Rangers vs. Hurricanes: Who’s King of the Metropolitan Division?

The NHL’s Metropolitan division has a lot of well-built teams that will be competing for the Stanley Cup Playoffs this season. At the top of the division, there are two teams that are expected to battle for first place: the Carolina Hurricanes and the New York Rangers.

The Hurricanes have won their division in each of the past two seasons, with the first of those seasons being in the NHL’s Central Division in the COVID-19 bubble. The Rangers, who are coming out of a rebuild, finished second in the Metropolitan last season, are expected to take another step this year.

Both teams added quite a bit to their lineup, whether that be through a trade, free agency signing, or promotions of internal pieces.

Big Changes for Both Teams in 2022-23

The Hurricanes had their fair share of important players come out of the system over the summer. Two integral pieces of the ‘Canes’ second line, Nino Niederreiter and Vincent Trocheck, both hit unrestricted free agency and accepted contracts in other cities. Their 95 points combined is certainly leaving a big hole to fill on that line, but with Teuvo Teräväinen and Jesperi Kotkaniemi expected to slide into those slots, they should be able to recoup that loss of production. Max Pacioretty, who was acquired from the Vegas Golden Knights, is expected to be injured until early February with a torn Achilles, which lines up well as a substitution for a rental that teams would typically try to acquire around that time of year. Steven Lorentz was also included in a trade bringing Lane Pederson and Brent Burns, who we will talk about in a moment, to Carolina.

Teuvo Teravainen Carolina Hurricanes
Teuvo Teravainen, Carolina Hurricanes (Jess Starr/The Hockey Writers)

On the back end, the Hurricanes did not retain Ian Cole or Brenden Smith, who were two reliable depth pieces, as well as trading Tony DeAngelo to the Flyers. To soften the blow of trading DeAngelo, now would be a good time to talk about Burns. As mentioned earlier, Burns was traded from San Jose for Lorentz, a prospect and a pick. Burns will slot in perfectly in the hole that DeAngelo leaves behind, adding the offensive impact on a pairing with Jaccob Slavin, as well as adding some important leadership and experience.

As for the Rangers, they lost quite a few important pieces, who had big impacts in their Eastern Conference Final run. Andrew Copp, Tyler Motte and Frank Vatrano, who were all acquired at the trade deadline, left as free agents. Copp, a versatile middle-six player, used this opportunity to price himself out of a new contract with the club, had 14 points in 20 playoff games. The Rangers gave up a lot for Copp, and he was extremely productive, and an important piece with his two-way game. Motte, who is known for his defensive abilities, added some much-needed stability to the Rangers’ penalty kill and was an excellent part of a shut-down line.

Vatrano was also very productive in the playoffs, very similar to Copp. With 13 points in 20 games, Vatrano would have also been a good piece to keep around, but he took a contract with the Anaheim Ducks. Ryan Strome, who served as the second-line center for most of the year, was also not re-signed by the Rangers. After quite a few years of some up-and-down play, the new manager, Chris Drury, decided to move on from Strome.

The Rangers did make up for some of this loss in free agency, signing Vincent Trocheck to take on Strome’s role. Trocheck, who we talked about with the Hurricanes, can provide a lot of offense and adds a lot more depth to the already-strong center group. Jimmy Vesey also joins the team on a professional try-out, and he has been a standout in the pre-season so far, so he could fill in on the wing for one of those departed players. But the most interesting acquisition, if you could call it that, is Vitaly Kravtsov re-joining the team after their relationship seems to have healed a bit. Kravtsov, the former ninth overall pick, has returned to the Big Apple and looks like he will be given a big role to succeed. He could be a huge X-Factor for the team. and make a big impact offensively after a couple of strong seasons in the Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) in Russia.

Jimmy Vesey Rangers
Jimmy Vesey, New York Rangers, Mar. 22, 2018 (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

As for blueliners, the only piece subtracted from their NHL roster was Nils Lundkvist, who was traded to the Dallas Stars. The group is staying the same, for the most part. Jacob Trouba, who was named the team’s 28th captain in franchise history, along with Adam Fox, will still be leading the way with some quality depth pieces.

In the crease, the Hurricanes remain the same, and the Rangers shipped out Alexander Georgiev and signed Jaroslav Halak, who could be a great complimentary piece to Igor Shesterkin.

