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A Metropolitan Division Snapshot After 2016 Free Agency Frenzy

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Most of the action in NHL free agency took place on July 1. With the long Summer ahead, I take a snapshot of each team in the Metropolitan Division, what they did in this offseason, and whether they look better or not.

2016 NHL Draft - Round One
When you look like you had a bad July 1...you may look like Garth Snow.
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

Typically, I will use Sunday’s post to take a snapshot of the Metropolitan Division standings and upcoming schedule for the week. It is a good way to keep track of a bigger picture during the regular season. It shows where the New Jersey Devils stand with their peers. Today, free agency has been active for two days and that has followed a whirlwind of two weeks where some significant moves were made. While there will be a few signings here and there, most of the free agent activity has already taken place. To that end, this post is a snapshot of the division’s offseason up to July 2. Who’s better? Who’s worse? Let’s take look at each team.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Last Season Result: 48-26-8, 2nd in the Metropolitan, 2016 Stanley Cup Winners

Aside: Washington would come first based on standings, but Cups take priority. Not that the Capitals would know what that’s like.

Notable Offseason Activity So Far: None unless you count signing David Warsofsky and Stuart Percy as notable. The Penguins did extend general manager Jim Rutherford’s contract for three years. Winning a Cup will do that.

Better, Worse, Or About the Same: About the same. Marc-Andre Fleury is still with Pittsburgh. Justin Schultz was not qualified but he remains available. Yet, the key components and most of the supporting cast from last season’s Stanley Cup winning team are here.

Does It Look Like They’ll Make the Playoffs in 2016-17?: Yeah. Expect it. They may even challenge Washington for the division.

Washington Capitals

Last Season Result: 56-18-8, 1st in the Metropolitan, 2015-16 President’s Trophy Winners

Notable Offseason Activity So Far: The Caps re-signed Tom Wilson for two seasons and signed right winger Brett Connolly for a season. Wilson coming back was academic; I didn’t expect him to go anywhere. This is the third organization for the 24-year old right winger. He hasn’t made a splash in the NHL yet and I wonder how many more opportunities he’ll get if it doesn’t work out for the Caps. They also traded two picks (one second rounder from 2017, one second rounder from 2018) for Lars Eller. Eller should strengthen Washington’s bottom six. Speaking of bottom six, the Caps did pick up Brad Malone.

Better, Worse, Or About the Same: About the same, maybe a little better. I’d like to think Eller will be a nice fit on Washington’s third line. Connolly is a good low risk, decent reward signing. Malone and their other minor signings are just that: minor. Like Pittsburgh, most of what made Washington work last season will be back. Once Dmitry Orlov and Marcus Johansson get new deals, their summer is done.

Does It Look Like They’ll Make the Playoffs in 2016-17?: You bet. They may even win the division again.

New York Rangers

Last Season Result: 46-27-9, 3rd in the Metropolitan

Notable Offseason Activity So Far: Their activity on July 1 was to add Michael Grabner, Nathan Gerbe, Adam Clendening, and Michael Paliotta. Grabner was once a fearsomely fast winger that had a knack for breakaways and shorthanded offense. Over the past few years, if he’s not on a breakaway or killing penalties, then he’s not doing much. Mike Murphy’s breakdown on the player shows he may help for that alone. Moving on, Gerbe is a dimunitive winger who will really just be depth as he was just that for Carolina last season. Clendening and Paliotta are defensemen expected to be call-up options from their minor league team. Speaking of defensemen, the Rangers did move a fourth rounder in 2017 for Nick Holden. Holden should be a regular on the third pairing, we’ll see if he’s there or in the top four. Outside of players, the Rangers brought in Jeff Beukeboom as an assistant coach.

Oh, they also got a sixth rounder in 2016 and a conditional fourth rounder in 2017 from Florida in exchange for Keith Yandle. Yandle signed a big deal with Florida

Better, Worse, Or About the Same: A little worse, to be honest. The biggest sore spot on their roster are the no movement clauses with Marc Staal and Dan Girardi. The Rangers had Keith Yandle, who they didn’t effectively utilize in my opinion. Yandle, from my standpoint, is better than both Staal and Girardi. One of those two could and perhaps should have been bought out to keep Yandle. Instead, they got next to nothing for someone that cost them quite a bit to get.

Beyond that, I see how Grabner and Gerbe may have some use; they’ll get the Rangers to twelve forwards once their RFAs are signed. Pavel Buchnevich will just have to wait for an opportunity to get a NHL spot, I guess. Holden is a bit of a head scratcher as he added cap space ($1.65 million) and the team already had Brady Skeji and/or Dylan McIlrath (RFA) to use a third pairing. Yeah, injuries may happen but that’s why depth defenders like Clendening and Paliotta were acquired. Did the Rangers expect to have moved someone after the Holden trade? I don’t know.

Does It Look Like They’ll Make the Playoffs in 2016-17?: Yeah. That all said, while I think they may be declining, I don’t think they’re going to be that much worse next season. Their top forwards will back, only Rick Nash is on the wrong side of 32 and I wouldn’t say he’s done at all, and Lundqvist is still a very good goalie. It’d be a shock if they did miss short of a crazy run of bad puck and health luck.

