2021-22 Metropolitan Division Preview

2021-22 Metropolitan Division

Welcome to Puck Drop Preview 2021-22, where Last Word On Hockey gives you a detailed look at each team from around the NHL leading to the start of this hockey season and offers our insight and analysis. Make sure to stick around until the end of the series, where we’ll offer our full predictions for the standings in each division, and eventually our 2021-22 Stanley Cup pick. You can check out all our articles on our Puck Drop Page. Today the series continues with the 2021-22 Metropolitan Division.

2021-22 Metropolitan Division

1. New York Islanders

Jim Biringer writes:

For years the New York Islanders have been the underdogs in this division. But yet all they do is make the playoffs and win in the playoffs. And that is something that will not change this year. Except for this year, as the Islanders are favourites to win the division this season. And why not look at the lineup they have coming back. It is the same one that went to back-to-back Eastern Conference Final, losing to the eventual champions the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Islanders knew what they had to do this off-season and that was to re-sign the guys that were crucial to this lineup in Casey Cizikas, Ilya Sorokin, Kyle Palmieri and Anthony Beauvillier. Not to mention, the team brought in Zach Parise and Zdeno Chara to fill leadership roles.

Even though the Islanders will have to start out on the road to begin the season, they have all these homes games to finish the year. And even though they play a gruelling playoff style, having the benefit of three weeks off the Olympics will help this team. Like any team, the Islanders are dealing with injuries one of which is to Semyon Varlamov, but Sorokin has proven to be the goalie they projected him to be. Look for Barry Trotz to exploit this offence a lot more with Anders Lee back in the lineup. Also, do not be surprised if general manager Lou Lamoriello adds a piece or two at the trade deadline to put the Islanders over the top.

2. Carolina Hurricanes

Alex Slemp writes:

The Carolina Hurricanes are on the rise. Last season’s .714 points percentage was the highest in team history and a significant jump from .596 points percentage from the year prior. Was this a sign of the team’s development or an inflated points total due to beating up on an incredibly weak Central Division? Pundits would argue it’s the former. General manager Don Waddell has done an incredible job rounding out his roster and they are primed to chase after their first Stanley Cup title since 2006. The Hurricanes boast one of the deepest rosters in the league. Top to bottom they are sound. From elite scores in Sebastian Aho and Andrei Svechnikov to shut-down defencemen in Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin. All of that is anchored by two proven, veteran netminders in Frederik Andersen and Antti Raanta.

There are six teams capable of making the playoffs from the 2021-22 Metropolitan Division, so the march to the top of the standings won’t be a walk in the park. The Hurricanes will have their work cut out for them but they showed they belonged last year with winning records in their season series against the Bolts (4-3-1) and Panthers (6-2). Coach Rod Brind’Amour and the Hurricane fanbase will expect nothing less than a finish atop the Metropolitan Division standings. 

3. Washington Capitals

Alex Slemp writes:

The Washington Capitals have grown accustomed to occupying the penthouse suite of the Metropolitan Division. They claimed five straight division titles from the 2015-16 season to 2019-20 and had a Stanley Cup mixed in there back in 2018. Every year pundits look at this division and put the Capitals right at the top without even thinking twice. But those days are just about over. The 2021-22 Metropolitan Division is as competitive as we’ve ever seen it. And yes, the Caps core, albeit strong, cannot escape Father Time. Alex Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom are 36 and 33 respectively, and both, unfortunately, have a delayed start to this campaign with injuries. It’s an uphill battle to start the year for the Caps.

Washington will need to rely on veterans, Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie, and newcomer Anthony Mantha to push this offence. With the injury to Backstrom and lack of play-making centres, we could see the highly touted Connor McMichael slide into the top-six to start the year. Ilya Samsonov will begin the year as the “starter” but expect there to be a split on starts with Vitek Vanecek after his impressive rise last season. Peter Laviolette is used to leaning on just one goalie, as he has done throughout his career (Cam Ward in Carolina and Pekka Rinne in Nashville) so look for him to lock into one of his goalies by end of November. The Capitals are still poised to make the playoffs this year but a claim for the 2021-22 Metropolitan Division crown looks to be out of the realm of possibilities. This could be the first time Ovechkin and company find themselves without home-ice advantage in the first round of the playoffs for the first time in his career. 

4. New York Rangers

Jim Biringer writes:

It is playoffs or bust for the New York Rangers this season in the 2021-22 Metropolitan Division. Considering all the changes they made this off-season from management to players, the Rangers next step is the playoffs. Expectations were set way too high last season by their owner. The Rangers were moving in the right direction. But they decided to get more physical and did not want to get pushed around anymore. So that meant John Davidson and Jeff Gorton were replaced by Chris Drury. Drury decided to bring in Ryan Reaves and other players to make the Rangers tougher. However, while that was a problem, the Rangers were knocking on the door. And this season they must break the door down.

