The Metropolitan Division is fairly wide open heading into the 2021-22 NHL season. Longtime contenders like Pittsburgh and Washington are declining, which presents opportunity for young and upcoming teams such as the Rangers and Hurricanes.
Below are my predicted Metropolitan Division standings for the 2021-22 NHL season.
Predicted 2021-22 Metropolitan Division Standings
Pros: The Flyers had one of the most startling offseasons of any team this year after failing to make the Stanley Cup playoffs and being the one seed a year prior in the bubble. Chuck Fletcher was clearly unhappy with the results and went on to acquire Cam Atkinson, Derick Brassard, Nate Thompson, Ryan Ellis, Rasmus Ristolainen, Keith Yandle and Martin Jones. The Flyers got deeper down the middle and now have both a solid top and bottom-six. Furthermore, after leading the league last year in goals against the blueline was finally addressed. In Ellis, the Flyers get the right-handed defenseman they have been longing to put on their top pair alongside Ivan Provorov. Meanwhile, Rasmus Ristolainen adds size and grit to what was a young and timid blueline a year ago. He profiles as another right hander who should pair well with offensively minded Travis Sanheim. Lastly, Yandle adds both durability and experience and should be a solid third-pairing guy for the Flyers struggling D-core. Perhaps most notably about many of the Flyers acquisition this year is that they all wore some kind of letter with one of their former teams.
Cons: It’s unclear how the new additions will perform with the Flyers this season, especially on the blueline. Martin Jones was an intriguing addition who has not had success in recent years. That could spell problems for the Flyers if Carter Hart is not able to have a bounce-back season. Goaltending remains the biggest question mark this year for the Flyers. As goes goaltending will go the Flyers in 2021-22.
Conclusion: They have the talent and the depth to be a top team in this league. It’s a matter of putting it all together and getting bounce-back seasons from players like Travis Konecny, Carter Hart, Kevin Hayes, and Sean Couturier. The new additions should help the Flyers drastically in filling some of the holes the lineup has experienced in recent years.
A blend of trades and free agency signings brings a new vibe to Philly for 2021-22. https://t.co/LFGWLKKMu6
— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) August 12, 2021
2. New York Islanders
Pros: Most notably going into the season is the anticipated return of captain Anders Lee, who suffered a season ending injury in March of 2021. Also returning to the first line will be deadline acquisition Kyle Palmieri, who played a pivotal role in the Isles’ last Stanley Cup run. Lou Lamoriello has also locked up his resounding checking line with all of Matt Martin, Casey Cizikas, and Cal Clutterbuck returning. The Isles tenacious fourth line may be the best group of forechecking forwards in the league alongside last years group of Yanni Gourde, Barclay Goodrow, and Blake Coleman in Tampa. Barry Trotz clearly trusts the players and their ability to play a heavy forechecking role like they have done since their inception. The Isles have also locked up speedy winger Anthony Beauvillier, essentially enabling the Islanders to return the lineup that got them one goal away from the Stanley Cup Final.
Cons: The major issue going into the season this year with the Islanders is their regular season performance. Although puzzling, the Islanders have managed to make a conference final run in each of their last two seasons despite barely qualifying for the Stanley Cup playoffs as a six and fourth seed respectively. Health will also play another big role this season. The Islanders will hope to have everyone on board for what should be another entertaining Cup run in April.
Conclusion: It should really only be a matter of what seed the Islanders make going into playoffs this year. With Tampa losing quite a few key pieces, the Islanders should be a front runner in the East this year if they can stay healthy. They have solid goaltending, an elite defensive system, and great forward depth. That should should all catapult them towards another strong SCF run.
3. Carolina Hurricanes
Pros: The Hurricanes made some very interesting moves this offseason. Locking up Andrei Svechnikov long-term will pay dividends as progresses throughout his career. Meanwhile, Ian Cole and Ethan Bear were solid additions to an already deep blueline.
