Last season 5 teams from the Metropolitan Division made the playoffs and almost every team within the division made significant changes to ensure heading back to the postseason in 2020. Lets break down the Metropolitan Division.
After bouncing in and out of the playoffs for the last four years, the Philadelphia Flyers overhauled their management and roster in hopes of returning to being a regular playoff team. For starters Philadelphia fired head coach Dave Hakstol and replaced him with Alain Vigneault, who last coached the New York Rangers. As for the general manager position, Ron Hextall was let go and ex-Minnesota Wild general manager Chuck Fletcher was brought in. Fletcher has since wasted no time bringing in new faces, at somewhat expensive costs, to bolster the team’s depth and make them better overall.
The big splash for the Flyers was signing Kevin Hayes to a 7 year, $50 million contract. Although a bit of an over-payment after Hayes had his best statistical season, Hayes solidifies Philadelphia’s center depth by slotting in nicely as the team’s second line center. At 27, Hayes is right in the prime of his career and should be good for 15-20 goals and 50-60 points. Philadelphia has an excellent group of forwards from captain Claude Giroux to Sean Couturier, Jakub Voracek, Travis Konecny and James Van Riemsdyk. Along with this there is a chance for some young blood to be injected in the lineup with the potential of prospects Morgan Frost or Joel Farabee making the team and having solid rookie seasons. Even though the Flyers finished 2019 with the 18th most goals scored (241), they have lots of options on all four lines to put the puck in the back of the net.
Fletcher also made changes to the Flyers’ defense by acquiring Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun. Coupled with Shayne Gostisbehere, Travis Sanheim, Ivan Provorov and Robert Hagg, it’s a shock to see the Flyers allowed the 3rd most goals last season (280). The defense will need to be better, but I think a large part of that was due to the inconsistencies in net.
After setting an NHL record for the most goaltenders used in a season, Philadelphia has found their franchise goalie in net. Carter Hart. Hart, 21, has been hyped as one of the better goalie prospects for years and his small sample size last season attested to that. After beginning his season in the AHL, Hart was eventually called up to the Flyers and gathered a 16-13-1 record, 2.83 GAA and a .917% save percentage. In a year where goaltending was Philadelphia’s weak spot, Hart served as a beam of promise and hope. There will be bumps in the road as this will be Hart’s first full season as a NHL starter, but I think he’ll have what it takes to get a good season under his belt. However, a question that still looms is the play of backup goalie Brian Elliot. Elliot, 34, was limited to 26 games last season and tallied a lackluster 11-11-1 record, 2.96 GAA and a .907% save percentage. If he can remain healthy and provide solid goaltending than this should be a solid tandem. Between the changes in the front office and changes in the lineup, I think the Flyers will certainly be in the playoff hunt and chasing a wildcard position.
Another year, another dominant season by the Washington Capitals. The Capitals have been one of the best teams in the Metropolitan Division and Eastern Conference throughout the last decade capping it off by winning the Stanley Cup in 2018. Although they exited the playoffs earlier than they would have liked last year, the Capitals still have all of the tools to compete and go on another deep playoff run in 2020.
Washington has one of, if not arguably the best, goal scorer of all-time in Alexander Ovechkin. Ovechkin, 33, has been a goal scoring machine since entering the NHL in the 2005-06 season scoring 50 or more goals eight times. After eclipsing 50 goals again last year and finishing the season as the team’s leading scorer, it’s not hard to predict he’ll likely be in the same place at the end of the 2020 season. As the only player who has a legitmate shot to break Wayne Gretzky’s goal record, I would love and could see Ovechkin hitting 50 again in this upcoming season. Ovechkin is partnered with the exceptional offense of Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J Oshie, Tom Wilson and Jakub Vrana.
As for the Capitals defense goes the only real change is the loss of Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik, but have brought Radko Gudas into the fold, adding more grit and physicality to their backend.
Goaltending for the Capitals will likely be solid again as Braden Holtby will begin his 8th year as Washington’s starting netminder. Holtby, 29, has been one of the league’s best goalies since making it onto the Capitals’ roster and has nothced at least 30 wins in his last 5 seasons with the club. Pheonix Copley, 27, has also been a respectable backup gathering a 16-7-3 record last season.
Washington was one of the few teams in the Metropolitan Division to not make any major changes in the offseason and will likely again be one of the best teams in both the division and conference. They have all-star level talent distributed throughout their lineup and it would not surprise me if they capture the division title again in 2020.
After an incredible run to the Eastern Conference Finals, the Carolina Hurricanes are out to prove they’re for real in the 2020 season.
