With the 2022-23 NHL season starting on Tuesday (for the Eastern Conference), NoVa Caps concludes their annual division previews. Today, we will preview the Metropolitan Division.
2021-22 Result: 25-46-11, last in Metropolitan Division, 15th in Eastern Conference
- LW James Van Riemsdyk (24 goals)
- D Tony DeAngelo (41 assists)
- RW Travis Konecny (52 points)
- D Ivan Provorov (24:53 TOI/game)
- G Carter Hart (13 wins)
Key Offseason Additions: Head Coach John Tortorella, C Cooper Marody, LW Nic Deslauriers, D Tony DeAngelo
Key Offseason Subtractions: LW Oskar Lindblom, Head Coach Mike Yeo, G Martin Jones
The Flyers are a team that is rebuilding after trading their captain in right-wing Claude Giroux at the NHL Trade Deadline last season as the Tortorella era gets underway.
The team needs more growth from Hart, who was once known as the best goaltending prospect in hockey, this campaign after the 24-year-old has gone 22-35-12 with an .895 save percentage, 3.34 goals-against average, and two shutouts in the past two. The Flyers will head into the season with a rookie back-up in Felix Sandstrom, putting even more weight on Hart’s shoulders.
Van Riemsdyk and defenseman Travis Sanheim are the most notable Flyers entering their contract years before each can become an unrestricted free agent this summer. They could be dealt by the NHL Trade Deadline on March 3.
The orange and black should and are expected to be in the running for Connor Bedard, the consensus first overall pick in the 2023 NHL Draft.
New Jersey Devils
2021-22 Result: 27-46-9, seventh in Metropolitan Division, 14th in Eastern Conference
- C Jack Hughes (26 goals, 1.14 points-per-game)
- LW Jesper Bratt (47 assists, 73 points)
- D Damon Severson (23:36 TOI/game)
- G Vitek Vanecek (20 wins)
Key Offseason Additions: Vanecek, LW Ondrej Palat, D Brenden Smith, C Erik Haula, Assistant Coach Andrew Brunette, D John Marino
Key Offseason Subtractions: D Connor Carrick, C Pavel Zacha, C Janne Kuokkanen, D Ty Smith, D P.K. Subban
The Devils are leaning on their young, talented core to finally break through after several seasons of reloading and disappointing. Hughes missed a lot of time last season but was their best player when available while center Nico Hischier (39 assists, 60 points in 70 games), Bratt, left-wing Yegor Sharangovich (24 goals, 46 points in 76 games), and center Dawson Mercer (17 goals, 42 points in 82 games) also make up New Jersey’s promising forward group.
After their .9120 five-on-five save percentage ranked 30th in the NHL over the past three seasons, the Devils acquired Vanecek from the Washington Capitals but will he be able to turn it around for the team? In 79 games over his first two seasons, the 26-year-old has posted a .908 save percentage and while he has been consistent, that will likely not cut it. The team also has once seen as one of the best up-and-coming goaltenders in MacKenzie Blackwood but he has earned an .898 save percentage and a 3.18 goals-against average in 59 games over the past two years. The Devils used an NHL-high nine goalies last season.
The Devils hope that adding a couple of reinforcements in Palat (31 assists, 49 points in 77 games with the Tampa Bay Lightning), Haula (18 goals, 44 points in 78 games with the Boston Bruins), Marino (one goal, 25 points, a +1 rating, 51.83% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, 51.48% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and 51.4% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 81 regular-season games with Pittsburgh Penguins), and Vanecek will help this team finally live up to their potential after several disappointing seasons.
Over the past four seasons, the team has allowed an average of 3.41 goals-per-game (tied for the second-highest excluding the Seattle Kraken) and scored an average of just 2.75 themselves (tied for 24th). In addition to some young talent up front, the Devils have a few solid pieces on defense beginning with Marino and Jonas Siegenthaler (13 assists, 14 points, -5 rating, 51.51% five-on-five Corsi-for percentage, 52.74% five-on-five expected goals-for percentage, and 54.92% five-on-five scoring chances-for percentage in 70 games) behind Dougie Hamilton.