Cons: Still, there are a lot of questions surrounding some of the Canes offseason moves. Most notably, signing Tony DeAngelo to a one-year deal. There is no doubt the talent that DeAngelo has; moreover, the off-ice controversy that surrounds him led to the shock experienced by the hockey world following the signing. If he is able to clean up his act, he could prove to be a good addition. But if not, he could be a major thorn in the Canes side. Following up DeAngelo is the shocking offer sheet that saw a first and third-round pick go Montreal’s way with 21 year-old Jesperi Kotkaniemi going the other way. Ultimately, the Canes have locked in the youngster for just one year at a whopping $6.1 million. While it is only one season, that could also be the problem if KK decides to walk next year. As far as the goaltending position, it still seems to be Carolina’s most glaring weakness yet again. Frederik Anderson has had injury history in recent years and hasn’t quite established himself as a number one.
Conclusion: Although Anderson isn’t quite a number one guy, he could thrive with a much more competent blueline in front of him this season if he can stay healthy. It remains to be seen if DeAngelo will provide value both on and off the ice and whether Kotkaniemi can live up to his $6.1 million contract with less pressure on him this season. They have enough depth and talent to make a sizeable run.
We've tendered an Offer Sheet to Jesperi Kotkaniemi 👀 pic.twitter.com/4Mmw3n4DVr
— Carolina Hurricanes (@Canes) August 28, 2021
4. Washington Capitals
Pros: Like the Islanders, the Capitals will have a lot of returning pieces. They’ll also get a full season of Anthony Mantha, which could spell danger for opposing defenses. The Capitals still boast one the most lethal offenses in today’s game. The Capitals have the depth up-front and on the back-end to make a legitimate run like they did in 2018 and should expect big years from their top players in Ovi, Oshie, Backstrom, etc.
Cons: Goaltending was a disaster last year for the Capitals, who were counting on Ilya Samsonov to become their number one guy. A long spell with COVID kept him out of action, forcing the Caps to turn to first-year netminder Vitek Vanecek. Although his .908 save percentage was good enough to win the starting job for much of the regular season, consistency was a bit of an issue. It’s clear though, that the Capitals do have faith in Vanecek. who was selected in the expansion draft by the Kraken only to come back via a second-round pick. The 2018 Stanley Cup champions will still look to Samsonov as their number one and will need him to perform as such to make the most of their closing window. Furthermore, losing Brendan Dillon on the blueline could spell some more defensive woes for the Caps as Dillon’s experience on the back-end was relied upon quite a bit over the years.
Conclusion: It’s very likely the Caps finish higher in the division given their elite scoring prowess; however, defense and goaltending could present some issues. They will look to bounce back from an awful playoff spell that saw them win just one game against the Boston Bruins. The pressure to win now is continually building as Ovi and the Capitals core continue to age.
5. New York Rangers
Pros: The Blueshirts made one thing clear with their offseason moves this year: they are not going to be pushed around. Ryan Reaves was added to the lineup to keep players like Tom Wilson in check. They’ve also made solid additions to their depth forwards in adding talented and hard-working forecheckers in Barclay Goodrow and Sammy Blais. The time has come for Kaapo Kakko and Vitaly Kravtsov to prove their worth. Both players are epxected to take on top-six roles and contribute night-in and night-out. Meanwhile, rookies K’Andre Miller and Nils Lundkvist are expected to blossom into everyday blueliners. Despite the young lineup, the Rangers still boast a very talented roster that can easily push them into playoff contention. The group is led by former Norris and Calder recipients Adam Fox and Artemi Panarin, respectively. Lastly, the Rangers also possess one of the best one-two punches in net (likely behind NYI) in Ilya Shesterkin and Alexander Georgiev.
Cons: One of the reasons the Rangers are so often linked to superstar Jack Eichel is due to their lack of center depth. Outside of Mika Zibanejad, who had a very down year last year, the Rangers do not possess any high-end center talent. That’s not to say Phillip Chytil or Ryan Strome can’t play important roles down the middle. It’s just that in a division as strong as this one, center depth is a very important piece to success. Buchnevich’s loss will also be felt amongst the Rangers forward core. The former third-round pick amassed 48 points in 54 games with New York last year. Buchnevich ranked fourth on the team in points scored and second in goals with 20.
Conclusion: The Rangers are just too young and not quite deep enough to make a playoff appearance. They’ll be counting on a major bounce-back season from first-line center Mika Zibanejad and huge steps in growth from rookies Kaapo Kakko, Alexis Lafreniere, and Vitaly Kravtsov among others. The Rangers depth in net should help them to stay competitive year-round.