New York Islanders

Last Season Result: 45-27-10, 4th in the Metropolitan

Notable Offseason Activity So Far: Easily the team with the biggest changes in this offseason. Useful top-six center Frans Nielsen? Gone. Powerful right winger Kyle Okposo? Gone. Matt Martin? Gone. OK, the latter is not as contentious. The Isles were active right from the first minute as they won the Andrew Ladd Sweepstakes. It was the Steve Stamkos Sweepstakes but Stamkos re-signed with Tampa Bay last Wednesday, so Ladd became an even more popular name. Ladd signed a fat, seven year deal worth $38.5 million. The Isles inked 37 year old Jason Chimera to add to their winger depth for two years and $4.5 million. Yesterday, P-A Parenteau was signed for a one-year deal. From a re-signing standpoint, the Isles locked up Shane Prince and Casey Cizikas, who got a huge extension for what he does, in this offseason.

Better, Worse, Or About the Same: They got worse. Dan Saraceni’s overview of the Isles’ actions so far begins with that sentiment and many at Lighthouse Hockey feel the same way. I don’t think Ladd will necessarily be a great replacement for Okposo. I don’t see how Nielsen is replaced - an admittedly tough task as he did a lot of things well for the team for many years. As of now, he isn’t. The Chimera contract is a head-scratcher. And while I think it was smart to let Martin walk away, that Cizikas extension is another head-scratcher. Lastly, they have $5.57 million left in cap space with Ryan Strome, Scott Mayfield, and two goalie RFAs needing new contracts. The Islanders may be able to fit them all in, but any potential flexibility in their cap is next to nothing at this point. In total, I don’t think the Isles have had a good offseason at all.

In the Isles’ favor is the their questions are at forward and they have some young answers at that position. Brock Nelson and Strome are already on the NHL roster. Michael Dal Colle, Joshua Ho-Sang, Anthony Beauvillier, and Matt Barzal are all in the system and could make a jump in the near future.

Does It Look Like They’ll Make the Playoffs in 2016-17?: I’d say maybe, erring on the side of it being likely. The Isles still have plenty of quality players, but the losses of Nielsen and Okposo will hurt. So would Thomas Griess’ save percentage coming down to Earth. We’ll see.

Philadelphia Flyers

Last Season Result: 41-27-14, 5th in the Metropolitan

Notable Offseason Activity So Far: R.J. Umberger was bought out, Radko Gudas got paid with a four-year extension worth $13.4 million, the team added Boyd Gordon for a one-year deal, and the Flyers’ big signing was getting Dale Wiese for four seasons and a total of $9.4 million.

Better, Worse, Or About the Same: They’re about the same as before. Perhaps a little better up front. Gordon will likely center their fourth line and do a decent job of it. Wiese fits the Flyers in being a tough guy and a forward. He will be an asset to their bottom six as the team that likes to Make it Look Mean is a little meaner with Wiese. Gudas getting an extension doesn’t surprise me but he needs to stop being mean (and dumb) if he wants to be more of an asset for their blueline.

Does It Look Like They’ll Make the Playoffs in 2016-17?: I’d say maybe, erring on the side of it not being likely. It’s the same old story for the Flyers. Up front is pretty solid. I’d argue a little bit better than last season. Their defense isn’t so good. Yeah, yeah, Shane Gostisbehere had a great rookie season; the team is still rocking Michael Del Zotto and Andrew MacDonald regularly. The goaltending? Do you believe in Steve Mason and Michael Neuvirth posting even strength save percentages around 93% again? I don’t think they’ll be awful but that’s going to be hard to repeat. I don’t think their offseason actions so far make them more or less of a playoff team and with their cap space, they’re pretty much done after signing RFAs. I do think they had a hot run to sneak in last season. I don’t think they’ll repeat it, but I do think they’ll challenge the Isles in the standings more often.

Carolina Hurricanes

Last Season Result: 35-31-6, 6th in the Metropolitan

Notable Offseason Activity So Far: Carolina has made a few moves in this offseason. It began with handing Cam Ward a two-year extension worth $6.6 million. The Canes obtained Bryan Bickell and Tuomo Teravainen for picks; taking advantage of Chicago’s cap situation at the time. The team bought out James Wisniewski, who only appeared for 47 seconds for Carolina last season before suffering a torn ACL. Their additions on July 1 were Viktor Stalberg (1 year, $1.5 million) and Lee Stempniak (2 years, $5 million). They still have to spend about $3 million to reach the salary cap floor. With Ryan Murphy, Victor Rask, and Brendan Woods up for new deals, they should meet it easily.

Better, Worse, Or About the Same: I think the Canes are better than what they were. I’m not a fan of the Ward extension as goaltending hindered an otherwise good possession team from reaching their potential. That said, Stalberg, Stempniak, and Bickell will strengthen their wings and Teravainen could really blossom in Carolina as an offensive player. The Canes are better up front and didn’t spend a ton to do it.

