For the final post in this series, we’re taking a look at the Metropolitan Division, hockey’s toughest division. For all intents and purposes, the Metro is going to be a tightly contested division, and could realistically feature five of the eight Eastern Conference teams in the playoffs in April.
We’ve taken a look at each division and projected how the standings may pan out based on Goals Above Replacement (GAR) projections, courtesy of Evolving-Hockey. To read more about GAR and other advanced analytical terms, check out our glossary.
A few notes on the methodology for these posts: the projections are based on the active roster for each team as CapFriendly shows them. Players who did not fully participate last season do not have GAR projections, due to a lack of playing data from 2021. There are no goaltending GAR projections available, so we used the goaltenders’ 2021 season goaltending GAR as a benchmark.
Carolina Hurricanes (2021 Season GAR: 94.6, 2021 Finish: 1st in the Central Division)
The Hurricanes were the talk of the off-season with the acquisition of Jesperi Kotkaniemi from the Montreal Canadiens via the vastly under-utilized restricted free agent offer sheet process. On the other side of the equation, though, Carolina lost some significant pieces this off-season, including Dougie Hamilton, Petr Mrazek, and Alex Nedeljkovic.
Even without those pieces, they’re still a talented squad, and could contend for the Metro Division title. Here’s how their projections look:
The key for Carolina to have success this season is a successful bounce-back season from Frederik Andersen in net, as well as a healthy campaign for Andersen’s tandem partner, Antti Raanta. Raanta only played in 12 games last season, and is often injured.
The Hurricanes are solid up front, led by Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov. Svechnikov was inked to an eight year extension this off-season, and Carolina’s front office and coaching staff are looking for him to capitalize on his potential entering his fourth NHL season.
Svechnikov has yet to crack the 30-goal mark in the NHL, but that’s likely more due to two pandemic shortened seasons than anything else. If the Canes are going to go deep in the playoffs this season, it’ll be because Svechnikov hits that next level.
Columbus Blue Jackets (2021 Season GAR: 23.9, 2021 Finish: 8th in the Central Division)
The Blue Jackets are entering a new era without John Tortorella as their head coach for the first time since 2015, and are now being led by Brad Larsen. The Blue Jackets are in a tough spot, and are now looking more like a rebuilding team than a team that was fighting for playoff spots.
It’s amazing to think that the last team to beat the Lightning in a playoff series was the Blue Jackets. Here’s the projections for the Blue Jackets:
Although the Blue Jackets traded one of their more recognizable franchise cornerstones in Seth Jones, they were able to extend the other half of that all American pairing in Zach Werenski to an eight year deal.
The Blue Jackets are not likely to be very competitive this season, which brings an intriguing trade piece to the forefront in Patrik Laine. Laine signed his qualifying offer as a restricted free agent and will be playing on that entering his UFA year. Laine would be a high-value commodity on the trade market at the trade deadline for any team looking to add a scorer.
New Jersey Devils (2021 Season GAR: 30.6, 2021 Finish: 7th in the East Division)
The Devils are a team on the rise, especially after inking the premier unrestricted free agent in defenseman Dougie Hamilton to a seven-year deal. The Hamilton signing complements the Devils’ young core group in Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier, and are looking like a team that will start competing for playoff spots in the next couple of seasons. Here’s the projections for the Devils:
Last season, we saw flashes of Jack Hughes’ brilliance that led the Devils to select him first overall in the 2019 NHL Entry Draft. Once Hughes starts taking that next step to realizing his potential, the Devils will start being a better and better team.
On top of signing Hamilton, the Devils were able to net a solid backup for MacKenzie Blackwood in Jonathan Bernier, as well as getting a nice middle six scoring option in Tomas Tatar. The Devils might not be quite ready for playoff contention, but it’ll be soon.
New York Islanders (2021 Season GAR: 91.4, 2021 Finish: 4th in the East Division)
The Islanders did not have many major pieces leave the team this off-season, only trading defenseman Nick Leddy to the Detroit Red Wings in return for ex-Capital Richard Panik. The Isles will be even stronger this season with their captain Anders Lee returning to the lineup after a knee injury ended his season. On top of that, veterans Zdeno Chara and Zach Parise signed with the Isles for the veteran minimum to go title chasing. Here’s how the Islanders project out:
The Islanders are going to be a good team, but they typically just hit that next level in the playoffs behind Barry Trotz’s structured defensive system. Their last two seasons were ended at the hands of the eventual champion Tampa Bay Lightning in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The defense-first and physical Islanders are going to be viewed as Stanley Cup contenders, and rightfully so. Semyon Varlamov and Ilya Sorokin are one of the best goaltending tandems in the league, and that makes the Islanders’ suffocating defensive structure even better. The Islanders will make noise this season, but the question is, is this the year they can get to the Cup Final?
