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2023 Offseason Metropolitan Division Snapshot

Now that the NHL’s free agency period is over a week old, this offseason snapshot for 2023 looks at how the Metropolitan Division has done so far. Who got better? Who did not? This post looks at it all at a higher level.

Carolina Hurricanes v Florida Panthers - Game Four
The Metropolitan Division champs were ended by a sweep to a super-hot goalie (that went cold right away against Las Vegas).
Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images

The first full week of unrestricted free agency is over. Development camps will either begin or have already taken place throughout the league. Players that were eligible and wanted to do so filed for arbitration. We are entering the slow part of the NHL offseason. Business will not likely pick up until September when training camps are about to open. This is a good time as any to look at how the offseason has went for each of the eight teams of the Metropolitan Division.

As the People Who Matter, those who support the New Jersey Devils, it is important to take a look at what the others are in the division have done. Playoff spots are a direct function of how the division goes. A tighter division will only reduce the margins for error. A softer one may make it easier for a team like the Devils to establish their position. The goal is now to go to the playoffs and succeed; that cannot be done without a good regular season performance and getting ahead of the other teams in the division for a guaranteed playoff spot. Divisional opponents are usually seen in the playoffs, too. Finally, the division has rivals and other teams that you may want to see the Devils prevail over for various reasons. All the more reason for this snapshot.

We know what the Devils have done - I’ll give a brief summary - but what about the other seven teams in the division? What did they do from May through to today? Who got better on paper? Who got worse or stood still? Who looks to be a threat for the playoffs in 2023-24 and who does not? Let us take that look today at the division and try to answer these questions well ahead of the games being played. Let us begin in reverse order of their 2022-23 finish.

Note: Free agents are as of July 8. If unsigned, they are marked as an UFA. No pick-for-pick deals are included. CapFriendly and Spotrac were used as sources for signings, departures, trades, and transactions.

Columbus Blue Jackets

2022-23 Finish: 25-48-9, 59 points, 36% Points, 8th Place

Players In: Adam Fantilli (Entry Level Contract), Ivan Provorov (Trade), Damon Severson (Trade)

Players Out: Michael Hutchinson (UFA), Jon Gillies (UFA), Joona Luoto (UFA), Lane Pederson (Free Agent - Edmonton), Gavin Bayreuther (Free Agent - Dallas), Justin Richards (Free Agent - Buffalo)

Players Re-Signed: Yegor Chinakhov, Josh Dunne, Mathieu Olivier, Carson Meyer, Trey Fix-Wolansky, Marcus Bjork

Players Left to Re-Sign: Tim Berni

Other Notable Moves: Mike Babcock has been hired to be the head coach on July 1. Brad Larsen was fired after the 2022-23 season.

Their Salary Cap as of July 8: $79.545 million ($3.95 million in space), 45 contracts

Offseason Thoughts: Columbus was ransacked by injuries, bad goaltending, bad hockey, and tumbled all the way to picking third in the NHL Draft back in June. Not exactly how the team drew it up when they signed Johnny Gaudreau last Summer. I suspect GM Jarmo Kekalainen could be on a hot seat sooner rather than later. While one would expect a heap of signings, Kekalainen decided to be rather efficient in his splashes. He opted to make two big trades for the team’s defense and bring in a coach of a higher pedigree than Brad Larsen.

The trades were both for defensemen that did not figure in their respective team’s plans. Philadelphia appears to be entering a rebuild. The Devils could not afford Damon Severson, who could have been the prize defenseman in free agency. Kekalainen decided to get both and early. With a 22-year old Adam Boqvist, a developing David Jiricek, and a healthy Zach Werenski, the Columbus’ blueline is absolutely stronger with Provorov and Severson. Whether both can live up to their deals or be counted on in big defensive moments remains to be seen. The Blue Jackets will have to live with Severson’s catastrophic tendencies for a bulk of the next eight seasons, after all. But, yes, the defense is better.