The Devils should improve this season but they should’ve been in each of the past three seasons. This is a team that will not be taken seriously until they start living up to their high expectations.
Columbus Blue Jackets
2021-22 Result: 37-38-7, sixth in Metropolitan Division, 10th in Eastern Conference
- LW Johnny Gaudreau (40 goals, 75 assists, 115 points)
- D Zach Werenski (25:40 TOI/game)
- G Elvis Merzlikins (27 wins)
Key Offseason Additions: Gaudreau, D Erik Gudbranson, RW Mathieu Olivier
Key Offseason Subtractions: D Gabriel Carlsson, RW Oliver Bjorkstrand
The signing of Gaudreau, who tied for second in the NHL in scoring last season, put the Blue Jackets back on the map and add the firepower that they have lacked since right-wing Artemi Panarin left in 2019 after the team has averaged 2.75 goals-per-game (23rd) and has scored at a 17.1% rate on the power-play (26th) over the past three seasons.
However, the major addition did not do anything to solve the team’s lack of depth down the middle. Boone Jenner, who posted 23 goals and 44 points, is projected to play that role but the 29-year-old has never scored 50 points in a single season of his nine-season NHL career. Jack Roslovic (25; career-highs with 22 goals, 45 points in 81 games) and Cole Sillinger (19; 16 goals, 31 points in 79 games during rookie season) are the other candidates to center Gaudreau.
Even with Gaudreau and right-wing Patrik Laine (26 goals, 56 points in 56 games), the Blue Jackets may not have enough difference makers up front or on the backend beyond Werenski to be a major player in one of the deepest divisions in the NHL.
The Blue Jackets should improve this season, but still are stuck in the middle of the road.
2021-22 Result: 37-35-10, fifth in Metropolitan Division, ninth in Eastern Conference
- C Brock Nelson (37 goals, 59 points)
- C Mathew Barzal (44 assists, 59 points)
- D Noah Dobson (21:28 TOI/game)
- G Ilya Sorokin (26 wins)
Key Offseason Additions: Head Coach Lane Lambert, D Alexander Romanov, LW Nikita Soshnikov, D Dennis Cholowski
Key Offseason Subtractions: Head Coach Barry Trotz, assistant coach Jim Hiller, D Zdeno Chara
The Islanders will head into the season in a much better situation after having more rest over the offseason and without a huge road trip to kick off the campaign, unlike in 2021-22. They are hoping a more normal campaign as well as a fresh voice behind the bench in Lambert will lift this team after falling in the Eastern Conference Final in each of the previous two seasons.
The team has arguably one of, if not, the best goaltending tandem in the NHL with Sorokin (26-18-8, .925 save percentage, 2.40 goals-against average, seven shutouts) and Semyon Varlamov (10-17-2, .911 save percentage, 2.91 goals-against average, two shutouts) behind a defense that ranks second with a 2.56 goals-against per game average over the past four seasons. Though, it could have a slightly different look with Trotz gone.
The Islanders are looking for a spark on offense as they have averaged just 2.75 goals-per-game (tied for 24th) over the past four campaigns but it is possible Lambert’s system may allow for more freedom offensively. The team could use a big year from Barzal, who has not topped 65 points in a single season since winning the Calder Trophy in 2017-18.
The Islanders were very quiet in the offseason, which did not feature very many changes at all. After finishing 16 points out of a postseason spot, was it the right move? They may be better situated heading into this season but will they overcome losing one of the best coaches in NHL history and a weak offense in a very deep Eastern Conference that saw teams like the Ottawa Senators and Detroit Red Wings improve? They can be viewed as one of the unknowns heading into the season.
The Islanders are expected to be in the mix for the second wild-card spot but it may be challenging.
