During the season, Sunday’s post is usually the weekly Metropolitan Division snapshot. It’s a summary of what happened around the division and what is to come. In this past season, the New Jersey Devils were constantly in the thick of a playoff hunt and ultimately prevailed by making it to the postseason for the first time since 2012. The weekly post showed where the Devils were involved, who to watch out for, and what games of the upcoming week were important. The division as a whole was so closely packed, a good or a bad week by New Jersey or someone else could have led to a big change. More often than not, it did not happen a lot because someone else would excel or falter along with them. So why is it back today?
Six days and 23 hours ago, unrestricted free agency happened in the NHL. All 31 teams were free to officially sign deals with UFA players, ink extensions with others, and work on other transactions. What happened on July 1, 2018 will impact the upcoming 2018-19 season - and beyond in some cases. Given that the top three teams in the Metropolitan Division will be given automatic playoff berths and the wild card will be split among everyone else in the East, it is relevant to New Jersey’s own playoff hopes for 2019 to know how each team did in the first week of free agency. As Mike correctly wrote on Friday, not a lot happens as the summer rolls on. There could be some significant deals - but in terms of signings, there are slim pickings left per TSN’s top UFA list. So let’s review how other seven teams in the division have done and, at the end, discuss how that may impact the Devils’ own situation for the upcoming season. The other seven? Yes. The Devils have not done much anyway - and, no, signing Eddie Lack does not count as “much.”
(Note: Trades and UFA signings are per TSN’s own trade and free agent trackers. No, the trackers do not pick up every signing, we don’t need every AHLer on a NHL deal mentioned. CapFriendly is used for salary, cap information, and pending RFAs.)
The Caps won the division last season - and the Stanley Cup. So they’re first. As is tradition with these snapshots, the leader gets the headline photo.
Trades (1): Defenseman Brooks Orpik and goalie Philip Grubauer to Colorado for a 2018 second round pick (used to select Kody Clark).
This draft-day deal was to free up cap space for Washington, which they used a few days later. By sending a perfectly capable goalie in Grubauer, who had a great 2017-18 season, the Caps are going to be putting a lot of hope into their depth to backup Braden Holtby. This depth includes Phoenix Copley and young goalies Ilya Samsonov and Vitek Vanacek. Samsonov is the one to watch for in camp. It’d be better if Holtby had a stronger season too.
Signings (4): Defenseman John Carlson (8 years, $64 million), forward Devante Smith-Pelly (1 year, $1 million), defenseman Michael Kempny (4 years, $10 million), forward Nic Dowd (1 year, $650,000)
The trade freed up the space for the Caps to sign John Carlson. I think that’s too much for a player who had such an amazing 2017-18 that he will likely never match it. Better that the Caps throw all that money away than someone else who needed a defenseman in a thin free agent market for them. The Caps did not qualify but did re-sign Devante Smith-Pelly, who will serve as depth and throw in one hot scoring streak at some point next season. They also retained Kempny to basically keep their blueline the same. Dowd is further forward depth.
Pending RFA Contracts (3): Forward Tom Wilson, forward Liam O’Brien, and defenseman Madison Bowey
The big one is the big, constantly-questionable hit machine Tom Wilson. He is a jerk. But the Caps find value in him. The question will be how much. Yes, he has been able to do things along with greater players. But will they pay him for doing well with superior talents instead of his own? We shall see. Bowey and O’Brien will provide further coverage in the lower ranks of their respective positions.
Cap Situation per Cap Friendly: As of this morning, the Caps have 43 out of 50 contracts signed; a roster of 20 players; and their contracts sum up to approximately $71.2 million for an approximate $8.26 million in cap space.
Basically, the Caps have a full roster ready to go. They brought back pretty much everyone. Their RFAs will not eat up enough of that $8.26 million to be a concern for the season. The Caps can even make a move or two if they feel so inclined.
A Way Too Early Time to Ask, But Will They Make the Playoffs?: Yes. They may not win the division but the team is still too talented to falter. Unless there is a rash of injuries plus some awful luck plus some absolutely terrible coaching by new bench boss Todd Reirden, expect the Caps to take a top three spot in the Metropolitan Division again.
