Last year, the Metropolitan division was arguably one of the worst in hockey. While every other division had at least three teams finish at or over the 100 point threshold, the Metro only had one team, the Pittsburgh Penguins. Despite the fact that the New York Rangers made it to the Stanley Cup Finals, many predict that the division will still be the worst in hockey. One person on twitter made up this interesting chart to showcase her opinion of how the divisions will stack up next year:
I made this graph to help track how good the NHL divisions will be this coming season given the moves they've made. pic.twitter.com/hvryxoEU7K— Jen LC (@RegressedPDO) July 1, 2014
The question is, will that indeed be the case? Will the New Jersey Devils be playing in the worst division in hockey again next year, or have they and the other teams within it beefed up enough this offseason to potentially improve the overall quality of play? While the draft could potentially help teams this year if they picked within the first few picks (the Islanders and Hurricanes being the only teams in the division to draft within the top 10), most likely the bulk of improvement for a team this upcoming season will have taken place during Free Agent Frenzy and the signings that occur thereafter. Therefore, let's take a look at what each team has done this offseason to determine what sort of competition our favorite team will be up against this coming season. Since the Devils have been covered much better in other articles on this site, I will leave them off this list and just look at their competition within the division.
Note: All of this information was compiled on July 3rd, and some of it may be inaccurate as a result. Also, not all players are mentioned, as some AHL or fringe NHL players were left off the list. I also did not mention any player that is still unsigned. For a more complete list of free agent signings, check out NHL.com's list here. For all trades that have happened in the offseason, check out NHL.com's list here. Furthermore this list cannot, for the most part, quantify RFA signings as at this time, as most have been qualified but not signed to deals.
UFA's that departed: Manny Malhotra, Justin Peters
UFA's that have re-signed: Chris Terry, Ron Hainsey, Jiri Tlusty
Outside Acquisitions: Drew MacIntyre, Jay McClement, Tim Gleason, Brad Malone
Opinion: The Canes did not make much of a splash either way so far. They did not lose much, nor did they get much in return from the outside. Unless something changes, this will be a similar squad from last year, which is a good sign for New Jersey.
UFA's that departed: Blake Comeau, Derek MacKenzie, Nick Schultz
UFA's that have re-signed: Curtis McElhinney
Outside Acquisitions: None
Trades: The team gave up Nikita Nikitin for a 5th rounder, and traded Jerry D'Amigo and a pick for Matt Frattin.
Opinion: Similar to Carolina; they did not gain much, nor did they lose much. Nikitin was not terrible, but was not a stalwart defensive player either. Comeau was a positive possession player, but that was about it for what they lost. If the Devils improve enough, they can hopefully leap frog the Blue Jackets into the playoffs next year.
New York Islanders
UFA's that departed: Dan Boyle (his rights basically, as he never played for NYI), Evgeni Nabokov
UFA's that have re-signed: Jaroslav Halak
Outside Acquisitions: Chad Johnson, TJ Brennan, Nikolai Kulemin, Mikhail Grabovski, Cory Conacher
Opinion: The Islanders are doing what they can to return to the playoffs, or to at least leave the Metropolitan basement. Their only real loss was Nabokov, but with the signing of Halak, they arguably improved their netminding situation. Then, they went out and signed the likes of Grabovski, Kulemin and Conacher. They are improving.
New York Rangers
UFA's that departed: Benoit Pouliot, Anton Stralman, Brad Richards (buyout), Brian Boyle, Stu Bickel
UFA's that have re-signed: Dominic Moore
Outside Acquisitions: Tanner Glass, Dan Boyle
Trades: Traded away Derek Dorsett for a 3rd round pick.
Opinion: So far, it seems like the Rangers have been trying to clear up cap space to re-sign restricted free agents such as Mats Zuccarello, Chris Kreider and Derick Brassard. Because of this, they certainly have not done much to improve. Much talent has left the club, with minimal return outside of 38 year old defenseman Dan Boyle. Tanner Glass is one of the worst possession players in the NHL, and the Devils should have a field day anytime he is on the ice. So far, so good for NJ.
