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2019 Offseason Metropolitan Division Snapshot: How it Stacks Up for New Jersey

It is clear that the New Jersey Devils will likely be a better team than they were last year. However, can they move up in the division and take a playoff spot? To answer that, this special offseason Metropolitan Division snapshot looks at the offseasons so far for all other 7 teams in the division.

New York Rangers v New Jersey Devils
Will the Devils jump past the Rangers and others in the division? Maybe?
Photo by Andy Marlin/NHLI via Getty Images

Despite only one NHL signing on July 1, the New Jersey Devils have had a substantial offseason. They won the 2019 NHL Draft Lottery and selected center Jack Hughes first overall at the 2019 NHL Draft. On the second day, the Devils sent a package not including a first rounder or a bonafide NHL player to Nashville in exchange for defenseman P.K. Subban. The Devils were also able to ink Jesper Boqvist to an entry level contract. He is one of New Jersey’s top prospects and he is coming over from Sweden to compete for a NHL job. That one NHL signing is a low-risk, good-reward signing; right winger Wayne Simmonds signed a one-season contract and has every intention of showing that the Wayne Train has a lot left in the engine. In conjunction with a number of lower depth players signing elsewhere and a healthier roster, the 2019-20 Devils figure to be a better team than the 2018-19 squad. At least on paper.

This leads us to the big question: Are the Devils now a playoff team?

My current answer is I’m not sure. It is a better team. There is no question that the New Jersey Devils are better now than where they were on July 7, 2018. Are they good enough to rise up in the Metropolitan Division and take a playoff spot either in the top three spots in the division or stay ahead of the pack for the wildcard? To answer that, we must look at what the other seven teams did in this offseason so far. Let’s do that in this post, a special offseason edition of the Metropolitan Division Snapshot.

I did this last year and I think it was a good enough exercise to repeat it. The majority of the offseason activities have all taken place, so it is a good time as any to assess whether they are trending up, down, or staying about the same. This post will not review every single signing and transaction that each team has had. It will focus on significant moves, free agent signings, re-signed players, their cap situation, and what else they have to do as of July 6.

All salary cap information is from the essential CapFriendly. All trade and free agent signing information is from TSN’s trackers, linked respectively. Arbitration information came from the NHLPA’s release on July 5. Additional sources will be linked and referenced as needed. For the purposes of this post, the offseason began after the regular season ended. The order of teams will be based on last season’s final standings. The Devils will be excluded because this whole site has focused on what they’ve done in the offseason. Please pack a lunch or plan some time for this post; this is an overview of the offseason for seven other teams so it will not be short.

Washington Capitals

Last Season: 48-26-8, 104 points, first in the Metropolitan Division

Notable Offseason Signings: Garnet Hathaway (4 years, $6 million); Richard Panik (4 years, $11 million, Brendan Leipsic (1 year; $700k)

Notable Offseason Re-Signings (2): Nic Dowd (3 years, $2.25 million); Carl Hagelin (4 years; $11 million)

With Burakowsky traded and Brett Connolly going elsewhere, the Capitals sought to strengthen their depth. This makes sense. The Caps’ top forwards were and will be Ovechkin, Backstrom, Kuznetsov, and Oshie. They need more middle and bottom six forwards and they got players to do the job. One may wonder why Hathaway, Panik, Dowd, and Hagelin were signed to these deals three years from now, but Washington’s window is still open today.

Trades (2): Defenseman Matt Niskanen to Philadelphia for defenseman Radko Gudas; forward Andre Burakowsky to Colorado for forward Scott Kosmachuk, 2020 2nd round pick, 2020 3rd round pick

As noted at Japers’ Rink by Becca H, the Niskanen-Gudas swap also included Philly retaining 30% of Gudas’ salary. Greg Young had a breakdown of the trade in this post; the main point is that the Caps became younger on defense and more financially flexible for a declining Niskanen. That’s a win for Washington. Burakowsky was a player that clearly had talent but could not command more ice time or demonstrate that talent enough.