The Penguins did not beat Washington in the playoffs this year. They also finished second in the division, just ahead of their cross-state rivals, too. They still have two of the best players in the world.
Trades (1): Forward Conor Sheary and defenseman Matt Hunwick to Buffalo for a conditional fourth-round pick for a 2019 second round pick.
Sheary had an awesome 2016-17 season with 53 points in 61 games. He played a lot with Sidney Crosby in 5-on-5 situations in that season; 696:04, more than any other Penguin skater per Natural Stat Trick. Sheary did not have an awesome 2017-18 season with 30 points in 79 games - despite playing over 500 minutes with Crosby. As for Hunwick, he played 42 games, averaged over 17 minutes per game, and was one of Pittsburgh’s worst defensemen in 5-on-5 play per Natural Stat Trick. I think the Pens dumped them for whatever.
Signings (9): Forward Daniel Sprong (2 years, $1.5 million), Dominik Simon (2 years, $1.5 million), forward Bryan Rust (4 years, $14 million), forward Riley Sheahan (1 year, $2.1 million), forward Jean-Sebastian Dea (1 year, $650,000), defenseman Jack Johnson (5 years, $16 million), forward Matt Cullen (1 year, $650,000), defenseman Stefan Elliott (1 year, $650,000), and forward Jimmy Hayes (1 year, $650,000)
A good number of these signings are depth deals. Simon and Sprong looked good in a 5-on-5 perspective in appearances last season. Shout out to Cullen for getting signed at the ripe age of 41 - he’ll be 42 in November. The major signings were for Rust and Johnson. While not terribly productive (38 points in 68 games), Rust was rather good in the run of play and fit in well with Jake Guentzel and Crosby - and without them, per Natural Stat Trick. Maybe a $3.5 million cap hit seems large but he has his uses. It is not as laughable as the Jack Johnson signing. Johnson has always been an overrated player. From a physical standpoint, he’s quite alluring with his strength, speed, and desire. From a playing-defense standpoint, think of a worse John Moore. So signing him to a five year deal has the potential of being rather poor. It did yield a fun beef between the Pittsburgh and Columbus management, featuring a profane rant by John Tortorella.
Pending RFA Contracts (5): Defenseman Jamie Oleksiak, forward Teddy Blueger, defenseman Ethan Prow, forward Thomas DiPauli, and goaltender Tristan Jarry
Out of these five, Oleksiak is the only NHLer while Jarry did make some appearances as the team’s #3 goalie. Given that Oleksiak was playing the kinds of minutes given to Ian Cole and Hunwick, I cannot imagine he will command a lot of money. Which is good because the Penguins do not exactly have a lot of cap space.
Cap Situation per Cap Friendly: As of this morning, the Penguins have 39 out of 50 contracts signed; a roster of 22 players; and their contracts sum up to approximately $76.6 million for an approximate $2.88 million in cap space - which is the second lowest amount in the NHL at this time.
Like Washington, Pittsburgh’s roster is largely set. Unlike Washington, there will not be a lot of breathing room after Oleksiak is re-signed. There will be enough for call-ups and such. But if they want to make a trade or sign someone else, then they may have to think about shedding some salary elsewhere.
A Way Too Early Time to Ask, But Will They Make the Playoffs?: Yes. While I do not think they have done particularly well in this offseason, I do not think they are so much worse than before. Besides, the team is still led by their stars: Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel. Some of those depth signings could provide use, but as long as those three forwards can cream opponents separately or together, the Pens will get a lot of wins. It would help a lot of Kris Letang and Matt Murray (especially Murray) both have better seasons, but the Pens still finished second in the Metropolitan despite them. Pittsburgh will eventually fall, but this is not that year.
I forgot they finished third in the Metropolitan. The division race was so tight that they finished just ahead of Columbus and New Jersey to take that last automatic spot.
Signings (4): Defenseman Sam Morin (3 years, $2.1 million), forward James van Reimsdyk (5 years, $35 million), defenseman Christian Folin (1 year, $650,000), and goaltender Alex Lyon (2 years, $1.5 million).
