The Metropolitan Division should be a three-horse race, with the Pittsburgh Penguins, New York Rangers, and Carolina Hurricanes prospectively battling it out for supremacy.
According to NHL odds, the Hurricanes are favorites (+195), while the Penguins (+325) and Rangers (+325) are expected to jostle for the second position.
A reasonably significant disparity exists between the three frontrunners and the rest of the pack.
While the Islanders, Capitals, and Devils are within lassoing distance, the Blue Jackets and Flyers are long shots, heavy underdogs to come away with the division crown.
The Hurricanes are all-in on winning the Stanley Cup this season. After losing Vincent Trocheck to the Rangers, the team that ousted them from the playoffs, Carolina put together an offseason marking their 2022-23 intentions.
Carolina acquired Brent Burns from San Jose and Max Pacioretty from Vegas. Both players substantially improve the Hurricanes’ roster. Burns is inarguably fighting the sands of time, but a new lease on life with a Stanley Cup contender should revitalize the 37-year-old’s career.
Burns joins last season’s best defensive team. The Hurricanes allowed the fewest goals per game (2.44) and had the third-best goals against above expected (-17.44).
Pacioretty is almost guaranteed to score 20 goals, adding to an offense with the ninth-most goals per game last season (3.39).
Rod Brind’Amour is also highly anticipating the return of his ace netminder, Frederik Andersen. The Hurricanes need Andersen, one of the most consistent goaltenders in the NHL, to remain healthy throughout the 2022-23 season.
If he avoids the injury bug, the Hurricanes will retain their Metropolitan Division title, most likely representing the Eastern Conference in the Stanley Cup final.
Prediction: Division Winner
Securing Trocheck’s signature filled the holes that Andrew Copp and Ryan Strome’s exits left. The former Carolina forward enjoyed his best offensive season since 2017-18 (21 goals, 30 assists) and will invariably bolster the Rangers’ productivity.
Last season, the Blue Shirts relied heavily on 52-goal scorer Chris Kreider, 96-point man Artemi Panarin, and 81-point man Mika Zibanejad.
New York’s offensive production dropped dramatically beyond those three primary scorers. Strome was the next highest scoring forward with 54 points but moved on to Anaheim.
If the Rangers have aspirations of winning the Metropolitan Division, they’ll require more consistent secondary scoring, which is where Trocheck’s signing should help in a big way.
New York’s success, like it did last season, depends on Igor Shesterkin. The 2021-22 Vezina winner is again favored to win the award. Shesterkin led the Rangers to the league’s second-most stingy defensive record (2.49 goals against per game).
That superb defensive record was down to Shesterkin’s brilliance and not their just-above-average defensive corps. The Rangers’ top two defensive pairings, led by former Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox and Jacob Trouba, are proficient enough, but the level drops significantly.
The Rangers should finish ahead of the Pens and secure second place if Shesterkin is at his best.
Prediction: Second Place
Pittsburgh avoided a breakup of the band over the off-season, a massive let-off for the franchise. Instead, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang signed new deals that should keep them in Pittsburgh for the remainder of their careers.
Malkin missed half of 2021-22 due to injury and will be keen to compensate for lost time. No. 1 netminder Tristan Jarry also has a clean bill of health after missing the playoffs with a foot injury.
Sidney Crosby, Malkin, and Letang have a narrow window to work with if they’re going to win their fourth Stanley Cup as a triumvirate. All three superstars will be motivated to give it one final crack, which bodes well for Pens fans.
The million-dollar question is whether all three legends can remain healthy for the duration.
Even if they avoid the injury bug, Pittsburgh isn’t as deep as the Hurricanes and, as good as Jarry is, doesn’t have a netminder who can consistently steal games like their rivals on Broadway.
Prediction: Third Place
The Islanders’ +700 odds to win the division are, frankly, too short. While new head coach Lane Lambert might be able to elicit the best from each player, the Islanders’ roster isn’t dynamic enough to compete with the division’s juggernauts.