And Mike Babcock has been a successful coach. One with a marred reputation as after he was fired from Toronto. Plenty of former players have come out to point out how much of a bully Babcock was and how players despised him. Babcock may have a lot of success but he’s no Scotty Bowman and He was seemingly retired from coaching, but now he is back. If he can treat his charges with respect and they listen to him, the Blue Jackets could see plenty of improvement from that alone. If not, well, it is going to be another long season.

My concern for the Blue Jackets is that is it. Nothing else short of . I get it. A healthier season would be worth more than any free agent signing. But the offense is still what it is, led by Johnny Gaudreau, Patrik Laine, and a developing group of forwards. The goaltending is still going to live and die by Elvis Merzlikins and their goaltending depth. For a GM that I think needs to have some success real soon, I am surprised Keklainen has not done more or been more creative.

Did They Get Better?: Yes. The Blue Jackets will most likely not be a doormat in 2023-24. Are they good enough to take a playoff spot? I do not think so. Only if they get plenty of heaters and some other things work out in their favor. If their young players develop, then they could be real good in a few seasons. Whether Jarmo Kekalainen will be there to see it as their GM is another question. But I am confident this team will not finish in eighth place in the division next season.

Philadelphia Flyers

2022-23 Finish: 31-38-13, 75 points, 45.7% Points, 7th Place

Players In: Cal Petersen (Trade), Sean Walker (Trade), Helge Grans (Trade), Garnet Hathaway (Free Agent), Marc Staal (Free Agent), Ryan Poehling (Trade), Rhett Gardner (Free Agent), Victor Mete (Free Agent), Louis Belpedio (Free Agent), Massimo Rizzo (Trade)

Players Out: Ivan Provorov (Trade), Kevin Connauton (Trade), Hayden Hodgson (Trade), Anthony DeAngelo (Trade), James van Riemsdyk (Free Agent - Boston), Troy Grosenick (Free Agent - Nashville), Brendan Lemieux (UFA), Kieffer Bellows (UFA), Evan Barratt (UFA), Jackson Cates (UFA), Max Willman (UFA), Wyatte Wylie (UFA)

Players Re-Signed: Ronnie Attard, Yegor Zamula

Players Left to Re-Sign: Noah Cates (Arbitration filed), Morgan Frost, Cam York, Olle Lycksell

Player of Questionable Status: Ivan Fedotov, who is signed to an ELC but also just signed a two-season contract with CSKA Moscow. If KHL teams are going to sign players under NHL contracts, then this is going to be a growing issue. Also: If Fedotov actually plays for CSKA, that may mean his ELC becomes null and void.

Other Notable Moves: The front office has changed in Philly. Daniel Briere was named General Manager to replace Chuck Fletcher and Keith Jones named Team President.

Their Salary Cap as of July 8: $78.002 million ($5.497 million in space), 42 contracts

Offseason Thoughts: The “aggressive retool” by Fletcher may have yielded Matvei Michkov for the Flyers, but it also yielded a bloated roster with not much of a real future. Fletcher was dumped, Briere was brought in, and one of the former Flyers’ first moves was to trade Provorov away in a three-team trade with Columbus and Los Angeles. It brought in Cal Petersen, Sean Walker, Helge Grans, and picks in return. A good return. Carter Hart gets an experienced backup who has two seasons left on his deal, Provorov’s contract is off the books, and the blueline gets a cheaper defender in Walker.

The concern is that this is it outside of some free agent decisions. James van Reimsdyk was free to walk and so he did to Boston. Briere let loose Brendan Lemieux, Kieffer Bellows, and other depth guys. Garnet Hathaway and Marc Staal were brought in, who could provide some solid depth at forward and defense, respectively. However, I feel like Briere needs to press some more buttons if he is going to go through with a full-on rebuild.

