We are nearing the end of August, which means the NHL season is getting closer and closer. Training camps are set to begin in less than a month now, which has fanbases throughout the entire league quite excited.
While several teams promise to be competitive in the 2022-23 season, organizations in the Metropolitan Division, in particular, are ones to look out for. Yes, there are a few teams in this division who may struggle, but several of these eight teams are quite strong and could very well be hoisting the Stanley Cup next year. With that said, let’s take a look at what we can expect to see from every team in the Metro, as well as how I believe things will look standings-wise by the time the season has wrapped up.
For a number of seasons now, the Carolina Hurricanes have been a very good team, particularly in the regular season. That said, however, they have yet to get to their ultimate goal of hoisting the Stanley Cup with their current core, something they will hope to change at the end of the 2022-23 campaign.
One reason, in particular, they have yet to win it all is because they have lacked high-end offensive production. They looked to correct that problem this offseason, as they were able to trade for Brent Burns from the San Jose Sharks as a replacement on the back end for Tony DeAngelo, while also grabbing one of the games better goal scorers when healthy in Max Pacioretty from the Vegas Golden Knights.
These moves were both very good ones from general manager Don Waddell, though one won’t have an immediate impact. Shortly after being acquired, it was announced that Pacioretty tore his Achilles tendon. As a result, he isn’t expected to return until sometime in February, which is obviously a tough blow for this club. Thankfully, they have a good enough team that they should have no issues remaining in the playoff hunt without the 33-year-old, but they will need to hope he can be at his best by the time the postseason rolls around.
Columbus Blue Jackets
What an offseason it has been for the Columbus Blue Jackets. After years of appearing to be an organization star players wanted to leave, they went out and landed the biggest free agent on the market in Johnny Gaudreau. This move not only shocked the hockey world but could have a serious impact on how other players view the organization in years to come.
The Gaudreau signing also played a big part in them being able to get Finnish sniper Patrik Laine re-signed to a four-year deal. This duo will be a very exciting one to watch, as Gaudreau is one of the game’s elite playmakers while Laine possesses one of the best shots throughout the entire NHL. While they have certainly taken a step in the right direction, however, there are still some concerns when it comes to the rest of the Blue Jackets roster.
While goaltending isn’t much of a concern as Elvis Merzlikins has established himself as a true number one, the blue line in front of him leaves a ton to be desired. They attempted to fix that by inexplicably giving Erik Gudbranson a four-year, $16 million deal, despite the fact he figures to be nothing more than a third-pairing defenseman for them. On top of that, their forward depth isn’t great, and they really lack a top centermen. As mentioned before, however, they still took a big step in the right direction this summer, and figure to be more competitive than they were this past season.
New Jersey Devils
The New Jersey Devils have made some changes this offseason, though it wasn’t the changes their fanbase had imagined. It appeared as though they were the frontrunners to land Gaudreau in the days leading to free agency, right up until the Blue Jackets seemingly came out of nowhere. It was a huge disappointment for this franchise, who outside of one 2017-18 season, have continuously finished near the bottom of the league standings for some time.
While they were unable to land Gaudreau, they did make a few tweaks that should help them out moving forward. They were able to acquire goaltender Vitek Vanecek in a deal with the Washington Capitals, and shortly after, traded defenseman Ty Smith in exchange for another blueliner in John Marino. Perhaps their biggest acquisition of all, however, was signing two-time Stanley Cup Champion Ondrej Palat to a five-year, $30 million deal.
Barring a major shocker, these moves won’t move the needle a ton for the Devils. Palat is a very good player and will help, but he alone isn’t going to turn things around. As for Vanecek, he struggled with consistency during his stint with the Washington Capitals, something Devils fans have seen from their goaltenders far too often in recent seasons. Perhaps the change of scenery will help out the 26-year-old, but don’t hold your breath.
New York Islanders
When I say the New York Islanders have done nothing this offseason, it really isn’t that far from the truth. General manager Lou Lamoriello has yet to sign a single free agent, despite having the entire hockey world convinced he had inked Nazem Kadri to a long-term deal.
Not only was Lamoriello unable to improve his team, who disappointed in a big way in 2021-22, but one could argue that he made them even worse. In early May, it was announced he had fired head coach Barry Trotz, a man regarded by many as the best coach in the entire NHL. While there is no doubt they disappointed in 2021-22, most are in agreement that Trotz was not the man responsible for that.