2021-22 Result: 46-25-11, third in Metropolitan Division, seventh in Eastern Conference; lost to New York Rangers in first-round of Stanley Cup Playoffs
- LW Jake Guentzel (40 goals, 84 points)
- C Sidney Crosby (84 points, 1.22 points-per-game)
- D Kris Letang (58 assists, 25:47 TOI/game)
- G Tristan Jarry (34 wins)
Key Offseason Additions: Smith, D Jeff Petry, RW Josh Archibald, C Drake Cagguila, D Jan Rutta, G Dustin Tokarski, C Ryan Poehling
Key Offseason Subtractions: Marino, C Evan Rodrigues, RW Anthony Angello, D Mike Matheson
The Penguins are heading into this season with a new look on defense after acquiring Petry, Smith, and Rutta and their 2.71 goals-against per game average ranked fifth in the NHL and their 84.4% penalty-killing rate was third last season. Though, they lost one of their best defensive defenseman in Marino and gave up the second-highest goals-per-game (four) in the postseason. One thing to watch with this squad is whether the team’s changes on defense will work out for the better.
The team also has a top-heavy forward group led by Crosby, Guentzel, center Evgeni Malkin, and right-wing Bryan Rust. The hope is that center Rickard Rakell (four goals, 13 points in 19 games after being acquired at the NHL Trade Deadline) can build on his strong finish to the season. Right-wing Kasperi Kapanen (11 goals, 32 points in 79 games) and left-wing Jason Zucker (eight goals, 17 points in 41 games) are among those who need to bounce back this season.
While Jarry (34-18-6, .919 save percentage, 2.42 goals-against average, four shutouts) was a rock in the net during the regular season, he missed all but one game of their series vs. the Rangers and has an .891 save percentage in eight Stanley Cup Playoff games over the past three seasons. Will the team be able to depend on the 27-year-old when they need him most? After Jarry, the Penguins’ next best goaltending option is Casey DeSmith so it drops off quickly.
The Penguins were able to extend their slim Stanley Cup window by re-signing Malkin, Rakell, Rust, and Letang this offseason. Their core consisting of Crosby (35), Malkin (36), and Letang (35) are all in their mid-30s and the team slowed down at the end of last season as they finished 7-9-2. This team’s window is getting smaller but how open is it?
While Pittsburgh is on the decline, any team with Crosby, Malkin, and Letang should not be taken lightly.
New York Rangers
2021-22 Result: 52-24-6, second in Metropolitan Division, tied for fourth in Eastern Conference; lost to Tampa Bay Lightning in Eastern Conference Final
- LW Chris Kreider (52 goals)
- LW Artemi Panarin (74 assists, 96 points)
- D Adam Fox (23:54 TOI/game)
- G Igor Shesterkin (36 wins)
Key Offseason Additions: C Vincent Trocheck, D Ty Emberson, G Louis Domingue, G Jaroslav Halak, LW Jimmy Vesey, RW Ryan Carpenter
Key Offseason Subtractions: C Ryan Strome, C Andrew Copp, G Keith Kinkaid, G Alexander Georgiev, D Patrick Nemeth, C Gregg McKegg, RW Frank Vatrano, C Kevin Rooney, D Nils Lundkvist, RW Tyler Motte
After losing three valuable contributors from their deep run last season, the Rangers will look up to growth from their young players such as left-wing Alexis Lafreniere (19 goals, 31 points in 79 games), the first overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft; center Filip Chytil (eight goals, 22 points in 67 games); right-wing Vitali Kravtsov (six goals, 13 points in 19 KHL games); and right-wing Kaapo Kakko (seven goals, 18 points in 43 games), the second overall pick in 2019.