Who’s Left to Re-Sign (3): forward Chandler Stephenson, forward Jakub Vrana, defenseman Christian Djoos

Stephenson and Djoos filed for arbitration so they’ll get likely get paid in the next few weeks. Given that the Caps have under $4.3 million of cap space for these three players, this could be a little contentious seeing that Vrana could command a large upgrade over his ELC after a 47-point season last season. I think the play here would be to sort out Djoos and Stephenson first to avoid any hearings and then figure out how to make room for Vrana.

The Cap Situation: The Capitals have 40 out of 50 contracts on the books for a total cap hit of approximately $77.2 million. That means they have $4.285 million of cap space. Re-signing all three players will be tight, so do not be shocked if the Caps move one more player for flexibility purposes later in the offseason.

Trending: About the same. It’s not so much that the Caps did not get notably better or notably worse. It’s that this team took first in the division last season and the main players are still here and still succeeding. Therefore, I think they’re likely to repeat that in 2019-20.

It’s Early, But Is This a Playoff Team?: You bet. The top forwards are still in viable ages. John Carlson and Dmitry Orlov are still top defensemen and Gudas, when not suspended, is very capable. Braden Holtby is still good. It would take a rash of injuries and bad luck and even that might not be enough to have them play golf in early April as opposed to early May.

New York Islanders

Last Season: 48-27-7, 103 points, second in the Metropolitan Division

Notable Offseason Signings: Seymon Varlamov (4 years, $20 million)

The signing of goaltender Varlamov is intended to both replace Robin Lehner and provide some consistency in net as Thomas Greiss is entering the last season of his contract. Varlamov has been quite good at times in the past, but he is 31, he has had some injury issues, and he is coming off a not-so-hot season. According to Natural Stat Trick, he posted an all-situations save percentage of 90.9% and a Goals Saved Above Average of -1.17 last season. Replacing Lehner is going to be tough He was awesome last season and truly wanted to stay as indicated as part of Dominik’s post at Lighthouse Hockey. I can believe that Lehner was a big risk to come back down to Earth in 2019-20 but the pressure will be on Varlamov to perform well early on. And possibly to convince Ilya Sorokin to come to Long Island soon.

Notable Offseason Re-Signings (3): Brock Nelson (6 years, $36 million), Jordan Eberle (5 years, $27.5 million), Anders Lee (7 years, $49 million)

While the Isles did not go out and get clear upgrades, they did keep their top forwards from becoming available or out of contract. Lee is definitely an over-payment. I think he’s a good player but that’s a huge contract. Then again, Kevin Hayes has been a bit less productive than Lee and he got similar money so what do I know? Eberle seems to be declining, and Nelson is a solid hand; but those are not terrible deals.

Trades: N/A

Who’s Left to Re-Sign (2): forward Anthony Beauvillier, forward Michael Dal Colle

I think Beauvillier has some talent and he could breakout in the next two seasons. I’m curious to see if the Isles will want to lock him up for a long term or if it will be a bridge deal. Both of these new contracts should not break the bank - not that it is a concern for the Isles given their cap situation.

The Cap Situation: The Islanders have 41 contracts out of 50 on the books for a total cap hit of approximately $72.8 million. That means they have roughly $8.65 million of cap space. Isles fans do not need to worry about Lou’s cap.

Trending: Down. The Lehner-Greiss tandem were top five in the NHL in terms of GSAA per Natural Stat Trick. It was doubtful they could repeat that performance for another season and now one half of it is replaced by a four-season gamble on Varlamov’s health and consistency working out in the Isles’ favor. I expect the goaltending play to go down. While the forwards look solid, there is a lot of money tied up in Mathew Barzal, Lee, Eberle, Andrew Ladd, and Josh Bailey. Other than Barzal, they all need to pull their weight to provide the value for their money. The defense remains the same as last season; I question whether that needed an upgrade. Still, the 2018-19 team surprised a lot of people - including myself - by not only making the playoffs but just finishing one point behind first place. However, it is a team not making a lot of possibly needed changes after an unexpectedly good season. I’ve seen this picture recently. It does not end well for that team.

