After a truncated season in which normal division rivals were separated because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the NHL returns to its standard divisional play for the 2021-22 campaign.
With the addition of the Seattle Kraken, all four NHL divisions will have eight teams with the top three teams in the division earning a playoff berth.
Will the Maple Leafs shake off their playoff disappointment and surpass the Lightning to take the Atlantic division crown? Which team is the standout squad in the Metropolitan? Are there any teams out in the Western Conference that can challenge the Golden Knights and the Avalanche?
Our NHL staff got to thinking and provided their takes on who will be the best teams after 82 regular-season games.
Abbey Mastracco: Why the Isles Are Head of the Class in the Metropolitan
The Metropolitan Division could be a slog, with the established teams beating the tar out of each other. It could also be a perfect division for some teams on the rise.
The Pittsburgh Penguins, Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals are all capable of winning the division. Or they could all be staring down the barrel of rebuilds.
Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are both sidelined with injuries to begin the season and almost no hockey club is built to be able to withstand injuries to the two top players in the salary cap era. Years of being in win-now mode have left the farm system depleted.
The Caps have been disappointing since they won the 2018 Stanley Cup and their core isn't getting any younger. The Flyers need Carter Hart to become the goalie he was over his first two seasons in the NHL when he posted a .915 save percentage.
The revamped New Jersey Devils have Dougie Hamilton and an improved Jack Hughes. What they don't have is secondary scoring, but if they find some then it could be possible for the rebuilding club to challenge some of these other teams for a playoff spot. The New York Rangers have one of the best prospect pools in hockey and some are ready to graduate to the NHL.
But the Metro will likely come down two teams: The Carolina Hurricanes and the New York Islanders. The Hurricanes are the sexy pick and they're the one of the most entertaining teams to watch in the Eastern Conference.
The Islanders are on the other end of the spectrum. It's not that they're unwatchable, but like all Barry Trotz-coached teams, it's all about the system. And that system gets results, which is why my pick to win the Metro is the Isles.
They have the high-end talent up front with Mathew Barzal, Anders Lee and Kyle Palmieri, secondary scoring from players like Jean-Gabriel Pageau and a defensive pair that stole the show in the 2021 Stanley Cup Playoffs in Ryan Pulock and Adam Pelech. The goaltending is solid with rising star Ilya Sorokin and veteran Semyon Varlamov.
The Islanders also have a new arena opening up soon and the place is sure to be rocking, much like the old barn was during their deep playoff run.