It could happen in time. A trade involving Anthony DeAngelo to Carolina was snuffed by the NHL for violating the letter of the CBA. That deal appears to be back on now that it can be done (TL;DR: Flyers traded for DeAngelo and Fletcher gave him $10 million over 2 seasons. Trade back to Carolina with retained salary needed to wait 365 days from the contract - which was July 8.) That would clear up some more space on the blueline. Scott Laughton was on the trade block and nearly got dealt near the draft, but Philly said no to St. Louis. I am sure Travis Konecny’s name will become a rumored name throughout next and the following season the longer he stays in Orange and Black. Briere’s plan may take more than a Summer to blow it up. As it stands, he has at least 10 pending free agents in 2024. That is a lot of flexibility for a GM to manage.

Likewise, he will have some important decisions to make about the future. Does it include Cam York, Morgan Frost, and Noah Cates in the long term? What about Carter Hart, who could be up for a fat extension? Do they want to stay in the hopes that the team gets good again as they remain in Philly? Or do they want out sooner rather than later? These are important questions in light of what I think Briere is going to tear down into next season. Pro-tip for Briere: You may need to offer a fat sweetener to get out of that awful Rasmus Ristolainen contract. Or find an unaware GM.

Did They Get Better?: No. And they are not going to be. The safe bet is that this team will finish last in the Metropolitan Division, have a lot of numbers in the 2024 NHL Draft lottery, and continue to re-build. They may be competitive but next season could be the real ugly one, Flyers fans.

Washington Capitals

2022-23 Finish: 35-37-10, 80 points, 48.8% Points, 6th Place

Players In: Joel Edmonson (Trade), Max Pacioretty (Free Agent), Andrew Cristall (Entry Level Contract), Pierrick Dubé (Entry Level Contract), Ivan Miroshnichenko (Entry Level Contract), Hardy Häman Aktell (Entry Level Contract), Chase Priskie (Free Agent), Alex Limoges (Free Agent), Matthew Phillips (Free Agent)

Players Out: Conor Sheary (Free Agent - Tampa Bay), Craig Smith (Free Agent - Dallas), Garrett Pilon (Free Agent - Ottawa), Matt Irwin (Free Agent - Vancouver), Carl Hagelin (UFA), Kody Clark (UFA), Zach Fucale (UFA), Mike Vecchione (UFA), Gabriel Carlsson (UFA)

Players Re-Signed: Martin Fehérváry, Dylan McIlrath, Hunter Shepard, Alexander Alexeyev, Michael Sgarbossa, Riley Sutter

Players Left to Re-Sign: Henrik Borgström

Other Notable Moves: Washington hired former Toronto assistant coach Spencer Carbury to be their head coach at the beginning of June.

Their Salary Cap as of July 8: $82.611 million ($888,333 in space), 47 contracts

Offseason Thoughts: This team decided to not go for it earlier in this year. I think they are still not going for it. Adding Max Pacioretty and Joel Edmonson could be decent to good bargain adds but they are not going to move the needle. Locking up some ELCs is smart for the future (and shout out to the supremely named Hardy Häman Aktell). Hiring Spencer Carbury as a head coach is a wildcard. If he can show he can be the head guy in Washington, then the Caps could get a boost from that. The question is: What does GM Brian MacLellan want Carbury and his players to achieve?

My first instinct is to get back into the playoffs. I am not sure these moves will do that, even with re-signing plenty of the Calder Cup winning Hershey Bear players. I think MacLellan needed to be more aggressive. Maybe he tried but he clearly did not succeed. So they are not much different from what they were back in February 2023. A team that could be on the playoff bubble and opted to get off of it instead of chasing it.

