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Second City Hockey’s 2021-22 season preview: Metropolitan Division

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Are the Capitals still kings of the Metro or will someone else vie for the crown?

Chicago Blackhawks v Carolina Hurricanes Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images

We continue our countdown to the start of the NHL’s 2021-22 regular season with a look at the Metropolitan Division.

Metropolitan Division

Carolina Hurricanes

Last season: 36-12-8 (80 points), first place in Central Division, lost in quarterfinal round
Key losses: D Dougie Hamilton, G Petr Mrazek, G Alex Nedeljkovic, D James Reimer
Key additions: F Jesperi Kotkaniemi, D Tony DeAngelo, G Frederik Andersen, G Antti Raanta, D Ethan Bear

Carolina has been all over the news this offseason. They waved to goodbye to all three goalies from the prior season, now turning that responsibility over to Frederik Andersen and old friend Antti Raanta. On the blue line, No. 1 defenseman Dougie Hamilton left and the Hurricanes brought in the controversial Tony DeAngelo. And don’t forget about the offer sheet that landed Jesperi Kotkaniemi. The Hurricanes remain loaded with talent and should again be among the league’s top teams. However, this team has been in that role for several seasons now and, at some point, the hypotheticals regarding contention need to become reality. Is this the year it finally happens?

Columbus Blue Jackets

Last season: 18-26-12 (48 points), seventh place in Central Division
Key losses: D Seth Jones, F Cam Atkinson
Key additions: D Adam Boqvist, F Jakub Voracek, F Zac Rinaldo, D Jake Bean

Columbus heads back east after a tumultuous season in the Central Division that ended with head coach John Tortorella receiving his walking papers and Brad Larsen brought in as the replacement. It’s a much different roster for Larsen, too, with Seth Jones and Cam Atkinson sent away in trades that brought back a bunch of draft picks along with Adam Boqvist, Jake Bean and Jakub Voracek. Patrik Laine’s up-and-down tenure with the Blue Jackets needs to have its trajectory pointed skyward firmly if this team is going to make noise in the division and even that may be only a small part of what Columbus needs to be considered a playoff contender.

New Jersey Devils

Last season: 19-30-7 (45 points), seventh place in East Division
Key losses: D Will Butcher, G Aaron Dell
Key additions: D Dougie Hamilton, F Tomas Tatar, D Ryan Graves, G Jonathan Bernier

New Jersey entered the offseason with mountains of cap space and used it accordingly, nabbing the biggest free agent prize of the summer in the aforementioned Dougie Hamilton. Jonathan Bernier was also brought in to spell Mackenzie Blackwood in net. The Devils didn’t lose much of significance during the offseason although Kyle Palmieri and Travis Zajac were sent away at last year’s trade deadline. The question is whether or not all this new talent can mesh with the growing youth movement into a team worthy of playoff competition, as the Devils have made the playoffs just once in the last nine seasons and haven’t won a series since reaching the Stanley Cup Final in 2012.

New York Islanders

Last season: 32-17-7 (71 points), fourth place in East Division, lost in semifinal round
Key losses: D Nick Leddy, F Andrew Ladd, F Jordan Eberle
Key additions: F Zach Parise, F Richard Panik

The defense-first style instilled by coach Barry Trotz has had the Islanders in the thick of it for three seasons now, with each of the last two seasons ending in the conference finals. Offseason moves that sent old friends Nick Leddy and Andrew Ladd off the island freed up salary cap space to lock up Adam Pelech for the long-term. Zach Parise remains unsigned officially but appears destined to be on this roster while Anders Lee is expected back after an injury led to a premature end to his 2021 season. With solid defense and strong goaltending, the Islanders should again be in a playoff spot. But NYI will likely need its offensive stars like Mathew Barzal and youngster Oliver Wahlstrom to shine even brighter if the Islanders want to make more postseason noise.

New York Rangers

Last season: 27-23-6 (60 points), fifth place in East Division
Key losses: D Tony DeAngelo, F Pavel Buchnevich, F Colin Blackwell
Key additions: F Barclay Goodrow, F Ryan Reaves, F Greg McKegg, F Dryden Hunt, D Patrik Nemeth

Things look a lot different off the ice now for the Rangers, with Chris Drury now the president of hockey operations/general manager and Gerard Gallant the team’s head coach. Drury added some proverbial grit to the New York lineup with the acquisitions of Barclay Goodrow and Ryan Reaves while also sending Pavel Buchnevich — who was tied for second on the team with 20 goals last season — to St. Louis. High-end offensive talent is still here, though, with Artemi Panarin and Mika Zibanejad leading the way and Adam Fox won the Norris Trophy last year as the league’s top defensemen. The collective performance of the players behind that leading trio — including the goalie duo of Igor Shesterkin and Alexandar Georgiev — will be vital to the Rangers’ fortunes in ‘21-22.

Philadelphia Flyers

Last season: 25-23-8 (58 points), sixth place in East Division
Key losses: F Nolan Patrick, D Shayne Gostisbehere, F Jakub Voracek
Key additions: D Ryan Ellis, F Cam Atkinson, D Rasmus Ristolainen, G Martin Jones, D Keith Yandle

The 2021 season went south in a hurry for Philadelphia and the offseason resulted in plenty of change because of it. Former No. 2 overall pick Nolan Patrick was one of several players sent away via trade, while the pieces brought back in some of those deals include Cam Atkinson, Ryan Ellis and Rasmus Ristolainen. Alain Vigneault remains the head coach despite last season’s debacle, but much of the success or failure will focus on the man in net. Carter Hart had a dreadful 2021, with a save percentage of .877 and goals-against average of 3.67 — well below his career marks of .905 and 2.88, respectively. Righting that ship is the quickest way to flip fortunes around in Philly.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Last season: 37-16-3 (77 points), first place in Central Division, lost in first round
Key losses: F Jared McCann, D Cody Ceci, F Brandon Tanev
Key additions: D Taylor Fedun, F Brock McGinn, F Dominik Simon

Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are still here, which gives Pittsburgh a headstart on virtually every other team in the league because that 1-2 punch at center is damn near impossible to match. But both have been hampered by injuries before the season even started. Crosby had wrist surgery in early September and is expected out for six weeks, while Malkin is recovering from knee surgey and will be unavailable for training camp. Most of the Penguins’ offseason moves involved moving around their depth pieces. Getting Crosby and Malkin back at full health as soon as possible seems to be the biggest key for Pittsburgh’s season.

Washington Capitals

Last season: 36-15-5 (77 points), second place in East Division, lost in first round
Key losses: F Jakub Vrana, F Richard Panik, D Brenden Dillon, G Craig Anderson
Key additions: F Michael Vecchione

The Capitals have won this division the last five times it existed, with a runner-up finish in the temporary East Division in 2021. Repeating that feat again in ‘21-22 should be a tall task, though, given the improvement of other teams in this division and the continued aging of Washington’s key players. Alex Ovechkin continues fending off father time and lighting up goals like he’s 25, even if turns 36 before the season begins. Much of the supporting cast is getting up there in age, too: TJ Oshie, Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov are all on the plus side of 30 now and salary cap constraints prevented the Capitals from making any significant offseason additions. We’ll see how many more bites at the apple this team has left in it.