Shesterkin won the Vezina Trophy after leading the NHL with a .935 save percentage and 2.07 goals-against average in 53 games. He also posted six shutouts (third). However, he could see a bigger workload this season after Georgiev left and the team signed Halak, who played just 17 games for the Vancouver Canucks last season. Will Shesterkin be able to handle a heavier workload and how will he follow up his sensational campaign?
The team will look different down the middle with Copp and Strome gone and Trocheck in. Chytil had a strong postseason where he tallied seven goals and nine points in 20 contests and will need to build on it or else there could be a hole at third-line center.
The Rangers return a very similar defense to the one that held opponents to an average of just 2.49 goals-per-game in front of Shesterkin last season. However, the losses of Copp and Vatrano change a team that was sixth in the league with a 53.26% Corsi-for percentage and eighth with a 52.44% expected goals-for percentage at five-on-five after they were acquired last season. Before Copp’s debut, the Rangers had a 45.19% Corsi-for percentage (30th) and 45.47% expected goals-for percentage (28th) at five-on-five. Can they build on their success from the end of last season without both players?
The Rangers are a team on the rise with the best goaltender in the NHL and one of the best defenseman in Fox. They should be a serious threat in the Eastern Conference.
2021-22 Result: 54-20-8, first in Metropolitan Division, third in Eastern Conference; lost to Rangers in second-round
- C Sebastian Aho (37 goals, 44 assists, 81 points)
- D Jaccob Slavin (23:32 TOI/game)
- G Frederik Andersen (35 wins)
Key Offseason Additions: LW MacKenzie MacEachern, G Zach Sawchenko, LW Max Pacioretty, D Dylan Coghlan, RW Ondrej Kase, D Brent Burns, C Paul Stastny, D Calvin de Haan, C Ryan Dzingel, D William Lagesson
Key Offseason Subtractions: DeAngelo, RW Josh Leivo, G Alex Lyon, C Max Domi, C Steven Lorentz, RW Nino Niederreiter
The Hurricanes had a couple of high profile adds after falling in the second-round for the second straight year, acquiring Pacioretty after finishing second with a 56.1% shot-attempts percentage but was ninth in goals-per-game (3.38). The hope is that the 33-year-old, who has scored at least 30 goals in a season six times in his 14-season NHL career and earned 19 goals and 37 points in 39 games with the Vegas Golden Knights last season, gives them the natural scorer they have lacked.
The team may have the deepest defense in the Eastern Conference after getting Burns and giving up the fewest goals-against per game (2.44) and shots-per-game in the league (28.2) last season. They also acquired Coghlan as part of the deal with Vegas and de Haan. De Haan (172 – tied for third) and Burns (150 – tied for 15th) were both among the best in blocked shots last season. The Hurricanes had the best penalty-kill (88%) in 2021-22 and allowed just 141 goals at five-on-five, which was second (Calgary Flames: 139).
The biggest weakness on this team appears to be at center after losing Trocheck as there is an opening behind Aho. 23-year-old Martin Necas (14 goals, 40 points in 78 games) and 22-year-old Jesperi Kotkaniemi (12 goals, 29 points in 66 games) appear to be the leading candidates for the job. The Hurricanes also signed Stastny (21 goals, 45 points in 71 games with the Winnipeg Jets) but will likely want to go younger for their second-line center.
Andersen is coming off of his best NHL season but did not appear in the postseason with a torn MCL. Injuries also limited him to just 24 games the previous season with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Having the 32-year-old healthy when it matters will be critical for this team as they had to lean on their third string goalie in Pyotr Kochetkov to play in four postseason games.
The Hurricanes should be in contention for the Presidents’ Trophy but could use an upgrade at second-line center to go far.
