The Columbus Blue Jackets are seemingly a team on the rise.
But what about the rest of the Metropolitan division?
The 2022-23 season saw a continued shift in the hierarchy across the division. Both the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals missed the playoffs — the first time that had happened in the division's 10-season history.
'23-'24 Season Previews
The Carolina Hurricanes won the division for the second straight time, but only by a single point over the New Jersey Devils. The Devils were 49 points better than their 2021-22 performance, in which they had just 63 points. (Yes, that's a record in the era of an 82-game season.)
Both the Canes and Devils look to be right back at the top of the division in the coming season, but the New York Rangers (who finished just six points behind Carolina last season) will make it an interesting three-team race for first. Outside of that, it seems like the rest of the division could be playing for wildcard spots.
But don't mistake that for a weak division. There are no less than six teams in the Metro that could compete for a postseason spot. Here's a breakdown of what each of the other seven teams in the division have done since the last puck drop:
2022-23 Summary: 52-21-9, 113 points, 1st in the Metro (swept by Florida in conference finals)
2023-24 Forecast: It's hard to imagine Carolina anywhere but near the top of the division from the moment the season begins. If they had a weakness, it was defensive depth — a problem they solved (and then some) by adding both Dmitry Orlov and Tony DeAngelo over the summer. Orlov, 32, was one of the top defenders in free agency and will be the second-highest salary ($7.7 million) on Carolina's roster in 2023-24, behind Sebastian Aho. He'll eat big minutes and along with DeAngelo's re-arrival in Raleigh (where he played in the 2021-22 season), will help let the veteran blue line of Carolina pace themselves while the young forwards up front lead the offensive attack — one that was made even stronger by the Hurricanes' signing of Michael Bunting over the summer. Bunting, 28, scored 23 goals in each of the last two seasons and gives the Canes seven or eight top-six forwards, a good problem to have if you're coach Rod Brind'Amour. This is a team that should be on anyone's shortlist for Cup contenders.
New Jersey Devils
2022-23 Summary: 52-22-8, 112 points, 2nd in the Metro (eliminated by Carolina in round two)
2023-24 Forecast: The Devils won a postseason series for the first time since 2011-12 when they defeated the Rangers in April, and their 112 points was the best season in franchise history. Where do they go from here? Back to the postseason, pending a disaster of historical proportions. Timo Meier and Jesper Bratt signed long-term extensions during the offseason, giving the Devils an excellent forward quartet of Jack Hughes, Nico Hischier, and the aforementioned duo. The move of Damon Severson to Columbus in exchange for a third-round pick reaped immediate benefits when they dealt the pick to the Calgary Flames for Tyler Toffoli. The 31-year-old brings a veteran presence to a young team, like Ondrej Palat did last season, but Toffoli brings more of an offensive boost than the latter — he scored 34 goals and added 39 assists with the Flames last season. The New Jersey Devils are a very, very good team with the potential stay that way for a while. Anything less than multiple postseason series victories could be considered a failure.
New York Islanders
2022-23 Summary: 42-31-9, 93 points, 4th in the Metro (eliminated by Carolina in round one)
2023-24 Forecast: For the second straight offseason, general manager Lou Lamoriello's offseason could be summed up in one key: zzzzzzzzzz. The Islanders were a first-round elimination in the postseason in 2022-23, and were in the playoffs only because of the strong, consistent play of Ilya Sorokin, who finished second in the Vezina Trophy voting. With due respect to Brock Nelson and Matthew Barzal, the Isles don't score enough (23rd in the league in goals) and did nothing to change that. The second team in New York will have their season will go one of two ways: they'll avoid a round one sweep when Sorokin steals a game that they win 1-0 in overtime, or they'll miss the postseason entirely. Bookmark it. There really isn't much else to say here.
New York Rangers
2022-23 Summary: 47-22-13, 107 points, 3rd in the Metro (eliminated by New Jersey in round one)
2023-24 Forecast: The Rangers enter the 2023-24 season with a new coach (Peter Laviolette), a few new faces (Blake Wheeler, Nick Bonino, Erik Gustafsson, Tyler Pitlick, and former Blue Jacket goalie Jonathan Quick), and a lot of expectations. New York put together 105+ points together for the second straight season — something they haven't done since the early 1970's. They have the goalie (Igor Shesterkin), the offensive weapons (Mika Zibanejad and Artemi Panarin, amongst others), and they have a steady top four (Adam Fox, Jacob Trouba, K'Andre Miller, and Ryan Lindgren) on the blue line. Laviolette has worked his magic in the Metro division before; now we see if he can do it with the lights of Madison Square Garden shining down.
2022-23 Summary: 31-38-13, 75 points, 7th in the Metro (missed playoffs)
2023-24 Forecast: Like the Blue Jackets, the Flyers have been decimated by injuries over the last little bit. Both Sean Couturier and Cam Atkinson missed the entire 2022-23 campaign with injuries, and the argument could be made that they're the two best players on the entire roster. Travis Konecny was good (31-30-61 in 60 games) but should be better with Couturier and Cam back in the fold. With the team parting ways with a myriad of veterans (Kevin Hayes, James van Riemsdyk, Tony DeAngelo) and shipping Ivan Provorov to the Blue Jackets, it's clear that the youth movement under second-year coach (and former Columbus bench boss) John Tortorella is underway. How that works out is to be determined, but what can already be determined is that the Flyers will make it a fourth straight season without postseason play.
2022-23 Summary: 40-31-11, 91 points, 5th in the Metro (missed playoffs)
2023-24 Forecast: It was all about defense for the Penguins and their new front office leader, Kyle Dubas. The acquisition of Erik Karlsson via trade and Ryan Graves via free agency gives the Penguins a huge upgrade to the blueline, but it doesn't change the fact that Pittsburgh's best scoring threats are old (Sidney Crosby is 35 and Evgeni Malkin is 36) and getting older. After missing the postseason for the first time in a long time (16 seasons), the Penguins might have done enough with Karlsson and Graves to get back into the postseason in 2023-24 — but they'll need to stay healthy to do so. That includes goalie Tristan Jarry, who has played 50+ games in a season just once in his four-year career, mostly due to injuries.
2022-23 Summary: 35-37-10, 80 points, 6th in the Metro (missed playoffs)
2023-24 Forecast: Is it possible that the Washington Capitals finish last in the Metro division? It feels like it. Washington finished just five points better than the Flyers last season for 6th place in the division. They spent a ton of money to keep Tom Wilson around for what will be way-too-long by the time the contract is over. Alex Ovechkin is a year older, though was still outstanding last year at age 37. The Caps biggest offseason acquisition was Max Pacioretty, who is 35, coming off consecutive torn Achilles, and is already out indefinitely to start the season. Here's a fun fact: the Capitals have just two players on their roster who had 30 or more points last season and are also under the age of 30: Dylan Strome (65 points, 25 years old) and Sonny Milano (33 points, 26 years old). The Flyers usurped Matvei Michkov at #7 from the Caps at #8 in the draft, delivering another blow. Not-so-bold prediction: this is year one of at least five years of misery for the D.C. hockey team.