The big one is the return of van Reimsdyk to Philadelphia. He was one of the best UFAs available and he decided to take a significant sum of money from the franchise that first had him. As if the Flyers need more offensive forwards, they got him. Morin and Folin will help shore up a blueline that is led by Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov. Lyon got into some games last season (and let up this lovely game winner by the winner of the Nico vs. Nolan debate); he’ll be #3 or #4 in Philly’s depth chart.
Pending RFA Contracts (6): Forward Taylor Leier, defenseman Robert Hagg, defenseman Reece Willcox, forward Tyrell Goulbourne, forward Danick Martel, and goaltender Anthony Stolarz
With all due respect to Robert Hagg, nobody on this list will command a whole lot of money or term. Unless I’m mistaken, only Hagg was primarily a Flyer last season. Lyon did make 11 appearances last season but he’s a #3 at best.
Cap Situation per Cap Friendly: As of this morning, the Flyers have 42 out of 50 contracts signed; a roster of 19 players; and their contracts sum up to approximately $65.5 million for an approximate $13.94 million in cap space.
Philly may be earmarking a chunk of that cap space for extensions to Travis Konecny and Ivan Provorov, but the Flyers have some big money deals coming off the books after 2018-19 too. The Flyers are in this interesting spot of being a talented team with plenty of young talent and loads of flexibility with their budget. Good management should keep them as a good team.
A Way Too Early Time to Ask, But Will They Make the Playoffs?: Probably. Philly finally got good goaltending (seriously), they have young studs on their blueline, and their attack is quite strong - and likely stronger now with James van Reimsdyk. I could see them jump past Pittsburgh, which I’m sure their fans would love. I could just as easily see them only make it as a wildcard team. They nearly did so last season. Despite the talent and some excellent performances, just edging the third-place spot confuses me since Pittsburgh and Washington were hardly unbeatable monsters in the division.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Fun fact: The Blue Jackets finished just ahead of New Jersey due to tiebreakers in the standings. They each had 39 ROWs, so the head-to-head matchup broke the tie. Columbus went 3-1-0 against the Devils. So they got the Caps while the Devils got the Bolts in the first round. Neither won the matchup.
Trades (1): Forward Jordan Schroeder to Chicago for goaltender Jean-Sebastian Berube
This was a minor deal that impacts, well, not much at the NHL level. I suppose Berube will be an experienced #3 goalie in Columbus? We’ll see.
Signings (7): Defenseman Markus Nutivaara (4 years, $10.8 million), defenseman Tommy Cross (1 year, $650,000), defenseman Adam Clendening (1 year, $700,000), defenseman Dillon Simpson (2 years, $1.35 million), forward Riley Nash (3 years, $8.25 million), forward Boone Jenner (4 years, $15 million), and forward Anthony Duclair (1 year, $650,000)
Columbus made sure they would keep Nutivaara and Jenner. Nutivaara has been a solid right-handed defenseman (example: these 5-on-5 numbers at Natural Stat Trick) behind Seth Jones and David Savard. I wonder if Jenner was overpaid? Jenner has not been able to repeat his 30-goal 2015-16 season as he put up fewer than 40 points in each of the last two seasons. He was not that good in the run of play last season either. But he’s a mainstay of the squad and he will be for four more years. Picking up Riley Nash, who put up 41 points while receiving about 15 minutes per game with Boston last season, was a shrewder move. Likewise, taking a flyer on Anthony Duclair may pay off if he finds his rookie-year game again.
Pending RFA Contracts (2): Forward Oliver Bjorkstand and defenseman Ryan Murray.
Murray did not really excel last season. In 44 games, he averaged over 18 minutes per game, and provided just one goal and eleven assists to go with 34 shots on net. According to Natural Stat Trick, Murray may be about the defense with a good-looking-on-the-team SA/60 below thirty in 5-on-5 play. But the percentages are around the 50% range - and others have done better. He has not been bad, but again, he has not been all that good compared to the other defenders on his team. How much Columbus values him remains to be seen. Bjorkstand finished fourth on the team in scoring with 40 points and was not too shabby in 5-on-5 play either. While he was an UFA and is older, I’m sure the Nash contract may have given Bjorkstand some ideas on what he could earn.