2021-22 Result: 44-26-12, fourth in Metropolitan Division, eighth in Eastern Conference; lost to Florida Panthers in first-round
- LW Alex Ovechkin (50 goals, 90 points)
- C Evgeny Kuznetsov (54 assists)
- D John Carlson (54 assists, 23:49 TOI/game)
- G Darcy Kuemper (37 wins)
Key Offseason Additions: Carlsson, Kuemper, C Dylan Strome, RW Connor Brown, C Henrik Borgstrom, G Charlie Lindgren, D Erik Gustafsson
Key Offseason Subtractions: Vanecek, C Johan Larsson, D Justin Schultz, G Ilya Samsonov, D Michal Kempny
The Capitals will start the season without two of their top-six forwards in right-wing Tom Wilson (torn ACL, expected to return in December) and center Nicklas Backstrom (hip injury, out indefinitely) but signed Brown and Strome, which should help even if they don’t bring the same elements that Wilson and Backstrom do.
The team signed Kuemper, who ranks fourth in the NHL with a .922 save percentage and sixth with a 2.42 goals-against average over the past four seasons, to be the bonafide No. 1 after neither Samsonov nor Vanecek took the ball and ran with it in the past two seasons. The Capitals let go of both their goalies over the offseason and are hoping that having a clear starter will lead to better results.
The Capitals are looking to fight off Father Time as it did with the Chicago Blackhawks and San Jose Sharks most recently as Ovechkin just turned 37, Kuznetsov and Sheary 30, right-wing Marcus Johansson 32, and center Lars Eller 33. Right-wing T.J. Oshie will turn 36 just prior to Christmas. They will have the oldest roster in the NHL for the third consecutive season.
The team is hoping that Gustafsson, who has fallen from a 60-point defenseman four seasons ago to one that has struggled to cement a full-time role, fits in nicely after losing Schultz in free agency. If he struggles to secure a permanent spot, the Capitals may have a hole on the left-side of their third-pairing.
The Capitals will miss Wilson and Backstrom but got back off the mat with the additions of Kuemper, Brown, and Strome, which should be enough to fill in the holes. This team should be in the mix after the Hurricanes and Rangers.
Hughes — Devils
The 21-year-old’s production has kept climbing in each of his first three NHL seasons and he finished in a tie for 25th in points-per-game. With the addition of Palat, Hughes, who was on pace for 44 goals and 94 points over a full 82-game slate last season, will have even more help on his wing. If he stays healthy, look for a big year out of him.
Mantha — Capitals
The 27-year-old will get more responsibility to start the season with Wilson out for the first two months. His NHL career-high in points is 48 set twice and Mantha has averaged 0.66 points-per-game over the past three seasons, where he has missed some time due to injury in two of them. A full season not on a rebuilding team should benefit Mantha, who tallied four assists in six Stanley Cup Playoff games last Spring.
Lafreniere — Rangers
The 20-year-old put up fine numbers in a limited role last season and could find himself with more time in the top-six next to center Mika Zibanejad and/or Panarin. Lafreniere had a strong postseason with two goals and nine points in 20 games and needs to build on it.
Necas — Hurricanes
Necas has scored 14 goals and hit the 40-point mark in each of the past two seasons, doing so in just 53 games in 2020-21. With more opportunity next to right-wings Teuvo Teravainen, Seth Jarvis, and/or eventually Pacioretty, he could take the next step.
1. X – Hurricanes
2. X – Rangers
3. X – Capitals
4. X – Penguins
6. Blue Jackets
* X – denotes postseason teams
Previous Division Previews
By Harrison Brown
I’m a Caps fan, and while I am grateful to the athletes they lost to free agency for their time here, I think that the younger players will fill their roles nicely. Certainly the goalie position was a big upgrade. Missing Wilson and Backstrom will be difficult at the beginning. Hope that everybody stays healthy and COVID-19 free. They should play just to make the playoffs and keep everybody healthy.
Agree. Time waits for no one!
If you sort goalie stats from the last 4 seasons with a min. of 150 GP (so essentially every established starter) you will find that Kuemper has the best GAA and SV% with 2 of those seasons coming with the Coyotes. Shesterkin only has 100 games of experience so he would not be included, but Kuemper has better numbers than everyone else.