I can kind of see the value of that, but it is a bit odd to me. They still have three more seasons of Vladmir Putin’s Favorite Player and he is still scoring goals in heaps. Nicklas Backstrom is still signed for two more seasons and he is still a dangerous playmaker. Evgeny Kuznetsov is still signed for two more seasons, T.J. Oshie is signed for two more seasons, John Carlson is signed for three more seasons, and Darcy Kuemper is signed for four more. These are all high quality players. This is a team whose core is still very much here even with Dmitry Orlov offloaded back in February. So why not go for it while those players still have something left in the tank? A re-build can begin just as those players are moving on. Why risk burning this season to finish sixth or seventh once more? Is there even a plan in Washington D.C.? Or are the next two to three seasons of Caps hockey going to go down to Ovechkin chasing Goal #803? Which, if it happens, would likely come in a losing effort like some of his other milestones (e.g. #700 against New Jersey. Severson denied D.C. a ‘W’ for that one)? I do not get it.

Did They Get Better?: Not really. A rash of injuries and/or bad luck, and this team could be battling Philly for last place. This is my darkhorse pick for last in the division.

Pittsburgh Penguins

2022-23 Finish: 40-31-11, 91 points, 55.5% Points, 5th Place

Players In: Reilly Smith (Trade), Ryan Graves (Free Agent), Noel Acciari (Free Agent), Lars Eller (Free Agent), Matt Nieto (Free Agent), Alex Nedeljkovic (Free Agent), Joona Koppanen (Free Agent), Magnus Hellberg (Free Agent), Will Butcher (Free Agent), Radim Zorhona (Free Agent), Ryan Shea (Free Agent), Andreas Johnsson (Free Agent), Vinnie Hinostroza (Free Agent), Marc Johnstone (Free Agent)

Players Out: Brian Dumoulin (Free Agent - Seattle), Jason Zucker (Free Agent - Anaheim), Josh Archibald (Free Agent - Tampa Bay), Drake Caggiula (Free Agent - Edmonton), Ryan Poehling (Free Agent - Philadelphia), Dmitry Kulikov (Free Agent - Florida), Nick Bonino (Free Agent - New York Rangers), Dustin Tokarski (Free Agent - Buffalo), Danton Heinen (UFA), Peter Diliberatore (UFA), Colin Swoyer (UFA)

Players Re-Signed: Tristan Jarry, Alex Nylander, Valterri Puustinen

Players Left to Re-Sign: Drew O’Connor (Arbitration filed), Ty Smith, Filip Lindberg, Filip Hållander, Jonathan Gruden

Other Notable Moves: General Manager Ron Hextall, President of Hockey Operations Brian Burke, and Assistant GM Chris Pryor were fired after the 2022-23 season. They hired a new President of Hockey Operations and new General Manager: Kyle Dubas, formerly of Toronto.

Their Salary Cap as of July 8: $86.591 million (-$3.09 million over the cap), 46 contracts

Offseason Thoughts: Fans were chanting Hextall to be fired, not head coach Mike Sullivan. They knew where the issues lied and ownership agreed. Out went Hextall and Burke, in came Kyle Dubas.

My first thought is that Wilkes-Barre/Scranton is going to be awesome. This is not just me poking fun. Dubas kept the AHL and ECHL affiliates loaded when he was with the Maple Leafs. The large number of veteran bottom six/bottom pairing additions will help beef up the Babv Pens and allow for a lot of competition deeper in the lineup since there are few legit prospects to fight for those spots.

My second thought is that despite Dubas being new to the organization, he is following the general blueprint of the Penguins for the better part of the last two decades. The core is Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang. Go find anyone who can mesh with them to fill out the lineup, get a decent goaltender group, and watch the magic happen. All three were available for much of last season and could be for another. Doubting Crosby is still a Bad Idea although age may start creeping into Malkin’s and Letang’s performances. Then again, Dubas is not going to be able to do much until those three decide to move on in one way or another. So here is a slew of guys that may be a solid complementary player or call-up or energy guy to keep the work going. Lars Eller, Noel Acciari, Matt Nieto, Vinny Hinostroza, Andreas Johnsson, and Will Butcher are this year’s attempts. The only big adds were Reilly Smith and Ryan Graves. I like both. I do not like six seasons for Graves to fill in the John Marino-sized hole in their blueline and I do not think Smith is going to provide what Jason Zucker did. Dubas is following the blueprint and kind of has to.

