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Scouting the Metropolitan Division

NHL: Columbus Blue Jackets at New York Islanders Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

We are now late enough in free agency to have a good idea of what the majority of NHL rosters are going to look like next season. And for Rangers fans, the teams that matter the most (outside of the one that plays in the Garden) are the teams in the Metropolitan Division.

The Vegas Golden Knights joining the Pacific Division has certainly changed the landscape of the Western Conference. But the balance of power in the East, especially in the Metropolitan Division, has also changed. The Rangers are one of the few teams that were in the playoffs last season that are almost certainly better than they were last year. And many of the Rangers rivals have taken a step backwards.

It’s time to catch up on all the changes that happened in the Metropolitan Division this summer.

Note: Players signed during the 2016-17 season are listed as offseason additions.

Pittsburgh Penguins

  • 2016-17 record: 50-21-11 (won the Stanley Cup or whatever)
  • Goals For: 3.39
  • Goals Against: 2.79
  • IN: Ryan Reaves, Matt Hunwick, Antti Niemi, Jarred Tinordi, Zach Trotman, Greg McKegg, Chris Summers, Adam Johnson, Kevin Czuczman, Zach Aston-Reese
  • OUT: Marc-Andre Fleury, Nick Bonino, Chris Kunitz, Mark Streit, Trevor Daley, Oskar Sundqvist, Ron Hainsey, Kevin Porter, Cameron Gaunce, David Warsofsky

Jim Rutherford re-signed Conor Sheary, Justin Schultz and Brian Dumoulin, but the Penguins still went through some big changes this offseason. Fleury is in Vegas, Kunitz is in Tampa Bay with Dan Girardi, Bonino is a Predator and Daley is a Red Wing.

Pittsburgh Penguins Victory Parade And Rally Photo by Justin Berl/Getty Images

Still, it wouldn’t be wise to bet against the Penguins, even with what looks like a much weaker bottom six forward group. The Penguins top six is still scary good and Matt Murray is the real deal. But much of Pittsburgh’s success next season will ride on the health of Murray, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang - all of whom have struggled to stay healthy. If Crosby and the gang can stay off the IR, the Penguins will be the team to beat in the Metropolitan.

Pittsburgh is still a team that the Rangers will have to measure up against on and off the ice.

The Blueshirt Banter writers all agreed that the Penguins are worse than they were last season. But that comes hand in hand with winning back-to-back Cups. They lost a lot of experience and depth, but the stars are still there.

Washington Capitals

  • 2016-17 record: 55-19-8
  • Goals For: 3.18
  • Goals Against: 2.16
  • IN: Devante Smith-Pelly, Anthony Peluso, Tyler Graovac, Mason Mitchell, Kristofers Bindulis, Hampus Gustafsson, John Albert
  • OUT: Kevin Shattenkirk, Marcus Johansson, Justin Williams, Karl Alzner, Nate Schmidt, Chris Bourque, Paul Carey, Daniel Winnik

Washington’s best chance to win a Cup during the Alex Ovechkin era may already be in the rear-view mirror.

The Capitals invested long-term in T.J. Oshie, Evgeny Kuznetsov and Dmitry Orlov. And it has come at a price. Almost all of Washington’s intimidating depth is gone. And there isn’t a lot of cap space left to fill the roster spots that Brian MacLellan still has to address. That isn’t great news with John Carlson playing in the final year of his contract.

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-Pittsburgh Penguins at Washington Capitals Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

The Blueshirt Banter writing corps all believe that the Capitals will be far worse than they were last season. The question is just how much worse will they be? The Capitals are still a playoff team and a competitor because Braden Holtby and that top line are still damn good. But the President’s Trophy days are behind them.

Columbus Blue Jackets

  • 2016-17 record: 50-24-8
  • Goals For: 3.01
  • Goals Against: 2.35
  • IN: Artemi Panarin, Jordan Schroeder, Cameron Gaunce, Andre Benoit, Tyler Motte, Sam Vigneault, Matiss Kivlenieks
  • OUT: Brandon Saad, Sam Gagner, William Karlsson, Scott Hartnell, Anton Forsberg, David Clarkson, Kyle Quincey, Ryan Stanton, T.J Tynan, Oscar Dansk, Daniel Zaar

The Metropolitan Division’s most surprising team of 2016-17 looks like it will be back in the playoff hunt next season. However, few teams lost more to the Golden Knights than Columbus. And there will likely be a lot of line juggling from John Tortorella until he finds lines that work with a new group of forwards.

NHL: Chicago Blackhawks at Columbus Blue Jackets Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

The big story in Ohio is the Panarin for Saad trade. It’s not every year we see a two-time 30 goal scorer and Calder Trophy winner get traded. The Blue Jackets got the more dynamic player of the deal and on top of that Panarin has something to prove. The key will be Tortorella getting the most out of him. Place your bets.

The six Banter writers who participated in a poll I put together were split on the Blue Jackets. Half of us believed that they would be roughly the same and the other half believed they will be better. If Sergei Bobrovsky can stay on top of his game, they will be a force to be reckoned with in the Metropolitan.