Locking up Mika Zibanejad to an eight-year extension certainly helps as he is a driving force of the offence. The rest of the cast is still there minus a couple of tweaks here and there. The big thing will be in between the pipes. Can Igor Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev find the magic they had from a couple of seasons ago? That will be the key for the Rangers, not the other extracurricular stuff. But it is on the owner, not the general manager this time around if the Rangers do not make the playoffs. But with the team they have they should.

5. Philadelphia Flyers

Robert MacDonald writes:

The Philadelphia Flyers ranked among the most disappointing teams in the league last season. In last year’s East Division Preview, they sat pegged as the favourites to win the division. Then Carter Hart posted shockingly poor numbers, and the team simply fell apart. They made tons of changes this offseason to shake up the roster, effectively replacing their defence corps almost in its entirety. Robert Hagg and high draft picks were shipped out for Rasmus Ristolainen. Nolan Patrick and Philippe Myers were shipped out for Ryan Ellis. Keith Yandle signed as well in free agency, helping replace some of the defensive depth that wasn’t re-signed.
On offence, longtime Flyer Jakub Voracek was dealt to the Blue Jackets for Cam Atkinson in a high-profile one-for-one trade. Besides that, the group remains largely intact, plus free agent signee Derick Brassard. Hart, despite the poor year, received a three-year extension. Philadelphia also brought in Martin Jones to back him up, a downgrade from Brian Elliott and Alex Lyon (free agent departures, too). That being said, it is hard to imagine Hart doesn’t bounce back. But with the amount of flux in front of him, it is equally hard to say that the team can do better than it did a season ago. Ellis is a great addition, but Ristolainen’s acquisition looks like a massive overpayment destined for regret. Yandle is a fun story as he tries to break the league’s Iron Man record, but his defensive ability is below replacement level. Maybe Philly bounces back, but the more likely outcome seems to be finishing on the outside looking in.

6. Pittsburgh Penguins

Robert MacDonald writes:

For the first time in over a decade, the Pittsburgh Penguins are not a lock to make the playoffs. Granted, that’s the EXACT same sentence that started the Penguins preview paragraph last year, and they then tied for first in the East Division. This time, though, we mean it. The Penguins aren’t getting any younger, and both Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby sit on the IR to begin the year. They won’t be back any time soon, either. How the Penguins fare without their top two franchise centremen remains to be seen, but the rest of the roster doesn’t give the same sort of optimism it has in years past when one or both of their big dogs were out.
Pittsburgh has no cap space to address their deficiencies, either. For now, a lot of the offensive responsibility falls on ageing skaters like Jeff Carter and Kris Letang. Jason Zucker, Bryan Rust, and Jake Guentzel have to post career-best numbers to keep their squad in the playoff mix. In net, Tristan Jarry played terribly in the postseason but retained the number-one job for this year. If he doesn’t bounce back, this could be a long year for the Penguins. A lot will ride on how the team fares until Malkin and Crosby return, as they might fall out of the hunt before either of them get an opportunity to contribute.

7. New Jersey Devils

Jim Biringer writes:

The New Jersey Devils are a much-improved hockey team this year as they will make it difficult for teams in the 2021-22 Metropolitan Division. The Devils went out this off-season and filled areas of need with the signings of Dougie Hamilton, Jonathan Bernier and Tomas Tatar. However, through training and the preseason, one thing is clear, there is a youth movement coming with the Devils. Players like Alexander Holtz, Dawson Mercer, and Nolan Foote are the future of this team. However, that does not mean the Devils will not be competitive this season. It is an uphill climb in this division. And not having two of their defencemen in Damon Severson and Ty Smith to start the season will hurt them for sure.

However, one thing is clear, the Devils will be harder to play against. Will things fall their way to make the playoffs? This isn’t their season quite yet to make the next step. But they are knocking on the door. And having a full year under Lindy Ruff will make this offence jell a lot better. The big thing will be the defence and penalty kill. That must improve. If they can figure out ways to win games at home this season that will be a plus too. Don’t be surprised to see the Devils making a run at some point this season, but it will not be enough.

8. Columbus Blue Jackets

Robert MacDonald writes:

When you finish dead last in your division and then lose two of the highest-profile players on your roster, it is difficult to envision the next season going any better. That’s where things stand with this team today. As mentioned above, the Blue Jackets lost Atkinson to Philadelphia for Voracek. The team then signed Sean Kuraly in free agency. They also re-upped defender Jake Bean after acquiring him in July. Seth Jones wound up traded to the Chicago Blackhawks for Adam Boqvist (picks went both directions too).
The players acquired for these top former Jackets could fill the shoes of the players departing. But, the fact of the matter is, just replacing them won’t be enough to improve the squad overall. The trade last season sending Pierre-Luc Dubois to Winnipeg for Patrik Laine put the franchise in a position where they have no number-one centre, too. Jack Roslovic and Alexandre Texier seem to be the top two centres on the team, and on most other teams in the NHL, they would probably play on the third line. They have decent wingers, but the centre of the ice, as well as lack of experience on defence, is glaring. That spells trouble in Columbus.
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