It’s Early, But Is This a Playoff Team?: It is questionable. Can Eberle bounce back? Will Ladd be healthy and productive? Can Nelson and Lee provide more? Will the defense be viable for another season? Most of all, can Varlamov and Greiss be good for another season? I’m not seeing it right now. They’ll battle and be a tough out, but I think this team goes back towards the bottom of the division.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Last Season: 44-26-12, 100 points, third in the Metropolitan Division

Notable Offseason Signing: Brandon Tanev (6 years, $21 million)

Why? Just...why? According to Hockey-Reference, Tanev is a 27-year old left winger who has played 195 NHL season games within the better part of the last three seasons and put up a total of 24 goals and 51 points. He set a season high in his career last season with 29 points. He averaged just over 14 minutes per game last season. Per Natural Stat Trick, the 5-on-5 play for Winnipeg was not that good (or that bad) when he was on the ice. Somehow, someway, this player received a 6-year deal with a $3.5 million cap hit. With the team’s needs and their cap situation, this is what they do? Why?

Notable Offseason Re-Signing: Chad Ruhwedel (2 years, $1.4 million)

This was a depth re-signing for the blueline. You know, that area that was lit up in the postseason earlier this year and was an issue throughout the season. There is nothing offensive about keeping Ruhwedel.

Trades (2): defenseman Olli Maatta to Chicago for forward Dominik Kahun and a 2019 fifth round pick (sent to Arizona in a pick-for-pick trade at the draft); forward Phil Kessel, defenseman Dane Birks, and 2021 fourth round pick to Arizona for forward Alex Galchenyuk and defenseman Pierre-Olivier Joseph.

Maatta played a ton for Pittsburgh and while his contract made him desirable to be dealt, that blueline is thinner for it. Gretz at PensBurgh has an analysis of the deal with respect to Pittsburgh’s blueline. While Kahun will get his chance on a team that could use cheap players to fill out the roster.

The Kessel deal just makes me confused. I understand there was a falling out with the coach and management. I understand someone was going to get blamed for the playoff exit this year. But Kessel? Point-per-game players (or near point-per-game players) do not grow on trees. What made Pittsburgh a dangerous team and a consistent contender for years is how they have had a third terrifyingly good offensive forward to use either with their top two players - Crosby and Malkin - or separately to take advantage of match-ups and spread their attack around. I like Galchenyuk, but he’s no Kessel. I understand this gave the Pens a little cap relief. The best player in this deal is now in the desert and the Penguins are worse off for it.

Who’s Left to Re-Sign (3): forward Teddy Blueger, forward Zach Aston-Reese, defenseman Marcus Pettersson

Your mileage may vary about the quality of these players. I do not think it will take a lot for them to be re-signed. However, the Penguins do not have a lot right now to re-sign them with. Aston-Reese filed for arbitration so the Pens may have to act soon to have enough room for him and the other two players.

The Cap Situation: The Penguins have 44 contracts out of 50 on the books for a total cap hit of approximately $79.9 million. That means they have about $1.59 million of cap space. Their cap hit includes a small overage penalty of $132,500 from last season. The Penguins have been a cap team for a while so being near the ceiling is not new to them. It was defendable when they were a sure-fire Cup contender season after season. Now, as the flaws of the squad are more apparent, it appears to bemore of a problem.

Trending: Down. This offseason can be seen as a real sign of the downfall of the Penguins in a few years. Trading Kessel and signing Brandon Tanev will do that. Betting against Crosby, Malkin, and Letang tends to be a bad idea. But this is a team that has invested a lot of money in players who are unlikely to justify their contracts. Whereas Washington’s core is about the same age, their depth is far more desirable and the team has more wiggle-room to make adjustments as needed. The Penguins are up against it and they have no one to blame but themselves. Their window isn’t closed but it is not so open.

It’s Early, But Is This a Playoff Team?: I think they’re competing for a wild card spot. If Matt Murray is great and the guys with/behind Crosby and Malkin step up and produce, then they’ll be fine for this season. But do not be shocked if they’re bouncing up and down between third and sixth place throughout 2019-20. And if they ended up on the outside looking in after all that bouncing around.

Carolina Hurricanes

Last Season: 46-29-7, 99 points, fourth in the Metropolitan Division, first wild card berth in the East

Notable Offseason Signings: None as of this writing.

