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Second City Hockey’s 2019-20 season preview: Metropolitan Division

Will the Capitals run their division title streak to five?

Carolina Hurricanes v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

We continue our countdown to the start of the NHL’s 2019-20 regular season with a look at the Metropolitan Division.

Metropolitan Division

Carolina Hurricanes

Last season: 46-29-7, 99 points, 4th place, lost in Eastern Conference Final
Key losses: F Justin Williams, D Calvin de Haan, G Scott Darling, G Curtis McElhinney, F Michael Ferland, D Justin Faulk
Key additions: D Joel Edmundson, F Ryan Dzingel, F Erik Haula, G James Reimer, G Anton Forsberg, D Gustav Forsling

After a surprising run to the conference final last season, Carolina has its sights set on even more this season. The Canes matched Montreal’s offer sheet for Sebastian Aho, keeping the talented Finnish center in town. Losing veteran Justin Williams to a pseudo-retirement will hurt, but the additions of Ryan Dzingel and Erik Haula could help offset that loss. Despite trading Faulk, Carolina still boasts a deep blue line with enough forward talent to make this team capable of another season that’ll last into the summer.

New Jersey Devils

Last season: 31-41-10, 72 points, 8th place
Key losses: D Steven Santini, D Jeremy Davies
Key additions: C Jack Hughes, D P.K. Subban, F Wayne Simmonds, F Nikita Gusev

There’s hope in New Jersey after a busy offseason, which included acquiring Subban in a trade and selecting Hughes with the No. 1 overall pick in the NHL draft. Throw in veteran forwards like Simmonds and Gusev, and the Devils roster appears much more formidable than it had just one year prior. Taylor Hall’s expiring contract will be a storyline to watch by the trade deadline, because he’ll be in high demand if New Jersey falls out of contention and elects to stock up for the future.

New York Islanders

Last season: 48-27-7, 103 points, 2nd place, lost in Metropolitan Division final
Key losses: G Robin Lehner, F Valtteri Filppula
Key additions: G Semyon Varlamov, F Derick Brassard

Coach Barry Trotz stepped behind the bench and turned the Islanders into a playoff team in his first season. Despite losing Vezina candidate Robin Lehner in free agency, the New York goaltending situation remains strong with the addition of Semyon Varlamov, and Thomas Greiss provides a worthy partner for a goalie platoon. The potential development of young forwards like Michael Dal Colle, Kieffer Bellows and Oliver Wahlstrom could have a major influence on whether the Islanders can score enough to support their solid defense.

New York Rangers

Last season: 32-36-14, 78 points, 7th place
Key losses: D Neal Pionk, F Kevin Hayes, F Jimmy Vesey
Key additions: F Artemi Panarin, D Jacob Trouba, D Adam Fox, F Kaapo Kakko

Hughes may have been the No. 1 overall pick but there was plenty to like about Kakko, whom the Rangers selected second overall and expect to feature heavily at the NHL level this season. Signing Panarin in free agency was an instant boost to the offense, while trading for Fox and Trouba helped fortify the defense. For a team that announced it was rebuilding not so long ago, the Rangers could be back in the playoff picture by next spring — provided that veteran goaltender Henrik Lundqvist shows he still has it, even after turning 38 in early March.

Philadelphia Flyers

Last season: 37-37-8, 82 points, 6th place
Key losses: D Radko Gudas, F Ryan Hartman, F Jori Lehtera
Key additions: F Kevin Hayes, D Matt Niskanen, D Justin Braun

It all starts in net, where 21-year-old Carter Hart is out to prove he can be the No. 1 franchise goalie that’s developed goalies like the Chicago Bears have developed quarterbacks. Philadelphia also traded for Hayes and signed him to a massive contract extension that will heighten the scrutiny on Hayes should he not live up to that salary. Veterans like Claude Giroux, Jakub Voracek and Sean Couturier are still here and top defenseman Ivan Provorov has been locked up to a long-term deal. Young players to watch include Joel Farabee and Nolan Patrick, as the Flyers look for a return to the postseason, where they haven’t won a series since 2012.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Last season: 44-26-12, 100 points, 3rd place, lost in Metropolitan Division semifinals
Key losses: D Olli Maatta, F Phil Kessel, F Matt Cullen
Key additions: F Dominik Kahun, F Alex Galchenyuk, F Brandon Tanev

Trading Kessel away to Arizona may hurt the offensive numbers, but the Penguins believe they can offset that with Galchenyuk, who was one of the return pieces in that trade. They’ve also added Kahun in the deal that brought Maatta to Chicago. But the familiar names remain in Pittsburgh: Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang are still the heartbeat of this franchise’s playoff hopes. If all three are healthy — especially in Letang’s case — then it’s hard to count out the Penguins.

Washington Capitals

Last season: 48-26-8, 104 points, 1st place, lost in Metropolitan Division semifinals
Key losses: D Matt Niskanen, D Brooks Orpik, F Brett Connolly, F Andre Burakovsky, F Devante Smith-Pelly
Key additions: D Radko Gudas, F Richard Panik, F Garnet Hathaway, F Brendan Leipsic

One season removed from their Stanley Cup victory, Washington also brings back the majority of the familiar faces that have made the Capitals division champions for the last four seasons. Alex Ovechkin remains one of the game’s best snipers while Nicklas Backstrom, T.J. Oshie and Evgeny Kuznetsov all serve as additional offensive threats, although Kuznetsov has a brief suspension to serve after a certain offseason incident. Some changes occurred on the blue line, with Orpik retiring and Niskanen being traded away. If Michal Kempny fully recovers from the torn left hamstring that ended his season last March, though, Washington’s blue line should be fine. Braden Holtby remains a solid goaltender and the Capitals should remain as one of the top teams in the East.