With the NHL season underway, the Metropolitan Division is solidifying itself as the NHL's best.
So far, every single team in the division holds a winning record, with teams having played between four and seven games. Two of the surprises within the division have been the New York Rangers and the Pittsburgh Penguins.
With the Rangers, it’s a situation where the team has made major additions over the last few years through the draft, free agency and trades, but still hasn’t managed to get to the postseason. They dealt away a key forward in Pavel Buchnevich this offseason and while they did make strides to get tougher at the bottom of their forward group, it didn’t seem like the team took significant steps forward. This season, however, they’re off to a 4-2-1 start, with a key player in Artemi Panarin even underproducing so far. It’s very early, but the Rangers could be poised to finally push for the postseason.
With the Penguins, normally you could consider them a lock to be competitive. This year though, they’ve been without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin since the beginning of the season and other key players in Kris Letang, Bryan Rust and Jeff Carter have all missed time as well. Despite this, the Penguins are off to a 3-1-2 start, with their most productive players being Drew O’Connor, who had just 10 games of NHL experience prior to the season. Danton Heinen, who didn’t even receive a qualifying offer from the Anaheim Ducks this summer, and Evan Rodrigues have also been big contributors as well. They've been a pretty cool story so far.
Outside of the Penguins and Rangers, other teams in the Metropolitan Division are stepping up big time as well.
The Carolina Hurricanes had a seemingly disappointing offseason, but are one of only four teams still undefeated this season. Frederik Andersen has been great, playing all five of the team’s games so far, allowing just five goals. Then going the other way, the team’s offense has been flying, scoring 22 goals. The Hurricanes look set to contend for another Metropolitan Division title.
The New York Islanders, who were seen by many as a legitimate Stanley Cup contender coming into the season, have started strong as well, with a 3-2-1 record. However, it’s worth noting that they’ve played every game on the road, as they start the season on a 13-game road trip. They were one of the league’s best teams at home last season, posting a 21-4-3 record, so they'll be in a great spot if they can keep up their play for the remainder of the road trip.
As usual, the Washington Capitals will be very competitive, seeking their eighth straight trip to the playoffs, and 14th appearance in the last 15 years. Alex Ovechkin already has a ridiculous seven goals and 12 points in just six games, while Evgeny Kuznetsov has seemingly bounced back early on. While it always seems like the Capitals could be facing a decline as the result of an aging roster, they still have yet to lose in regulation this season, holding a 4-0-2 record and picking up 10 of a possible 12 points so far.
The Philadelphia Flyers could still face questions in net with a tandem of Carter Hart and Martin Jones, but they’ve still gotten off to a 2-1-1 start. Cam Atkinson, Derick Brassard, Ryan Ellis and Keith Yandle, who were all added in the offseason, have been hugely important to the team early this season. The Flyers have had no issues scoring, with 18 goals in just four games, and after missing the playoffs last season, they could be a wild card to sneak into the postseason this time around and make some noise in the Metropolitan Division.
The New Jersey Devils have shown improvement after a busy offseason, in which they added Jonathan Bernier, Ryan Graves, Tomas Tatar, and the top free agent of the summer, Dougie Hamilton. The Devils hold a 3-2-0 record to start the year and while they’re probably still one of the weaker teams within the Metropolitan Division, their improvement only makes the division that much more difficult.
Even the Columbus Blue Jackets, fresh off a 28th place finish and trading away Seth Jones, have been very competitive. They’ve started the season with an impressive 4-2-0 record, with Oliver Bjorkstrand, Patrik Laine, Elvis Merzlikins, Jakub Voracek and Zach Werenski leading the way. At the very least, they’ve shown they won’t be a team who will just be walked over this season.
Compare the Metropolitan Division with say, the Central, and it’s certainly interesting to see. The Central Division currently only has two teams above a .500 record, the Minnesota Wild and the St. Louis Blues. While we can be sure the Colorado Avalanche will be in the mix, the overall level of competition still looks wildly different.
Again, it’s still very early and there was never a question that the Metropolitan Division was going to be tough. That said, every one of its teams are off to a good start to the season, which only builds more interesting storylines, as they look to fight over the three divisional playoff spots, and a maximum of two wildcard spots.