Notable Offseason Re-Signings (3): Petr Mrazek (2 years, $6.25 million), Alex Nedeljkovic (2 years, $1.4 million), Sebastian Aho (5 years, $42.27 million, matched offer sheet)

Alex Nedeljkovic was in the minors but he is notable as he is Carolina’s goalie of the future. Granted, the team added two goalies but he could find his way up to the NHL sooner rather than later. The team did retain Mrazek. The combination of Mrazek having his best season since 2015-16 and Curtis McElhinney providing decent goaltending played a huge role in Carolina’s ascent to the postseason. McElhinney will be a backup option in Tampa Bay. Will Mrazek be able to repeat his previous season’s performance? I’m doubtful but he will have a strong defense in front of him and I can see why the team would reward his efforts.

The biggest re-signing is Sebastian Aho. This came with some drama. Amidst word that negotiations were not so great, Montreal provided Aho an offer sheet frontloaded with loads of signing bonus money. Aho he signed it. Carolina was quick to announce their intentions to match it. And they did, as per this post by Brian LeBlanc at Canes Country. Aho may want to be in Montreal but he cannot be dealt this season. And why would anyone want to trade a 21-year old budding offensive force like Aho?

Trades (4): defenseman Adam Fox to New York Rangers for 2019 second round pick (traded to Ottawa for picks), and 2020 conditional third round pick; 2020 sixth round pick to Toronto for Patrick Marleau, 2020 conditional first round pick (top-ten protected, it becomes a 2021 unprotected first if Toronto drafts in top ten next year), and 2020 seventh round pick; defenseman Calvin de Haan and forward Aleksi Saarela to Chicago for goaltender Anton Forsberg and Gustav Forsling; goaltender Scott Darling to Florida for goaltender James Reimer and 2020 sixth round pick.

The Canes were active on the phones in the offseason. Their top defenseman prospect, Adam Fox, wanted to go to NY and said he would not sign with Carolina after he is done with college. That forced their hand to make that deal. The Canes used their cap space to eat Patrick Marleau’s contract and get a first rounder for it. They already bought out Marleau, which was expected given the nature of the deal. The four-player deal with Chicago was more or less moved to get de Haan’s deal off their books seeing that they acquired a poor goaltender and a depth defenseman in return. With Florida, the team swapped bad goalies. Clearly, the Marleau move was their smartest and most valuable of the bunch.

Who’s Left to Re-Sign (4): forward Brock McGinn, forward Clark Bishop, defenseman Gustav Forsling, goaltender Anton Forsberg

Yes, the two players from Chicago in the de Haan trade were pending RFAs. I would think Carolina will re-sign them. McGinn and Forsberg filed for arbitration so they may be signed sooner rather than later.

The Cap Situation: The Hurricanes have 32 contracts out of 50 on the books for a total cap hit of approximately $71.1 million. That leaves them with about $10.39 million in cap space. Even with the Marleau buyout and matching Aho’s offer sheet, the Canes have plenty of room to make more moves now or in the future.

Trending: Leaning up. Aho broke out in a big way and he will be a Cane for most of his prime years as a player. The defense is still strong on the ice and on paper. Their systems work. They arrived last season and I think they’re here to stay for the most part.

It’s Early, But Is This a Playoff Team?: Yes - with an important ‘if.’ That ‘if’ is in net. The Canes have been done in by poor shooting and poor goaltending. The shooting was often puck luck; it was not really a case of loading up on low-percentage shots in controlling 5-on-5 play. But the goaltending sunk them over and over and over. Last season, Mrazek and McElhinney combined to provide at least NHL average goaltending. Mrazek was and is the better goalie, but if he takes a step back, then that could hurt a lot. And even if he does not, the Canes need two to provide at least decent level of play. Reimer and Forsberg have not been good last season and Nedeljkovic has primarily stayed in the NHL. That’s a fairly large sized if among those three goalies. I think they can take second or third place if the goaltending holds up. I’m going to lean positive and say they will get at least decent goaltender play.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Last Season: 47-31-4, 98 points, fifth in the Metropolitan Division, second wild card berth in the East

Notable Offseason Signings: Gustav Nyquist (4 years, $22 million)

I think Nyquist is a very good winger. He plays smart, he’s productive, and he has been consistently good in 5-on-5 play per Natural Stat Trick. He should fit in well in Columbus as there are prime spots available in their top six.