New York Rangers (2021 Season GAR: 74.2, 2021 Finish: 5th in the East Division)
The Rangers are inching closer to being contenders in the Eastern Conference again, after a relatively short rebuild. The Rangers have a lot of skill up and down the lineup, but after the Wilson/Panarin incident, they made some interesting decisions in adding more physicality to their roster, most notably by trading out the skilled Pavel Buchnevich for Sammy Blais, and acquiring Barclay Goodrow and Ryan Reaves.
Here’s how the Rangers project:
As mentioned before, the Rangers are skilled. The top end of the projections above are up there with some of the more skilled teams in the league. Igor Shesterkin’s abilities are putting him towards the top of the league’s goaltending lists. Artemi Panarin is still a top tier playmaker, and Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox will likely only get better. It’s likely that the Rangers make the next step and make the playoffs for the first time since 2017.
Philadelphia Flyers (2021 Season GAR: 27.2, 2021 Finish: 6th in the East Division)
The Flyers are coming off an extremely disappointing 2021 season where they missed the playoffs after a fair bit of hype entering last season. The Flyers had the league’s worst goaltending, statistically, last season, and their general manager Chuck Fletcher made a lot of changes to the lineup as a result. They shipped out offensively talented and defensively challenged defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere to the Coyotes for cap relief. They acquired defensemen Rasmus Ristolainen and Ryan Ellis to shore up their back-end. They traded former second overall pick Nolan Patrick. They had a good, old fashioned hockey trade with Columbus, sending Jakub Voracek for Cam Atkinson.
Overall, they’re going to look a lot different, but let’s see how their projections pan out:
The Flyers will have to hope that young stalwart Carter Hart has a big bounce back season after a pretty paltry 2021 season. Their replacement for his backup was Martin Jones, who certainly had his struggles the past few seasons in San Jose.
If Hart and Jones can’t hold their own in the crease this season, the Flyers are going to be missing out on the playoffs once again. If the Flyers are on the outside of the playoff picture looking in at the trade deadline, do they move captain Claude Giroux, who’s on the final year of his contract?
Pittsburgh Penguins (2021 Season GAR: 114, 2021 Finish: 1st in the East Division)
The Penguins are very much in the same boat as the Capitals; a veteran-laden team likely nearing the end of their competitive window with their aging core of superstars. Of most concern to the Penguins is the performance of their Russian cornerstone in Evgeni Malkin. He did not look like himself last season, scoring under a point per game pace for the first time since the 2010-11 season.
Here’s the Penguins’ projections:
Even with Malkin’s performance trailing off, the Penguins have enough talent to fill in the gaps, especially with the emergence of Kasperi Kapanen last season. On top of that, Jake Guentzel is coming off another solid season.
Sidney Crosby is already practicing even with the wrist surgery that was likely going to keep him out for the beginning of the regular season. Ultimately, the key factor for the Penguins’ success this season hangs on the shoulders of Tristan Jarry. Is he the goalie we saw in the playoffs last season that had an .888 save percentage and a 3.18 goals against average? Or is he the goalie with the career .912 save percentage and 2.66 goals against average?
Washington Capitals (2021 Season GAR: 99.8, 2021 Finish: 2nd in the East Division)
The Capitals are coming off their third straight first round exit in the playoffs, and are essentially returning the same roster from last season. The entire lineup in the forward corps from the end of last season is coming back for this season (except for Michael Raffl), although Nicklas Backstrom is likely to miss some games at the start of the season.
This team needs some youth injected into the lineup, and will get some on the blue line. Martin Fehervary will likely see some NHL action this season with veteran Michal Kempny being sent down to Hershey. Connor McMichael and Hendrix Lapierre may see some NHL action this season as well. Here’s the Caps’ projections:
There’s one big x-factor for the Capitals success this season, and it’s the play of Evgeny Kuznetsov. If Kuznetsov can return to the levels of production he added in the 2017-18 and 2018-19 seasons, the Capitals can clinch a playoff spot and potentially make a deep run.
The deep run piece hangs on the improvement of team defense and goaltending. Ilya Samsonov and the Caps are looking for him to take advantage of his one year prove-it deal signed this off-season to really step into the role of franchise goaltender. If he doesn’t, then Vitek Vanecek may be the future.
Overall, the Capitals really need end-to-end improvement to make any noise this season and potentially the postseason, or the Stanley Cup winning window has firmly shut, and the main point of attention becomes Ovi trying to break Gretzky’s goal scoring record.
2021 Metropolitan Division Standings Projections:
- New York Islanders (92 GAR)
- Pittsburgh Penguins (92 GAR)
- New York Rangers (83.1 GAR)
- Washington Capitals (79.9 GAR)
- Carolina Hurricanes (73.6 GAR)
- New Jersey Devils (69.9 GAR)
- Philadelphia Flyers (56.4 GAR)
- Columbus Blue Jackets (46.7 GAR)
By Justin Trudel