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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New York Islanders (37-35-10 5th Place in 2021-22)


With the Rangers being the surprise of the division, the Islanders were the other surprise. They got off to a cold start and never seemed to recover. Here was a team that looked as if it had finally put it together after so many years of being a basement dweller only to fall back down again. And opening a new arena this year, the Isles are hoping their fortunes may change.

They did not have a first rounder this year, as they packaged their pick to Montreal to acquire Alexander Romonov and extended him. Romonov appears to have a bright future, so this could be a good trade from which to start. The Isles made five picks in the draft, with two of their top three picks going to defense.

With Romonov on defense, the Islanders may want to use this time to lock up RFA blueliners Sebastian Aho (not the same guy that is a star in Carolina) and Noah Dobson. They have eight depth pieces as free agents, but nobody of any value outside of the shell of what once was Zdeno Chara.

What this means is that the Islanders could be looking to make a splash or two on the free agency market. With $12 million freed up, they have announced they will spend that money around. Rumors are that they are going to make a big push for Johnny Gaudreau. And with a team that has some talented forwards, they may have enough pieces to lure him over to Long Island and have enough to get another addition or swing a trade.

While the Islanders might be the most attractive team in the division, they have a new coach. They have some decent pieces in place. This could be a team on the decline or a team on the rebound that could surprise anyone. This could be a crucial offseason for them. If they falter out of the gates next year and completely implode, it is possible they could do a firesale to acquire more draft assets.

Columbus Blue Jackets (37-38-7 6th Place in 2021-22)


And then there is CBJ. Columbus has unloaded top talent for the last few years and seen franchise level players walk away. And yet they were in contention for a playoff position for most of the year. They surprised everyone with their ability to stay in games and might not be far off from contending again…or they could be what they continue to be, a team that develops good young talent and becomes a farm team for the big money franchises.

The Jackets had seven picks in this year’s draft and made the most of it. In the #6 spot, they picked Czech defender David Jiricek, who might be NHL ready. Six picks later, they chose Canadian blue liner Denton Mateychuk. If these picks pan out, they will have some solid defenseman for the future,

The Blue Jackets do not have any free agents to speak of. However, the have a legitimate player who could be poached as an RFA. Patrik Laine is a player whose speed and scoring talent are coveted by almost every team. It’s been said that the Flyers have inquired about him in the past, however with John Tortorella on board as coach, that ship has probably sailed, hit an iceberg, and sunk. But other teams with big pockets could try to snatch him up.

Columbus has never really been big on the free agent market. But they have a lot of money to play with. They could easily attract some big names to play there, if they wanted to. But this is also a team that has never shown a lot of consistency of building a core group of talent and go with it. For that reason, I’m not sure that this team will be anything more than just a spoiler for years to come.

They aren’t a terrible team going nowhere (Buffalo, I’m looking at you!), but they don’t seem to do anything to take that next big step forward. They are frisky enough, but they are not going to be a dominant team in a highly competitive division. If they were in the Atlantic Division, they’d probably be contending for a playoff spot.

New Jersey Devils (27-46-9 7th Place in 2021-22)


Then there is the Devils. They have the most cap space in the division and the sixth most overall. This is a team that has been floundering for years, stockpiling top picks, like this year’s second overall pick Simon Nemec. Everyone keeps an eye on them as a sexy pick to suddenly make that jump into greatness. That hasn’t happened yet, but could this year change that?

Nemec was probably the best defender in the draft. He joins a team with other young top prospects, like Jack Hughes. The Devils went back to their roots, selecting four defenders with their eight picks.

First NJ will probably seek to extend Jesper Bratt and Pavel Zacha. Both are young players who’ve put up decent numbers. As for their own in house free agents, the only one who is really appealing to keep would be PK Subban. Subban is 33 years old and has a salary right now at $9 million. And if they were to re-sign him at that price, they’d still top everyone else in the division in salary cap space.

And that is the problem. They have enough prospects where they could flip them and trade for a top tier player who wants out, like David Pastrnak or Patrik Laine perhaps. They could splurge on the market and entice Johnny Gaudreau, Vincent Trocheck, and/or Evgeni Malkin to take their talents to North Jersey and still have enough money left over to shore up holes elsewhere. This is what makes this particular team the wild card of the division. If they play their cards right, they could be dominating very soon. Or, they could remain at the bottom of the division.

Flyers Divisional Roundup

The Devils have a lot of money to spend and that could be bad news for the rest of the division. Carolina could stay on top, but they have a lot of talent that they may either have to sign or move on from. The Rangers appear poised to continue on what they’ve accomplished so far.

The Pens and Caps are aging, but still competitive while the Isles and Jackets are mysteries as to what they could be. The Pens and Caps, if they are smart, should be in a retooling mode. The Rangers should be building on what they’ve done while the Canes should be maintaining that success. The Devils and Jackets are building, not for this year, but the years to come.

What does this mean for the Flyers? Quite a lot.

After the DeAngelo trade, the Flyers are down to 118K, the lowest in the division by far. Barring a trade or hoping that the team will grab someone on a backloaded contract, it’s impossible for them to attract one of the top free agents.

The biggest thing the Flyers need to do is get healthy and buy into whatever system Torts is bringing along.

There are no weak teams in the Flyers division and each team will end up beating the tar out of each other trying to scramble for just a few playoff spots. The Flyers could be on the outside looking in again, for the third year in a row if they are not careful. A lot of this depends on the health of other teams too and what moves they make. But it is worth it for the Flyers to keep an eye on things.

I would say that teams to watch here are Carolina and NJ. If Carolina loses all of their big free agents, do they make a splash with someone else or stay in house? Does NJ open up their wallets and spend recklessly? These two teams, I feel, will determine what plays out with the rest of the division and how each other team responds.