Notable Offseason Re-Signings (3): Ryan Murray (2 years, $9.2 million), Joonas Korpisalo (1 year, $1.15 million), Scott Harrington (3 years, $4.9 million)

Murray has been a solid defenseman for the Blue Jackets but his 2018-19 season was cut short by injuries. If he is able to stay healthy, then he can justify that contract - which was a good one as it bought into one of his UFA years. Korpisalo was given a short “show me” deal and he will get to show what he can do because the big name in net is now elsewhere. Harrington was a depth defender for Columbus and clearly management thinks they needed to lock him up. They did. Whatever.

Trades: N/A

Who’s Left to Re-Sign (2): defenseman Zach Werenski, forward Lukas Sedlak

If Columbus is smart, they will try to lock up Zach Werenski for a long time. He is has shown he can be a top-pairing caliber defenseman in this league. And we all know Columbus has more than enough space to secure his services throughout what would likely be the best seasons of his career.

The Cap Situation: The Blue Jackets have 43 contracts out of 50 on the books for a total cap hit of approximately $65.7 million. That leaves them with about $15.76 million in cap space. Again, they can pay Werenski whatever they want and still have large amounts of cap space to use during the season and beyond.

Trending: Down. The first reason I’m down on Columbus is that they lost three significant players. While Matt Duchene was not in Columbus for long, he is one of the better centers in the league. He’s now in Nashville. Artemi Panarin is one of the most talented forwards in the NHL. He was the star of a Columbus crew of forwards that are good but not amazing. Panarin is amazing - and he’s now in Manhattan. Sergey Bobrovsky did not have the greatest 2018-19, but he has been great in the recent past and he performed way better goalie than Korpisalo. He’s now in Sunrise, Florida. There’s a good team here but they lost three players that could / did elevate them in a tough division. This leads me to the second reason: the goaltending. Korpisalo has yet to perform like he did in his first NHL season back in 2015-16. Elvis Merzlikins is a total question mark; he has not yet performed in the NHL and all of his previous professional hockey experience has been with HC Lugano in Switzerland. The door is open for their ELC goalies in the system: Veini Vehvilainen, Matiss Kivlenieks, and/or Daniil Tarasov. They may have potential, but it’s three more goalies in a group that is a total question mark for the position. That does not bode well for the grinder that is the Metropolitan Division.

It’s Early, But Is This a Playoff Team?: I don’t think so. I like plenty of their players. The defense led by Jones and Werenski works. They can score by committee pretty well. I’m confident they will be a total pain to play against. They will battle throughout the 82-game campaign. But unless someone emerges as a quality goaltender among the five they have signed, I am not seeing them come out of a competitive Metropolitan and a competitive wild card race with a playoff trip. If they were able to keep one of Panarin or Duchene, I’d be more positive about them but they didn’t so I’m not.

Philadelphia Flyers

Last Season: 37-37-8, 82 points, sixth in the Metropolitan Division, no playoffs

Notable Offseason Signing: Andy Andreoff (2 years, $1.5 million).

Philadelphia has signed multiple UFAs. It is just that they are all likely to be Phantoms in the AHL instead of Flyers in the NHL. Only Andy Andreoff is on a one-way contract and has been a somewhat regular in Los Angeles in the last three seasons.

Notable Offseason Re-Signings (3): Brian Elliott (1 year, $2 million), Travis Sanheim (2 years, $6.5 million), Kevin Hayes (7 years, $50 million)

Elliott was retained presumably as cover for Carter Hart. Philly used a lot of goalies last season and Elliott was, well, one of them. It’s Hart’s crease for 2019-20, so expect him to be the #2 guy. At least until Hart struggles and he becomes the Next Flyers Goalie Who Could Be Good but Is Run Out of Town. Sanheim had a pretty good season (check out his 5-on-5 numbers at Natural Stat Trick) and the 23-year old signed a bridge deal that seems pretty reasonable. Hayes was acquired in June by Philly so it is not a traditional re-signing but it technically counts. The contract was also the exact opposite of reasonable. Hayes has just topped 50 points last season and across two teams (42 with NY, 13 with Winnipeg) , he topped 20 goals just once so far in his career (25 in 2017-18), and he does not appear to be a driver of play in 5-on-5 play. I get that he’s good but he’s not over $7 million/year good. He’s not even going to be Philly’s top center and this move likely blocks Nolan Patrick, their second overall pick in 2017, from moving up any time soon. Yeah, the contract structure means it can be moved but a better contract would have been, you know, better.

