2021-22 Metropolitan Division Preview

Photo: Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

With the 2021-22 NHL regular season set to begin later this week, NoVa Caps concludes their annual division preview series with the Metropolitan Division.

New Jersey Devils

2020-21 Result: 19-30-7, seventh in East Division

2020-21 Leaders:

  • C Pavel Zacha (17 goals)
  • LW Miles Wood (17 goals)
  • RHD Dougie Hamilton (32 assists, 42 points, 22:43 average TOI/game)
  • G MacKenzie Blackwood (14 wins)

Key Offseason Additions: RHD Dougie Hamilton, LHD Ryan Graves, G Jonathan Bernier, LW Tomas Tatar, RHD Christian Jaros, C Frederik Gauthier

Key Offseason Subtractions: LHD Will Butcher, G Aaron Dell, RW Nick Merkley, LHD Ryan Murray, LW Mikhail Maltsev, RW Nathan Bastian, RHD Connor Carrick, RHD Matt Tennyson, G Eric Comrie

After missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the eighth time in nine seasons, the Devils made some significant upgrades, particularly on defense, after allowing an average of 3.38 goals-per-game last season (tied for the fourth-highest in the NHL) as they brought in Hamilton (who recorded 10 goals, 42 points, a +20 rating, a 56.03% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 56.55% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 56.47% scoring chances-for percentage in 55 games with the Carolina Hurricanes last season) and Graves (two goals, 15 points, a +15 rating, a 57.31% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 56.37% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 57.57% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 54 games with the Colorado Avalanche).

The Devils had only four players with at least 30 points last season and no one above 35. In addition, no one hit 20 goals. The good news is that center Jack Hughes’ sophomore campaign was a lot better than his freshman year as he earned 20 assists and 31 points in 56 games. A full season from center Nico Hischier, who recorded six goals and 11 points in 21 games, should provide a boost to an offense that finished 26th with an average of 2.59 goals-per-game as will the addition of Tatar, who earned 10 goals and 30 points in 50 games with the Montreal Canadiens last season after posting 58 points in 80 games and 61 points in 68 games in the previous two years.

The Devils are hoping for more growth from Hischier, Hughes, Blackwood, left-wing Yegor Sharangovich (16 goals, 30 points in 54 games), and defenseman Ty Smith (two goals, 23 points, -9 rating, 53.55% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, 49.95% expected goals-for percentage, 52.54% scoring chances-for percentage) after a big offseason.

The Devils should be much improved but their time is likely a few seasons away.

Columbus Blue Jackets

2020-21 Result: 18-26-12, last in Central Division

2020-21 Leaders:

  • RW Oliver Bjorkstrand (18 goals, 44 points)
  • RW Jakub Voracek (34 assists)
  • LHD Zach Werenski (24:22 average TOI/game)
  • G Joonas Korpisalo (nine wins)

Key Offseason Additions: Voracek, C Sean Kuraly, LHD Jake Bean, RHD Adam Boqvist, C Gregory Hoffman

Key Offseason Subtractions: RW Cam Atkinson, RHD Seth Jones, LHD Michael Del Zotto, C Mikhail Grigorenko, C Zac Dalpe, C Stefan Matteau, RW Kole Sherwood, C Ryan MacInnis, G Matiss Kivlenieks, Head Coach John Tortorella

Following a season where the Blue Jackets fell off of a cliff, there have been a number of changes over the offseason as Tortorella parted ways with the organization, Atkinson was traded to the Philadelphia Flyers for Voracek (who recorded 43 points), and Jones was sold off to the Chicago Blackhawks in a trade that brought Boqvist (two goals, 16 points, a -7 rating, a 48.85% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 46.75% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 48.9% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 35 games) to Columbus.

It is no secret that the Blue Jackets’ main weakness is scoring as their average of 2.39 goals-per-game last season was tied for the third-worst in the NHL and Bjorkstrand had a 10-point lead on their runner-up scoring leader. A full training camp should help left-wing Patrik Laine, who earned 10 goals, 21 points, and a -29 rating in 45 games after getting acquired from the Winnipeg Jets in a trade that saw them part with center Pierre-Luc Dubois early last season.

The Blue Jackets’ identity as a strong defensive team fell apart last season when they allowed an average of 3.29 goals-per-game, tied for the seventh-most in the league, after they traded Ryan Murray and Markus Nutivaara last offseason and David Savard at the 2021 NHL Trade Deadline. Trading Jones only makes them worse on defense but they still have Werenski, who earned seven goals, 20 points, a -9 rating, a 50.41% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 48.3% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 48.9% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 35 games.

