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7 days until CBJ hockey: Previewing the Metropolitan Division

Columbus will battle its rivals in what could be hockey's deepest division

by Jeff Svoboda @JacketsInsider / BlueJackets.com

With seven days until the Blue Jackets open the season at Nationwide Arena on Oct. 4 vs. Toronto, BlueJackets.com is counting down to the days until start of the campaign. With seven days to go, today we look at the seven rivals Columbus will battle for a Metropolitan Division crown. 

One of the worst things that happened to the Blue Jackets this offseason might not be anything that happened to the team itself but what happened in the Metropolitan Division the team calls home.  

Simply put, it got better.

The last-place team a year ago, New Jersey, added No. 1 overall pick Jack Hughes and star defenseman PK Subban while star Taylor Hall returned to health. The team that finished second from bottom, the New York Rangers, picked Kaapo Kakko at No. 2 overall and also acquired Artemi Panarin and Jacob Trouba. And the third team to miss the playoffs, Philadelphia, made additions both up front and along the blue line, to say nothing of the talented goalie who is expected to finally solidify hockey's most cursed position. 

Meanwhile, last year's top dogs all saw their teams dinged a bit by defections. Defending champion Washington lost three of its top 12 scorers and veteran defenseman Brooks Orpik, Pittsburgh traded goal-scoring machine Phil Kessel and the New York Islanders lost half of its standout goaltending tandem. 

The result appears to be a Metro Division that will be a dogfight to the very end. Time will tell if such teams as the Devils, Rangers or Flyers improved enough to jump into the playoffs, or if drop-offs are coming to the other five teams in the division, all of whom made it to the postseason.

But it should be a night-in, night-out battle for six months to find out how the division's teams will stack up. BlueJackets.com begins its week-long countdown to the season by taking a look at what seven division rivals did in the offseason, in alphabetical order. 

Carolina (46-29-7 in 2018-19, made Eastern Conference final) 

Key additions: F Ryan Dzingel, D Jake Gardiner, D Joel Edmundson, G James Reimer 

Key losses: F Justin Williams, F Michael Ferland, D Justin Faulk, G Curtis McElhinney 

Here: Oct. 24, Jan. 16 

There: Oct. 12, April 3 

Summary: Carolina's young core finally came of age last season, as talented young offensive players Sebastian Aho and Teuvo Teravainen catapulted into stardom while a strong defense anchored the team. There have been some changes back there with the departures of Faulk and McElhinney, but Carolina appears to have the depth to handle such losses. Just how far the young forwards progress combined with the performance of goalies Petr Mrazek and Reimer will be key to their season.  

New Jersey Devils (31-41-10 in 2018-19, last in Metro) 

Key additions: F Jack Hughes, F Wayne Simmonds, F Nikita Gusev, D PK Subban 

Key losses: D Steven Santini 

Here: Dec. 21, Jan. 18 

There: Feb. 16, March 23 

Summary: The Devils seemed cursed by injury a season ago, as Hall was just the biggest loss on a team that saw many of its top players out for extended periods of time. New Jersey bolstered both its depth and star power, which were problem areas a season ago, but it might not be enough to make the postseason unless young goalie Mackenzie Blackwood or veteran Cory Schneider can carry the team.  

New York Islanders (48-27-7 in 2018-19, lost in second round) 

Key additions: C Derick Brassard, G Semyon Varlamov 

Key losses: C Valtteri Filppula, G Robin Lehner 

Here: Oct. 19, March 30 

There: Nov. 30, Dec. 23 

Summary: Left for dead after the loss of star forward John Tavares last offseason, the Isles instead contended for the division title and then swept Pittsburgh out of the opening round of the playoffs thanks to a suffocating defense the Blue Jackets could rarely crack. Barry Trotz will try to get the Isles playing the same style of hockey, and they'll have to, as there still isn't a ton of talent up front after the likes of Mat Barzal and Anders Lee. The loss of Lehner could loom large, but CBJ killer Thomas Greiss returns. 

New York Rangers (32-36-14 in 2018-19, seventh in Metro) 

Key additions: F Artemi Panarin, F Kappo Kakko, D Jacob Trouba, D Adam Fox 

Key losses: F Jimmy Vesey, D Kevin Shattenkirk 

Here: Dec. 5, Feb. 14 

There: Jan. 19, March 24 

Summary: The Rangers started a rebuild last season and dealt such players as Mats Zuccarello at the deadline, but the offseason showed the team is ready to make some noise. Adding Kakko, Panarin and Trouba will be big helps right away, but whether there is enough talent throughout the lineup -- especially on the blue line -- will be the question. Aleksander Georgiev looks like a goalie who can shepherd the team into the post-Lundqvist era.  

Philadelphia Flyers (37-37-8 in 2018-19, sixth in Metro) 

Key additions: F Kevin Hayes, D Matt Niskanen 

Key losses: F Ryan Hartman, D Radko Gudas, G Cam Talbot 

Here: Nov. 27, Feb. 20 

There: Oct. 26, Feb. 18 

Summary: The Flyers might have figured out their biggest trouble spot with the emergence of young goaltender Carter Hart, and if the 21-year-old builds on last season's excellent debut, playoff hockey will likely return to Philadelphia. Hayes and Niskanen are upgrades, and there's some blossoming young talent here, but depth up front is a question.  

Pittsburgh Penguins (44-26-12 in 2018-19, lost in first round) 

Key additions: F Alex Galchenyuk, F Dominik Kahun, F Brandon Tanev 

Key losses: F Phil Kessel, F Matt Cullen, D Olli Maatta

Here: Nov. 29, March 12 

There: Oct. 5, Dec. 12 

Summary: Any team with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin will be a contender, and getting Galchenyuk for Kessel shouldn't result in a huge dropoff in offense for one of the league's top-scoring teams. The question for Pittsburgh is how much it can get out of an aging core and a defensive corps that had its ups and downs a season ago. Something was off in Pittsburgh last year -- Malkin had an admittedly rough season and Kessel lived through a tremendous scoring slump -- but the top-tier talent means the Pens should contend again.  

Washington Capitals (48-26-8 in 2018-19, lost in first round) 

Key additions: F Richard Panik, D Radko Gudas 

Key losses: F Andre Burakovsky, F Brett Connelly, D Matt Niskanen, D Brooks Orpik 

Here: Dec. 16, March 19 

There: Dec. 9, Dec. 27 

Summary: The Caps have won the division four years in a row but last year's season fizzled with a surprising loss to Carolina in the opening round of the playoffs. Washington largely stood pat, with the core of the 2018 Stanley Cup champions still on the team, and it will be interesting to see how the Caps respond. But decline won't be staved off forever, as standouts Alexander Ovechkin, T.J. Oshie, Nicklas Backstrom and John Carlson are all on the wrong side of 30 in a league that's only getting younger.  

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