Trades (4): 2019 fifth round pick to Winnipeg for Kevin Hayes; defenseman Radko Gudas to Washington for defenseman Matt Niskanen; 2019 second round pick and 2020 third round pick to San Jose for defenseman Justin Braun; forward Ryan Hartman to Dallas to forward Tyler Pitlick

Shout out to Chuck Fletcher for making three trades before the NHL announced their salary cap ceiling and floor for 2019-20. I do not quite understand what they have done here. They accepted Hayes as a dump from Winnipeg (fine) and signed him to a ludicrous contract (not fine). They traded for two right-handed defenders in their early 30s in Niskanen and Braun. These were win-now style trades by a team that was not close to a playoff spot last season and I’m not sure they are any closer now. The Niskanen deal is more baffling in that they also retained part of Gudas’ salary in the process. Was that really necessary? Could they have not asked for more from Washington for that privlilege? The Hartman-Pitlick swap is for two bottom-six forwards that will not really make a huge impact on their respective teams.

Who’s Left to Re-Sign (3): defenseman Ivan Provorov, forward Travis Konecny, forward Scott Laughton

Provorov is one of the better young defensemen in the league and his emergence has been huge for Philly’s blueline. He’s going to get paid real well. Konecny is younger than Hayes and the skilled winger seems to be about as productive. He’s going to get paid real well. Laughton has been a solid hand for the Flyers. He’s going to be, well, paid. And soon as he did file for arbitration.

The Cap Situation: The Flyers have 43 contracts out of 50 on the books for a total cap hit of approximately $66.53 million. That leaves them with about $14.96 million in cap space. It seems like a lot but look again at who is left to re-sign. Provorov and Konecny can and will likely take a large chunk of that near-$15 million amount of cap space. The good news for Philadelphia is that they should have plenty of flexibility once they re-sign those three players. But they may need to do some work. If that involves a trade, then brace yourselves Flyers fans. The freewheeling Chuck Fletcher has shown he isn’t afraid of an offbeat deal.

Trending: About the same. The Flyers seem to be a team that should be better than what they are. They have a very talented and dangerous group of forwards leading the way. Sean Couturier is a great center. Their defense has two young studs in Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere. Carter Hart seems to be legit. They have some prospects who can make the leap soon. In that sense, I can see why the team would bring in two veteran right-side defenders and lock up Hayes long-term and roll with what they have. But the squad last season still had the same very talented and dangerous group of forwards leading the way; Couturier was great; Gostisbehere and Provorov led the defense; and Hart showed he could be legit. They still missed the playoffs and not by a little. I’m not sure signing Hayes and bringing in Braun and Niskanen makes them that much better in what is already a tight division.

It’s Early, But Is This a Playoff Team?: Not really? I can see it. Giroux and Voracek can go off and the offense can be productive enough to make up for other issues. Perhaps Hart plays great and that also helps the Flyers move up. But are they really improved from last season to get ahead of Columbus, Pittsburgh, Carolina, and/or the Islanders? I’m not sure. That’s why I’m saying no now. They will not go quietly into the 2020 lottery though.

New York Rangers

Last Season: 32-36-14, 78 points, seventh in the Metropolitan Division, no playoffs

Notable Offseason Signing: Artemi Panarin (7 years, $81.5 million).

Free agency is risky because of how much a team may have to overpay to get a player they want to sign with them. There are few players that end up being worth the big deals that go for five to seven years long. Panarin is one of them. He was easily the best player available on the free agent market this year. There are few players in the world that are as talented, productive, and efficient as Panarin. He has 320 points in 322 season games in his career. Per Natural Stat Trick, he has consistently driven the play forward in 5-on-5 play in his four NHL seasons. Teams falter in free agency because they give too much money to players at Kevin Hayes’ level. They do not falter when they give actually elite talent elite-level money. I’m not happy he’s a Ranger because he makes them that much better and I get to see him hurt the Devils for four games a season like he did in Columbus. (Per Hockey-Reference, he is indeed a Devil-killer) From a Rangers’ perspective, this was a huge get.

