With the dust beginning to settle following the 2019 NHL Draft and the Free Agent Frenzy, rosters are starting to take shape for the upcoming season. Obviously the New York Rangers stole the headlines — and from the New York Islanders — on July 1 when they signed Artemi Panarin to a seven-year, $81.5 million deal.
The Metropolitan Division has been fairly very active all throughout the summer, and the balance of power has shifted again among the Rangers’ division rivals. Several teams took steps back, while others jumped up in the order and are well positioned for the future.
Here’s a look at all of the changes that have occurred thus far.
2018-2019 Record: 46-29-7 (4th in Metro)
Additions: Anton Forsberg, Gustav Forsling, Erik Haula, James Reimer
Subtractions: Calvin de Haan, Aleksi Saarela, Scott Darling, Curtis McElhinney
One of the more head-scratching moves this offseason saw the Hurricanes offloading Calvin de Haan just a year after inking him to a four-year contract. Even by dealing from a position of strength, and including a decent prospect in Aleksi Saarela, Carolina didn’t necessarily get much in return on their end of the deal. As it stands right now, Anton Forsberg doesn’t even make the roster with both Petr Mrazek and James Reimer locking down both spots in the crease.
The other half of the trade brought in Gustav Forsling who will likely compete for one of the remaining bottom-pairing roles. So the Hurricanes essentially acquired a third string goaltender and a fringe defenseman for a solid top-four defenseman and a prospect. It’s certainly not a move worth writing home about.
It’s not necessarily a new acquisition by the “Bunch of Jerks” but it was a vital piece to bring back after their surprising Eastern Conference Final run last season. The Hurricanes were able to retain Mrazek on a two-year, $3.125 million contract that will keep the 27-year-old in Raleigh. It’s no secret that Mrazek was the backbone of that playoff run last season, and at times, played out of mind with the game on the line. It’s a always a good move to bring back a player that fit perfectly, and Mrazek certainly worked.
What Can Improve
After glancing over their depth chart, a top-six winger would do wonders for GM Don Waddell. Maybe someone like Ryan Dzingel? His addition would bump Erik Haula and Warren Foegele down a peg, and give Carolina some additional depth down the left side. Aside from that though, Carolina’s roster looks pretty solid.
Columbus Blue Jackets
2018-2019 Record: 47-31-4 (5th in Metro)
Additions: Gustav Nyquist
Subtractions: Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky, Matt Duchene, Ryan Dzingel
Despite losing a good chunk of players to free agency, I’m kind of surprised the Blue Jackets weren’t in on more of the players at the top-end of the market. They were armed with plenty of cap space to toss around some cash, but they didn’t do much of anything with it. Maybe they’re saving it to add via trade? I guess we’ll find out.
The only notable acquisition the Blue Jackets made through free agency thus far was signing Gustav Nyquist to a four-year, $22 million deal. After losing Matt Duchene and Artemi Panarin to free agency, Columbus was in desperate need of a top-six forward to make up for their departures. You could certainly do a lot worse than Nyquist with a relatively thin free agent pool this summer, so he should fit in nicely for Columbus.
What Can Improve
Losing Sergei Bobrovsky left a pretty glaring hole on the goaltending depth chart for the Blue Jackets. As it stands now, Elvis Merzlikins is the backup after coming over from Switzerland. Joonas Korpisalo is certainly capable of handling a majority of the starts, but it’ll be interesting to see what happens if he begins to struggle.
The goalie market has dried up pretty quickly, but someone like Cam Ward could be a worthwhile addition. Ward would give Columbus some much needed insurance behind Korpisalo, and is someone coach John Tortorella could turn to if they are in a tough spot.
New Jersey Devils
2018-2019 Record: 31-41-10 (8th in Metro)
Additions: Jack Hughes, P.K. Subban, Wayne Simmonds
Subtractions: Kenny Agostino, Steve Santini, John Quenneville
After selecting Jack Hughes with the first selection last month in Vancouver, the Devils were already doing pretty well for themselves. Then they shocked the hockey world by bringing P.K. Subban and his infectious personality to Newark. A little over 12 hours after selecting their future number one center, Ray Shero brought in a top-pairing defenseman to add some promise to the lineup in New Jersey. Subban is obviously approaching the wrong side of 30, but he’s still an electric player and is something the Devils haven’t had in quite awhile on the backend.
Aside from the obvious choice being Jack Hughes, the Devils made a pretty savvy move by inking Wayne Simmonds to a one-year contract. They probably paid a little more than market value for the rugged forward, but it’s a one-year deal and they have options here. There’s always teams looking to add a player like Simmonds to their lineup around the trade deadline, so they should have no problem flipping him for a return on investment. In addition, Simmonds is pretty much a lock to play within their top-six, so that should prop up his value enough to draw some interest.
What Can Improve
Obviously it’s a pretty difficult task to complete in one offseason, especially with a weak free agent pool, but the Devils need to figure out a plan in goal. Cory Schneider just hasn’t worked out very well since arriving in New Jersey on draft day in 2013. He’s had numerous long-term injuries resulting in missed time, and when he is suiting up, his level of play just doesn’t seem up to par. There’s no clear answer here, but the Devils could do a lot worse than letting Mackenzie Blackwood soak up a majority of the starts next season and seeing where it leads them.
