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Where will the New York Rangers finish in the Metropolitan Division?

The trade deadline is this upcoming Monday and each team in the division has the potential to lose or gain ground post deadline.

New York Rangers v New Jersey Devils Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Heading into the season, few had high expectations for the rebuilding New York Rangers. Between their announcement of a rebuild, player movement at the 2018 deadline, their offseason, and then their start to the 2018-19 season, those low expectations were fitting.

But will they finish at the bottom of the Metropolitan Division for the second year in a row?

They unsurprisingly did last year, but this season has had its differences, despite going through the same rebuild process. Still, many feel the Rangers are destined at least for the bottom of the division, especially after experiencing similar player movement to last year. Others may take the Rangers resilience and the fact that the wheels haven’t come off yet as a positive, one that could keep them hovering above the bottom, but likely still below a place in the standings that would quality them for the playoffs.

It depends on how the 26-26-8 Rangers are viewed, but a few things are clear — they won’t be buyers at the deadline. They’ll definitely be sellers, but the extent of which isn’t completely clear yet. As sellers, with three pending unrestricted free agents (Mats Zuccarello, Kevin Hayes, and Adam McQuaid), they’re going to get worse at the deadline; just how much worse depends on how many NHL ready players they infuse into their trade returns. Already this season they’ve made a few trades, including moving Cody McLeod to Nashville and trading Ryan Spooner for Ryan Strome.

Along with what the Rangers do, where they end up depends on what the rest of the division does. As it stands, they’re seventh in the division, ahead of only the Devils. If the Metro ends up with numerous sellers, they won’t be the only team that falls in the standings. But the more their division opponents go for it this spring, the chances of the Rangers sliding to the boom increases.

With that in mind, let’s take a look around the Metropolitan Division to better gauge where the Rangers may end up in the standings at the end of the season, with the help of writers from our friends from those teams’ SB Nation sites.

New York Islanders

Dan Saraceni and Dominik Jánský of Lighthouse Hockey

First in Metropolitan Division
35-18-7 record, 77 points, 6-3-1 in last 10
Pending UFAs: Jordan Eberle, Brock Nelson, Anders Lee, Valtteri Filppula, Tom Kuhnhackl, Luca Sbisa, Robin Lehner.
Notable Changes: None since the offseason, when Lou Lamoriello took over as general manager, Barry Trotz was named head coach, changes in assistant and goaltending coaches, and John Tavares departed via free agency.
Projected Cap Space (According to CapFriendly): $10,135,879

Do you expect the Islanders to be buyers or sellers at the deadline, or do you just expect some minor tweaks?

DS: If you had asked me (or anyone) back in September, I would have told you that I expected the Islanders to be sellers before long this season. Instead, the season went in a way no one expected and now, I’d think they’d be buyers at the deadline. Their biggest need is in the scoring department, particularly on the power play, so I would think (hope?) that whatever moves they make will be more than just minor tweaks. The problem is that they don’t have a ton to trade, so I wouldn’t expect any blockbusters, either. More like a mid-range top-nine forward type. But we are talking about Lou Lamoriello, the man who practically invented the NHL Cone of Silence. We have no idea who he could bring in.

DJ: I expect the Islanders to be buyers, but “minor” buyers. Seems like Lou with his history would want to add and improve their chances as much as is reasonable. But I can’t imagine him mortgaging on one of the high-profile rentals like Panarin, given the likely cost. I do think given some of their ELC contracts with key players and the suddenly weak Metro, they should see this spring as a chance to actually win a couple of playoff rounds.

Do you expect the Islanders to get better or worse after the deadline? How much better or worse?

DS: I would hope their aim would be to get better. If they can improve their power play, they would be helping themselves tremendously. As good as they’ve been this season, the Islanders have probably left a half dozen or more points off the table simply by not getting a timely PP goal then they needed one. That said, a lot of their success this season has been about the chemistry their lines have found, so adding anyone new at this late stage could cause problems.

