07) also doesn’t help their case.

The Rangers will be much better than last season, but they are not quite ready to get back into the Stanley Cup Playoffs with questions down the middle, on the blue line, and in goal.

New Jersey Devils

2018-19 Result: 31-41-10 (Eighth In Metropolitan Division, 15th In Eastern Conference, 29th In NHL), Missed Stanley Cup Playoffs

2018-19 Leaders: F Kyle Palmeri (27 goals, 50 points), C Nico Hischier (30 assists), D Ben Lovejoy (+1 rating), G Keith Kinkaid (15 wins), F Taylor Hall (1.12 points-per-game)

Key Offseason Additions: D P.K. Subban, C Jack Hughes, F Wayne Simmonds, F Nikita Gusev, F John Hayden

Key Offseason Subtractions: Lovejoy, D Steven Santini, F Stefan Noesen, F Drew Stafford, F Kenny Agostino

2019-20 Outlook: The Devils had one of the best offseasons in the NHL, picking up the first overall pick in the draft in Hughes, a Norris Trophy-winning defenseman in Subban,  and one of the best non-NHL players on the planet in Gusev. They will definitely be an exciting team to watch with young talent like Hughes, Hischier, and defensemen Will Butcher and Damon Severson.

In addition, Hall, the Hart Trophy winner in 2018 when he posted 39 goals and 93 points in 76 games, is healthy again after being limited to 33 games a year ago due to a knee injury. His return will provide a significant boost for the Devils.

Scoring depth should not be an issue for New Jersey with the likes of players like Gusev, Simmonds, forward Blake Coleman (who scored 22 goals last season), forward Miles Wood (scored 19 in 2017-18), and forward Jesper Bratt (back-to-back seasons with at least 30 points). Their defensive depth is not an issue with Butcher, Severson, Subban, and Sami Vatanen as a top-four unit.

While the Devils are in prime position to have a big year this season, it all hangs on the hopes of the goaltending. Corey Schnieder went without a win last season in the year of 2018 and while he improved in 2019, a .903 save percentage from your starter is not going to be good enough. MacKenzie Blackwood posted a respectable .918 save percentage in 2018-19, but he has only appeared in 23 NHL games in his career.  If Schnieder performs like he did at the end of last season, the Devils should make a serious run for a wild-card or the No. 3 spot in the Metropolitan Division. If not, make it seven absences from the Stanley Cup Playoffs in eight years in New Jersey.

Washington Capitals

2018-19 Result: 48-26-8 (First In Metropolitan Division, Third In Eastern Conference, Fourth In NHL), Lost To Hurricanes In Seven Games In Round 1

2018-19 Leaders: F Alex Ovechkin (51 goals, 89 points), D John Carlson (57 assists), D Michal Kempny (+24 rating), G Braden Holtby (32 wins)

Key Offseason Additions: F Richard Panik, D Radko Gudas, F Garnet Hathaway, F Brendan Leipsic

Key Offseason Subtractions: D Matt Niskanen, F Andre Burakovsky, F Brett Connolly, D Brooks Orpik, F Devante Smith-Pelly

2019-20 Outlook: The Capitals mixed up their bottom-six forward group after it wasn’t able to muster much offense against the Hurricanes. Panik, who has scored 14 goals in each of the past two seasons, is in and Connolly, a 22-goal scorer from last year, is out. They added some physicality and strong defensive awareness to their fourth-line after it just produced one goal (which came on a penalty shot) in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The Capitals are trying to fight off father time as Ovechkin just turned 34, Holtby 30, center Nicklas Backstrom will turn 32 in November, Carlson will turn 30 in January, and Oshie will turn 33 in December. The good news is that all five showed no signs of slowing down last season and Ovechkin can still get the job done. The team will need more out of center Evgeny Kuznetsov after his scoring dipped from 83 points in 2017-18 to 72 last year and he was inconsistent throughout the season.

On the blueline, the Capitals are looking fine as long as Nick Jensen bounces back from a disappointing performance in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, where he posted just a -2 rating in seven games. A bounceback season from Dmitry Orlov, who notched just three goals and a +3 rating last season, would help as well. Getting Kempny back after he missed all seven Stanley Cup Playoff games is also a big plus.

The Capitals’ netminding is solid with Braden Holtby still between the pipes. Holtby is entering a contract year (can become an unrestricted free agent in 2020) and facing an uncertain future in Washington that is complicated by the upcoming expansion draft and the expectation that Ilya Samsonov will be the franchise’s goalie in the long-term, providing extra motivation for him to return to his Vezina Trophy-winning form.

Backstrom is also going into a contract year (potential 2020 UFA), but for now the Capitals should be good to make another run at the Metropolitan Division crown with one of the best offenses and goalies in the league. While winning a fifth consecutive division title would be impressive, Jensen and Orlov will have to improve if the Capitals hope to make any noise come May and June.

Breakout Candidates

Kahun – Penguins

Kahun, 24, had a nice rookie year with the Blackhawks as he posted 13 goals and 37 points and has hovered around the 11-13 goal mark in the past three seasons in the NHL and Deutsche Eishockey Liga. With the possibility of being paired with Crosby or Malkin at even strength and seeing some time on a loaded Penguins’ power-play, he can take the next step and hit the 20-goal and 50-point plateau.

Wood – Devils

After the acquisitions of a playmaker like Gusev, the known goal-scorer will get plenty of opportunities to bury the puck. An injury-plagued season contributed to Wood finishing last season with only 24 points, but the 24-year old showed potential in the 2017-18 season when he had an 11.2% shooting percentage. With Wood having high shot volume the past couple seasons and expected to get better feeds this season, expect him to hit the 20-goal mark.

Andrei Svechnikov – Hurricanes

Svechnikov, 19, scored 20 goals last season after hitting 40 in the OHL the previous year. With Williams and Ferland walking out the door, Svechnikov will see more time in the top-six forward group with Teravainen, Aho, or center Jordan Staal. He averaged 1:55 of ice-time on the power-play per game but that was 13th on the Hurricanes. If he doesn’t play with Aho at even-strength, he will almost certainly see time on the man advantage. Expect Svechnikov to hit the 25-30 goal mark this season.

Oskar Lindblom – Flyers

After notching two goals, six points, and a +4 rating in 23 games as a rookie in 2017-18, the 23-year old saw his production jump last season as he recorded 17 goals and 33 points in 81 games. He showed potential in the 2016-17 season in the SHL as he posted 22 goals, 47 points, and a +16 rating. Lindblom could see some time in the top-six next to Hayes, who has hit the 30-assist mark twice in his career including last season (36), and on the second power-play unit. If that happens, expect to see Lindblom hit the 20-goal and 40-point marks.

Projected Division Standings

  1. x – Capitals
  2. x – Hurricanes
  3. x – Islanders
  4. x – Devils
  5. Penguins
  6. Flyers
  7. Rangers
  8. Blue Jackets

Other Division Previews

Atlantic Division

Central Division

Pacific Division

By Harrison Brown

About Harrison Brown

Harrison is a diehard Caps fan and a hockey fanatic with a passion for sports writing. He attended his first game at age 8 and has been a season ticket holder since the 2010-2011 season. His fondest Caps memory was watching the Capitals hoist the Stanley Cup in Las Vegas. In his spare time, he enjoys travel, photography, and hanging out with his two dogs. Follow Harrison on Twitter @HarrisonB927077
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