My third thought is a bit of confusion. The Penguins’ plan for 2023-24 is going to still ask a lot of Jake Guentzel (who can do it and he’s a pending UFA), Bryan Rust (who struggled at points last season), Rickard Rakell (ditto), Mikael Granlund (ditto x2), Jeff Petry (who is starting to show his age), and Marcus Pettersson. All of those guys except for Guentzel are paid at least $1 million too much and it is hindering the Penguins from doing some of the more radical changes they need to make this work. Also: goaltending. Tristan Jarry did not have such a good 2022-23. I get the big contract given how weak the goalie market is. But why add Alex Nedeljkovic for a season when Casey DeSmith - who was better than Nedeljkovic last season - is still signed for another season. With the Penguins capped out with a bunch of RFAs still to sign, Dubas may have to be busier than most GMs in July and August.

This is a team that choked on applesauce in losses to two of the worst teams in the NHL in 2022-23 to miss the playoffs. Florida got in and then they went on a super-hot run to the Stanley Cup Finals thanks to a super-hot goaltending heater. I want to believe that the Penguins could find themselves back in the postseason. But it requires all these additions to work out in some way beyond the AHL, the future Hall of Famers to continue to be great, and Jarry, DeSmith, Nedeljkovic to be way better than they were in 2022-23. That is a lot to ask.

Did They Get Better?: Sort of, not really. If it turns out a couple between Eller, Acciari, Nieto, Hinostroza, Johnsson, etc. can play and play well for Pittsburgh, then they will battle for a wild card spot. I am pessimistic at the moment.

New York Islanders

2022-23 Finish: 42-31-9, 93 points, 56.7% Points, 4th Place - First Round Loss to Carolina (4-2)

Players In: Julien Gauthier (Free Agent), Brian Pinho (Free Agent), Karson Kuhlman (Free Agent), Eetu Liukas (Entry Level Contract), Daylan Kuefler (Entry Level Contract), Kyle MacLean (Entry Level Contract), Matthew Maggio (Entry Level Contract)

Players Out: Josh Bailey (Trade), Parker Wotherspoon (Free Agent - Boston), Richard Panik (UFA), Cory Schneider (UFA), Bode Wilde (UFA), Zach Parise (UFA), Blade Jenkins (UFA), Collin Adams (UFA), Andy Andreoff (UFA), Jeff Kubiak (UFA), Cole Bardreau (UFA)

Players Re-Signed: Ilya Sorokin, Semyon Varlamov, Pierre Engvall, Scott Mayfield, Hudson Fasching, Samuel Bolduc

Players Left to Re-Sign: Oliver Wahlstrom, Jakub Skarek

Other Notable Moves: N/A

Their Salary Cap as of July 8: $83.112 million ($387,500 in space), 42 contracts

Offseason Thoughts: I have to find the citation but Lou Lamoriello was once asked about why he keeps making moves for the now instead of the future. His response was “If I am damned if I do and damned if I don’t, then I’m going to do.” This explains a lot of his management style. This also makes me wonder why this offseason is so different since Lou’s moves in Long Island was to re-up players for a while.

I do mean a while. Securing Sorokin, one of the league’s best goaltenders, for eight seasons? Great. Giving Varlamov four seasons at an advanced age? Risky but he has been good and he is tight with Sorokin. A Sorokin/Varlamov tandem is a very good one. Pierre Engvall for seven seasons? Goofy looking but a $3 million cap hit for him seems attainable. Scott Mayfield for seven seasons? Awful. But the major theme is that they are all back. The only major losses are Josh Bailey and maybe Zach Parise. The Islanders saw their squad fall to Carolina in the first round and Lou (and ownership, I presume) figured: Yeah, let’s keep this going. A healthy Mat Barzal for the season as well as a full season in Long Island for Bo Horvat could be seen as additions. But the squad you saw last season is going to pretty much be the squad next season. Instead of doing, Lou is staying. Why?