DJ: The Islanders should be better or at least par — on paper — after the deadline, though I don’t know that I can expect their points percentage to improve, given everything that has gone so well for them thus far. And I am still wary of Lou’s “old school” tendencies, in that I fear he will add someone who would be really helpful in 1995-2004 trap hockey but is a drag on how the game is played in 2019. Still, they won’t be selling off and tanking, something that wasn’t outside the realm of possibility when the season began..

What’s your outlook on the rest of the year for them/where do you predict they’ll end the season in the standings?

DS: I sure as hell didn’t expect their 31-year streak of not winning a division to come to an end this season. But there’s still A LOT of work to be done before that happens. After years of disappointment, I won’t believe the Islanders are actually in the playoffs until I see that “x” next to their name in the standings. I have faith in Barry Trotz that he’ll keep his players on track until that spot is secured, but hard charging teams like the Hurricanes and Flyers — not to mention the Islanders own defensive-structure-over-talent playing style — have me nervous. Should they string together another quality run like they had back in December and early January, we could see one of the most unlikely division champions of all time.

Chart via HockeyViz

DJ: The last 25 years have conditioned me to not expect nice things, so it feels insane to say I expect this team to be the home team in the first round of the playoffs. But that’s where I’m at: expecting a non-wild card playoff birth for sure, and an even shot at having one of the Metro’s top two seeds.

Washington Capitals

Greg Young of Japers’ Rink

Second in Metropolitan Division
34-20-7 record, 75 points, 6-3-1 in last 10
Pending UFAs: Carl Hagelin, Brett Connolly, Nic Dowd, and Brooks Orpik.
Notable Changes: Promoted Todd Reirden as head coach in the offseason and made assistant coach changes. In-season, acquired Hagelin via trade.
Projected Cap Space (According to CapFriendly): $25,093

Do you expect the Capitals to be buyers or sellers at the deadline, or do you just expect some minor tweaks?

GY: The reporting around the team suggests that the Caps will be moderate buyers at the trade deadline, which makes sense. The Caps only have around 400k in cap space, so they’ll be limited in the kinds of players that they can get (aka no Panarin’s)… but I’d expect them to get a depth forward or defensemen. There’s been a decent amount of buzz about a Marcus Johansson reunion, which would seem to make some sense.

Note: Since talking to Greg, the Capitals acquired Hagelin at 50 percent salary retention and waived Devante Smith-Pelly; they now have $103,718 in cap space according to CapFriendly

Do you expect the Capitals to get better or worse after the deadline? How much better or worse?

GY: Per the above, I’d expect the team to get moderately better after picking up a depth forward or two. I’m not exactly in love with the Caps fourth line (which features fringe players like Chandler Stephenson), so having a third-ish line forward will allow the Caps to slot some players down the lineup.

As a lot of Caps fans remember from last year, sometimes these depth acquisitions can be really helpful! For instance, after the Caps acquired Michal Kempny and pair him with John Carlson, they were able to slot Christian Djoos down to the third pair with Brooks Orpik, which helped the defensive depth come playoff time.

Whats your outlook on the rest of the year for them/where do you predict they’ll end the season in the standings?

GY: The Caps are a tough team to peg this year. Their underlying numbers continue to remain mediocre, though they’ve over performed those pretty consistently. Personally, I have the Caps being somewhere in the top 3 in the division (probably 2nd & 3rd). If you’re going to ask me to predict the playoffs…I’ve learned the folly of predicting what goes on there. Last year, for instance, I actually had the Capitals losing to the Blue Jackets in the first round, which thankfully was horribly, horribly wrong.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Kaitlyn Dividock of PensBurgh

Third in Metropolitan Division
32-22-7 record, 71 points, 4-5-1 in last 10
Pending UFAs: Matt Cullen, Garrett Wilson, and Chad Ruhwedel.
Notable Changes: Acquired Tanner Pearson in exchange for Carl Hagelin, Marcus Pettersson in exchange for Daniel Sprong, and Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann in exchange for Derick Brassard, Riley Sheahan, and draft picks.
Projected Cap Space (According to CapFriendly): $493,726

Do you expect the Penguins to be buyers or sellers at the deadline, or do you just expect some minor tweaks?