New York Islanders
2018-2019 Record: 48-27-7 (2nd in Metro)
Additions: Semyon Varlamov
Subtractions: Robin Lehner, Valtteri Filppula
The New York Islanders spurning Robin Lehner in free agency and then throwing a long-term commitment at Semyon Varlamov takes the cake here. After years of imbalance, Lehner finally appeared to settle in with coach Barry Trotz and a revamped Islanders system. He had a career year, was nominated for the Vezina trophy, and seemed primed to secure a new deal on the Island. Not really sure what went wrong there, or what the thought process behind it was, but I feel like the Islanders screwed this one up big time. Time will tell, I guess.
Much like Carolina, the Islanders’ best acquisition wasn’t necessarily a player that came from outside the organization. After swinging for the fences and missing on Artemi Panarin, the Islandes turned their attention back to Anders Lee, their newly appointed captain. Simply put, the Islanders couldn’t afford to lose another captain and fan-favorite for a second year in a row. They probably would’ve liked to keep the term under seven years, but sometimes that’s the price of doing business with your captain.
What Can Improve
The Islanders attempted to address their top-six forward dilemma, but thus far, haven’t found an answer. Maybe Lou Lamoriello dips into his bag of tricks and surprises everyone with an offer sheet to Mitch Marner or Brayden Point. There isn’t much left on the free agent market that would make much of a difference, so finding a player that fits would likely need to come via trade.
2018-2019 Record: 37-37-8 (6th in Metro)
Additions: Kevin Hayes, Matt Niskanen, Justin Braun, Tyler Pitlick
Subtractions: Radko Gudas, Ryan Hartman, Andrew MacDonald, David Schlemko
The acquisition of Kevin Hayes wasn’t all that surprising since there was a pretty glaring hole at the second line center position. However, the contract that the Flyers handed him was another story. Look, I’m a big Kevin Hayes fan and always have been, but paying in excess of $7 million for a player that has never eclipsed 50 points prior to this season is a little too much.
This may seem pretty lazy of me, but despite the contract, I still really like the aggressive move to get Kevin Hayes on board. The Flyers identified a need and they went out and acquired a player to fill a glaring hole in their lineup. The rest of their moves just weren’t all that impressive, so the obvious choice was Hayes. Acquiring Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun were kind of cool because they were trades, but I’m not entirely sure they moved the needle that much.
What Can Improve
Goaltending depth. Sense a theme here in the Metro? The Flyers decided to bring back Brian Elliott for another season to backup the youngster, Carter Hart. It’s not a bad gamble but I do wonder how long he holds up from an injury standpoint. The last two seasons have been pretty injury riddled for the 34-year-old, so we’ll see what happens.
2018-2019 Record: 44-26-12 (3rd in Metro)
Additions: Alex Galchenyuk, Brandon Tanev, Dominik Kahun
Subtractions: Phil Kessel, Olli Maatta
We’ve all heard and seen some of the crazy contracts that are handed out on July 1, and this one is certainly up there among the craziest. The Penguins signed Brandon Tanev to a six-year, yes you heard that right, a SIX-YEAR, $21 million deal. Giving term to bottom-six forwards is usually never a good idea, but maybe the Penguins know something that we don’t.
The Tanev contract aside, the Penguins did pretty well for themselves by shipping Phil Kesell down to the desert. There was some obvious bad blood between management and Kessel, and even after being boxed into a corner, Jim Rutherford brought back a decent return. Alex Galchenyuk is coming off of a 41-point year in Arizona, and should slot in nicely to the left of Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin.
What Can Improve
Cap space is tight once again in Pittsburgh, and they will likely be looking to clear out more space after shipping out Phil Kessel. The Penguins are currently sitting at approximately $1.5 million with Marcus Pettersson, Teddy Blueger, and Zach Aston-Reese still needing new contracts. That’s also not counting the expected extensions for Matt Murray, Justin Schultz, Jared McCann, and Alex Galchenyuk next season.
The Penguins are going to need to figure out their cap situation because it could get out of hand pretty quickly. Both Jack Johnson and Erik Gudbranson are perfect candidates to clear some space here as they are a combined $7.25 million. If Jim Rutherford can ship out one or both, it would go along way in alleviating some of the cap pressure.
2018-2019 Record: 48-26-8 (1st in Metro)
Additions: Richard Panik, Radko Gudas, Garnet Hathaway
Subtractions: Matt Niskanen, Andre Burakovsky, Brooks Orpik, Brett Connolly
There have been rumors for quite awhile that the Capitals were looking to part ways with Andre Burakovsky, and a deal was finally completed. The Capitals weren’t too tight on cap space this season, but they were able to recoup a 2020 2nd-round pick that they originally sent away in the Nick Jensen trade last season.
The Capitals weren’t very active during the opening days of free agency, but they did add Richard Panik on a four-year deal worth $2.75 million a season. While the Andre Burakovsky trade was certainly surprising, Panik does slot in nicely on Washington’s third line. His contract also probably came in a little cheaper than what they would’ve paid to re-sign Burakovsky, so they did save some cap space there.
What Can Improve
There’s really not a whole lot the Capitals need to improve on since a lot of their core players are locked up on a long-term contracts. They will need to address the contract situations with Nicklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby next season, so that will be next up on the agenda.