Cap Situation per Cap Friendly: As of this morning, the Blue Jackets have 45 out of 50 contracts signed; a roster of 22 players; and their contracts sum up to approximately $68.5 million for an approximate $10.95 million in cap space.
Murray and Bjorkstand will likely take up a good chunk of that cap space. The Blue Jackets may be wise to keep whatever space they have around. They may need to open some more up, in fact. They have plenty of pending free agents in 2019. Most notably their ace goaltender Sergey Bobrovsky (UFA) and defensive stud Zach Werenski (RFA). With Columbus putting together a very competitive squad, I would expect them to do what they can avoid regressing.
A Way Too Early Time to Ask, But Will They Make the Playoffs?: Probably with more of a lean to a “no.” They’re in a similar spot as Philadelphia in my mind. The X-factor is Artemi Panarin. Apparently, instead of signing an extension, the Blue Jackets have been testing the market for the superb winger. If he’s traded before 2018-19 starts, then the Blue Jackets will suffer in the short term unless they get a great return. I think they should keep him for now and let the chips fall where they may lay. With a lot of younger talent carrying the load plus Bobrovsky being great in net, the Blue Jackets’ time to contend is now. Moving Panarin in a trade will likely have them take a step back. That all said, this team is feisty enough in the run of play to give opponents fits and could squeeze into a top three spot. We shall see.
Another year of great 5-on-5 numbers but terrible shooting and goaltending leaving the Canes well outside of the playoff race. New ownership and management has shaken things up and so the Canes will have a new look for next season. Maybe they’ll even buy a save or a shooting percentage.
Trades (1): Defenseman Noah Hanifin and forward Elias Lindholm to Calgary for defenseman Dougie Hamilton, forward Michael Ferland, and defenseman Adam Fox
This deal was done on the second day of the NHL Draft and it became the big topic of discussion. I think Hanifin is a fine young defenseman and Lindholm is a useful pivot. That said, the Canes got the better defenseman in the deal, a useful winger in Ferland, and a potential asset in Fox. Hamilton is an upgrade right now and his arrival has opened the door for Carolina to explore other deals (word on the street is that Justin Faulk is available).
Signings (4): Forward Valentin Zykov (2 years, $1.35 million), goaltender Petr Mrazek (1 year, $1.5 million), defenseman Calvin de Haan (4 years, $18.2 million), defenseman Trevor van Reimsdyk (2 years, $4.6 million)
I’m not sure in what world signing Petr Mrazek would help with a goaltending situation. Given how bad Cam Ward and (especially) Scott Darling were last season, maybe this is a no-bad-options situation. Ward signed elsewhere, so Carolina’s hopes will be pinned to Darling, Mrazek, or some other goalie emerging to take his spot. Sigh. Zykov and van Reimsdyk return to support the depth at their respective positions. The big signing is de Haan. That’s a big bet on someone who missed a lot of time the last two seasons due to shoulder injuries. When healthy, he is a fine left-sided defenseman who can play against good competition. The concern is the health. If he can stay on the ice and function, Carolina’s blueline still remains as the team’s biggest strength with Slavvin, Pesce, Hamilton, de Haan, Faulk, and van Reimsdyk with Haydn Fluery providing additional cover. Carolina made a big deal to get Hamilton, which looks good.
Pending RFA Contracts (2): Forward Greg McKegg and forward Lucas Wallmark
Neither McKegg (no games with Carolina last season) or Wallmark (11 games, averaged less than 10 minutes per game last season) really factor in at the NHL level. I do not think their RFA status will cause any concern to the Canes roster or their cap.
Cap Situation per Cap Friendly: As of this morning, the Hurricanes have 43 out of 50 contracts signed; a roster of 21 players; and their contracts sum up to approximately $66.7 million for an approximate $12.78 million in cap space.
Carolina has plenty of expiring deals on the books in 2018-19, particularly at forward. Some are good bets to be extended, like Teuvo Teravainen and Sebastian Aho. However, others have been thrown around as potentially available in a trade, like Jeff Skinner. Ownership has mandated that almost everybody is available.