Notable Offseason Re-Signing (2): Adam Fox (3 years, $2.775 million, ELC), Vitali Kravtsov (3 years, $2.775 million, ELC)

Fox did not want to become a Cane after college and so he forced Carolina’s hand to trade him. He was sent to the Rangers and he signed an entry level contract shortly after the deal was made. His career at Harvard ended in three years. It is notable because he is expected to play next season. He was one of Carolina’s top prospects in their system, the Rangers will get to see why. Vitali Kravtsov was New York’s first round draft pick in 2018 and he is coming over from the KHL this season. He is expected to play in the NHL and there is hype around his talents as well.

Trades (3): 2019 second round pick and 2020 third round pick to Carolina for defenseman Adam Fox; defenseman Neal Pionk and 2019 first round pick (#20) to Winnipeg for defenseman Jacob Trouba; forward Jimmy Vesey to Buffalo for 2021 third round pick;

The Rangers were pretty lucky that Fox and Trouba both had their own desires to be Rangers and their respective teams made those deals happen. What’s more is that the cost was cheap for the Rangers. The picks to Carolina may not turn out to be for players as good as Fox may become. Pionk was not that good and the first rounder sent to Winnipeg was originally owned by Winnipeg; the Rangers still had their second overall selection in 2019 and used it on Kaapo Kakko. Vesey was moved to help make space to bring in Panarin, which is a deal worth making any time. Panarin is easily worth 3+ Veseys.

Who’s Left to Re-Sign (4): forward Pavel Buchnevich, forward Brendan Lemieux, defenseman Anthony DeAngelo, defenseman Jacob Trouba,

Trouba was dealt at all by Winnipeg because they did not think they could afford his contract demands. The 25-year old will be New York’s top defenseman right away and he will want a lucrative long-term deal. Buchnevich and DeAngelo have both thrived in the past season in New York and so they will command a good chunk of money too. Lemieux was a fourth-liner since arriving in Manhattan from Winnipeg so he will likely be the cheapest of the four to re-sign. The Rangers will have to make decisions on these two of these four sooner rather than later. Worse for them, it’s the two who will cost the most: Trouba and Buchnevich filed for arbitration. A cap crunch awaits.

The Cap Situation: The Flyers have 39 contracts out of 50 on the books for a total cap hit of approximately $73.84 million. That leaves them with about $8.01 million in cap space. That amount may barely be enough to retain Trouba alone. It is not likely going to be enough to re-sign Buchnevich, Lemieux, DeAngelo, and Trouba. Keep in mind that Kakko has not yet signed his entry level contract, which will likely be for the maximum amount possible in terms of salary and bonuses. Jeff Gorton did a lot of work to make his team better in the last few weeks, but he has more to do to fit everyone under the cap. Given how he moved Vesey and his expiring contract with a $2.275 million cap hit to Buffalo, players with higher cap hits on expiring deals may be next. Keep an eye on Chris Kreider ($4.625 million, pending UFA in 2020), Vladislav Namestnikov ($4 million, pending UFA in 2020), and Matt Beleskey ($1.3 million, pending UFA in 2020).

Trending: Up. I’m annoyed to write this as a Devils fan and a person with a soul, but the Rangers took a massive step forward in their rebuild. Yes, they need to create more space to keep the players they have but they have a young squad with tantalizing talent. Even with albatrosses on the books like Shattenkirk, Staal, and Lundqvist. If all things work out, they can become a contender in the not-so-distant future.

