Four of the eight Metropolitan Division teams qualified for the Stanley Cup Playoffs this past season, and the Columbus Blue Jackets were not among them. The Carolina Hurricanes, New York Rangers, Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals all made the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season, and they all figure to be contenders again this season. If the Blue Jackets want to get back into the postseason, they’ll have to navigate a challenging group of teams in the Metropolitan Division.
The Jackets will head into the eye of the storm to face the Carolina Hurricanes in Raleigh, NC to open the season. With guys like centers Sebastian Aho and Jordan Staal, right winger Andrei Svechnikov and left winger Teuvo Teravainen, the Canes look poised to make another deep run and hoist the Stanley Cup for the first time since 2006, so they’ll be a strong measuring stick opponent for Columbus. Last season, the Canes took three out of four against the Jackets, with Columbus’s lone win coming on January 13th in Raleigh via a 6-0 shutout. In three of the four games, the Canes scored at least four goals. With the addition of left winger Johnny Gaudreau, the Jackets aim to match the Canes’ firepower.
The Rangers, who finished second in the Metropolitan Divison and eliminated the Canes in Round 2 of the playoffs, will provide a challenge for the Jackets. With players like centers Barclay Goodrow and Mika Zibanejad and left wingers Chris Kreider and Artemi Panarin (he was part of the Jackets’ playoff run in 2019) in their arsenal, New York will pose the biggest threat to Columbus in the division. The Rangers won back-to-back seven-game series against the Pens and the division champion Hurricanes. New York bowed out in the Eastern Conference Finals against the then-two-time defending champion Tampa Bay Lightning. New York and Columbus met three times last season, with the Rangers winning two out of three. The lone Columbus win happened at home in late January by a score of 5-3.
Tensions increase more than usual when the Blue Jackets and Penguins drop the puck. Lately, it’s been a one-sided rivalry in favor of Pittsburgh. The Penguins won all four meetings with the Blue Jackets last season. This season, they will meet four times once again, but there’s reason to believe things will play out differently this year.
“According to CapFriendly, the Pens projected 20-man roster has an average age of 30.0 years. If no other moves are made by general manager Ron Hextall this summer, that figure makes the Penguins the oldest team in the NHL," according to Si.com.
While being the oldest team in the league gives the Pens the experience advantage, this could all work against them by being a slower team. Columbus might not have the experience that Pittsburgh has, but the Jackets can gain that experience as they gel together. Since they’re the younger team, Columbus can use their speed game against Pittsburgh.
The Penguins were able to resign center Evgeni Malkin and defenseman Kris Letang, plus they still have center Sidney Crosby, as well as right winger Bryan Rust, who were all part of the 2016 and 2017 championship teams. The Washington Capitals are also an older team, looking to re-capture the glory they experienced during the 2018 season.
The Capitals won their first Stanley Cup in 2018. In Round 1 of the playoffs that year, they took out Columbus in six games. The Jackets took the first two games of the series in Washington but then proceeded to lose the next four. Last season, the Caps took three out of the four meetings between their Metro Division foes. Left winger Alex Ovechkin, center Nicklas Backstrom and right wingers T.J. Oshie, and Tom Wilson are all still wearing a Capitals jersey, thus Washington will be a thorn in Columbus' side. If the Jackets do indeed want to write a new chapter against the Capitals, they’ll have to win at least two of the four meetings this season. Washington feels their window is still open while Columbus is just getting started.
The Canes, Rangers, Pens, and Caps all made the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season. Carolina, New York, and Pittsburgh finished first, second, and third in the Metro Division. Meanwhile, Washington secured their playoff ticket via the second wildcard spot. All four teams look poised to make another run toward the playoffs once again, thus they’ll be the main contenders Columbus has to fight in order to reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The New Jersey Devils, New York Islanders and Philadelphia Flyers are the other three inhabitants of the Metropolitan Division. They were the other primary teams involved in the Johnny Gaudreau sweepstakes, along with the Calgary Flames, but the Blue Jackets came away with Gaudreau.
The Devils, Islanders and Flyers will present unique challenges for the Jackets. Though these three teams don’t appear to be playoff contenders, It’s always tough going into Philadelphia to play the Flyers, regardless of how strong the team is, the Devils have two young dynamic players in center Jack Hughes and center Nico Hischier who they’re trying to build around, and the Islanders looked poised to build on their runs to the conference finals in 2020 and 2021 after missing the playoffs entirely in 2022. We just don’t know what to expect from them moving forward.
With the addition of Gaudreau, as well the retention of Patrick Laine, Columbus feels like they have the pieces to climb up the Metropolitan Division ladder and grab a seat at the Stanley Cup Playoff party.
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