An aging forward crew that struggled to score last season required some freshening. Unfortunately for Islanders fans, that necessary help isn’t forthcoming. The Islanders scored the 10th-fewest goals per game in 2021-22 (2.79) and had no players ellipse the 60-point mark.
No. 1 center Mathew Barzal scored a career-low 15 goals, amassing just 59 points in 73 games. The Islanders’ forward contingent is also comparatively old, with nine top offensive players at least 29 years old.
On the positive side, the Islanders are solid defensively, allowing the seventh-fewest goals per game last season (2.82). They also have one of the league’s top-five goaltenders, with 27-year-old Ilya Sorokin all too often bailing out his team.
Sorokin will ensure the Islanders remain competitive, but their deficiencies up front are too abundant to ignore.
Prediction: Fifth Place
Dylan Strome and Darcy Kuemper are the most notable additions to the Caps’ lineup. The latter is on whom the Caps’ success is predicated. Unfortunately, the Caps have historically found it almost impossible to source a No. 1 netminder who can hold his own, especially in the postseason.
For all of Kuemper’s shortcomings, he found a way to lead the Avs to a Stanley Cup. Admittedly, he was fortunate enough to have the best team in front of him, making his job conspicuously easier. Kuemper, forced out due to two separate injuries, also shared the postseason duties with Pavel Francouz.
Time will tell if Kuemper is up to the gargantuan challenge in Washington.
The Caps will be without Nicklas Backstrom, who is rehabilitating from major hip surgery, for at least half of the season, which will derail their chances of winning the division.
Prediction: Fourth Place
First things first: By signing John Marino, Vitek Vanicek, and Ondrej Palat, the Devils discernibly improved their roster.
Palat is a clutch player who consistently scores pivotal goals. The former Lightning forward has the third-most playoff game-winners of all active players.
The Devils will hope Palat’s knack for scoring big goals extends to the regular season, or their chances of qualifying for the postseason will evaporate.
Their goaltending situation should also concern head coach Lindy Ruff.
After being drafted 42nd overall in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, Mackenzie Blackwood still hasn’t fulfilled his potential. Hence the acquisition of Vanicek from Washington, who, despite showing glimpses of brilliance, is an unproven commodity.
They have a solid crew of youngsters, including Jesper Bratt, Nico Hischier, Yegor Sharangovich, and Jack Hughes, who all have oodles of talent.
However, the Metropolitan Division is stacked with proven, unassailable superstars. The Devils need a few more years before their fledgling youngsters fall into that category. New Jersey should push for a playoff spot, but the division crown is well out of reach.
Prediction: Sixth Place
The Blue Jackets are a long shot for various reasons, but first, for the positives.
Columbus has a formidable first line comprising Boone Jenner, Johnny Gaudreau, and Patrik Laine. While chemistry doesn’t magically appear, all three players are good enough to ensure elevated productivity.
Adding Gaudreau will invariably improve last season’s 14th-best goals per game average.
Their poor defensive record and mediocre goaltending will prevent them from winning the division and possibly making the playoffs.
Elvis hasn’t left the building and will retain his No. 1 spot between the pipes. Elvis Merzlikins isn’t a poor goaltender, but he can’t consistently steal games.
The Blue Jackets had the fifth-worst defensive record, conceding 3.62 goals per game. That isn’t likely to change in 2022-23.
Prediction: Seventh Place
Don’t be surprised to see the Flyers among the teams fighting for the first overall pick come the end of the season. The Flyers are in disarray, thanks to a thinly talented roster and a few troublesome injury woes.
Ryan Ellis will miss most of the season, while Sean Couturier is still struggling with a debilitating back injury.
Claude Giroux is long gone, and last year’s top scorer, Travis Konecny, had just 52 points in 79 games. With a swollen 3.16 goals against average in 45 games, Carter Hart endured the worst season of his young career.
The Flyers conceded the sixth-most goals per game (3.59) last season and were even worse offensively, mustering the second-fewest goals per game (2.56). As a result, expect the Flyers to camp in the division’s cellar.
Prediction: Eighth Place
Gary Pearson is a freelance sports writer who contributes regularly to BetMGM, specializing in hockey, tennis and soccer coverage.