My guess is the 2022-23 Florida Panthers. They barely got in (thanks Penguins), got a hot Sergey Bobrovsky to stun Boston in the first round, and then proceeded to upset Toronto and Carolina in short series largely on Bobrovsky’s back, arms, and legs. They showed that plus a squad all on the same page could go far. Rather than throw a lot of money at the free agents or swing major major team-altering trades, why not keep the group that held it together all season and hope Sorokin does the same thing? I am not saying I think it is a good plan. But I do think that may be the thinking here.

There will be those who will jeer the Isles for this. There will be those who will think less of them for it. There will be those who want New York City’s more tolerable squad to falter. I do not know. This team was on the playoff bubble and got in last season. A healthy Barzal and a fuller season of work from Horvat may help them achieve the same thing. Which may fine for an Islanders franchise that continues to compete.

Did They Get Better?: No. They re-signed their major free agents to huge contracts. They may still be fighting for a playoff spot but they did nothing to suggest they are going to unseat the next three teams.

New York Rangers

2022-23 Finish: 47-22-13, 107 points, 65.2% Points, 3rd Place - First Round Loss to the Devils (4-3)

Players In: Blake Wheeler (Free Agent), Erik Gustafsson (Free Agent), Nick Bonino (Free Agent), Jonathan Quick (Free Agent), Anton Blidh (Free Agent), Tyler Pitlick (Free Agent), Riley Nash (Free Agent), Connor Mackey (Free Agent), Alex Belzile (Free Agent), Nikolas Brouillard (Free Agent), Mac Hollowell (Free Agent)

Players Out: Niko Mikkola (Free Agent - Florida), William Lockwood (Free Agent - Florida), Timothy Gettinger (Free Agent - Detroit), Ryan Carpenter (Free Agent - San Jose), Wyatt Kalynuk (Free Agent - St. Louis), Patrick Kane (UFA), Vladimir Tarasenko (UFA), Jaroslav Halák (UFA), Tyler Motte (UFA), Patrick Khodorenko (UFA), Cooper Zech (UFA), Libor Hájek (UFA), C.J. Smith (UFA)

Players Re-Signed: Zachary Jones

Players Left to Re-Sign: Alexis Lafrenière, K’Andre Miller, Lauri Pajuniemi, Ty Emberson, Brandon Scalin (Arbitration filed)

Other Notable Moves: Gerard Gallant was fired after the Rangers blew a two-game lead in the series to lose in seven games to the Devils. After much rumor, Peter Laviolette was given the job on June 13.

Their Salary Cap as of July 8: $77.324 million ($6.175 million in space), 44 contracts

Offseason Thoughts: The New York Rangers, by objective measures, had a great regular season and a very disappointing playoffs. Up 2-0 with decisive wins in Newark in the series and they lost 4-3 with two shutouts and a whole lack of effort in those last two losses. Once the Devils played their way of hockey, focused on their up tempo transition offense, and leaned on their advantage in speed, New York was basically hoping Igor Shesterkin would just hold it together. He did his very best and it was not enough. It was enough to get Gallant canned in New York.

With that in mind, GM Chris Drury decided to address none of those speed issues with his roster. Despite being in the same division as New Jersey and Carolina as well as a league that may look to get faster, Drury decided to make the Rangers older and not much faster. Blake Wheeler at age 36, Nick Bonino at age 35, Tyler Pitlick and Erik Gustafsson both on the wrong side of 30, and Jonathan Quick being the #2 behind Shesterkin basically means the team will have to live and die by Shesterkin once more. To be fair, there were not a lot of fantastic options on the free agent market this season. That said, someone had to tell Drury that this team would be 2015 Stanley Cup contenders with these additions.

