The 2021-22 NHL season will see the return of the normal divisions across the league and the eight-team Metropolitan division will be fascinating to keep an eye on. Every team brings a fair amount of questions to the table yet there can be a case made for almost everyone that they could flirt with playoff contention. Some teams had major shakeups, other teams will return mostly the same. Which clubs will reign atop the returning metropolitan division?
It was a very interesting offseason for the Hurricanes, who lost three up-and-coming young players in Morgan Geekie, Jake Bean, and Alex Nedeljkovic. They overhauled the goaltending with Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta, who are both good, but injury prone, netminders and brought in a few new defenseman with Ethan Bear, Tony Deangelo and Ian Cole, while the forward group was left relatively untouched. Top defenseman Jaccob Slavin, top forwards Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov, and most importantly head coach Rod Brind’Amour all return. They did send a petty yet insane offer sheet to Canadiens’ forward Jesperi Kotkaniemi to shore up their forward depth, which has been a position of need. They’re a team with a strong system in place and if they stay healthy, should be able to stay atop the metro division.
Columbus Blue Jackets
The Blue Jackets finally waived the white flag and entered a bit of a teardown during the 2021 offseason. They got rid of most, but not all, of their top players, so their depth is where they will struggle the most during the season. Their forward group can still flash some potential, especially of Patrik Laine can get his game back, and the goaltending duo of Elvis Merzlikins and Joonas Korpisalo is more than capable of stealing a game or two. They’re expected to be at the bottom of the division, but shouldn’t necessarily be a cakewalk either.
New Jersey Devils
After yet again winning the offseason, all eyes will be on the New Jersey Devils to see if they finally bring a little bit of legitimacy to the metro. They’ve added Dougie Hamilton, Ryan Graves, Jonathan Bernier, Tomas Tatar to the roster and are still counting on their young players already on the team to take a big step forward. Jack Hughes took a step forward last season, and Nico Hischier, who was named captain last season, is still looking to have his breakout campaign as well. It’s entirely possible the Devils are a threat on the ice this year, but expect them to take up residency in the bottom half of the metro unless they prove otherwise.
New York Islanders
The Islanders stayed fairly quiet during the offseason, with their losses being far more interesting than their additions. They lost Nick Leddy in a trade with Detroit and Jordan Eberle to Seattle, while making no major additions other than Richard Panik, who was the return for Leddy. Though that team doesn’t need much of a shakeup to still be a threat. The Isles are a very well-rounded team up front with some solid goaltending in Ilya Sorokin and Semyon Varlamov. The biggest question will be their defensive depth. Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech, possibly the two most underrated defenseman in the league, highlight an otherwise shallow blueline. Though, they’re a team with such strong team defense, they may be able to overcome the odds, and with Barry Trotz behind the bench, the Isles should still be taken as a threat.
New York Rangers
The Rangers are probably the biggest wildcard of the division this year. They made a few additions to bring some serious physicality to their depth in Ryan Reaves and Barclay Goodrow, but for the most part, will be looking for the youth already on their roster to take the next step. Neither of their first overall picks Kaapo Kakko or Alexis Lafreniere have amounted to much so far, but could be game-changing players if they can put the pieces together.
The most important thing the Rangers bring to the table in their impressive defense corps and goaltending tandem. Adam Fox, K’Andre Miller, Jacob Trouba, Zac Jones in front of Igor Shesterkin and Alex Georgiev is a dangerous lineup to flaunt. They finished fifth in the east division last season, but were still pretty far out of playoff contention, so the big question is how they will fare in a deeper more talented metro division? If all the stars align, this could be the year the Rangers end up back in a playoff chase.
The Flyers probably had the biggest facelift in the metro and may be the team with the most on the line in terms of the results. With a rebuilt blueline and tweaked forward corps and goaltending, the expectation level has risen in Philly. A majority of the success this season will ride on the 23-year-old goaltender Carter Hart, who will look to bounce back to immaculate form after a disappointing 2021 campaign. The new additions on defense will have to show up as well to help right the ship and the youth up front has to rebound as well. It’s a very strong, deep team on paper, but that’s something the Flyers have flaunted the last few years with nothing to show for it. It’s critical for the Flyers to finally get their ducks in a row and succeed, heads may roll otherwise.
The summer of Ron Hextall was in full effect and thus they stayed quiet for most of the offseason. They’ll be running it back with vastly the same roster and the biggest question that presents is their goaltending tandem of Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith, who were a collective disaster during the 2021 season. The duo managed to record 36 wins between them, but their individual numbers were pedestrian at best. Their three top players, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang are all in their mid-30s and time is running out of their dynasty. But as long as those three are healthy, the Penguins should be least be considered a threat to snag a playoff spot, though they haven’t made it past the first round since 2018. Does Ron Hextall have the guts to give the Penguins one last push for glory? History says no, but maybe an old dog can learn new tricks.
Even though Ovechkin re-signed, the Caps’ Stanley Cup window is starting to close and the team undoubtedly feels the pressure to win right now. Ovi is 35, Backstrom is 33, Oshie is 34, Carlson is 31 and most everybody else is in their late 20 or early 30s. The Capitals haven’t missed the playoffs since 2014, but haven’t made it past the first round since their Cup run in 2018. Due to cap constraints, the Caps had a quite summer so they have no choice but to run it back yet again. Expect the Caps to be in the playoff picture and fairly competitive during the regular season, but their odds of playoff success are a different story.
By: Dan Esche (@DanTheFlyeraFan)
photo credit: sportsmediapass.com