Why the division improving is bad for the New York Rangers

RALEIGH, NC - MARCH 31: Sebastian Aho #20 of the Carolina Hurricanes knocks Neal Pionk #44 of the New York Rangers off the puck during an NHL game on March 31, 2018 at PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images)
RALEIGH, NC - MARCH 31: Sebastian Aho #20 of the Carolina Hurricanes knocks Neal Pionk #44 of the New York Rangers off the puck during an NHL game on March 31, 2018 at PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina. (Photo by Gregg Forwerck/NHLI via Getty Images) /

The Metropolitan Division is arguably the toughest in the NHL. With almost every team improving their lineup with offseason moves, things don’t look good for the Rangers’ playoff hopes.

The New York Rangers are arguably in the toughest division in the NHL. The Metropolitan Division includes the three-time Stanley Cup Champion Pittsburgh Penguins and the newest champions, the Washington Capitals. The Capitals have also consistently been at the top of the league in recent years.

In addition to those two teams, the Columbus Blue Jackets became playoff contenders under John Tortorella and the New Jersey Devils have Hart Trophy winner Taylor Hall leading the way.

This extremely talented division makes getting to the postseason that much more difficult. Now, going into the 2018-19 season, making the playoffs will be a tall order for the Rangers.

The Rangers are in the midst of a rebuild, meaning we should expect the team to not reach the heights of teams past. To add insult to injury, the other teams in the Metropolitan Division made offseason moves to get better, or simply stay competitive.

With most teams in the division getting better, the Rangers are likely to fall behind.

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I would say the Metro team that made the biggest changes this summer was the Carolina Hurricanes. The team won the second overall pick in the draft lottery, moving up nine spots from their projected 11th overall pick.

The Hurricanes drafted Andrei Svechnikov from the Barrie Colts of the OHL. He will add size and scoring to a team that desperately needed both. This is in addition to the Finnish duo Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen, who led the team in points last season.

Carolina also made a blockbuster trade, sending Elias Lindholm and Noah Hanifin to the Calgary Flames for Dougie Hamilton, Michael Ferland and Adam Fox. They also signed unrestricted free agent defenseman Calvin De Haan. So their defense became even better than it was a season ago.

These moves, along with re-signing players like Trevor Van Reimsdyk, signing a new backup goaltender in Petr Mrazek help bring the Hurricanes back into the discussion of playoff contention. There are also plenty of young, talented prospects in the AHL pipeline in Charlotte that could crack the lineup.

The Hurricanes were pretty busy this summer, but other Metro teams also added to their foundations to improve their lineups.

The Columbus Blue Jackets made the playoffs last season, and gave the Capitals a bit of a scare in the first round of the playoffs. It looks like Artemi Panarin is staying in Columbus at least to start the season, and he had 82 points last year. Rookie Pierre-Luc Dubois will return along with Josh Anderson and Cam Atkinson. The Blue Jackets added forward depth by signing players like Anthony Duclair and Riley Nash.

The defense is essentially the same, but a defense core led by Seth Jones and Zach Werenski is not a bad problem to have. And of course, Sergei Bobrovksi will be back between the pipes. I expect the Blue Jackets to be just as good, if not better, than their fourth place finish in the Metro.

The Philadelphia Flyers also added forward depth by bringing back their own draft pick James van Reimsdyk. The Flyers’ lineup is also pretty consistent with last year, but with JVR reunited with his old teammates they could find that old chemistry once again.

The Flyers placed third in the Metro last season, and I don’t think that’s unrealistic for this team going into next season. Especially if Claude Giroux has another fantastic season offensively and the rest of their forwards follow suit.

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Now obviously the Penguins and Capitals are going to be good as well.

The Penguins are always a threat with a back-to-back Stanley Cup winning lineup that they’ve maintained for the most part. The Capitals just won a championship and managed to keep John Carlson in the lineup as well as extend known agitator Tom Wilson. So I expect these teams to once again fight for the top spot in the division.

This leaves the Rangers, Devils, and Islanders.

The Devils are a question mark in my opinion. They haven’t done much this offseason. However, with Taylor Hall leading the way they could end up having another miraculous season.

Number one draft pick Nico Hischier is entering his sophomore season and Joey Anderson, former Team USA World Juniors captain, signed an entry-level contract. Sami Vatanen will also play his first full season in New Jersey.

So while I think the Devils didn’t get much better, they didn’t get much worse. They could find a way to sneak into the playoffs just like the rest of the teams previously mentioned.

This all spells disaster for the Rangers. The Rangers enter this season with a much weaker lineup than last year. Basically most teams in the division went up, and the Rangers went down.

If most of the other Metro teams are better this season, the Rangers have an even bigger hill to climb. The division becoming more competitive will make it extremely difficult for the Rangers to move up in the standings and get into playoff position with a rebuilding team.

The one silver lining, however, is that with the loss of John Tavares the Islanders are much, much worse. It is most likely that they will finish last in the Metro. However, you can never underestimate the Hurricanes’ ability to crash and burn mid-season.

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This season will be a difficult one for the Rangers, and the rest of the division getting better doesn’t help one bit. More competition means it’s more likely the Rangers will miss the playoffs again.