Beginning our division previews, we have one of the more contentious divisions since re-alignment: the Metropolitan Division. More commonly known as the “Metro,” the division has sent five teams to the playoffs three of the last four seasons. Packed with superstars like Sidney Crosby and Alex Ovechkin, coupled with rising star power in Kappo Kakko and Jack Hughes, it is a division packed with tons of fascinating storylines and deep rivalries.
The rivalries between the Pittsburgh Penguins, Washington Capitals, Philadelphia Flyers, and Columbus Blue Jackets are well-documented, while all three teams in the tri-state area hate each other more than the New York subway system. Finally, you have the Carolina Hurricanes, who, lacking a rival, were more than happy to waltz their way through the competition into the Eastern Conference Final last season.
What should we expect this season? Let’s look at the changes within the division.
While the Nashville faithful are well aware that P.K. Subban is a New Jersey Devil, the Devils also acquired rookie Jack Hughes with the #1 overall pick in the NHL Entry Draft this summer. Hughes, a product of the University of Michigan, is going to play behind 2017’s #1 overall pick Nico Hischier and provide the Devils a young and talented one-two punch down the middle. Both players need to put on a little more body mass to handle the demands of an NHL center, especially considering the abundance of center talent within the Metro. However, the Devils have some solid pieces to build their future around in Hughes and Hischier.
The second overall pick of this summer’s draft, Kaapo Kakko, went to the Devils’ rivals in the New York Rangers. Nonetheless, drafting Kakko was only the Rangers’ second best acquisition this summer, as they signed the prize of free agency in winger Artemi Panarin. Panarin is one of the true game-changers in the NHL. As the game boils more down to numbers and systems with equations on how to win a game, Panarin is one of the true creatives who can break any system. However, the Rangers lack a lot of depth down the middle and on defense, making it hard to say that their additions will put them into the playoffs. Nevertheless, their first line should still be very fun to watch.
Artemi Panarin came to the Rangers from the Columbus Blue Jackets, but he wasn’t the only player leaving Columbus this summer. Matt Duchene came to Nashville, Ryan Dzingel headed to Carolina, and goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky went south to Miami and the Florida Panthers. Nonetheless, the Blue Jackets still have 15 players from their team that won 108 points three seasons ago and have the best defenseman in the NHL. Seth Jones seems to elevate his game each and every season and, had he played in a bigger market, he would have won a Norris two seasons ago. Additionally, the Blue Jackets still have a plethora of goal scorers up front. Cam Atkinson has one of the filthiest shots in the league, Josh Anderson is a modern enforcer who could score 30 goals this season, and captain Nick Foligno also has a nose for the net. What’s more, the Blue Jackets are likely putting my favorite underrated prospect Alexander Texier on their second line. Many are condemning the Blue Jackets to irrelevancy, but people should not sleep on this team. Good teams can score themselves out of trouble, and this is a team that can do just that.
Phil Kessel is also no longer in the Metro, having been shipped by the Pittsburgh Penguins off to Arizona in exchange for Alex Galchenyuk. While Kessel possesses an elite shot, there seemed to be issues with him in the locker room. Rumors swirled about his relationship with head coach Mike Sullivan being toxic at best. Evgeni Malkin supposedly stepped in and was often caught between the two of them as a middle man. This lead Malkin to force Kessel out of the team and for Kessel to be traded for the third time in his career. Kessel sure is lucky he can score at the rate he does, because he certainly seems to have a hard time staying in a locker room’s good graces.
As for how the Penguins fare without Kessel, Alex Galchenyuk should slot in nicely on either the first or second line for the Penguins. Although he’s had a few rough seasons, Galchenyuk has not only never played with a center of Crosby or Malkin’s caliber, he has yet to play with someone who can utilize his speed. With the legs that Galchenyuk has, he opens up the ice when blazing from end-to-end, lengthening the ice by forcing defensemen to man up on him when he goes on the forecheck. This opens up gaps in the upper slot, and you better believe that Malkin and Crosby will jump right into the available ice.
Bobby’s Far Too Early Predictions
The Capitals return the same core from their last few seasons. With elite scoring and goaltending, I expect this team to handily win the division. Following the Capitals, expect the Carolina Hurricanes to build off of their playoff successes and finish second. I have the Pittsburgh Penguins coming in third. Despite their atrocious defense, any team with Malkin and Crosby down the middle is going to be good. The Blue Jackets come in fourth and the Devils come in fifth. However, unlike previous seasons, I only foresee four teams from the Metro making the playoffs, thus meaning the Devils fail to compete for hockey’s ultimate prize.
The Flyers finish sixth, still stuck in the “Minnesota Wild Zone” of always being kind of relevant, but also never able to bring it all together. The Islanders finish seventh without Robin Lehner in net as their unremarkable defense becomes exposed. Finally, despite the hype around the team, the New York Rangers finish last. They have no forward depth, still have terrible contracts and defenders like Marc Staal on their roster and expect to compete with Jacob Trouba as the best defender on their roster. Moreover, while Panarin and Kakko are boosts to their front end talent, they still are waiting for Filip Chytil and other prospects, such as K’Andre Miller of the University of Wisconsin, to join their roster and make an impact.