KD: Considering Jim Rutherford already made a handful of moves more than a month in advance of the trade deadline (one dating all the way back on November 14 via a Tanner Pearson for Carl Hagelin swap) makes me believe the Penguins’ aggressive general manager, in the first time in what feels like a long time, won’t be making another huge splash addition in the weaning hours of February 25. The organization was adamant on moving the right pieces around to gain a bigger chunk of cap space, rid themselves of the failed Derick Brassard experiment, and in the process, get a lot younger. Pearson, and the Penguins’ newest additions in Nick Bjugstad and Jared McCann, check all three of those boxes. So by no means is this team looking to sell. In all honestly, they won’t be sellers as long as Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are on this team and still playing at the elite level they are. But it’s hard to say whether or not that qualifies them as “buyers.” For a long time, there were rumors about bringing in Carolina’s Micheal Ferland and the possibility of shipping out defenseman Olli Maatta in some sort of package deal, but those leads have since gone cold thanks to other moves. Rutherford has gone on record to say he’s focused on keeping the Penguins’ first-round draft pick this season, which is a little wild considering his trade history and the ever-closing Stanley Cup window for Pittsburgh in this era. I believe he got his shopping done early though, is really content with the pieces he brought in (especially McCann), and, if anything, will only make a minor tweak here or there.

Do you expect the Penguins to get better or worse after the deadline? How much better or worse?

KD: I’ll meet you in the middle and say the aforementioned additions Rutherford already made, plus the minor additions he may make before the deadline, put the Penguins in a better position than they were previously in to start the season. Though the roster looked stacked on paper, especially down the middle, it never really came together in harmony on the ice. Any further addition before February will likely be so minor that it won’t move the needle that much. The Penguins have a lot of capable forward depth waiting down in the AHL ranks if needed. If Rutherford is serious about keeping the team’s first rounder because of how highly touted this 2019 draft class is, a cheap depth guy or an AHL-centric move is likely the most possible avenue. It also goes to mention that the Penguins will see the anticipated return of one of their best defenseman, Justin Schultz, from a gruesome leg injury suffered in just the fourth game of the season. He’ll automatically re-claim top-four and second power play unit duties. The problems bogging down this team (read: the boat anchor that is Jack Johnson) can’t be fixed by a trade or a top-four guy returning from injury. That’s not to say one bad player is the reason the Penguins have loitered around the edge of the playoff picture all season. It’s definitely a major factor, but there are tons of things wrong with this team right now that are effectively hurting their postseason chances. To be blunt, the problems need to be fixed by healthy scratches, more consistent goaltending, and better decision-making via nightly lineups — and that’s seemingly not an option for this too-proud-to-admit-mistakes GM and coaching staff.

What’s your outlook on the rest of the year for them/where do you predict they’ll end the season in the standings?

KD: This is such an impossible question to answer about this team right now, to be honest. They’ve been so, so streaky and frustratingly volatile the entire season. They can just as easily cave into themselves like they did in November as they can effortlessly string together a ton of wins in a row like they did in December. It depends on so many factors, such as what goaltender will show up in crunch time or buckle under the pressure and let in soft goals form 40 feet out, what Mike Sullivan ultimately decides to do if the Penguins make the playoffs and their opponent targets whatever defense pair Johnson is on and destroy him in matchups, and if the forwards can focus more on efficiency and scoring goals rather than making the pretty play. When the Penguins are clicking in all facets, there’s a short list of teams that can go toe-to-toe with them in a seven-game series and come out victorious. But as it shows in the Penguins’ horrid record against last-place teams this season, anyone (and I mean anyone) can beat them.

