As we know, this summer Ray Shero did not do all that much in free agency to improve this team from the outside. There were a few minor signings, but in the end the New Jersey Devils that take the ice come October are going to look very similar to the team that was out there at the end of last season. Many people have already hit on the positives and negatives of this, but what I wanted to do today was simply summarize how active the other seven teams in the Metropolitan Division were, to really gauge what NJ will be looking at as compared to last season.
The Devils barely made the postseason last year, just barely holding onto the last wild card position. This was largely due to the Metro being a very competitive division. It did not produce with loads of points in the overall standings: Washington won the division with 105 points, but that was only good for 3rd in the Atlantic and Central, and 2nd in the Pacific. However, the worst team in the division, New York, was still 12th in the Eastern Conference. Four teams were worse than them in the East alone. It is a tight division, and if other teams markedly improved while NJ remained the same, it could make it tougher to repeat as a playoff team next year. Info on free agency additions and subtractions from NHL.com. I’m not going to mention all additions and subtractions as well, just the more major ones and not any re-signings. If I left off a signing or departure that you feel should also be added here, definitely mention it in the comments.
Additions: Calvin de Haan, Petr Mrazek
Subtractions: Cam Ward
Unsigned: Lee Stempniak
Comment: Bringing in Calvin de Haan was a big move for Carolina, who was competitive with NJ for that final wild card position up until the last week or so. However, perhaps the bigger signing in the long run will be their new goaltender, Petr Mrazek. If you look at possession and some other analytics, the Hurricanes were a good team last year that just got sunk by bad goaltending. If Mrazek can claim the #1 goalie position and play well, they could be a contender next year.
Additions: Riley Nash, Anthony Duclair
Subtractions: Matt Calvert, Ian Cole, Jack Johnson, Thomas Vanek
Comment: Columbus had to let some players go, but they need their cap space to sign their own. They managed to sign Boone Jenner and Oliver Bjorkstrand to long-term deals. And of course, they want to bring back Artemi Panarin. In the end, however, I do not think they are much worse off because of their detractions. In fact, I think the signing of Duclair for minimal was shrewd, and something Shero could have done and I think should have. They should still contend.
Additions: Valtteri Filppula, Leo Komarov, Robin Lehner, Tom Kuhnhackl
Subtractions: John Tavares, Calvin de Haan, Jaroslav Halak
Comment: There was a lot of upheaval on the island, with the team bringing in Lou Lamoriello to head up operations of the team as new GM and then signing Cup champion coach Barry Trotz. They should definitely improve the running and makeup of the team, but the fact of the matter is they lost Tavares first and foremost, and de Haan as well. In the short term, they should theoretically be worse off, but we will see what Trotz can do. In the long term, they could become relevant with better management and coaching.
Subtractions: David Desharnais, others
Comment: The Rangers brought back a lot of their own players already, and a couple they just traded for midseason in Vlad Namestnikov and Ryan Spooner. Their biggest signing was probably Brady Skjei, who received a six year deal. They seem to be playing for the basement of the Metro and a great chance for a lottery win, but who knows.
Additions: James van Riemsdyk
Subtractions: Valtteri Filppula, Brandon Manning, Matt Read
Unsigned: Johnny Oduya
Comment: Getting JVR was a big signing for Philly, and they did not lose terribly much. They were a playoff team last year and could be again.
Additions: Jack Johnson, Matt Cullen, Jimmy Hayes
Comment: Pitt inked Jack Johnson to a big deal, which it is debatable how good he is, with his -5.22 relative Corsi percentage last year in Columbus. Otherwise, they are still a force to be reckoned with, so in the end it might not matter much.
Subtractions: Jay Beagle
Unsigned: Alex Chiasson
Comment: They’re the defending champs. They brought back Brooks Orpik, and signed Tom Wilson to a big deal. They should be a playoff team once again.
In the end, it looks to me like the division is still going to be very tough. Arguably you have two teams that might not perform so well, both of them hailing from New York. Otherwise, I think Carolina has definitely tried to improve and probably has, and everyone else was already a playoff team. Of those, I think you could say Philly improved by bringing in JVR, Pittsburgh didn’t lose anyone of note and brought in more players, and the Caps still have most of their team together that won the whole thing.
If the Devils want to remain in the top 5 of the division and in fact try and move up, they’ll need to take advantage of their games against the New Yorks, and otherwise will need to play well against some really quality competition in the division. It seems like a simple concept, but NJ really needs to focus on beating the teams that are beatable. NJ likes to play to the level of their competition on many nights, and considering the competition within the division, they really need to focus on not doing so, and instead taking the easy points when they can get them.
It will truly be interesting to see if NJ, which did not do much at all in free agency, will still be able to compete in this division.