The Hurricanes were one of the best stories in the NHL last year and head coach Rod Brind’Amour led the team to a 46-29-5 record and a ticket to the playoffs for the first time in a decade. Despite not going all the way, Carolina has many of the same pieces that made them so special and should be able to recreate their success this season. Carolina has an excellent young core centered around Sebastian Aho, Teuvo Teravainen and Andrei Svechnikov, all players who are 24 or younger. General manager Don Waddell made an excellent addition mid-season fleecing the Minnesota Wild and acquiring Nino Niederreiter who scored 14 goals and 30 points in 36 games with his new club. Waddell hasn’t stopped there as he has added both Erik Haula and Ryan Dzingel to boost the team’s secondary scoring.
Carolina had one of the better backends as well, finishing tied for the fifth fewest goals against (221). The Hurricanes have had excellent cap management as all of their defensemen are locked up either on cheaper long-term deals, or using players who are just breaking into the NHL and are still on their entry level deals.
The biggest concern for me heading into the upcoming season is the Hurricanes’ goaltending. Petr Mrazek was brought back into the fold on a 2 year, $6.5 million deal along with trading for James Reimer from the Florida Panthers. Reimer, 31, had a rough season with the Panthers last season collecting a 13-12-5 record, 3.09 GAA and a .900% save percentage. If Mrazek can keep up his solid performance and Reimer can even slightly improve, the Hurricanes will be in a good spot. I personally think that Carolina will be able to secure a playoff spot by the end of the 2020 season.
Columbus Blue Jackets:
After acquiring big name pieces in pursuit of a deep playoff run, the Columbus Blue Jackets will have to deal with the aftermath in the 2020 season.
Last season the Columbus Blue Jackets won their first playoff series in franchise history in extradinary fashion, sweeping the Tampa Bay Lightning. However, they lost in the second round to the Boston Bruins and ultimately lost all of their pending free agents. This has definitely hit the team hard, but all is not lost. Columbus still has a solid group of guys to build around up front led by Cam Atkinson, Nick Foligno, Pierre-Luc Dubois and Brandon Dubinsky. The Blue Jackets added to this by signing Gustav Nyquist to a 4 year, $22 million contract who should provide some additional depth.
As for defense Columbus is led by Zach Werenski and Seth Jones, two of the more underrated players in the game. Jones, 24, in particular has really come into his own since being traded to Columbus recording 3 consecutive seasons of at least 40 points.
Where the departure of key players will be felt the most will be between the pipes. The departure of Sergei Bobrovsky leaves a massive hole and has Joonas Korpisalo assuming the role of starting goaltender. Korpisalo, 25, compiled a 10-7-3 record last season along with a 2.97 GAA and a .897% save percentage. Time will tell how he will play with more starts, but the goalie I think a lot of Blue Jackets’ fans should be focused on is Elvis Merzlikins. Merzlikins, 25, has been touted as one of Columbus’ best goalie prospects and has played well during his time in Switzerland. It may take some time for him to adjust to North American ice, but I think he could turn out well for the Blue Jackets. Although Columbus does still have a competitive roster, I think they will miss the playoffs this coming season.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have been the model franchise throughout the Sidney Crosby era consistently making the playoffs for 13 consecutive years and winning 3 Stanley Cups since 2009. However, in recent years general manager Jim Rutherford has made some questionable moves that may impact the Penguins making deep playoff runs in the immediate future.
After finishing the regular season with a 44-26-9 record, the Penguins were swept by the New York Islanders in the first round of the playoffs. Following the NHL Entry Draft Rutherford shipped off Phil Kessel to the Arizona Coyotes in return for Alex Galchenyuk and defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph. While Galchenyuk is a solid return, he’s not on the same level as Phil Kessel. Kessel was an integral part in both of Pittsburgh’s Stanley Cup championships and it will be hard to replace the goals and points he brings. Regardless, the Penguins still had one of the better offenses last season scoring the sixth most goals (271) and that’s largely part to the play of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. As long as these two generational talents are healthy, the Penguins will be able to drive play and score goals. Crosby has had a rotating door of wingers to play with throughout his career and that won’t change in 2020. However, he is still the best player in hockey and can make the most of any situation.
While Pittsburgh’s offense will be okay despite changes, their defense is where the most concern is. Aside from Kris Letang and Justin Schultz, the Penguins have added some questionable players to their defense in the past year. This includes trading for Erik Gudbranson and signing Jack Johnson to a 5 year, $16.25 million contract. Pittsburgh does have some nice, younger players in Marcus Pettersson and Juuso Riikola, but if Letang or Schultz have injuries, the team’s defense is going to be in big trouble.
Although fans initially worried how the team’s goaltending would be with the departure of Marc-Andre Fleury a few years ago, Matt Murray has shut down that question and has proved time and time again he is a very capable NHL goaltender. Last season Murray finished with a 29-14-6 record, 2.69 GAA and .919% save percentage. Along with Murray, Casey DeSmith had a good year as the Penguins’ backup goalie and earned himself a 3 year, $3.75 million contract.
