The NHL season is going to come quickly.

If all goes according to plan and the myriad of issues (COVID-19 protocols, roster sizes, playing at home arenas or hub cities, etc.) are resolved, the league is expected to release a schedule and new division alignments this week. The hope is that the season will start Jan. 13.

The Flyers are expected to be in an eight-team division with Buffalo, Boston, New Jersey, the New York Islanders, New York Rangers, Pittsburgh, and Washington.

The division has several teams that could be playoff contenders, and Boston, the Flyers, Washington, the Islanders and Pittsburgh should be the cream of the crop.

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— Sam Carchidi (flyers@inquirer.com)

Competitive division

Based on rosters and offseason moves, the Boston Bruins (league-best 100 points last season) and Washington Capitals (90) look like the teams to beat in the still-to-be-named division.

The Flyers (89) , Islanders (80) and Penguins (86) should also be strong contenders, while the Rangers (79) and Sabres (68) look improved and could be dangerous.

The Devils (68) will be at the bottom, but they have some quality young forwards, including Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes, players who were both chosen No. 1 overall in their respective draft classes.

The league is expected to announce that the top four teams in each of the four divisions will make the playoffs. The NHL is reportedly kicking around having a play-in round like last season, but that is viewed as a long shot.

The Bruins are still loaded, but they have slipped a bit defensively as Torey Krug (49 points) signed as a free agent with St. Louis, and Zdeno Chara, 43, another unrestricted free agent, remains unsigned. Charlie McAvoy is the No. 1 defenseman on a team that led the league with a 2.39 goals-against average last season.

With the Bruins looking weaker, Washington is the slight division favorite. The Capitals added highly successful coach Peter Laviolette after the team was eliminated in the first round for the second straight year. Laviolette won a Cup in Carolina in 2006, took the Flyers to the 2010 Finals in his first season in Philly, and had strong teams in Nashville.

And now he directs a team that has a dominating offense and a rising young goalie, Ilya Samsonov, who was 16-6-2 with a 2.55 goals-against average and .913 save percentage as a rookie last season.

The Caps said goodbye to Braden Holtby ( (3.11 GAA, .897), who signed with Vancouver, and added Henrik Lundqvist (3.16, .905). More importantly, they added Justin Schultz to boost their defense.

The Flyers will be formidable challengers and could climb to the top if Nolan Patrick and Oskar Lindblom return to form and goalie Carter Hart continues his climb among the NHL’s elite goaltenders. Their defense took a major hit when Matt Niskanen retired, but that blow might be softened if Phil Myers and Travis Sanheim keep progressing.

Claude Giroux and Travis Konecny combined for just one playoff goal, so they will have extra motivation when the season rolls around.

The Flyers have a good mix of veterans and blossoming players. Impressively, they were seventh in the NHL in both goals scored and goals allowed last season.

Pittsburgh, which stunningly lost to Montreal in the Stanley Cup qualifiers, bolstered its top line by acquiring right winger Kasperi Kapanen in a six-player deal with Toronto. That gives the Pens a dangerous top six: Jake Guentzel, Sidney Crosby, Kapanen, Jason Zucker, Evgeni Malkin, and Bryan Rust.

The Penguins’ defense, however, is a question mark, and losing Schultz didn’t help them. They hope underachieving defenseman Mike Matheson, acquired as part of the deal that sent veteran Patric Hornqvist to Florida, will help.

Beware of the Islanders, who have an underrated goalie (Semyon Varlamov) and arguably the league’s best coach, Barry Trotz. Last season, the forecheck-happy Isles reached the conference finals by ousting the Flyers in seven games.

New York’s offense revolves around Mathew Barzal (60 points), who is still unsigned. Barzal gave the Flyers fits in the playoffs.

In the offseason, the Isles had two losses on defense – Devon Toews (dealt to Colorado because of salary-cap issues) and Johnny Boychuk, who retired because of an eye injury. Former first-round pick Noah Dobson is expected to pick up some of the slack.

The other New York team, the Rangers, has a strong rebuild in progress. Alexis Lafreniere, the No. 1 overall pick, and Kaapo Kakko should speed up the process. The Rangers, who will have promising Igor Shesterkin as their No. 1 goalie, have a bright future.

The Blueshirts also have superstar Artemi Panarin (95 points in 69 games) and high-scoring center Mika Zibanejad (41 goals in 57 games) to trigger the offense. If the kids progress rapidly, the Rangers could sneak into the playoffs.

Buffalo is a playoff long shot, but the Sabres’ surprise signing of free agent Taylor Hall, who complements captain Jack Eichel, gives them reason for hope. The two will probably be linemates. Buffalo also added veteran center Eric Staal.

The Sabres haven’t made the playoffs since 2011, the NHL’s longest current drought. Questions surrounding their goaltending and their power play may extend that drought.

Things to know

3 Flyers in World Juniors

Three Flyers prospects – defenseman Cam York and forward Bobby Brink from Team USA, and defenseman Emil Andrae of Sweden – will compete in the 10-team IIHF World Junior Championship, which will be held Dec. 25 to Jan. 5 at Rogers Place in Edmonton.

In 2019, the Flyers selected York in the first round 14th overall) and Brink in the second round (34th overall). They took Andrae in the second round (54th overall) of this year’s draft.

Flyers prospects Tyson Foerster and Mason Millman were late cuts for Team Canada’s roster. Millman, a promising defenseman, was one of five players sent home because of COVID-19 protocols, though it was not announced who was infected.

Los Angeles has the most prospects (9) in the tournament, and St. Louis is the only team without anyone in the WJC.

Here are the teams who competed in the Metropolitan Division last season and the number of prospects they will have in the tourney: New Jersey (6), Rangers (4), Carolina (4), Flyers (3), Columbus (3), Islanders (2), Pittsburgh (2), and Washington (2).

Important Dates

Dec. 15-Jan. 5: IIHF World Junior Championship (NHL Network).

Jan. 3: Projected opening of training camps.

Jan. 13: Projected start of season.

From the mailbag

What pieces are the Flyers missing in the current lineup? What could they do at the trade deadline to fill those spots?

Submitted by Nelson Mendels (nmendels0122@gmail.com) via email.

Answer: Thanks for the question, Nelson. It remains to be seen what the Flyers will need once the deadline rolls around, but based on what GM Chuck Fletcher did late last season -- he acquired Derek Grant and Nate Thompson -- it’s obvious he covets experience for the stretch run. Based on their current roster, the Flyers will probably try to add some speed up front and a veteran defenseman down the road. With a short, condensed season, the trade deadline will be here more quickly this season.

Send questions by email (scarchidi@inquirer.com) or on Twitter (@broadstbull), and they could be answered in a future edition.