Metropolitan Division Preview: New York Rangers ready to take top spot

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It’s beginning to feel like a long time ago that a Metropolitan Division team won a Stanley Cup title, though it’s only been four years since the Washington Capitals raised the Cup after back-to-back championships by the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Capitals and Penguins didn’t make any major overhauls in the offseason, but the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Rangers showed they weren’t content with standing pat.

Metropolitan Division Preview 2022-23

1. New York Rangers

New York lost valuable forwards to free agency when Ryan Strome, Andrew Copp, Frank Vatrano, and Tyler Motte signed elsewhere. In truth, the Rangers were up against the cap and were limited in what they could do this offseason.

The Rangers were able to snag one of Carolina’s top point producers in the offseason, signing 29-year-old forward Vincent Trocheck to a seven-year deal on the first day of free agency. He will slot into the second line center spot to replace Strome.

Head coach Gerard Gallant will be banking on kids Alexis Lafrenière, Vitali Kravtsov, and Kaapo Kakko taking the next step within the organization. Both Kravtsov and Kakko signed extensions in the offseason.

Those changes aside, the Rangers are stacked with offensive talent in Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, and Chris Kreider, who scored 52 goals last season.

Their defense is young but talented led by newly named captain Jacob Trouba and former Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox. K’Andre Miller is also steadily progressing into one of the league’s better two-way defenders.

At the end of the day, the Rangers will edge out the Carolina Hurricanes for the division title thanks to reigning Vezina winner Igor Shesterkin.

2. Carolina Hurricanes

The Hurricanes brought in several new players, most notably was 37-year-old defenseman Brent Burns, who spent the past 11 seasons trying to win a championship with the San Jose Sharks.

San Jose traded Burns to Carolina in July in exchange for forward Steven Lorentz, goalie prospect Eetu Makiniemi, and a third-round pick in the 2023 NHL Draft.

“I’m coming to a time where winning and having a chance to win it all is really all that matters right now,” Burns said. “I’ve chased the boys in red and black around the ice for a while. They’ve got a lot of young guys that are just flourishing.”

The Hurricanes didn’t stop with Burns, also adding veteran forward Paul Stastny, who will be counted on to fill some of the void left by Nino Niederreiter, who signed with the Nashville Predators.

Stastny had 45 points in 71 games with Winnipeg last season, while Niederreiter produced 44 points in 75 games with Carolina.

Ondrej Kase also joins the forward group for the Hurricanes. He has been productive when healthy, totaling 27 points in 50 games with the Toronto Maple Leafs last season.

Max Pacioretty, a six-time 30-goal scorer in the NHL, also joined Carolina, but he isn’t expected to be healed from a torn Achilles until at least the All-Star break in February.

The biggest question for Carolina remains in goal. Can both Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta get through a whole season healthy?

3. Pittsburgh Penguins

pittsburgh penguins
Feb 20, 2022; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, USA; Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang (58) and center Evgeni Malkin (71) present center Sidney Crosby (87) with a commemorative stick and plaque in honor of his 500th career NHL goal before the game against the Carolina Hurricanes at PPG Paints Arena. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

The Penguins focused their offseason attention on securing some of their best players long term.

They gave six-year contracts to Kris Letang, Bryan Rust, and Rickard Rakell, and inked Evgeni Malkin to a four-year extension. 

The only move that raised eyebrows in Pittsburgh was the decision to bring back Kasperi Kapanen on a two-year contract.

Kapanen was a 2014 first-round pick of the Penguins, but was dealt to Toronto before he ever played a game in Pittsburgh. The Penguins re-acquired him in the summer of 2020, but he took a step back last season when he was limited to 11 goals in 79 games.

Pittsburgh is a win-now team and hoping to get captain Sidney Crosby one more Stanley Cup before his career is over. He’s got three years left on his contract and has openly stated he will decide then if he will retire or continue playing.

4. Washington Capitals

The Capitals made the biggest move in the NHL involving goaltenders in the offseason.

They signed Darcy Kuemper to a free-agent deal after he helped the Colorado Avalanche win the Stanley Cup last season. Kuemper, 32, didn’t show any signs of slowing down last season, posting a .921 save percentage and five shutouts, both ranking in the top five in the NHL.

Will it be enough to keep the Caps in the playoff picture? I believe so.

The ageless wonder, Alex Ovechkin will be looking for another 50 goal season as he continues to chase down Wayne Gretzky’s all-time goal mark.

Center Nicklas Backstrom will miss the start of the season due to hip surgery. How the Caps hold up in his absence will determine if they make the postseason or not.

5. Columbus Blue Jackets

The Columbus Blue Jackets made the most newsworthy addition among skaters, beating out a number of other teams to sign six-time All-Star Johnny Gaudreau, who had career highs of 40 goals and 115 points last season for the Calgary Flames last season.

In addition, they also extended Patrik Laine and have some young forwards turning heads. Yegor Chinakhov and Kent Johnson will give the Jackets a real lift offensively this season.

Elvis Merzlikins leads the way in goal for the Jackets. The defense is also solid with Zach Werenski anchoring a young blue-line.

This could very well be a surprising season in Columbus, and I have them as a dark horse to make the playoffs.

6. New York Islanders

The New York Islanders biggest change this offseason has to be considered a downgrade after firing Barry Trotz and replacing him with assistant Lane Lambert.

In reality, Lambert’s promotion actually means very little to no change in systems and playing style for the Isles. That’s either going to be a good or bad thing by season’s end.

Personnel wise, the Islanders missed out on bringing any notable free agent but were able to lock up Mathew Barzal longterm to the the tune of $9.15M AAV for 8 years.

There was a lot of housekeeping this summer with new contracts for Noah Dobson and newly acquired Alexandar Romanov.

Unfortunately, the Islanders inability to bring in offensive help for Barzal and Anders Lee will mean another season out of the playoffs. Their only hope is that Ilya Sorokin has a season for the ages and steals plenty of low scoring games.

7. Philadelphia Flyers

metropolitan division john tortorella
Oct 4, 2022; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Philadelphia Flyers head coach John Tortorella talks to his players during the first period against the New York Islanders at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

John Tortorella is now the new head coach of the Philadelphia Flyers.

That’s great for the longterm aspirations of the franchise but it won’t be enough in a stacked Metropolitan Division to make the playoffs.

Philly added Tony DeAngelo to help their power play and they’re hoping Owen Tippett, who was acquired in the Claude Giroux trade is a top six forward. Most importantly, the Flyers want to know if Kevin Hayes can lead this club and if Carter Hart can find his game under a more defensive minded Torts.

However, what this season will be about is weeding out the players that the organization doesn’t think can cut the mustard.

8. New Jersey Devils

The New Jersey Devils lured Ondrej Palat from the Tampa Bay Lightning with a five-year deal. Palat comes from a winning organization and tends to step up his game in the postseason, if the Devils can get there.

That’s the real question and why Lindy Ruff could be the first head coach let go this season.

One thing is certain, the Devils are fast and fun. Jack Hughes is a rising star and he’s got players like Jesper Bratt, Dawson Mercer, and Dougie Hamilton to support him.

The problem is their overall defensive game is an issue and without elite goaltending that will put them on the wrong side of the score more often than not.

–Field Level Media and The Daily Goal Horn