Pittsburgh has been well managed for over a well decade now and have proven time and time again not to count them out. However, with the shaky defense and loss of star caliber players, I fear the Penguins will face a lot of adversity should any of their big names get hurt. It may be bold to say, but I think Pittsburgh will be fighting down to the wire to earn themselves a wildcard spot this upcoming season.
New York Rangers:
In just a little over a year the New York Rangers have started and accelerated their rebuild faster than many teams could have in 5 years. After formally announcing they would begin rebuilding in February of 2018, New York has seen a major roster overhaul during that time and will have an exciting, young team come the start of the 2020 season.
The Rangers started their spectacular summer by moving up in the NHL Draft Lottery, grabbing the second overall selection and picking winger Kaapo Kakko. Kakko, 18, had an excellent season in the Finnish Elite League where he led his team in goals and finished the season with a respectable 22 goals and 38 points in 45 games. As someone who could end up on the Rangers’ top line come opening night, look for Kakko to be one of the league’s most watched rookies this season.
New York also won the free agent sweepstakes by signing Artemi Panarin to a 7 year, $81.5 million contract. Panarin, 27 has been one of the best wingers in the NHL since entering the league during the 2015-16 season with the Chicago Blackhawks. Since then he has recorded at least 27 goals and 70 points in all of his four seasons split between the Blackhawks and the Columbus Blue Jackets. Between Kakko and Panarin, with Mika Zibanejad centering the two, this could be one of the best top lines in hockey. The Rangers will fill out the rest of their forward core with young players in their first or second year of NHL experience such as Filip Chytil, Lias Andersson and Vitali Kravtsov.
New York’s defense saw major changes as well with the buyout of Kevin Shattenkirk and the signing of Jacob Trouba. Trouba, 25, was acquired from the Winnipeg Jets for a first round pick and Neal Pionk and then was subsequently signed by the Rangers to a 7 year, $56 million contract. Trouba has been exceptional in his career thus far setting a career high of 50 points in 80 games last season with the Jets. Along with Brady Skjei and the addition of Adam Fox to the fold, the Rangers defense should be better than last season.
As for goaltending New York will continue to run with Henrik Lundqvist as their starter with Alexander Georgiev and Igor Shesterkin eyeing the backup spot. Lundqvist, 37, has been one of the league’s most consistent goalies since joining the Rangers in the 2005-06 season, but had one of his worst year’s last season tallying a 18-23-10 record, 3.07 GAA and .907% save percentage. Although I do think Lundqvist is better than this and will have a bounce back year in 2020, I’m not sure if his best days have passed him by.
New York has done an excellent job at accelerating their rebuild and getting a lot of nice, young players into their system. While there have certainly been upgrades on all fronts, I think 2020 will be a growing year for this young Rangers’ team and they will miss the playoffs.
New Jersey Devils:
The New Jersey Devils, like the Rangers, had one of the best offseasons during this past summer. Not only did they win the NHL Draft Lottery and select Jack Hughes with the first overall pick, but they added star defenseman P.K Subban to their backend along with numerous other upgrades.
The Devils had immediately upgraded their offense by adding Jack Hughes to the team. New Jersey now has two legitimate centers in Hughes and Nico Hischier to build around for the foreseeable future as both players are 20 and under. Much of the focus this season will be trying to get Taylor Hall to re-sign with the Devils after spending the last three seasons there. Hall has thrived in New Jersey setting career highs in goals and points along with winning the Hart Memorial Trophy in the 2018-2019 season. While it is all up in the air right now, I think that if the Devils play well enough to show Hall there are consistent playoff appearances in the future, then he will remain in New Jersey. Lastly, the other two big additions to the Devils forward group was Wayne Simmonds and Nikita Gusev. Simmonds was brought in on a 1 year, $5 million contract and brings some physicality and depth scoring to the Devils while Gusev could be a potential steal. Due to not having the cap space to sign him, the Vegas Golden Knights flipped Gusev to the Devils for multiple draft picks. While Gusev hasn’t played much on North American ice, he was a consistent top KHL player which should translate nicely to the Devils if he works out.
New Jersey added a major piece to bolster their defense in P.K Subban. General manager Ray Shero didn’t even have to give up much trading away Jeremy Davies, Steven Santini and two second round draft picks. Subban, 30, has been one of the better NHL defenseman for much of his career and immediately brings offense and skill to the Devils’ blueline. Aside from last season, Subban has recorded at least 40 points in his last 5 seasons and will be able to help quarterback the Devils’ powerplay as well. He also brings leadership to a team which has a lot of young, talented players on it. Despite allowing the sixth most goals against last season (271), New Jersey has a lot of talented players on defense including veterans Andy Greene, Sami Vatanen and others including Will Butcher, Damon Severson and Connor Carrick. I think the addition of Subban will drastically help their defense overall, while bringing more offense from their blueline as well.