After Korpisalo was rumored to be on the trade block for at least a year as the Blue Jackets are still seeking for a spark offensively, their goaltending tandem of Elvis Merzlikins (who went 8-12-5 with a .916 save percentage, a 2.77 goals-against average, and two shutouts last season) and the 27-year-old (9-13-7, .894 save percentage, 3.30 goals-against average) remains intact.

The Blue Jackets will likely be flirting with the rock bottom of the division and in line for a draft lottery pick by the season’s end.

Philadelphia Flyers

2020-21 Result: 25-23-8, sixth in East Division

2020-21 Leaders:

  • LW Joel Farabee (20 goals)
  • C Claude Giroux (27 assists, 43 points)
  • LW James Van Riemsdyk (43 points)
  • C Sean Couturier (0.91 points-per-game)
  • LHD Ivan Provorov (25:00 average TOI/game)
  • G Martin Jones (15 wins)

Key Offseason Additions: Atkinson, Jones, RHD Ryan Ellis, C Nate Thompson, RHD Rasmus Ristolainen, LHD Keith Yandle, C Derick Brassard, LHD Nick Seeler

Key Offseason Subtractions: Voracek, G Brian Elliott, C Nolan Patrick, RHD Philippe Myers, LHD Shayne Gostisbehere, LW Carsen Twarynski, C Andy Andreoff, G Alex Lyon

Following a disappointing 2020-21 season from the Flyers, the organization has made a number of moves with an emphasis on improving the defense which allowed a league-high 3.52 goals-per-game. They acquired Ellis (five goals, 18 points, a +1 rating, a 53.22% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 50.24% expected goals-for percentage, and a 54.48% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 35 games with the Nashville Predators), Ristolainen (four goals, 18 points, a -18 rating, a 43.49% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 43.71% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 44.3% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 49 games with the Buffalo Sabres), and Yandle (three goals, 27 points, a -8 rating, a 56.4% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 54.23% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 55.42% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 56 games with the Florida Panthers).

They also made a change behind Carter Hart in goal as they let Elliott walk as a free agent and signed Jones, who has posted an .896 save percentage in each of the past three seasons with the San Jose Sharks and recorded a 15-13-4 record, 3.28 goals-against average, and one shutout last season. The key in Philadelphia this season will be to get a bounceback season from Hart, who went 9-11-5 with an .877 save percentage, a 3.67 goals-against average, and one shutout in 2020-21. If he does not return to form, the Flyers could be in hot water.

After averaging 2.86 goals-per-game (league average), the Flyers shook things up a bit by trading Voracek for Atkinson (15 goals and 34 points in 56 games) and signed some depth with the additions of Thompson (two goals and five points in 44 games with the Winnipeg Jets) and Brassard (eight goals and 20 points in 53 games).

The addition of Ellis gives them the top-pairing defenseman to play alongside Ivan Provorov, which was something they were missing last season after Matt Niskanen retired. They also need Farabee to build off of his breakout season where he was on pace for 30 goals over an 82-game campaign on top of Hart bouncing back. The acquisition of Ristolainen was a gamble but perhaps he will improve after leaving the Buffalo Sabres.

The Flyers have a good chance of improving this season but a lot will have to go right after an active offseason, which included a couple questionable moves. They will have a chance but in a tough division, they may find themselves outside a spot when the regular season is all said and done.

New York Rangers

2020-21 Result: 27-23-6, fifth in East Division

2020-21 Leaders:

  • C Mika Zibanejad (24 goals)
  • RHD Adam Fox (42 assists, 24:42 average TOI/game)
  • LW Artemi Panarin (58 points)
  • G Igor Shesterkin (16 wins)

Key Offseason Additions: LW Sammy Blais, C Barclay Goodrow, LW Dryden Hunt, RW Ryan Reaves, LHD Patrik Nemeth, LHD Jarred Tinordi, Head Coach Gerard Gallant

Key Offseason Subtractions: LW Pavel Buchnevich, RW Colin Blackwell, LHD Brendan Smith, C Brett Howden, RHD Tony DeAngelo, Head Coach David Quinn

After missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the fourth consecutive season and getting knocked around by teams like the New York Islanders and Washington Capitals, the Rangers sacrificed skill and speed for sandpaper as they parted with Buchnevich, Blackwell, and Howden and brought in 6’2”, 225-pound Reaves; 6’2″, 203-pound Goodrow; 6’2″, 205-pound Blais from the St. Louis Blues (in addition to a second-round pick) that sent Buchnevich to the Gateway City; and 6’6″, 205-pound defenseman Jarred Tinordi in free agency.

