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The Metropolitan Division could be a jumbled mess this season

There might not be a lot of separation between the Penguins and their rivals, based on some models

Pittsburgh Penguins v New York Rangers Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Now that the Islanders have finally registered a litany of contracts this week to re-sign Kyle Palmieri, Anthony Beauvillier, Ilya Sorokin and Casey Cizikas, and eye can start to turn to the general team strengths when it comes to next season.

Here’s one such model based on WAR.

As Jack would go onto say, “Remember that even the best standings point projections (eye test or predictive model) tend to be around 7 points off on average. So if team x is above team y by 2 points, I would recommend not freaking out.”

Still, even by that rate, 1st through 7th in the Metro is separated by just that same seven points for the margin of error. That would be an incredible run, which probably won’t happen due to injuries, future trades, and variances of WAR next year being higher or lower than anticipated. But it gives an idea of the general parity of the division and indeed the league.

This model may seem a little too sweet on teams like the Rangers, Flyers and Devils, but then again if talented and mostly very highly-drafted young players in those respective clubs come together and perform, it may not.

Goaltending will also loom large: if Carter Hart is a .915% or a .920% goalie next season (instead of the .877% that he was), Philly could make a big leap. Similarly, Igor Shesterkin (a career .921% NHL goalie in 47 games) continues on that trajectory, New York might be poised to take a big leap as well.

I think it fair to expect teams like the Penguins and Capitals to exceed expectations here, as they usually do. But those are two of the oldest teams in the league, and especially at key forward and defensive positions, which could always spell trouble. Sooner or later, older teams start to slip. Will this finally be the year that Pittsburgh and Washington don’t dominate the regular season and are more in the pack? It’s certainly a possibility, though I would tend to bet both out-perform what models think that they are.

For another look, here are some Vegas total points over/unders to consider:

Pittsburgh: 98.5
New York Rangers: 95.5
Carolina: 95.5
Washington: 94.5
Philadelphia: 94.5
New Jersey: 90.5
Columbus 76.5
NY Islanders: (not listed as the betting world catches up to their recent signings)

Even with that, a good chunk of the division is listed from 91-98 points, where NYI should likely fall somewhere in the middle of as well. There is a lot of depth, but no real standouts and pretty much only Columbus is looking like cannon fodder at this point as the team expected to drag behind the rest of the pack.

Only 3-5 teams will make the playoffs, depending on the wild card situation, which means at least two 90+ points teams in the Metro may not qualify for the post-season this year if these projections end up becoming a reality.

On a related note about the wild card, one other observation is that the Atlantic has four teams (narrowly) ahead of anyone in the Metro. Who knows if that will come to pass, but it does seem about right that on paper, with full lineups, the top two or three teams in the East are all probably in the other division. Perhaps that means they will end up cannibalizing each other more than expected if there are a lot of regulation results. Perhaps not, and the Metro may be in for a struggle to get those final playoff spots.

What do we think about the above? The Devils added Dougie Hamilton, Tomas Tatar and Ryan Graves, and that along with the further development of their youngsters has impressed the models and Vegas alike with a 91ish point lines. New Jersey only had 45 points in 56 games (a 66 point pace in a full season) and, yeah, they sold and probably phoned it in a bit the last chunk of the year just playing out the stretch with lackluster lineups, but to go from 66 point pace to 91? That’s a really massive step forward to gain 12-13 wins.

As loathe as I am to say it, on the flip-side for these two projections in the 93-95 points range for the Caps, I would take the over on them. Washington hit 100+ points for five years from 2014-15 through 2018-19. The past two shortened seasons they were on 107 and 113 point paces. They’ve lost little of significance and are going to go from a 113 point pace last year down at least six or seven regulation wins by these projections? Not sure I see that either.

And what of the Pens at 96-98.5 season total range? That feels like a pretty reasonable projection, off-hand thinking quickly on it, I’d probably be willing bet Pittsburgh is more likely to finish at about a 95-99 point zone then they would be to finish outside of that range in either direction. Last year Pittsburgh was on a 113 point pace despite a mountain of injuries, so maybe — if anything — it would be best to get aggressive and lean towards the over? I guess.

The Pens have finished with 100+ points under each and all of Mike Sullivan’s six seasons, save the two shortened seasons (where they were on pace and looking at likely finishing with 100+ points).

No matter how it shakes out, with Carolina back in the division and all of the non-playoff teams in PHI, NYR and NJD looking for potentially massive improvements to join recent playoff stalwarts in PIT, WSH and NYI, the Metro division in 2021-22 could be shaping up to be a parity-filled, jumbled and very competitive mess from Game 1 to 82 next year.