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Metropolitan Division Weekly Roundup: Coming out of the All-Star Break

The Carolina Hurricanes sit atop the Metropolitan Division coming out of the All-Star Break.

NHL: Los Angeles Kings at Carolina Hurricanes James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

1. Carolina Hurricanes: 76 Points (34-9-8)

The Carolina Hurricanes headed into the All-Star break on an impressive seven-game winning streak and their second 10-game point streak of the year. The win streak has featured multiple come-from-behind wins including a three-goal comeback against the Los Angeles Kings in the third period and a two-goal comeback against the San Jose Sharks.

The Canes have been riding to the top led by none other than Sebastian Aho. Through the month of January, he had 11 goals and six assists in 14 games. He leads all Canes with a 73.33% goals for and a 64.23% expected goals for according to Natural Stat Trick. He has a six-game goal streak with nine goals scored in his last six games.

While the Canes should still look for another pure goal scorer to fill the void left by Max Pacioretty, the Canes had seven players score four or more goals in the month of January. This is the second month they have achieved that feat, with the previous two months having just three of such goal scorers.

2. New Jersey Devils: 68 Points (32-13-4)

The New Jersey Devils started their All-Star break last Friday and will be one of the first teams to play after the break on Monday. The Devils were the hottest team heading into the break with a 8-1-1 record. They have been mentioned as a partner in all the big trade talks over the last month so they seem open for business and they want to add a top-six forward.

Their management has a similar style to the Hurricanes, who prefer to make bigger deals at the deadline for longer term solutions, not just rentals. New Jersey is listed with $2 million in cap space, but also has goaltender Jonathan Bernier and his $4.1 million contract on LTIR. Their other priority will be making sure they have the cap space to re-sign Jesper Bratt, but with five pending UFA’s they shouldn’t have an issue with cap flexibility.

3. New York Rangers: 62 Points (27-14-8)

The New York Rangers sent forward Sammy Blais down to the AHL for a conditioning stint. To be eligible for a conditioning stint a player has to have missed two weeks of games and he has not played since January 16th. Oftentimes when young players are on entry level deals or on two-way contracts, they will be sent to the AHL to continue development and workouts. This differs because Blais is on a one-way deal and normally has to clear waivers. The conditioning stint allows him to avoid waivers.

Blais’ struggles have continued as he has not registered a goal or an assist since November. Last season, Blais was praised for his physical play and racking up hits before sustaining a season-ending injury. This season, the Rangers have moved away from using physical players on the fourth line and have opted for more speed and skill. This started with the Ryan Reaves trade and now Blais has fallen out of favor with management. The Rangers could look to trade him for pennies on the dollar to try to clear his $1.5 million of cap.

4. Washington Capitals: 60 Points (27-20-6)

Reports out of Arlington say the Washington Capitals are willing to take offers on center Lars Eller heading into the All-Star break. With the return of Nicklas Backstrom and Tom Wilson, the Caps have finally seen an improvement to their forward depth which has also seen Lars Eller become redundant and moved down to the fourth line. Eller has a $3.5 million cap hit so he could slot into another team easy if they are also willing to retain 50% of that salary.

Being able to move on from Eller is great for the Caps because they need help defensively. John Carlson has been out long-term after he took a slapshot to the ear and their current top pair of Erik Gustafsson and Trevor van Riemsdyk are not exactly world beaters. Carlson is also expected to return this season so the Caps cannot just Kucherov the situation and go over the Cap permanently. They could be able to add someone like Joel Edmundson with that added cap room.

5. Pittsburgh Penguins: 57 Points (24-16-9)

The Pittsburgh Penguins finally have their full defense back after being without two of their top-four. Even with their new found health, the Penguins lost three of their last four heading into the All-Star break. The main reason for their struggles is the loss of starting goaltender Tristan Jarry. Jarry has struggled to stay healthy this season and now has the Penguins relying on Casey DeSmith and Dustin Tokarski again.

This has the Penguins looking for another goalie ahead of the deadline. However, it can be tough to upgrade a goalie when any team with a good goalie is probably going to be fighting for the playoffs. One possible option could be friendly face Alex Nejeljkovic who was waived by the Detroit Red Wings and sent to the AHL earlier this season. He is in the last year of his contract with playoff experience. He could be the cheapest option to acquire with the ability for the Penguins to sweeten the pot for 50% salary retention.

6. New York Islanders: 55 Points (25-22-5)

The New York Islanders were the team to make the first big splash in the trade market. They acquired Bo Horvat from the Vancouver Canucks for a 2023 first-round draft pick, Aatu Raty, and Anthony Beauvillier. However, the trade doesn’t make too much sense from the Isles perspective in the long-term. They have the 27th ranked prospect pool according to the Athletic, and are now poised to have no first-round picks in the last four drafts. The pick is “top-12 protected” but this deal makes the Isles good enough to avoid the top 12 while still missing the playoffs.

The Isles then tied Horvat to the team with an 8x$8.5 extension that will pay him until he is 36. For a player on the best shooting percentage binge of his career and had a prior career high of just 61 points, that’s a lot of money.

He joins the Isles already great center depth with Matthew Barzal, Brock Nelson, Jean-Gabriel Pageau, and Casey Cizikas and all are signed through at least the 2025-26 season.

7. Philadelphia Flyers: 51 Points (21-21-9)

On Sunday the Philadelphia Flyers and Minnesota Wild game featured three fights in just 0:15 of game time. The third of those fights was between Marcus Foligno and Zack MacEwen. In that fight MacEwen suffered a broken jaw and is now expected to miss at least a month for the Flyers. MacEwan has just four goals and five assists but three of those four goals were game winners. MacEwan also ranks second on the team with 130 hits, behind only Nicolas Deslauriers.

The Flyers will need to figure out what they are going to do with Kevin Hayes. He has been moved up and down the lineup this season and has notably been in John Tortorella’s dog house. In the final game heading into the break, Hayes was playing on the third line as a winger. Players like Noah Cates, Morgan Frost, and Scott Laughton are all getting center positions ahead of him. He does have eight points in his last six games, but not enough to get him moved back into his natural center position.

8. Columbus Blue Jackets: 34 Points (15-32-4)

The Columbus Blue Jackets claimed forward Lane Pederson off of waivers from the Vancouver Canucks. Pederson is 25 years old and has one goal and two assists in 11 games with Vancouver this year. Pederson was sent to Vancouver as part of the Ethan Bear trade from Carolina. Pederson has been stellar at the AHL level with 17 goals and 24 total points in just 18 games. The timing of the waiving was very strange as he had spent practice with the top line the very same day he was waived.

With the Blue Jackets projected to have the second best odds to land Conner Bedard, their biggest deal at the deadline will be trading away defenseman Vladislav Gavrikov. Columbus has given teams permission to reach out to Gavrikov’s agent ahead of a trade. With just a $2.8 million cap hit there could be a bidding war among the top teams to acquire a top four defenseman for under $2 million cap hit with retained salary. Toronto, Edmonton, and Ottawa have all been in on all defensemen in the market.