Projected Lineups: Forwards

Both the Hurricanes and Rangers have a couple of players battling for some bottom-six roles, but as of now, I think the lineups can be comfortably predicted, outside of a few potential line changes ahead of the season’s opener.

Hurricanes Projected Forward Lines:

  • Svechnikov-Aho-Jarvis
  • Teräväinen-Kotkaniemi-Necas
  • Stastny-Staal-Fast
  • Martinook-Drury-Kase

Rangers Projected Forward Lines:

  • Kreider-Zibanejad-Blais
  • Panarin-Trocheck-Kravtsov
  • Lafrenière-Chytil-Kakko
  • Goodrow-Carpenter-Vesey

Though the roster build is incredibly different, the talent level is very similar. The top-six of each team has a top-10 center, a couple of young guys on the right wing, and two very good wingers on the left side. The “Kid Line” slotting in as the Rangers’ third line is one factor that many could argue put the Rangers group ahead of Carolinas. All three of those players are poised for huge breakout years, which we saw a glimpse of in the Stanley Cup Playoffs this past year.

Related: Rangers’ Kakko & Chytil Poised to Improve This Season

The Hurricanes have better defensive depth, with Staal, Stastny and Kase in the bottom six, while there are still a couple of question marks with the Rangers’ fourth line.

Regardless of who’s forwards you value more, there is a very good argument for either side. Both teams are young, still growing, and will get a lot better.

Projected Lines: Defense

The defense is an interesting conversation. Both teams have a top 10 defenseman, some great complimentary pieces, and some players still battling for a spot.

Hurricanes Projected Defense Lines:

  • Slavin-Burns
  • Skjei-Pesce
  • Coghlan-Chatfield

Rangers Projected Defense Lines:

  • Lindgren-Fox
  • Miller-Trouba
  • Jones-Schneider

Adam Fox and Jacob Slavin bring two very different elements to their game but are nearly equally valued. K’Andre Miller is one of my favorite young defensemen in the league and should take a big step this year. Burns added to the Hurricanes’ top pair in place of DeAngelo doesn’t make for much of a big change, as they both play the same offensive role, though Burns adds a much-needed heavy shot as a threat from the point. Coghlan and Chatfield are looking like very good options for the bottom pair ahead of Ethan Bear and Calvin de Haan. Zac Jones and Braden Schneider are both young players looking to make their mark for the Rangers, and I believe Schneider can have a great year, but I am not so confident in Jones.

Braden Schneider New York Rangers
Braden Schneider, New York Rangers (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Like the forwards, depending on what you value more, there is some conversation for either group to be better, but I lean towards the Hurricanes’ blueliners for this one. They are a more defensively reliable group, have great complimentary pieces for each other, and have some NHL-caliber defensemen still edged out of the lineup. The argument is still close, don’t get me wrong, but for now, I am taking the Hurricanes.

Projected Lines: Goaltenders

This does not have to be much of a conversation. Igor Shesterkin is coming off one of the best seasons we have seen by a goalie. I do not think he quite repeats it, but for a sophomore goalie to earn as many Hart Trophy votes as he did, he is clearly the best goalie of the four in question.

Related: Ranking the NHL’s 32 Starting Goalies – 2022-23 Season

Hurricanes Projected Goalies:

  • Andersen
  • Raanta

Rangers Projected Goalies:

  • Shesterkin
  • Halak

Frederik Andersen is still one of the league’s best goalies, no doubt about that, but he does not fall into that same level as Shesterkin, Vasilevskiy, Hellebuyck and Saros. Antti Raanta is one of the league’s higher-end backup goalies, while Halak is not quite up there, but has had many seasons where he looked truly elite. Those days may be behind him now, but the ability to steal games is certainly still there.

Frederik Andersen Carolina Hurricanes
Frederik Andersen, Carolina Hurricanes (Amy Irvin / The Hockey Writers)

Between the injury concerns for both the Hurricanes goalies, as well as Shesterkin being a top-two goalie, it is easy for me to say that the Rangers have the edge in net.

So, Who Wins the Division?

The Rangers finished six points back of the Hurricanes last year, and while both teams improved, a big part of the Rangers being so close was Shesterkin. I do not think he is going to repeat last season’s earth-shattering performance, but he will still be very good. As for the skaters, I give a slight edge to Carolina as a whole group. Injuries happen, some players struggle, some may have personal issues, and anything can happen.

When it comes to predicting who will win the Metropolitan Division this year, it will be the Hurricanes.