A Way Too Early Time to Ask, But Will They Make the Playoffs?: No. While the team played better than what their record suggested for years, bad goaltending and awful shooting has held them back. I can understand why the team is shaking things up; but they have yet to shake up their biggest need: the guy in their own net. I expect them to be who they have been: a tough opponent that will still miss the playoffs because Darling and Mrazek will likely not be a good goaltending duo.
Now if they can shoot better and get NHL average goaltending, then they become a new obstacle for New Jersey. But I and many others have been saying that for years now and it has not happened yet. I fail to see why I should believe it for 2018-19.
New York Islanders
You might have head of this team about far too many times this offseason. At least they’re going to a new building on Long Island in 2018-19. Oh, they also hired an old legend of the New Jersey Devils to be the GM, who appears to be well past his prime.
Trades (1): Goaltender Eamon McAdam to Toronto for forward Matt Martin
Martin returns to the Islanders to be gritty and on the ice and not much else. Lou Lamoriello liked him enough to bring him to Toronto, so he brought him to the Isles.
Signings (5): Defenseman Thomas Hickey (4 years, $10 million), forward Leo Komarov (4 years, $12 million), forward Tom Khunhackl (1 year, $700,000), forward Valtteri Filppula (1 year, $2.5 million) and goaltender Robin Lehner (1 year, $1.5 million)
Hickey and Komarov are not good enough players to warrant keeping around for four years. Khunhackl is a nice enough “depth” signing but also not as necessary. Filppula is not that good and he bizarrely has a no-movement clause. Combined with the return of Martin, the Isles could have one really expensive and not-so-effective bottom six group at forward. The Lehner signing is an intriguing one. He managed to post a 91.5% even strength save percentage on a really bad Buffalo team last season. That’s around league average, which is mildly impressive. As the Isles’ own goaltending was lit up last season, bringing him is a chance worth taking. He’ll start by backing up Thomas Greiss.
Pending RFA Contracts (5): Forward Ross Johnston, forward Brock Nelson, defenseman Ryan Pulock, defenseman Kyle Burroughs, and defenseman Devon Toews.
Nelson has been a fairly consistent 20-goal and 35-40 point scorer since his rookie NHL season. He stands to make some coin pretty soon. Pulock was arguably one of the better defenseman on a Isles blueline that was shredded most nights in 5-on-5 play. Pulock also put up 10 goals and 32 points last season. Pulock’s 2017-18 was his first full season of NHL hockey. In other words, he also stands to make some good coin pretty soon too. The other three are minor signings that should not have too much of an impact.
Cap Situation per Cap Friendly: As of this morning, the Islanders have 38 out of 50 contracts signed; a roster of 19 players; and their contracts sum up to approximately $59.7 million for an approximate $19.81 million in cap space.
The Isles do not have to worry about their cap. Their RFAs will get them over the floor and the team can use their cap space to help others out. Because they’re not going anywhere after early April.
A Way Too Early Time to Ask, But Will They Make the Playoffs?: No. John Tavares was their superstar, he was great last season, he did it all for the Isles, and even with Mat Barzal scoring bucketloads of points, the team came nowhere close to the postseason. Now without Tavares, they’re supposed to do it? No way.
A few years back, it looked like this team was making the leap towards being a contender. With Tavares in his prime, that was ideal. That fell apart thanks to poor management by Garth Snow. Ownership scrambled to make a last-minute pitch to keep the ace on Long Island. They got Lou Lamoriello, who promptly dumped Doug Weight for the champion-winning Barry Trotz. They talked turkey and offered a ton of money. But Tavares saw a better situation in Toronto, eschewed the eighth year only the Isles could give him, and took his talents to turn an already emergent Maple Leafs squad in what could be a team to shake up the two-team power-trip atop of the Atlantic Division. All of a sudden, the Isles look real poor again. Sure, Barzal and Anthony Beauviller provide hope for a brighter future, but I’m seeing a lot of 25+ players with sizeable contracts on the books at CapFriendly. Short of some coaching wizardry by Trotz and good fortune, I think things are going to get worse for the Isles before it gets better.
