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Division Primer: The Metropolitan

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Or, as I like to call it, the NBC Rivalry Night division.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Washington Capitals at Pittsburgh Penguins Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Producing the last three Stanley Cup Champions, the Metropolitan Division, although weak at the bottom, is still producing top-tier teams each season. Significantly worse top-to-bottom than the Central, teams such as the Washington Capitals, Pittsburgh Penguins, and arguably the Columbus Blue Jackets and Philadelphia Flyers all boast great depth and elite talent. Even the New Jersey Devils, a surprise team in the playoffs last year, boast the likes of reigning Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall and rookie sensation Nico Hischier in their forward corps.

After those five teams, the talent across the division takes a nose dive. The Carolina Hurricanes, long a sneaky pick by pundits to make the playoffs seemed to be making all the right moves this off-season, only to then trade 20-goal-scorer Jeff Skinner to Buffalo for peanuts. Additionally, they supposedly tried to trade Justin Faulk all summer long and failed to do so, raising unwarranted questions about his future with the organization. Nonetheless, they robbed the Calgary Flames in a trade and acquired Dougie Hamilton. The Hurricanes feel like a jigsaw puzzle where none of the pieces fit together to make a clear picture.

Both of the New York Teams are likely at the bottom of the barrel in this division, with the Islanders losing John Tavares to Toronto and Rangers’s best addition being a golden retriever. Neither team’s future looks particularly bright. For the Rangers, young players such as Jimmy Vesey are playing at levels far below their projected potential while Marc Staal skates at a speed unacceptable for the current NHL. Henrik Lundqvist also continues to age with every day, and after the organization wrote a letter to their fans informing them of a rebuild, you have to question if he gets traded near the deadline to a team like Toronto without elite goaltending.

The New York Islanders have a slightly better outlook than the Rangers, but only because they have Matthew Barzal. The realistic outlook is that this is a team that failed to make the playoffs with John Tavares on their roster. Now, without Tavares, how much worse can this team play?

Best Division Off-Season Acquisition

Dougie Hamilton, Carolina Hurricanes

NHL: Arizona Coyotes at Calgary Flames Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports

Over the last few years, Dougie Hamilton has established himself as an elite right-handed defenseman in the NHL. Although perennially underrated, his game grew a lot during his tenure with the Calgary Flames. He is a savvy puck mover and strong in his own corners. Although he has yet to demonstrate an ability to effectively kill penalties, his power play work is exceptional. He has a great mind for getting pucks to the net and is an excellent passer in the offensive zone.

Dougie Hamilton 5v5 shots-for heatmap.
hockeyviz.com

Worst Division Off-Season Acquisition

Jack Johnson, Pittsburgh Penguins

NHL: Montreal Canadiens at Columbus Blue Jackets Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

After two abysmal seasons with the Columbus Blue Jackets, Jack Johnson ended this past season as the seventh defender on a team with Ian Cole and David Savard. It was for good reason too: Johnson constantly was making mental mistakes on the ice, passing the puck behind a lot of his teammates and getting caught out of position. More specifically, it seemed as if every time that Johnson was responsible for tying up a forward in his own slot, Johnson was not in position to do so.

At age 31 and declining in speed, the Pittsburgh Penguins signed Jack Johnson to a contract worth $3.25m per year. This is probably $2.25m more than a player of Johnson’s talent, or lack thereof, should be earning. Johnson would have been a perfect candidate for the classic $1m, one year “show me” deal. Instead, the Penguins offer him this deal for five years. That’s having a lot of faith in a defenseman that your own team exposed in two of the last three playoffs.

Last year, nearly every player on the Columbus Blue Jackets played better when Jack Johnson was on the bench or in the press box.
hockeyviz.com

Best Under the Radar Off-Season Acquisition

Anthony Duclair, Columbus Blue Jackets

NHL: Chicago Blackhawks at Arizona Coyotes Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Anthony Duclair has become a bit of a puzzle in the NHL. He’s young, fast, gritty, and has a decent shot. Yet, Duclair has never been able to “put it all together”, bouncing around from team to team. Starting his career with the New York Rangers, the 23-year-old Duclair will be joining his 4th NHL team this season in the Columbus Blue Jackets.

It might finally be the fit he needs.

John Tortorella has old-school demands of his players, asking them to skate hard, block shots, and check often. On paper, Duclair’s skill-set should fit perfectly into Tortotrella’s system, it’s just a matter of execution. Then again, that has always been the question surrounding Duclair and his career. Nonetheless, signing Duclair for just one year at $650,000 is the kind of low-risk, high-reward deal that teams need to make in the current NHL.

Other Notable Additions

Leo Komarov, New York Islanders

Almost supplanting Jack Johnson as the worst addition, Leo Komarov was traded to the New York Islanders from the Toronto Maple Leafs. The trade came shortly after former Maple Leafs General Manager Lou Lamiorello was hired by the Islanders. Last season, Komarov had 19 points and a corsi of 44.8% at even strength. He’ll be earning $3m per year for the next four years. At 31-years-old, the Islanders acquired a bad asset that probably no other team in the NHL will ever want.

Riley Nash, Columbus Blue Jackets

Although the Columbus Blue Jackets haven’t had a true first-line center since trading Ryan Johansen for Seth Jones, they have a fair share of “second-line center” talent. Pierre-Luc Dubois had a solid rookie season last year while Alexander Wennberg continues to be one of the best pure passers in the Metropolitan division. Adding Riley Nash not only gives the Blue Jackets another option down the middle, but also makes Brandon Dubinsky more expendable if he continues to decline at an alarming rate.