With the new look, the Rangers will not be as high scoring as they were last season when they averaged 3.14 goals-per-game but they still have plenty of offensive fire power with Panarin, Zibanejad, and left-wing Chris Krieder.

After Buchnevich was dealt, look for right-wing Kaapo Kakko (nine goals, 17 points in 48 games), left-wing Alexis Lafreniere (12 goals, 21 points in 56 games), and right-wing Vitali Kravtsov (two goals, four points in 20 games) to play bigger roles this season, which could lead to boosts in each of their productions.

The Rangers were slightly above average with 2.77 goals-against per game and have the reigning Norris Trophy winner in Fox, who posted five goals, 47 points, a +19 rating, a 49.85% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 54.22% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 50.9% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage. They are hoping that K’Andre Miller (five goals, 12 points, +9 rating, 47.85% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 45.72% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 46.1% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 53 games) and Nils Lundkvist (14 goals, 32 points, -1 rating in 52 SHL games) are ready to take the next step in their developments.

Shesterkin, 25, has looked like the real deal ever since stepping onto Broadway after going 16-14-3 with a .916 save percentage and a 2.62 goals-against average.

While they lost Buchnevich, the Rangers’ fourth-line is a lot better, offense is potent, defense is up and coming, and young goaltender is blossoming. With Gallant behind the bench, their rebuild could be in the rearview.

New York Islanders

2020-21 Result: 32-17-7, fourth in East Division; lost to Lightning in Eastern Conference Final

2020-21 Leaders:

  • C Brock Nelson (18 goals)
  • C Mathew Barzal (28 assists, 45 points)
  • RHD Ryan Pulock (22:26 average TOI/game)
  • G Semyon Varlamov (19 wins)

Key Offseason Additions: LW Zach Parise, RW Richard Panik, LHD Zdeno Chara

Key Offseason Subtractions: LHD Nick Leddy, RW Jordan Eberle, LHD Braydon Coburn

After falling to the Lightning in the third round for the second year in a row and averaging 2.71 goals-per-game (21st), the Islanders had a quiet offseason but brought in Parise (seven goals and 18 points in 45 games with the Minnesota Wild after two straight seasons with at least 25 goals).

They lost Leddy in the trade that brought Panik in but added Chara (two goals, 10 points, a +5 rating, a 49.5% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 52.33% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 51.63% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 55 games with the Capitals) to help fill that hole. The Islanders’ average of 2.23 goals-against per game was second in the NHL last season.

Left-wing Anders Lee, who earned 12 goals and 19 points in 27 games before tearing his ACL and missing the rest of the season, is healthy again and should help the Islanders boost their offense after losing just 1-0 to the Lightning in Game 7.

Varlamov was among the NHL’s best goaltenders a season ago when he went 19-11-4 with a .929 save percentage, a 2.04 goals-against average, and seven shutouts and Ilya Sorokin had a solid rookie season as he went 13-6-3 with a .918 save percentage, a 2.17 goals-against average, and three shutouts.

The Islanders will likely be fighting for the top spot in the Metropolitan Division but the real focus for them will be getting over the hump in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

Pittsburgh Penguins

2020-21 Result: 37-16-3, first in East Division; lost to Islanders in First Round

2020-21 Leaders:

  • C Sidney Crosby (24 goals, 38 assists, 62 points)
  • LW Jake Guentzel (23 goals, 1.02 points-per-game)
  • RHD Kris Letang (24:39 average TOI/game)
  • G Tristan Jarry (25 wins)

Key Offseason Additions: LW Danton Heinen, LW Brock McGinn, LW Dominik Simon, C Filip Hallander, RHD Taylor Fedun

Key Offseason Subtractions: C Jared McCann, RHD Cody Ceci, LW Brandon Tanev, C Mark Jankowski, RW Colton Sceviour, C Frederick Gaudreau, RHD Yannick Weber, G Maxime Lagace

The Penguins laid low over the offseason as they just made a few tweaks to their forward group after they averaged 3.45 goals-per-game last season (second), signing Heinen (seven goals, 14 points in 43 games with the Anaheim Ducks last season and 16 goals, 47 points in 77 games as a rookie with the Boston Bruins in 2017-18), McGinn (eight goals, 13 points in 37 games with the Hurricanes last season and 16 goals, 30 points in 80 games in 2017-18), and Simon (eight goals, 13 points in 37 games with the Hurricanes last season and 16 goals, 30 points in 80 games in 2017-18) in addition to losing McCann and Tanev.