New York Rangers
They wanted to blow it up. They’ve done that. Now they re-build.
Trades (0): None.
Signings (3): Goaltender Marek Mazanec (1 year, $650,000) and defenseman Frederik Claesson (1 year, $700,000), and forward Vladislav Namestnikov (2 years, $8 million)
Namestnikov was acquired by the Rangers in one of their many trades last season. They re-upped his deal to keep him around for a bit. The other two signings are minor ones. Mazanec will join a goaltender battle for the #2 spot behind Henrik Lundqvist. A quick peek at their books at CapFriendly suggests that said battle will also feature Chris Nell, Alexandar Georgiev, and Brandon Halverson. Georgiev did play in 10 games last season so he may be the favorite. But not enough for the Rangers to not add to his competition. Claesson joins a crowded NY blueline, where the organization will have to sort out who should stick around or not in camp.
Pending RFA Contracts (8): Forward Ryan Spooner, forward Kevin Hayes, forward Jimmy Vesey, defenseman Rob O’Gara, defenseman John Gilmour, defenseman Brady Skjei, forward Cristoval Nieves, and defenseman Chris Bigras
The Rangers will have no shortage of activity on this front. Hayes and Skeji have become key parts of the team amid their re-build. Hayes finished fourth on the team in scoring last season and has put up a third 40+ point season out of four NHL seasons. Skjei averaged over 21 minutes of ice time last season and was the only defender to play 82 games. He was not astounding but he did well compared to the many other names on the blueline in 5-on-5 play per Natural Stat Trick. The others will likely cost less. Vesey is a NHLer but showed little improvement over his rookie season. Spooner has never made a big impact. O’Gara, Bigras, and Gilmour may have futures in this league. As far as I can tell, they’re not quite there yet but they should get plenty of opportunities in this coming season. At least the RFAs should get the Rangers well over the salary floor.
Cap Situation per Cap Friendly: As of this morning, the Rangers have 37 out of 50 contracts signed; a roster of 16 players; and their contracts sum up to approximately $55.7 million for an approximate $23.73 million in cap space.
Six of those eight RFAs were listed on the NHL roster so the roster will be filled out as they get signed. The Rangers should still have ample amount of cap space after those signings, which is preferable for any re-building organization. I do not anticipate any issue here.
A Way Too Early Time to Ask, But Will They Make the Playoffs?: Not a chance. The Rangers are re-building and it is remarkable how much they already gutted their roster. They have only four forwards making over $4 million. All of them can be moved, in theory. They only have three defensemen making over $4 million - but they have clauses that limit what the Rangers can do with them. Lundqvist is still getting paid a lot; but given how much talent has left the team, it is no albatross on the salary cap. This is a team that could clean itself out further as they compile picks, prospects, and other players to form a new team around. It remains to be seen as to who they see as being their “core” for a brighter future. One I, of course, hope does not happen for a long time. For this coming season, they’re going to be bad. They’ll battle with the Isles for not finishing last.
In summary, the Metropolitan Division was not all that active in this offseason. While other teams certainly did more than the Devils, did anyone really get that much better?
Philadelphia and Carolina can both claim to have improved. Philly picked up James van Reimsdyk and left it largely at that. Carolina made one of the biggest trades in this offseason to bring in a known-quantity in Hamilton. They also bet big on Calvin de Haan and could make some more bold moves. They can claim to be improved among their skaters. But Philly was a playoff team already and Carolina still missed the postseason by a lot because they cannot stop (or score) enough goals. Maybe Hamilton and de Haan help in that in someway, but the Scott Darling problem remains in Raleigh. Until Carolina actually makes changes there, who can buy them as a potential playoff team after years of being burned before?
Pittsburgh and the Islanders can be seen as getting worse. The Pens’ signing of Jack Johnson was dubious and they do not appear to have really strengthened anything beyond depth. The Isles spent good money on not good players. Losing Tavares would hurt anyone significant, but the Isles did not really soften that particular blow. But, again, the Penguins were already a playoff team and the Isles also missed the postseason by a lot even with John Tavares in the fold.
