Are the Metropolitan Division Playoff Teams Already Decided?

Washington Capitals, New York Islanders (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Washington Capitals, New York Islanders (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /

The NHL season is just shy of its midway point, but in the Eastern Conference’s Metropolitan Division, the playoff teams may already be in place.

No Metropolitan team has completed a full half of this 2021-2022 season (the Washington Capitals are the closest, having played 40 games coming into Wednesday), yet a clear divide has already emerged within the division.

There is more than enough hockey remaining, of course, for clubs that are lower in the standings to make a playoff push, but the disparity in the division is evident. With that in mind, have the playoff teams in the Metro already been decided?

To begin, let’s take a look at the division standings entering play on Wednesday:

1.      Carolina Hurricanes (36 GP, 26-8-2, 54 points, .750 P%, +45 GD)

2.      New York Rangers (39 GP, 25-10-4, 54 points, .692 P%, , +17 GD)

3.      Washington Capitals (40 GP, 22-9-9, 53 points, .663 P%, ++22 GD)

4.      Pittsburgh Penguins (38 GP, 23-10-5, 51 points, .671 P%, +25 GD)

5.      Columbus Blue Jackets (36 GP, 17-18-1, 35 points, .486 P%, -15 GD)

6.      Philadelphia Flyers (39 GP, 13-18-8, 34 points, .436 P%, -35 GD)

7.      New Jersey Devils (37 GP, 14-18-5, 33 points, .446 P%, -22 GD)

8.      New York Islanders (32 GP, 13-13-6, 32 points, .500 P%, -13 GD)

Are the Metropolitan Division playoff teams as clear-cut as they appear?

When I look at these eight teams, I can’t help but feel like the gap between the top four and the bottom four is too large to overcome. Just hone in on the gap between the fourth and fifth place teams, the Penguins and Blue Jackets.

If Columbus wins both games in hand over Pittsburgh, there would still be a double-digit deficit to overcome. Look beyond that, and all you will find, naturally, are greater disparities that further solidify the teams at the top and further impede the teams at the bottom.

If there’s any chance that one of the bottom four teams makes a push to disrupt the current top four, it will have to be the Islanders. The lack of games played makes the Isles’ standing a bit misleading. Of course, a win percentage of .500 is inferior to that of the teams in a playoff position, but it’s better than any of the other non-playoff clubs, and the games in hand could give New York a fighting chance.

Still, this top four feels solid to me. One major reason is the fact that most of them have been here before and typically take care of business during the 82-game campaign. This season would be the fourth consecutive playoff appearance for the Canes, while the Pens and Caps have been synonymous with the playoffs for the better part of the last two decades.

The Rangers are hoping to qualify for the postseason for the first time with this new-look group, but they’ve been steadily performing like one of the top teams all season, not only in the Metro, but in the Eastern Conference.

In addition, the division’s bottom four teams are known for the opposite outcomes. The Jackets have one playoff series win in their history, the Flyers have been underachieving since 2010, and the Devils have one postseason appearance since their run to the Cup Final.

Again, this is where the Islanders are a little different, but I would argue that New York is a team built for playing in the playoffs, not making a comeback in the regular season just to qualify.

The point is that relying on a regression from teams that often are among the league’s best in the regular season seems like a long shot for the four teams needing to make a comeback this season.

If anything, the battle will be among the top four to stay out of the wild card position. As only the top three teams in each division are guaranteed a playoff spot, one of the four teams that are clearly superior in the Metro will be relegated to wild card status.

Trying to carve three teams out of that top four would be next to impossible at this point, which should set us up for intriguing Metropolitan Division hockey in the second half of the season., at least in one regard.

light. Related Story. Pittsburgh Penguins Maintain Momentum on Long Road Trip

As the NHL approaches its halfway mark, only four Metropolitan teams have solid playoff hopes. To me, that means that we already have our playoff and non-playoff teams established.