A Trip Around the Metro Division: How Is Everyone Else Doing?

PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA - FEBRUARY 15: Kasperi Kapanen #42 of the Pittsburgh Penguins reacts during the second period against the Philadelphia Flyers at PPG PAINTS Arena on February 15, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images)
PITTSBURGH, PENNSYLVANIA - FEBRUARY 15: Kasperi Kapanen #42 of the Pittsburgh Penguins reacts during the second period against the Philadelphia Flyers at PPG PAINTS Arena on February 15, 2022 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images) /
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The 2022 draft is over. Teams are gearing up for the mad dash that free agency brings. A good way to examine how the Flyers are going to attack this offseason is to also look at what their division rivals are facing. Who’s looking strong? Who could be in trouble? Where do the Flyers stack up with them?

Let’s take a walk through the division and see how the Flyers divisional opponents are looking after the draft.

Carolina Hurricanes (54-20-8 1st Place in 2021-22)


Carolina has been the cream of the division the past two seasons. Depending on how this offseason goes, they could be in jeopardy. However, this team, lead by coach Rod Brind’amour, has shown an ability to rebound. Last season they lost Dougie Hamilton to free agency, Morgan Geekie to the Seattle Kraken, and traded away Calder Trophy runner up Alex Nedeljkovic. Everyone thought they’d take a step back, and yet they had their best franchise season ever, by record.

This year, they face a daunting challenge. The Canes had no first round pick, as they lost it as compensation for taking Jesperi Kotkaniemi from the Montreal Canadiens. Four of their seven draft picks are Russians, so who knows if they will be able to come over any time soon.

The team also has 11 UFAs this year. While most of them are depth pieces, they have a few that could hurt this team if they play elsewhere. Vincent Trocheck is quietly becoming one of the best second-line, two-way centers in the game. Nino Niederreiter, a speedy winger, has been a great scorer for this team over the last few years.

Max Domi brings some depth and a physicality that Carolina has missed over the last few years. Ian Cole has been a steady influence for the blueline this year, and could be missed greatly since the Canes traded away Tony DeAngelo. Derek Stepan, while his best years are certainly behind him, provides some stability as a fourth line center.

Ethan Bear and Martin Necas are their top RFA’s. It is possible someone may try to poach them. It is possible they could be trade bait. Carolina is hoping to extend their contracts, but these young players could be attractive to some other team with deep pockets.

Carolina’s biggest priority is trying to keep Trocheck and Niederreiter in red and black. They still have enough cap space to lure a top free agent (rumors are they may kick the tires on Evegeni Malkin). If anything else, they may want to stop the goalie carousel they’ve been on the last few years and find someone permanent.

They have built a team that has great chemistry and plays well with each other. They are going to want to keep that going. If they lose out in the free agency market, they have enough prospects to swing a trade or two. This is a big offseason for the Canes. If they can keep their top players in house, they could dominate this division for years to come. If not, a rebuild could be coming soon.

New York Rangers (52-24-6 2nd Place in 2021-22)


The surprise of the division this past year, the Rangers came very close to making it to the Stanley Cup Final. They feature a young stud goalie and a group of sniping skaters. The Rangers did not have a first round pick this year as a result of a trade with Winnipeg. Three of their six picks were defenders.

The Rangers also have most of their players signed, so this is a team that will retain stability for a while. They have no major contributors who are RFAs, so they should be safe there.

As for free agents, they have nine players hitting the market. Former Flyer defender Justin Braun is one of them. Braun, as we know is a pretty reliable defender, but not a top tier one. Still, I wouldn’t mind getting him back and I can assume the Rangers feel the same. However, they are limited by cap space. Outside of the depth pieces, they may try to re-sign forwards Ryan Strome, Andrew Copp, and/or Frank Vatrano. But in doing so, they may have to move someone.

It could be that the Rangers may let all of these players walk in order to land a big name and/or swing a trade to clear up more space. Either way, the Rangers future looks fairly bright for the next few years and could pose a real threat to the Flyers. Their biggest needs are to shore up a backup goalie and defense.

Pittsburgh Penguins (46-25-11 3rd Place in 2021-22)


At some point, the Penguins players that have plagued the Flyers for years will be gone. This year could be that year. But with a lot of cap space at their disposal, Pittsburgh could reload and continue their playoff runs. They had only five draft picks this year and spent two of them on centers and two on defense. Their first rounder, Owen Pickering needs some seasoning first, but looks like he could be a big hulking presence on the blue line in a few years.

Pittsburgh just extended Kris Letang, keeping him inhouse for the next years. The problem is keeping their other stars in house too. Evan Rodrigues scored 19 goals and Rickard Rackell scored 20 this season. Both are 29. Evgeni Malkin will be 36, scored 20 goals, and wants to be paid based on what he has done historically for this team.

Rackell and Rodrgiues put up similar numbers to Malkin and earn half of what he makes. Reports from Pittsburgh are that the two sides are far away on a deal. Malkin is older and has been injured a lot over the past few years. His skills are in obvious decline. Could there be a divorce here?

The Pens also should be concerned about two of their RFAs, Kasperi Kapanen and Danton Heinen.  Both can score and could be attractive to a team looking to take the Pens down. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh may be looking to extend them to prevent something like this from happening.

Pittsburgh hasn’t missed the playoffs since 2005-06. They’ve won three Stanley Cups since then and lost another one. They are a model of consistency that is to be admired. It is very possible the Pens could let Malkin walk, re-sign some of their players, and still have enough money to land a top free agent on defense and/or offense.

And even with Malkin being injury prone a lot of the last few years, they managed to be a successful team even without him. Yes, the Penguins aren’t what they used to be and are in decline, but they still have enough firepower to be a problem for the next few years.

Washington Capitals (44-26-12 4th Place in 2021-22)


The Caps had hoped that winning the Stanley Cup would be the first step in their own dynasty. That has not happened. Like the Pens, their best days are probably behind them. And like the Pens, they are getting older. And also like the Pens, they are usually one of the top teams in the East. They selected in the first round, a 6’1″ Russian forward, Ivan Miroshnichenko, who captained team Russia to a gold medal in this year’s 2021 Hlinka Gretzky Cup.

The Caps are actually in pretty good shape, despite their low salary cap. They have only six free agents, with defenseman Justin Schultz being the best of them. Their top RFA is goalie Ilya Samsonov.

The other concern that Washington needs to keep an eye on is Alexander Ovechkin. He still played at a top level this past year and is someone who is a threat to score at any time. However, he is very much involved in Russian politics and a proud Russian. He is close to Russian president Vladimir Putin.

For right or wrong, a lot of media attention was thrown at him in regards to speaking out against the war on Ukraine. He said very little, walking a tight line of expressing regret for violence, but not condemning his nation either. It is possible, but highly unlikely, he could return to Russia this year if the war gets worse. After all, he did protest the NHL’s decision not let players participate in the Olympics and threatened to leave for the KHL, along with Malkin.

The Caps could make a big splash with a top level free agent or two and still prove to be a competitive team for a while. Their time of consistent dominant play, much like Pittsburgh, should end at some point, but we might not be there yet. A big stud defender and/or another strong winger could put this team back on top. However, the cap limits the Caps. Look for them to sign solid depth pieces.