Carolina Hurricanes

Jamie Kellner of Canes Country

Fourth in Metropolitan Division, second wild card seed in the East,
32-23-6 record, 70 points, 7-3-0 in last 10
Pending UFAs: Justin Williams, Michael Ferland, Greg McKegg, Petr Mrazek, and Curtis McElhinney.
Notable Changes: Don Waddell named general manager, Rod Brind’Amour promoted to head coach, acquired Dougie Hamilton, Michael Ferland, and Adam Fox in exchange for Noah Hanifin and Elias Lindolm, traded Jeff Skinner, and traded Victor Rask for Nino Niederreiter.
Projected Cap Space (According to CapFriendly): $16,399,374

Do you expect the Hurricanes to be buyers or sellers at the deadline, or do you just expect some minor tweaks?

JK: The Hurricanes probably made their biggest trade already, acquiring Nino Niederreiter from the Wild in exchange for Victor Rask on Jan. 17. They’d like to add another forward, and need help down the middle with Jordan Staal (concussion) out of the lineup, but they won’t be interested in a player on an expiring contract. Pending UFA Micheal Ferland is the biggest trade chip on the front end, but if the Canes are close to the playoff cut line at the trade deadline, they’re most likely to treat him like their deadline rental. They have an abundance of defensemen but likely won’t be interested in moving any unless there’s a player for player trade available.

Do you expect the Hurricanes to get better or worse after the deadline? How much better or worse?

JK: The Canes are climbing in the standings at the moment and could become better if they are able to find a trading partner to bolster the offense. I don’t see them backtracking based on the way the team is built and their progress forward this season.

What’s your outlook on the rest of the year for them/where do you predict they’ll end the season in the standings?

JK: The Canes have worked hard to climb back into playoff discussion. In their remaining 26 games, they have a close split between playing teams above and below them in the standings, including several in direct competition for a playoff spot. Current projections have them finishing around 92 points. It’s just “too close to call” at this point whether they’ll be above or below the playoff cut line but my prediction is they’ll be within three points of that cut line either way.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Eric Seeds of The Cannon

Fifth in Metropolitan Division
33-23-3, 69 points, 5-5-0 in last 10
Pending UFAs: Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky.
Notable Changes: No notable changes yet.
Projected Cap Space (According to CapFriendly): $6,186,986

Do you expect the Blue Jackets to be buyers or sellers at the deadline, or do you just expect some minor tweaks?

ES: I expect the Blue Jackets to be a weird mix of both buyers and sellers, but mostly sellers at the deadline. It is well known at this point that Sergei Bobrovsky and Artemi Panarin want out of Columbus, or at the very least that there is no chance of them re-signing long term. It would be in the best interest of the franchise for GM Jarmo Kekalainen to flip them for assets at the deadline to reload the roster. However, there is no replacing a 1.15 point per game player and a two time Vezina winner this late in the season.

Chart by Sean Tierney

Do you expect the Blue Jackets to get better or worse after the deadline? How much better or worse?

ES: I would expect Kekalainen to trade both of those players before the deadline, but attempt to use the assets gained via trade to make the team better in the short term — perhaps by adding a Matt Duchene. But, at the end of the deadline, I expect the Blue Jackets to be worse on paper.

I expect the team to be worse — they’ll likely lose their starting netminder and best winger. Regardless of what assets they bring via trade, there is no compensating for that. Kekalainen has been adamant that he will not be throwing in the towel on the season, even if those players are traded, but it will be difficult to replace two players of that caliber.

What’s your outlook on the rest of the year for them/where do you predict they’ll end the season in the standings?

ES: I think the Blue Jackets finish in the second wild card position and get knocked out in the first round by the Tampa Bay Lightning. Columbus may play motivated with a chip on their shoulder to end the season, but there simply isn’t enough firepower left on the roster after the loss of Panarin to compete for a division championship, let alone compete with the presumptive President’s Trophy winners. It has been a very strange season in Columbus with this Sword of Damocles hanging over the team for the duration of the season — it’s time for the saga to end, regardless of the impact it has on the standings going forward.

If Kekalainen is able to add players like Duchene, Kevin Fiala, or Jonathan Huberdeau via trade for those players, the team could continue to compete at a high level. But until those players are in the building, fans cannot assume the team will compete for a division title.