New York Islanders

  • 2016-17 record: 41-29-12
  • Goals For: 2.91
  • Goals Against: 2.90
  • IN: Jordan Eberle, Kristers Gudlevskis, Seth Helgeson
  • OUT: Travis Hamonic, Ryan Strome, Mikhail Grabovski, Jean-Francois Berube, Jake Bischoff, Carter Verhaeghe, Bracken Kearns, Jesse Graham

In summary: Eberle in and Hamonic and some dead cap space out. But last season the Islanders had no problems scoring goals. The problem was that the Isles couldn’t keep pucks out of their own net. So where do the two big offseason trades leave Garth Snow and his team? No one really seems to know.

The Islanders need to sign John Tavares badly. And it is somewhat alarming how little we have heard about negotiations. It’s a distraction. It is something that is on the minds of everyone in the Islanders locker room, especially the team’s captain. And the Islanders already have plenty of distractions thanks to the Jaroslav Halak adventure in 2016-17. Oh, and there’s also the issue of where the heck they will be playing hockey.

IIHF World Juniors Gold Medal Game - Canada v Sweden Photo by Richard Wolowicz/Getty Images

The Banter writers were split on whether or not the Islanders improved this offseason. The offense will be there, but the Islanders blue line leaves a lot to be desired. The big storylines this year will be Tavares and his future and what the team can do under Doug Weight.

Philadelphia Flyers

  • 2016-17 record: 39-33-10
  • Goals For: 2.59
  • Goals Against: 2.82
  • IN: Nolan Patrick (#2 overall pick, 2017), Brian Elliott, Jori Lehtera, Phil Varone, Mike Vecchione
  • OUT: Brayden Schenn, Steve Mason, Michael Del Zotto, Nick Cousins, Marc-Edouard Bellemare, Roman Lyubimov, Andy Miele

Mason is gone and he has been replaced by the veteran Elliott. Has anyone told Nick Mercadante? We should check on that. The Flyers also moved on from another Schenn brother, MDZ and Nick Cousins. Another noteworthy loss was Bellemare, who was claimed by the Golden Knights in the expansion draft.

2017 NHL Draft - Round One Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Can Claude Giroux bounce back next season? Can the Flyers score at even strength? Where will the power play goals come from now that Schenn is gone? What the hell is Lehtera going to do for Philadelphia? This is not where Ron Hextall wants his team to be. But the Flyers have help coming in the form of Nolan Patrick and one of the best groups of prospects in hockey.

It appears that the Flyers offseason has left the Blueshirt Banter writers a little bit stumped. There were four votes for Philly being roughly the same as they were last season, one vote for better and one vote for worse. With that being said, it’s hard to imagine them making the playoffs.

Shayna Goldman summed up the current state of the Flyers particularly well:

“[The Flyers] have an okay core and some really strong prospects. If they fix up their issues in net, then bubble team. But I still don't see them cracking the playoffs.”

Carolina Hurricanes

  • 2016-17 record: 36-31-15
  • Goals For: 2.59
  • Goals Against: 2.80
  • IN: Justin Williams, Scott Darling, Marcus Kruger, Trevor van Riemsdyk, Josh Jooris, Jeremy Smith, Keegan Kanzig, Brenden Kichton
  • OUT: Bryan Bickell, Eddie Lack, Connor Brickley, Ryan Murphy, Michael Leighton, Matt Tennyson, Andrej Nestrasil, Danny Kristo

The Hurricanes added a scoring line winger, a new starting goaltender and an enviable amount of depth this offseason. Ron Francis also re-signed Jaccob Slavin to a great contract to keep the team’s outstanding young blue line together. Yeah, things are looking up in Carolina.

Colorado Avalanche v Chicago Blackhawks Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Hurricanes finished eight points out of the second Wild Card seed last season. The additions of Williams, Darling, Kruger and van Riemsdyk should push Carolina up the standings. But is it enough to get them to the playoffs?

From our own Pat Keogh:

“Carolina is only getting better, they made some savvy pickups and their young guys are ready to take the next step.”

Banter’s writing staff all agree that the Hurricanes are a better team. So this might be the year that Carolina gets back into the playoffs. On paper the Canes are a complete team with an exciting young core. If Darling does indeed become the next Cam Talbot, Carolina will be a big problem for the other teams in the Metro.

New Jersey Devils

  • 2016-17 record: 28-40-14
  • Goals For: 2.20
  • Goals Against: 2.94
  • IN: Nico Hischier (#1 overall pick in 2017 Draft), Mirco Mueller, Marcus Johansson, Brian Boyle, Brain Strait, Bracken Kearns, Yaroslav Dyblenko, Michael Kapla
  • OUT: Michael Cammalleri, Jon Merrill, Beau Bennett, Seth Helgeson, Jakob Josefson, Devante Smith-Pelly, Yohann Auvitu, Luke Gadzic

The Devils added Mirco Mueller to a terrible defense, but more importantly picked up Johansson in a trade with the Capitals and signed Brian Boyle. But who cares about them. Everyone loves Nico.

2017 NHL Draft - Round One Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Devils defense remains a shambles. And Corey Schneider was far from convincing as an elite starting goaltender last season. But the additions made by Ray Shero are a step in the right direction. Although I am still scratching my head a bit about the Cammalleri and Smith-Pelly buyouts. Intriguing moves for a team willing to pay several players to not play hockey.

The Banter writers all are convinced the Devils will be better, but only because there was really nowhere to go but up. All eyes will be on Hischier, but whether or not Schneider can bounce back will be a big story. So too will be the role of Boyle and whether or not Pavel Zacha can improve after a deeply disappointing rookie season.