Crosby underwent wrist surgery on September 8 and was expected to be out a minimum of six weeks, though he started practicing with the team on Saturday. Center Evgeni Malkin is also expected to be out at least two months after undergoing knee surgery on September 23. With both of them out, center Jeff Carter, who earned nine goals and 11 points in 14 games with the Penguins after getting acquired from the Los Angeles Kings, will be leaned on to play heavy minutes.

The Penguins’ major weakness is in goal after Tristan Jarry posted an .888 save percentage and a 3.18 goals-against average in their six-game loss in the first round to the Islanders and Casey DeSmith went 11-7-0 with a .912 save percentage, a 2.54 goals-against average, and two shutouts during the regular-season.

Father time is catching up to the Penguins as Crosby and defenseman Kris Letang are both 34-years-old and Malkin is 35. Both Malkin and Letang are heading into the final years of their contracts and there is no word that extensions with either are close.

With both Crosby and Malkin set to miss some time and a questionable goaltending duo, the Penguins’ NHL-long 15-season Stanley Cup Playoff streak could be in jeopardy, though you can never count them out.

Carolina Hurricanes

2020-21 Result: 36-12-8, first in Central Division; lost to Lightning in Second Round

2020-21 Leaders:

  • C Sebastian Aho (24 goals, 33 assists, 57 points)
  • C Vincent Trocheck (17 goals, 43 points)
  • LHD Jaccob Slavin (22:59 average TOI/game)
  • G Frederik Andersen (13 wins)

Key Offseason Additions: Andersen, DeAngelo, Smith, Lyon, C Jesperi Kotkaniemi, LW Josh Leivo, RW Stephen Noesen, C Derek Stepan, RHD Ethan Bear, RHD Jalen Chatfield, LHD Ian Cole, LHD Eric Gelinas, G Antti Raanta

Key Offseason Subtractions: Hamilton, Bean, McGinn, LW Warren Foegele, C Morgan Geekie, C Cedric Paquette, RHD Jani Hakanpaa, C Drew Shore, LHD Joakim Ryan, LW Max McCormick, G James Reimer, G Alex Nedeljkovic, G Petr Mrazek

There was a lot of noise out of Carolina this offseason as they made over their goaltending tandem, pulled off the NHL’s first successful offersheet since 2007, and signed DeAngelo (who has publicly expressed controversial political views and had an altercation with goaltender Alexander Georgiev on the Rangers last season).

They traded Nedeljkovic to the Red Wings before signing both Andersen (13-8-3 record, an .895 save percentage, and a 2.96 goals-against average in 24 games with the Toronto Maple Leafs) and Antti Raanta (5-5-2 with a .905 save percentage and a 3.36 goals-against average in 12 games with the Arizona Coyotes).

After losing Hamilton, they signed DeAngelo (one assist, -6 rating, 58.14% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 54.12% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and 50.85% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in six games), Smith (five goals, 10 points, +3 rating, a 45.91% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 45.17% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 45.49% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 43 games with the Rangers), Cole (one goal, eight points, +21 rating, 42.09% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 47.66% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 43.29% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 54 games with the Avalanche and Wild), and Chatfield (one assist, -11 rating, 44.5% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 41.45% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 40.67% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 18 games with the Vancouver Canucks) and acquired Bear (two goals, eight points, a -1 rating, a 50.53% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, a 55.36% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and a 51.56% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 43 games with the Edmonton Oilers) from the Oilers for Foegele. The Hurricanes’ average of 2.39 goals-against per game last season was tied for fourth in the NHL.

After averaging 3.13 goals-per-game last season, the Hurricanes brought in Leivo (six goals, nine points in 39 games with Calgary Flames), Noesen (no points in six games with San Jose Sharks and Maple Leafs), Stepan (one goal, six points in 20 games with Ottawa Senators), and Kotkaniemi (five goals and 20 points in 56 regular-season games with Montreal Canadiens).

The Hurricanes’ young core of Aho, Slavin (three goals, 15 points, +22 rating, 54.52% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, 54.19% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and 55.59% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage), left-wing Teuvo Teravainen (five goals, 15 points in 21 games), center Martin Necas (14 goals, 41 points in 53 games), and right-wing Andrei Svechnikov (15 goals, 42 points in 55 games) should be grown enough. While they lost Hamilton, their defense core is still one of the NHL’s deepest.