Despite making no changes, some believe this Islanders club will bounce back and become a top team in the Eastern Conference once again. Their goaltending duo in Ilya Sorokin and Semyon Varlamov is fantastic, and their back end is a rather underrated one. The area for concern, however, is their forward group, as they lack star talent. Getting back into the playoffs will be no easy task for this roster.
New York Rangers
One could argue that the New York Rangers were the most improved team in the entire NHL this past season. With Gerard Gallant at the helm, they managed to finish second in the Metro division with an extremely impressive 110 points.
Though they lost Ryan Strome down the middle, they were able to replace him with Vincent Trocheck, who they signed to a seven-year deal. They also brought in Jaroslav Halak to back up Igor Shesterkin. Also, they appear willing to let their top stars, such as Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad and Adam Fox, lead the way, while expecting to see growth in some of their younger talents.
While the Rangers should be a very good team in 2022-23, they could be even better if one, or perhaps both, of Alexis Lafreniere and Kaapo Kakko are able to show what made them first and second overall picks in back-to-back drafts. To this point, both have struggled to find their footing at the NHL level, but are still very young. If this season happens to be their breakout year, this team will become even scarier.
As disappointing as it was for the Devils’ fanbase in that they failed to land Gaudreau, it was even more painful for Flyers faithful. Even now, it seems quite clear that the 29-year-old wanted to sign in Philadelphia, something he had discussed in years past. However, they were unable to free up cap space for him, with general manager Chuck Fletcher infamously saying it would have been too difficult to do so.
The Flyers didn’t make a ton of changes to their roster this summer, though they were able to sign DeAngelo to a two-year deal. The 26-year-old is an underrated talent from the back end who recorded an impressive 51 points in 64 outings this past season and should help out their power play in a big way moving forward.
The biggest change this Flyers team has made since the end of the 2021-22 season is behind the bench, as John Tortorella is now the new man in charge. This move had hockey fans divided, though if there is someone who can lead a rather underwhelming lineup to the playoffs, Torts is that guy. At the very least, hockey fans can expect to be treated to some great soundbites for the entirety of the 2022-23 campaign.
Heading into this offseason, it appeared the era of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang may be coming to an end for the Pittsburgh Penguins. After all, both Malkin and Letang were set to become unrestricted free agents, and Malkin, in particular, let it be known he didn’t feel respected by the front office.
Cooler heads prevailed, however, as both players have since agreed to multi-year extensions, resulting in the Penguins Cup winning window remaining open. As mentioned above, they moved Marino to the Devils in exchange for Smith, who has plenty of skill on the back end and is just 22 years old. The biggest move they made this summer, however, was one which saw them ship Mike Matheson and a fourth-round pick to the Montreal Canadiens in exchange for Jeff Petry and Ryan Poehling.
Despite an off 2021-22 season, Petry remains one of the game’s more underrated defensemen. He can put up numbers offensively, all while playing a rock solid defensive game. This pick-up, along with their solid group up front and Tristan Jarry in net, should allow the Pens to remain a very competitive team in 2022-23.
While they haven’t received the coverage of other teams throughout the league this summer, the Washington Capitals have made some significant changes to their roster. The biggest, of course, is the fact that neither of their two goalies from the 2021-22 season in Vanecek and Ilya Samsonov remain with the organization.
The Capitals were able to instead improve their goaltending situation by bringing in Darcy Kuemper from the Colorado Avalanche and will have Charlie Lindgren back him up. They were also able to trade for Connor Brown and managed to pick up what could be a bargain free agent signing in Dylan Strome.
While there is plenty to like about the Capitals’ offseason, however, there are some concerns heading into 2022-23. Both Tom Wilson and Nicklas Backstrom are expected to miss significant portions of the season due to injury, meaning they will need others to really step up in their absence. The good news in that regard is that even at the age of 36, Alex Ovechkin has yet to show any signs of regression, as he is coming off of yet another 50-goal season, marking the ninth time he has done so in his illustrious career.
End of Season Predictions
- New York Rangers
- Carolina Hurricanes
- Pittsburgh Penguins
- Washington Capitals
- Columbus Blue Jackets
- Philadelphia Flyers
- New York Islanders
- New Jersey Devils