Does It Look Like They’ll Make the Playoffs in 2016-17?: I don’t think they will, but they will make a stronger push for it than one may think. Again, the Canes were a good possession team. If Ward and Eddie Lack can provide decent goaltending for a change and the team isn’t beset by awful shooting percentages, then don’t be surprised to see them as a darkhorse in the division.

New Jersey Devils

Last Season Result: 38-36-8, 7th in the Metropolitan

Notable Offseason Activity So Far: You probably know this but let’s review it anyway. The Devils traded Adam Larsson for Taylor Hall. They signed Ben Lovejoy and Vernon Fiddler. They re-signed Jon Merrill, Devante Smith-Pelly, and Beau Bennett - who they got at the NHL Draft in exchange for a third round pick in 2016. All that’s really left, again, are to sign the team’s RFAs (namely, Kyle Palmieri).

Better, Worse, Or About the Same: I’d say a little better at least because they can ice a full roster now. The defense remains as a question, as does offense from the wings. The Devils may have players that can fire the puck, but do they have the players to get those players the puck to begin with? Hall will help. Alone, is he enough? I doubt it.

Does It Look Like They’ll Make the Playoffs in 2016-17?: No. I don’t think the Devils got that much better relative to the division to make for a serious challenge at a postseason spot. I do think they have progressed in their re-build. Maybe next season, depending on how things work out?

Columbus Blue Jackets

Last Season Result: 34-40-8, 8th in the Metropolitan

Notable Offseason Activity So Far: The Blue Jackets started their offseason by extending William Karlsson for two seasons. Speaking of extensions, their one big move on July 1 was to retain Seth Jones for a while. Specifically, six years for a total of $32.4 million. The Blue Jackets made some space as well. They bought out Jared Boll and Fedor Tyutin to make roster and cap space. They also moved Kerby Rychel for Scott Harrington at the 2016 NHL Draft. As far as I can tell, they have not signed anyone new for the NHL team.

Better, Worse, Or About the Same: Technically worse. Boll and Tyutin were NHL players. Maybe not all that effective and perhaps they became surplus players at their positions. But they were on the roster. That said, what they did do made sense. If two players aren’t really going to be assets going forward, it makes sense to cut bait with them. Rychel wasn’t cutting it, so they moved on. Most of all is the Jones extension. Given how uncommon young, big-minute defensemen are, keeping Jones for less than $6 million per season is a fantastic deal. All that and the roster is set to add Sonny Milano, Pierre-Luc Dubois, and Zach Werenski if or when they’re able to do so.

Does It Look Like They’ll Make the Playoffs in 2016-17?: No, but I don’t think they’ll be the sure-fire basement dwellers they quickly became last season either.

Overall

None of the eight teams in the Metropolitan can say they drastically got better in this offseason. Washington and Pittsburgh did not have to do much and so they didn’t. The two New York teams were more active - mostly the Islanders - and they don’t come away looking better than they were back in May. The Flyers got a little better up front, but that’s not where they necessarily needed help so it’s a wash for them. The Devils and Hurricanes made moves and improved in some regard. In fact, the Devils made the most significant one outside of free agency with the Hall trade. But neither team looks all that much more likely for making the postseason. Ditto for Columbus, except they did even less.

On the other hand, no one with the possible exception of the Islanders necessarily got all that worse. Again, they lost Okposo and Nielsen and added Ladd, Chimera, and Parenteau - none of whom can replace what Nielsen did. Sure, other teams in the division have issues. The Rangers’ mishandling of Yandle was an issue even before the offseason as well as the continued presence of their two big anchors on defense. The Devils certainly should see a boost on offense, although it came at the cost of their defense. The Canes still have Cam Ward. The Flyers appear to be banking on last season’s run repeating to some degree. The Blue Jackets did buy out two NHL players, albeit players they didn’t see as a part of their immediate future. Yet, I can’t say any of those five teams are all that worse. And the Islanders may end up being fine due to their youth in the system and on the roster. On the paper I’m looking at, we could see the same top four teams make the playoffs again with only Carolina and Philly really applying any real pressure.

Of course, the game is played on ice and not on paper. We could see New Jersey on the proverbial bubble for a bit. We could even see how Columbus fits in if they don’t start the season falling flat on their collective faces. We could see Carolina and Philadelphia make more serious challenges that would, in theory, put more pressure on the two NY teams. Mind you, this look doesn’t even include the Atlantic Division. They could be a stronger division what with Carey Price actually playing a whole season for Montreal and Boston only missed out on a thin margin last season. We may not see five teams from the Metropolitan go to the postseason. The main point is that most of the division was not very active at the start of the offseason and most teams will spend this rest of the Summer signing their qualified restricted free agents. As such, much of the picture remains the same. The division is still likely for Washington and Pittsburgh to take with the two NY teams likely following behind.

That’s how I see the Metropolitan Division after the first two days of unrestricted free agency and most of the offseason action having taken place. What do you think of the division as of now for next season? Who got better or worse in your mind? Is any team more or less likely to make the playoffs in your view? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the division in the comments. Thank you for reading.