UFA's that departed: None
UFA's that have re-signed: Andrew MacDonald, Kimmo Timonen, Ray Emery
Outside Acquisitions: Nick Schultz
Trades: Traded away Tye McGinn for a 3rd rounder next year, and gave away Scott Hartnell for RJ Umberger and a 4th rounder next year.
Opinion: The most work that the Flyers have done this offseason has revolved around re-signing free agents. Timonen is one of their better defenseman, and Emery was a quality backup goalie for them last year. MacDonald is always on the wrong side of the possession game, and I personally feel that they gave away more in Hartnell than they received in Umberger and a pick. Just like with CBJ, if the Devils improve enough, they have a chance to leap frog this team in the standings.
UFA's that departed: Jussi Jokinen, Joe Vitale, Brooks Orpik, Tanner Glass, Deryk Engelland, Matt Niskanen
UFA's that have re-signed: Marcel Goc
Outside Acquisitions: Christian Erhoff, Blake Comeau, Thomas Greiss, Steve Downie
Trades: Traded James Neal for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling.
Opinion: Pittsburgh has seen some movement this offseason. They lost some good players in Jokinen, Orpik and Niskanen, but the signings of Erhoff and Comeau were quality. It is tough to know how the blockbuster trade will affect the team, but Hornqvist is not a bad player at all. Also, the losses of Glass and Engelland arguably improved the team. I would say that they are still the team to beat in the Metro, and certainly did not get worse.
UFA's that departed: Mikhail Grabovski
UFA's that have re-signed: None
Outside Acquisitions: Brooks Orpik, Justin Peters, Matt Niskanen
Trades: None of note
Opinion: Washington has let go of offense for defense. They lost Grabovski, who was a quality offensive talent for them, but they signed Orpik and Niskanen to really improve their defense, which is something they desperately needed to improve. However, one can argue that both defensemen are seriously overpaid, and Orpik is getting up there in age, so it is hard to know how many years he will have left. They certainly attempted to improve, and may have done so.
After looking at most of the major free agent acquisitions and departures for each non-NJ team in the Metropolitan division, along with any trades involving players, it seems to me that the graph I posted at the beginning of the article may not be too far off, even if it is exaggerated a little. It is really only clear that the Islanders and Penguins improved, and one can also argue that the Capitals got better as well. There is no real strong evidence to show that Carolina, Columbus, the Rangers or Philadelphia really did much to improve their respective organizations. They may in fact each improve this upcoming season, but it will more than likely be from internal improvements than anything that was done these last few days. This should leave the Metropolitan as one of the worse divisions in hockey yet again.
What does this mean for the Devils? Essentially, that a playoff spot next year is very much in reach. This article from Jonathan Willis at Bleacher Report has the Devils with the 2nd best free agency so far. He gives the team an ‘A' rating, and I largely agree with his analysis that Cammalleri is good but overpaid, and Havlat can be a steal if he manages to stay healthy (Note: Capitals ranked #27 out of 30, Rangers #24, Blue Jackets #21, Hurricanes #20, Flyers #18, Penguins #8, and Islanders #7). If this free agent class can really pay off, and this team gels, the playoffs are certainly attainable. Perhaps the best part too is that this free agency may not be over. NJ has too many forwards, and Lou Lamoriello could be looking to trade a couple of them away to improve the team even more. It will surely be interesting to see how the Devils finally look when training camp arrives.
Now that you have looked at the moves the rest of the Metropolitan division have made, what do you think? Do you think that this division is very much up for grabs, or do you think that the Devils are in a real tough spot to make the playoffs next season? What teams in the Metro do you think improved the most? Who got worse? How do you feel about the Devils' chances this season? Please leave your comments below, and thank you for reading.