Philadelphia Flyers

Steph Driver of Broad Street Hockey

Sixth in Metropolitan Division
28-26-7 record, 63 points, 6-3-1 in last 10
Pending UFAs: Wayne Simmonds, Michael Raffl, Phillip Varone, Brian Elliot, Cam Talbot, and Michael Neuvirth.
Notable Changes: General manager Ron Hextall, assistant general manager Chris Pryor, head coach Dave Hakstol, and assistant coach Gord Murphy were fired. Chuck Fletcher was hired as general manager, Brent Flahr was hired as assistant general manager, Scott Gordon was promoted to interim head coach, and Rick Wilson as assistant coach. Jordan Weal and Justin Bailey were traded in exchange for Taylor Leier and a draft pick, and Carter Hart was called up from the AHL.
Projected Cap Space (According to CapFriendly): $8,087,863

Do you expect the Flyers to be buyers or sellers at the deadline, or do you just expect some minor tweaks?

SD: I think they will be sellers, but this team has been on a wild ride this season so nothing would surprise me. The general feel is that Wayne Simmonds will be the big trade piece, maybe also one of the goalies, I think the return will determine whether they are technically buyers or sellers.

Note: Steph clarified that the return for Simmonds that would determine whether they’re technically buyers or sellers would be prospects. Since talking to Steph, the Flyers traded one of their goaltenders, Anthony Stolarz, for another netminder in Cam Talbot

Chart by Sean Tierney

Do you expect the Flyers to get better or worse after the deadline? How much better or worse?

SD: This is a great question — I kind of expect them to stay the same, whatever that means. This team has had the highest of highs and the lowest of lows all within a couple months. I think they’re going to keep both over achieving and under achieving for the rest of the season.

What’s your outlook on the rest of the year for them/where do you predict they’ll end the season in the standings?

SD: I think they’ll be outside the playoff picture, but not enough to get a top five draft pick.

New Jersey Devils

CJ Tutoro of All About The Jersey

Eighth in Metropolitan Division
24-29-8, 56 Points, 4-5-1 in last 10
Pending UFAs: Marcus Johansson, Drew Stafford, Kenny Agostino, Kurtis Gabriel, Ben Lovejoy, Eric Gryba, and Keith Kinkaid.
Notable Changes: No notable changes yet.
Projected Cap Space (According to CapFriendly): $13,951,671

Do you expect the Devils to be buyers or sellers at the deadline, or do you just expect some minor tweaks?

CT: I expect the Devils to sell as much as they can, which in the end may just be a few tweaks. We already traded Brian Boyle for fairly good value and if we can find more suitors similarly willing to overpay for role players that seem valued by “hockey men” heading into the postseason, we’ll likely do it.

Ben Lovejoy may fit the mold considering his Stanley Cup experience and the fact that he genuinely is one of the best penalty killers in the league (leads NHL in SH_GAR since 2016 by a full goal margin). Marcus Johansson is the most valuable asset that we might be shopping, but he’s young enough that Shero could decide to hold on to him instead.

Do you expect the Devils to get better or worse after the deadline? How much better or worse?

CT: This year? Worse. Some teams that sell accidentally get better because the outgoing players were taking up spots for some exciting prospects. The Devils don’t really have those. Our only really encouraging prospect is Ty Smith who’s stuck in the WHL. I’m not sure there’s any number of John Quennevilles, Nathan Bastians and Kevin Rooneys that could really make a difference here.

Long term? Hopefully we can get some picks or prospects to replenish a talent pool that’s surprisingly bare given the status as a rebuilding team.

What’s your outlook on the rest of the year for them/where do you predict they’ll end the season in the standings?

CT: We appear to be shooting for the bottom of the league. In the past week, Ray Shero has decided to call up Kurtis Gabriel, Eric Gryba, and Cory Schneider — sending down the most exciting player of the year, goalie, Mackenzie Blackwood, in the process.

I would expect us to be in the bottom five in the NHL and very possibly lower — the only team that feels clearly worse than us at this point is the Senators.