It’s Early, But Is This a Playoff Team?: No. I think the squad is going to be better than it was last season. Yet, each position is still reliant on a young player to a degree. Goaltending is still led by Henrik Lundqvist, who was not that hot last season. I’ve seen goalies in their late 30s still be starters and it does not always end well for the team that sticks to them. It happened to Marty and we all know he’s better, so why would it be different for Lundqvist? Maybe the team will insist on more minutes for Alexandar Georgiev, I don’t know. The defense is still committed to Shattenkirk, Staal, and Brendan Smith, which may make it difficult for Fox, DeAngelo, and Hajec to thrive. The forwards will be led by Panarin and Mika Zibanejad is quite good. Someone is leaving that group for space. Kakko, Kravstov, Andersson, and Chytil will get opportunities but there may be growing pains with that. They have a very bright future, but it requires the prospect to become what management thinks they will be. I think they’ll flirt with a spot but ultimately fall short come February or March. I think the Rangers will, unfortunately, be quite a good team. But not in 2019-20. Probably in 2020-21.

If you were to force me to predict the top three in the Metropolitan, I would pick Washington, Carolina, and Pittsburgh. I would also guess the division is not going to send five teams to the playoffs. I think Florida may regret some of their moves in time but for 2019-20, they’re going to be more of a concern for a wildcard spot. The real threat is Montreal. They barely missed out last season; with their younger players a little more experienced and improved, that may make the difference. This possibility just makes it even harder to determine who will actually get in.

The thing is that there really is not a weak team in this division. After Washington and maybe Carolina, the Metropolitan is up for grabs. As much as I think the Isles, Blue Jackets, and Penguins will be worse and that the Flyers are about the same, I do not think either will fall all the way to the basement. They will be tough opponents and they can claw and scratch their way to be competitive. I only think Pittsburgh will rise above because I am more confident in their goaltending and they have two of the best players in the world. The main point is that any one of those five could take a guaranteed playoff spot or a wild card spot in 2019-20 and I will not be stunned by it. Even the young Rangers could surprise a few and rise up now instead of in a season or two. Plenty can happen and it is not entirely unreasonable.

One of the overall reasons why this division is difficult to sort out is the goaltending. Adding to what Gerard wrote on Thursday, it is a concern for the Devils. I hope Cory Schneider and Mackenzie Blackwood will be good. But that’s a hope and it’s similar to what other fanbases have for their goaltending tandems. Carolina is hoping Mrazek will be good again and someone in their system can be a good backup. Columbus is hoping two of their five signed goalies can be good at all in the NHL. The Isles are hoping Griess does not crash back to Earth and Varlamov plays much better than he did in Colorado. The Rangers faithful are hoping Lundqvist has something left in the tank and the other guys can support him if not. The Flyers wouldn’t be the Flyers without goalie concerns. Say what you want about Holtby and Murray but at least they’re known quantities. Trying to figure out who the playoff teams are in this division may come down to which teams are getting good enough results from their goaltenders and/or playing so well to make up for it.

I hate to punt the main question, but I must. Are the Devils good enough to rise up in the Metropolitan Division and take a playoff spot either in the top three spots in the division or stay ahead of the pack for the wildcard? They are better and it is possible. With teams being competitive but flawed, the Devils could find their way up from eighth place and take a much higher spot. To do that, the Devils will need have a good start to their season, they need get good luck with respect to injuries and percentages, and that their goaltending tandem stands up. To pull from CJ’s post on Wednesday, I do not doubt that the Devils will have a lot to prove. Whatever they will get in 2019-20 will be hard-earned. But they will need some breaks and to take advantage of opportunities on top of just having a chip on their shoulder and some new players who can make an impact on the team to help them be better. This means taking extra points when possible. This means dragging games from losses to post-regulation games. This means being a lot better than 9-16-3 against Metropolitan Division.

Is it possible? Yes. Is it likely? Maybe. I will feel a lot more confident about the Devils’ chances if they can add another NHL player or two. Again, I think they’ll be better than last season’s squad. Still, this will not be an easy division for the Devils to rise up in. No one got so much worse that I think they’ll crash to the basement. At the same time, no one got so much better that they have become likely to challenge Washington for the Metropolitan crown. Wishy-washy as it reads, it is how I see the division right now.

Your Take

Maybe you are more optimistic or pessimistic than I am. Maybe you can more clearly see the Devils rising up in the Metropolitan and challenging for a playoff spot. Maybe not. I still want to know your take on how the division looks so far in this offseason about a week after free agency began. Please leave your thought about the division, how well you think the Devils will compete in the division, who will take the top three spots in the division, and more in the comments. Thank you for reading.