6. Pittsburgh Penguins
Pros: Jake Guentzel’s health should play a major cog in Pittsburgh’s offense this year. He continually places as one of the Penguins top scorers when healthy. Brock McGinn and Danton Heinen are nice depth pieces that can contribute from more limited third/fourth line roles as well. Given their experience and solid coaching, the Penguins still remain in a position to make the playoffs. Buy they will have to double down on last years overachieving regular-season performance.
Cons: There’s no timetable on when superstars Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin will enter the lineup during the 2021-22 season. That alone puts the Penguins at a severe disadvantage to kick off the campaign. Furthermore, there is no telling how well each star will perform after coming back from their respective injuries. The Penguins also experienced some important post-season losses in Jared McCann, Cody Ceci, and Brandon Tanev. The most glaring issue heading into the season for the black and yellow will be the question marks surrounding the crease. There is no denying the abysmal performances in net that saw the fourth seed Isles coast by the Penguins in six last postseason. It remains to be seen if Tristan Jarry or Casey DeSmith will be “the guy” this season. Much like the Capitals, the Pens’ glory days are likely behind them as age continues to catch up with this once dominant core.
Conclusion: Goaltending and injuries will dictate how the Penguins fare this season. Their success will depend heavily on both Crosby’s health and return date. He unsurprisingly remains the centerpiece of this Penguins team. The same goes for Evgeni Malkin, who upon his return from injury last year, was sensational for the Penguins’ solid first-place finish.
7. New Jersey Devils
Pros: The Devils got a whole lot better this offseason, notably on the blueline. Obviously, Dougie Hamilton provides game changing play to a blueline that has been quite underwhelming over the last few years. Hamilton will also provide a spark for a young and developing offense. The addition of Ryan Graves, who played a pivotal role for the Colorado Avalanche, will help to bolster the Devils D-zone play. Graves’s monster presence at 6’5″ 220 pounds will bring some needed size to a small and skilled Devils team. Former first-overall pick Jack Hughes made a notable step in his development last year and should continue to do much of the same this year. Nico Hischier is finally healthy and will step into playing a two-way second-line role while serving as the Devils captain. Tomas Tatar has been great at driving play at 5v5 which should drastically boost offense within the Devils top-six.
Cons: The big issue with the Devils is the severe lack of depth. Their top-six forward group isn’t especially lethal and a good portion of their defense is still growing into their game. Despite the addition of the offensively gifted Hamilton, New Jersey will still likely struggle to keep up in terms of goal scoring. They’re playing in a division that possesses lots of strong forward and goal-scoring depth.
Conclusion: The Newark, New Jersey natives will see a drastic improvement in play and competitiveness thanks to solid additions in the offseason. They undoubtedly have the potential to leapfrog teams like the Rangers and Penguins — although they lack some of the game-changing talent that both the former and the latter posses. What is also encouraging is the solid goaltending tandem that New Jersey has in MacKenzie Blackwood and Jonathan Bernier.
8. Columbus Blue Jackets
Pros: They were able to land a playmaker to play alongside Patrik Laine this year in Jakub Voracek. He makes his Blue Jackets return after spending time in Philadelphia. Surprisingly, Columbus also managed to keep Max Domi, who was projected to go to Seattle in the expansion draft. Domi will now serve as the first or second-line center in Ohio. The Jackets have also moved on from John Tortorella, who just didn’t mesh well with stars like Laine and Domi. Jake Bean and Adam Boqvist add some nice youth and offensive potential to the Blue Jackets back-end. In the crease, the team still boasts a solid goaltending tandem in Elvis Merzlikins and Joonas Korpisalo.
Cons: Despite his down year last year, Seth Jones is still going to be a big loss. He played in big situations and ate a ton of minutes for a declining Blue Jackets team. He’ll be replaced by rookies who will be bound to make mistakes. A poor performance is anticipated this season, however, as the team is clearly going through a rebuild. While a change at the coaching position could be a positive, it will take time to adjust to new systems in Columbus.
Conclusion: With the rebuild in full throttle, expectations for this season aren’t that high. The team got younger and lost some key pieces, which isn’t a recipe for contention. While most teams in the Metro were buyers this year, the Blue Jackets were quite the opposite.
🚨 OFFICIAL: The #CBJ have acquired Adam Boqvist + picks from Chicago in exchange for Seth Jones + picks.
— Columbus Blue Jackets (@BlueJacketsNHL) July 24, 2021