While a series of changes following a successful season could go either way, the Hurricanes still have a talented group and will likely be among the top teams in the division and Eastern Conference.

Washington Capitals

2020-21 Result: 36-15-5, second in East Division; lost to Bruins in first round

2020-21 Leaders:

  • LW Alex Ovechkin (24 goals)
  • C Nicklas Backstrom (38 assists, 53 points)
  • RHD John Carlson (23:47 average TOI/game)
  • G Vitek Vanecek (21 wins)

Key Offseason Additions: LHD Matt Irwin

Key Offseason Subtractions: Chara, LHD Brenden Dillon, LW Michael Raffl, LW Daniel Carr, G Craig Anderson

Following a third straight first-round exit and a season where they allowed an average of 2.88 goals-per-game (17th), the Capitals did not make many changes except on the left side of defense as they traded Dillon to the Winnipeg Jets and lost Chara in free agency. There is a hole on the second-pairing and Martin Fehervary, who earned three goals, 17 points, and a +10 rating in 24 AHL games with the Hershey Bears last season, will be given the first opportunity to take that spot.

With Backstrom expected to miss the start of the season due to a hip injury, the Capitals are giving Connor McMichael (14 goals, 27 points in 33 AHL games in first professional season) and Hendrix Lapierre (eight goals, 31 points in 31 QMJHL games) long looks to step in for him. Center Evgeny Kuznetsov must bounce back after earning just nine goals and 29 points in 41 games and missing 15 games due to COVID-19 and suspension last season.

The Capitals are heading into the season with the same goaltending tandem from a season ago with Ilya Samsonov (13-4-1 with a .902 save percentage, a 2.69 goals-against average, and two shutouts) and Vanecek (21-10-4 with a .908 save percentage, a 2.69 goals-against average, and two shutouts), which is the NHL’s most inexperienced. Both showed promising glimpses at times but need to be more consistent.

For the second straight season, the Capitals are heading into the campaign with the NHL’s oldest roster as it has an average age of 29.2. Ovechkin (36), Backstrom (33), Carlson (31), right-wing T.J. Oshie (34), center Lars Eller (32), left-wing Carl Hagelin (33), center Nic Dowd (31), right-wing Garnet Hathaway (will turn 30 in November), defenseman Nick Jensen (31), defenseman Dmitry Orlov (30), defenseman Justin Schultz (31), and defenseman Trevor Van Riemsdyk (30) are all over 30 years of age. That is 13 members of their 23-man roster. Heading into the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs, age and injuries caught up to the Capitals and the possibilities of McMichael and Fehervary joining their roster will help, but will it be enough?

The Capitals’ Stanley Cup window is shrinking but they should still be able to get into the postseason as long as they stay healthy, both of their goalies step up, and their core players can fight Father Time for a little longer.

Breakout Candidates

LW Alexis Lafreniere — Rangers

The 19-year-old found himself playing mostly on the third-line in his rookie season but will likely see time next to Zibanejad or Panarin after Buchnevich was traded. No matter who he is paired with, Lafreniere will get the puck frequently. He ended the 2020-21 season with four goals and seven points in nine games and with a lot of the Rangers’ young talent growing (himself included), Lafreniere could see his production take off.

Hughes — Devils

The 20-year-old had four more goals and 10 more points in his second NHL season than his first despite playing five fewer games. With the addition of Tatar and exposure to Hamilton on the power play, Hughes could see his game go to another level this season.

RW Daniel Sprong — Capitals

The 24-year-old’s .59 goals-per-60 minutes this season was tied for 13th best in the NHL and he averaged almost half a point-per-game (20 in 42) despite playing mostly on the Capitals’ third-line. The team has expressed a desire to give Sprong a larger role this season, which not only means he will get more ice time but will get the puck more too with the possibility of Backstrom or Kuznetsov centering him.

Farabee — Flyers

The 21-year-old saw his production spike last season and was on pace to hit 57 points in addition to 30 goals despite ranking just sixth among Flyers forwards in average ice-time per game (16:01). With a bigger role, Farabee can build off of his success from last season.

Standings Predictions

1. X – Hurricanes

2. X – Islanders

3. X – Capitals

4. X – Rangers

5. Penguins

6. Flyers

7. Devils

8. Blue Jackets

Other 2021-22 Division Previews:

Pacific

Central

Atlantic

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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