After winning the Metropolitan division and finishing as a top-three overall team in each of the last two seasons, the Hurricanes only got better this summer. To help an already formidable back end, they added Dmitry Orlov and Tony DeAngelo. Up front, they got some sandpaper with the signing of Michael Bunting. In terms of contracts ending and money they’re going to have to give to guys, this really is the year for Carolina to go all in. They’re extremely deep at forward and defence, and with the playoff experience that they’ve gained over the past few seasons, the Canes should be on everyone’s Cup favorites shortlist. Their divisional opponents won’t make it easy, but I expect to see Carolina back on top of the Metropolitan by the end of the year.
Columbus Blue Jackets
It was a wild offseason of drama for Columbus, but hopefully, the team has grown stronger together because of it. Now that Mike Babcock is once again out of the league, the team will look to new head coach Pascal Vincent for guidance. Columbus has some skill and should be better than they’ve been in the past few seasons, but the Metropolitan division might be a little too strong for them to make a serious jump this year. If the blueliners can stay healthy, though, the Jackets could surprise some people. Besides drafting forward Adam Fantilli, the offseason saw the team add to their back end with Damon Severson and Ivan Provorov. Both guys should be playing top four minutes along with Zach Werenski, who missed all but 13 games last season due to injury.
New Jersey Devils
The Devils were a great team last year and they’ll continue to be a great team for many years to come. It’s hard to say when they’ll overtake the Hurricanes as the BEST team in the Metropolitan, but if it doesn’t happen this year, it’ll be soon. Jack Hughes will once again lead an extremely talented bunch of young forwards into the year as they look for a repeat of last year’s goal-scoring success. The Devils may have lost some talent on the blueline with Damon Severson leaving, but the emergence of Luke Hughes should help to fill that void. In the crease, Akira Schmid is an extremely important piece. If he steps into the number one role and plays well, this Devils team will be VERY tough to beat. If not, they probably won’t be able to keep pace with Carolina, but they’ll still be a playoff team.
New York Islanders
They’re certainly not an exciting team to watch, but they’re a tough one to ever rule out completely. The Isles will need some things to go their way, but having a goalie like Ilya Sorokin will always keep a team competitive. On defence, they’ll need a big year from the top pair of Noah Dobson and Adam Pelech. Ideally, one of these guys will begin to contribute more offensively, because the Islanders need all the help they can get in that department. Forwards Bo Horvat and Mat Barzal will also be under the microscope, because outside of them, New York really doesn’t have a lot of players who can consistently put points up. This team will never be easy to play against, but without more scoring, it’ll be a year mostly spent on the bubble for New York.
New York Rangers
The Rangers still have a lot of talent on their roster, but the window may be starting to close for this original six team. They do have a terrific goaltender, one of the best young defensemen in the league and a solid core of forwards, but unless a few depth players can make more contributions this season, winning a playoff round will be tough. I don’t see them being as good as New Jersey or Carolina this year, and unless players like Kaapo Kakko, Filip Chytil and Alexis Lafreniere can make some big improvements, it’ll be mostly due to their depth at forward. Of course, these players are still young and could have the best seasons of their careers. I do think they’ll be a playoff team, but another top-three finish is no guarantee with Pittsburgh right behind them.
John Tortorella will probably squeeze everything he can out of this roster, but it still won’t make the Flyers a playoff team. They’ve got a few solid, young pieces in play, but overall, Philly lacks in just about everything compared to their better Metropolitan division rivals. Getting Sam Atkinson and Sean Couturier back from injury will certainly help both on and off the ice, but unless we see an unprecedented rise from the young players on this roster, it’ll be a tough year in Philadelphia. On a positive side, the rebuild already took a big step in the right direction with the drafting of Matvei Michkov. It’ll be a while before we see him in the NHL, but if Philly plays their cards right, they could be ready to contend for a playoff spot when he arrives.
The Pens are an aging team that may not have too many more years with their core, but they’re still relevant in the Metropolitan. In the offseason, Pittsburgh made a few moves, but all pale in comparison to the Erik Karlsson trade. Karlsson will immediately help this team offensively and on the powerplay, but he’ll need to find a way to play alongside Pittsburgh’s other stars instead of always being the main man like he was in San Jose. The next biggest addition was Reilly Smith from Vegas. Smith should slot in with Evgeni Malkin on the second line and round out Pittsburgh’s top six at forward quite nicely.
Even with these moves, though, the main question this year revolves around goaltending. If Tristian Jarry is healthy and playing well, I think this is a playoff team. If the Pens struggle to find consistency in net again, they may be on the outside looking in for a second straight year.
The Capitals obviously still have some top end talent, but unless Darcy Kuemper has his best season yet and the defence is quite a bit better than last year, it’ll be tough for this team to find the playoffs. It is true that the Capitals were arguably bit by the injury bug harder than any team in the NHL last year. However, they were a whole 13 points away from making the playoffs. Having Nicklas Backstrom, Tom Wilson and John Carlson healthy to start the year will help immensely, but the team is an aging one in Washington with a lack of young talent to make up for it. I think they’ll be closer than last season, but I don’t expect to see Washington back in the playoffs this year.
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