The Devils have effectively done nothing at the NHL level to make themselves better or all that worse. While several players left the organization for other ones, it could be that none of the departures are all that significant. The only “major” loss would be Patrick Maroon, who is expected to sign with St. Louis per Jeremy Rutherford at The Athletic ($). It is a testament to his short time in New Jersey that he was able to help the Devils in many ways on and off the scoresheet (his screens were perfect; being a screener is more than just being big) despite not being fast or particularly skilled. That said, he is coming off back surgery and the terms of the contract may make his departure eaiser to accept. As for the rest, well, it’s not much. John Moore was the “biggest player,” and the defense is arguably better off. Michael Grabner, Brian Gibbons (who was a fine fourth liner), and Jimmy Hayes will not be missed at forward and their spots can be filled in easily.
As CJ wrote on Wednesday, it may be just fine that the Devils did as little as possible this offseason. None of the other seven teams in the division did something that would significantly change their situation for better or for worse. The Devils may truly be the fifth best team in the division again. Maybe sixth in terms of skaters given the Canes’ additions. But unless Carolina’s new coaching staff is as smart as the previous one and they get some actually decent goaltending, I currently count them out along with the two New York teams. The Devils may be able provide a challenge to Columbus or Philly (if Philly squanders things again), but they are not so good to be expected to be better than those teams. Not on paper and not now, at least.
A related question will be whether the Atlantic will provide a wild-card challenger. Last season, Florida got hot after the All-Star break and scared a lot of the Devils faithful as being right on the team’s tails in the standings. The Devils ultimately pulled ahead of them by one point. But no one in the division can claim to be all that much better than before. Tampa Bay is trying to add to their wealth of talent. Toronto added John Tavares, which is a massive win on its own. Boston remains a force. Ottawa is in a tailspin of bad management, drama, cheap ownership, and just all around bad stuff. Oh, and they’re going to trade their superstar away instead of paying the man; and some of the rumors involve dumping an expensive Bobby Ryan contract, as if you need more reason to wonder why they’re doing this. Buffalo is going to hope St. Louis gave them pieces to really replace a really good Ryan O’Reilly - oh and also figure out a team that Jack Eichel can lead to do things. Florida has also not done much of anything, outside of picking up Mike Hoffman through a trade with San Jose. Detroit is a team in need of a re-build while somewhat strapped to the cap. Montreal, which is also a mess, just found out that Shea Weber will be out for months with a knee injury - so they’re worse off than before. Unless Florida shows their real form is closer to the team that nearly sniped a playoff spot, the Metropolitan Division could send five teams to the postseason again. That helps New Jersey’s cause.
The harsher reality is that this NHL offseason has really been more involved in the Western Conference. San Jose spent a lot to keep Kane and their other vets as well as made a trade to help Ottawa get rid of Mike Hoffman before dumping him on Florida. Los Angeles won the Kovalchuk sweepstakes (6.25 million HA’s) and signed Drew Doughty to a huge extension. St. Louis was active in picking up players like David Perron and acquired O’Reilly. Winnipeg helped make space to keep their own top players. Paul Stastny, one of the few top UFA forwards available, went to Vegas. James Neal moved on to Calgary for over $28 million. Other than Tavares and some extensions, the East have not been huge spenders. Granted, the market was weak this year but this makes for an Eastern Conference picture that may look similar to last year’s.
So as it stands, I think the Devils staying in place may work out. I still think there is much to improve for the Devils to become a consistent playoff team and eventually a contender one day. There will be plenty of pressure for the 2018-19 Devils to make the playoffs between fan expectations rising from making it last season and to help entice certain players (read: Taylor Hall) to stay in Newark and help them flourish. But the offseason has not changed the state of the division so much so that the Devils are in trouble to start the season. That is my snapshot of the Metropolitan after the first week of free agency.
What is your take on the division a week after July 1, 2018? Who do you see taking the top three spots? Are the Devils the fifth best team in the Metropolitan right now? Should they be better or worse, and why? Did anyone in the Atlantic do anything to become a challenge for a wildcard spot? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the Metropolitan Division a week out from July 1 in the comments. Thank you for reading.