NHL Metropolitan Division Preview: Things only get tougher with return of Hurricanes

Predicting the Metropolitan Division in the 2021-22 campaign is a fool’s errand. The division is filled with good-but-not-great teams and one in disarray.

A couple of clubs — namely the Carolina Hurricanes and New York Islanders — lead the pack, but nearly all the other teams could finish anywhere from third to seventh.

Here is a glance at what the eight clubs have done so far and a prediction where they will place the regular season.

Metropolitan Division: Storm Warning

1. Carolina Hurricanes: The Hurricanes, who won the Central Division last season, are every bit as good again. Losing defenseman Dougie Hamilton to the New Jersey Devils is costly, and he won’t be replaced by the likes of Brendan Smith, Ian Cole, Ethan Bear and Tony DeAngelo — who is receiving yet another last chance.

But they have improved by acquiring goaltenders Antti Raanta and Frederik Andersen to replace Petr Mrazek, Alex Nedeljkovic and James Reimer.

2. New York Islanders: The Islanders are the division’s best-built team for playoffs. They cleared needed salary-cap space by trading away Nick Leddy and Andrew Ladd and having Jordan Eberle claimed by the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft, which was key to re-signing defensemen Adam Pelech to an eight year-contract extension.

The Islanders will be much the same team that lost to the Lightning in seven games in the semifinal round once they re-sign restricted free agents Ilya Sorokin and Anthony Beauvillier and ink unrestricted free-agents Kyle Palmieri, Travis Zajac and Casey Cizikis.

They are also expected to add Zach Parise, who has ties to Islanders general manager Lou Lamoirello from their days in New Jersey.

Metropolitan Division: Free-For-All

3. Washington Capitals: Speaking of a team that’s much the same, we have the Capitals. Alex Ovechkin signed a five-year contract extension worth $9.5 million per season — basically the same cap hit he had on the 13-year deal that he’s had since 2008-09.

They also re-signed goalie Ilya Samsonov and managed to lose backup netminder Vitek Vanecek to the Kraken in the expansion draft yet bring him back via trade. 

metropolitan division
Mar 13, 2021; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, USA; Washington Capitals left wing Alex Ovechkin (8) celebrates his goal against the Philadelphia Flyers during the second period at Wells Fargo Center. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

4. Pittsburgh Penguins: Much like the Capitals, the Penguins have done little to change their team that finished atop the East Division (Pittsburgh and Washington were tied, but the Penguins had more regulation/overtime wins). 
The Penguins hope Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin can lead to glory a team that has made cosmetic changes in signing Taylor Fedun, Brock McGinn and Dominik Simon and seeing the likes of Cody Ceci move along. 

After this season, though, Malkin, Jeff Carter and Kris Letang are all pending unrestricted free agents. 

5. Philadelphia Flyers: The Flyers, like the New York Rangers, could leapfrog the Capitals and Penguins. 

To no one’s surprise, Philadelphia has been active after a disappointing season, acquiring defenseman Ryan Ellis from Nashville for Nolan Patrick, dealing away D Shayne Gostisbehere to Arizona for draft picks to clear up cap space to acquire D Rasmus Ristolainen from Buffalo and then dealing veteran forward Jakub Voracek to Columbus for Cam Atkinson.

They also signed UFA Keith Yandle to almost completely remake the defense corps in front of goalie Carter Hart — who signed a three-year contract extension — and newly signed backup Martin Jones.

6. New York Rangers: The Rangers will certainly be tougher, but will they be better? On top of firing coach David Quinn and hiring Gerard Gallant, the Rangers traded for Barclay Goodrow (from Tampa Bay) and Ryan Reaves (Vegas), which certainly adds grit. They did also had to trade RFA, Pavel Buchnevich to the St. Louis Blues for more cap space, so that’s a big offensive weapon gone.

metropolitan division preview
Apr 20, 2021; Uniondale, New York, USA; New York Islanders goalie Semyon Varlamov (40) makes a save on a shot by New York Rangers center Mika Zibanejad (93) during the second period at Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Brad Penner-USA TODAY Sports

New York has some high-end talent in Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad at forward and defenseman Adam Fox, but sorely need their young talent to produce secondary scoring. They also have plenty of cap space to add a top line forward if they choose.

If Igor Shesterkin, who just signed a 4 year extension plays to his potential, the Rangers have enough talent to make the playoffs.

Metropolitan Division: Cellar Dwellers

7. New Jersey Devils: The Devils made a big splash by signing Hamilton to a seven-year contract as well as goalie Jonathan Bernier and Tomas Tatar via free agency. They also added Ryan Graves via trade.

New Jersey may not be a playoff team, but could be the surprise squad of the league. At the worst, the Devils won’t be an also-ran as they’ve been the past few seasons.

8. Columbus Blue Jackets: Speaking of also-rans, we get to the Blue Jackets. Another summer and another star player leaves. This year, star D Seth Jones was dealt to the Chicago Blackhawks for picks and Adam Boqvist.

Columbus has their work cut out for them as they still need to find a center to play with Patrik Laine.