One big question heading into 2020 for the Devils is how will their goaltending play out? Last season Cory Schneider under-performed heavily finishing the year with a 6-13-4 record, 3.06 GAA and .903% save percentage. Keith Kinkaid didn’t do much better totaling a 15-18-6 record, 3.36 GAA and .891% save percentage. The only bright spot between the pipes for New Jersey was the emergence of their rookie goalie Mackenzie Blackwood. Blackwood, 22, was called up after starting the season in the AHL and gathered a 10-10-0 record, 2.61 GAA and .918% save percentage. The departure of Kinkaid allows New Jersey to run with the tandem of Schenider and Blackwood and although Schneider may start the season as the team’s starting goalie, I feel that Blackwood will regain the reigns and run away with the job by year’s end.
Although the Devils are one of the Metropolitan’s most improved teams, I think they still have a lot of work to do before they get back into the playoffs again. Many of the other Metropolitan teams improved drastically as well and I think they will have a hard time competing with them to earn a playoff spot in 2020.
New York Islanders:
As a team that many experts had picked for a bottom 5 finish, the New York Islanders exceeded expectations last season and look to build on that heading into 2020.
After losing captain John Tavares to the Toronto Maple Leafs, many had the Islanders being one of the worst teams in the league. However, they finished fifth best in the NHL and second in the Metropolitan Division with a 48-27-7 record and making it to the second round of the playoffs. Now entering into year two of Barry Trotz, the Islanders look to stay consistent and head back to the playoffs in back-to-back years for the first time since 2016.
Although New York had many of their forwards to re-sign, such as Brock Nelson, Anders Lee and Jordan Eberle, the team was able to not only sign all of their forwards, but bring them all back on reasonable deals. Nelson, Lee and Eberle were all within the team’s top five leading scorers and were all a big reason why they swept the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round. Losing any of these players would be a big blow to their offense moving forward, but general manager Lou Lamoriello was able to retain all of them and even find a decent replacement for Valteri Filppula in Derrick Brassard. Mathew Barzal, the undisputed face of the franchise, will also have the spotlight on him as he enters into his third full NHL season. After scoring 85 points and winning rookie of the year in 2018, Barzal saw his point totals drop under Barry Trotz’s new system finishing the year with 18 goals and 62 points. While this is a 20 point drop, I think Barzal’s numbers will go back up this season as now the team is used to Trotz’s system and players have adjusted accordingly. However, the Islanders were unable to secure the talent of Artemi Panarin and will need to find more scoring internally if a trade is not made for another forward before the start of the season. New York finished last season with the 22nd most goals scored (223) and will need to up those numbers if they hope to finish as high as last year.
While their goals scored were lower than liked, the Islanders had arguably one of the best defensive systems last season finishing with the least amount of goals scored against allowing just 191 goals. In the 2018 season New York finished with the most goals allowed and are the only team in the modern era to go from most to least goals allowed in one year. This is again due to the work of Barry Trotz and the play of the Islanders’ goaltenders. Despite no new additions to the defense, changes may be coming from within as Noah Dobson looks to break onto the roster after winning back-to-back Memorial Cup titles and being one of the league’s most highly touted defensive prospects. This along with another year of development for Ryan Pulock, Devon Toews, Scott Mayfield and Adam Pelech can only bode well for the team’s future.
New York is one of the few team’s in the Metropolitan Division that saw few changes. However, the main place where a change happened was between the pipes. After having an incredible year, the Islanders and Robin Lehner were unable to come to an agreement and he ended up signing with the Chicago Blackhawks. The Islanders went out and signed Semyon Varlamov to a 4 year, $20 million deal. Though fans are hoping for Ilya Sorokin to come over from Russia in 2021, the goalie tandem for this season at least will be Varlamov and Thomas Greiss. Varlamov, 31, has put up respectable numbers during his last eight years with the Colorado Avalanche and should be able to adjust fine to Trotz’s system. While the term may be concerning, Varlamov can hopefully bounce back after a down year last season and be one of the better tandems with Greiss like New York had last season.
Although they didn’t improve on the scale that the Rangers, Hurricanes and Devils did, the New York Islanders didn’t make any moves that will significantly hurt them now or in the near future. Barry Trotz has been known as one of the league’s best coaches for a reason and now that the team is used to his system, I think the team’s overall offense will rise to the occasion. Ultimately, I see New York back in the playoffs by the end of this upcoming season and could finish anywhere in the top three of the Metropolitan Division.