The Washington Capitals have won five consecutive Metropolitan Division titles. In 2014-15, the Capitals finished second to the New York Rangers. That is the definition of dominance. They have a Stanley Cup to show for it.
The Pittsburgh Penguins have finished second or third in the Metro during the last five years. They did all of this while the Capitals placed a monopoly on winning the division. Even more impressive, the Penguins have two Stanley Cups in the bank.
While the windows of the Capitals and Penguins are still open for now, we are starting to see a shift of power in the Metro. Not only have other teams started to catch up to them, they are ready to overtake them. This overtaking won’t be for 1-2 seasons either. It’s setting up for the next decade.
Setting the Scene
Let’s revisit how the Metro finished when the 2019-20 season was paused. The Capitals held on and won the division by a single point over the Philadelphia Flyers. The Penguins finished in third.
Had the season played out in full, there’s a good chance the Flyers would have won. But we will never know.
This Flyers surge is an important sign of the future of the Metro. They are ready to win now. With Carter Hart assuming his role as a franchise goaltender, the Flyers window is wide open for the foreseeable.
The Capitals and Penguins are still going to have a lot to say about how the Metro goes in the next two years, but the days of one of those teams running away with the division are over. Beyond two years, there will be new kings of the Metro. Father time will get the final say here.
Who will be ready to assume their place at the top? We already mentioned the Flyers. But the five teams we haven’t mentioned all have a chance at this assuming they reach their potential. We will take a quick look at those teams now. Notice the theme here. The NHL Draft is playing a big role in this shift.
The State of the Future Metro
- Carolina Hurricanes: We recently spoke to Hurricanes’ play-by-play man Mike Maniscalco. We were in agreement that they were ready to win a division. It’s easy to see why. They have top-end talent (Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov.) Their defense is in good shape. As usual, goaltending is their biggest question. But that didn’t stop them from recently winning a playoff series against the Capitals. Let’s start a count of top-three picks. Svechnikov makes one.
- Columbus Blue Jackets: So get this. The Blue Jackets have finished 3rd, 4th, 5th and 6th in the Metro in the last four years. Despite that, they have made the playoffs every year. This shows just how competitive the Metro has been. Pieces are in place. The defense led by Seth Jones and Zach Werenski is their bedrock. Their young goaltending is set for a breakout. And even though they could use another elite piece up front, having Pierre-Luc Dubois is the perfect player to build around. Dubois makes two top-three picks.
- New York Islanders: Now we get to the New York teams. One of the biggest things to consider will be just how great the hockey will be amongst the New York teams once the games return. For the Islanders, Mat Barzal will be a big part of their success. Their defense will continue to shine under Barry Trotz. And we welcome goaltender Ilya Sorokin to the fold. Their playoff performance should tell you everything you need to know about how difficult they will be to play against.
- New Jersey Devils: This team is still a work in progress but there are young pieces in place. Jack Hughes (that makes three top picks) will be depended upon to help get the Devils back to prominence. Nico Hischier (that’s four) makes for a good 2C behind Hughes. But where Devils fans should be excited is the incoming youth. Ty Smith projects to be a future 1D while Alexander Holtz and Dawson Mercer will help bring much needed depth to the forward ranks.
- New York Rangers: We save the best for last. So much for a rebuild, eh? Alexis Lafreniere (that makes five) takes on the Big Apple. He joins the likes of Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad and Kaapo Kakko (that’s six) up front. In net, Igor Shesterkin has the makings of a franchise goaltender. There’s no team with a bigger upside in the Metro than the Rangers. Their lottery win this past season will eventually have dramatic positive effects on the team. They are primed to assume the role of kings of the Metro.
Two Windows Closing
The 2020-21 season, whenever it begins, could have a division realignment to accommodate the season. Then we will likely return to the standard division setup in 2021-22. That season could be the last real Cup chance for the Capitals and Penguins in the Ovechkin and Crosby era. The Metro should be up for grabs.
But starting in 2022-23, the Capitals and Penguins will face their division foes at a talent disadvantage. The process of power shifting has started. By then the transition will be completed.
The Flyers, Rangers and Hurricanes seem the most primed to assume the top. But the Islanders, Blue Jackets and Devils will each have something to say about it. And can the Capitals and Penguins find a way to remain competitive in future seasons?
Get ready for a new normal. The Metro is starting a changing of the guard. Are you ready for it?