Rangers fans need not worry about a massive let down. The team’s major players are still in place and still excellent. Adam Fox is one of the league’s best defensemen. Artemi Panarin, Mika Zibanejad, and Chris Kreider are going to continue to fill a lot of nets and ruin opposition penalty kills. Shesterkin is an elite goaltender with an absurdly favorable contract. Vincent Trocheck is a very fine Swiss army knife-like player. The issue is that the team looks more mid than lit beyond their stars. I’m sure the team is pleased with Filip Chytil’s progress and they should be thrilled that K’Andre Miller has become a great defenseman (and needs to get paid). But Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafrenière have not developed well, Braden Schneider and Ryan Lindgren are just OK, the team still has Barclay Goodrow, Jacob Trouba, and others taking up spots and precious cap space. It is a squad where a little more creativity by Drury such as not adding a bunch of veterans well past their prime could make them that more threatening. Which is important to do now because those top forwards are not getting any younger either.

But, hey, maybe Drury sees something in those veteran additions that will somehow put New York over the top. I think he needs to see how to properly pay Miller and figure out a second contract for Lafrenière with a bit over $6 million in space, first.

Did They Get Better?: Not really. This team is still a playoff quality team and a safe bet to finish in the top three in the division. But they need Carolina and New Jersey to suffer to get past them. They didn't really get better compared to last season's team and they definitely didn't get faster.

New Jersey Devils

2022-23 Finish: 52-22-8, 112 points, 68.3% Points, 2nd Place - Second Round Loss to Carolina (4-1)

Players In: Tyler Toffoli (Trade), Colin Miller (Trade), Shane Bowers (Trade), Daniil Misyul (Entry Level Contract), Tyler Brennan (Entry Level Contract), Kyle Criscuolo (Free Agent), Erik Källgren (Free Agent), Justin Dowling (Free Agent)

Players Out: Damon Severson (Trade), Yegor Sharangovich (Trade), Mackenzie Blackwood (Trade), Reilly Walsh (Trade), Miles Wood (Free Agent - Colorado), Ryan Graves (Free Agent - Pittsburgh), Mason Geertsen (Free Agent - Las Vegas), Brian Pinho (Free Agent - NY Islanders), Jesper Boqvist (UFA), Tomas Tatar (UFA), Jonathan Bernier (UFA), Aarne Talvitie (Free Agent - TPS), Zach Émond (Free Agent - Laval), Jérémy Groleau (UFA), Jayce Hawryluk (UFA), Zachary Hayes (UFA)

Players Re-Signed: Jesper Bratt, Timo Meier, Erik Haula, Michael McLeod, Nathan Bastian, Timur Ibragimov (AHL only)

Players Left to Re-Sign: Kevin Bahl

Other Notable Moves: Associate Coach Andrew Brunette was hired by Nashville to be their head coach. Travis Green was brought in to replace him.

Their Salary Cap as of July 8: $77.892 million ($5.607 million in space), 38 contracts

Offseason Thoughts: General Manager Tom Fitzgerald did not add a lot in this offseason. But he did not need to. He was quite busy and quite active though. The biggest concerns for the Devils were managing new contracts for Jesper Bratt and Timo Meier among several free agents. Fitzgerald got both done in June with Bratt taking a $63 million contract over eight seasons and Meier taking a $70.4 million contract over eight seasons. These two wingers have been fantastic for New Jersey and will be in Newark for a while. He also re-uped Erik Haula for three seasons, a positive for him so he does not need to move for a change. All signings were great business; locking down Bratt and Meier for cap hits below $9 million were big.

Fitzgerald’s work also included clearing out some room on the Devils. Knowing that Severson would be too expensive to keep, he signed-and-traded him to Columbus for a pick. He used that pick and a Yegor Sharangovich they did not factor into their long term plans to package in a deal to Calgary. The return was one season of Tyler Toffoli - an upgrade over Sharangovich. Mackenzie Blackwood was on the outs among the goaltenders and Fitzgerald moved him out for a sixth rounder for one less qualifying offer to give. He risked not giving a qualifying offer to Jesper Boqvist, Michael McLeod, and Nathan Bastian. Boqvist was let go while Fitzgerald re-signed McLeod and Bastian without needing to pay out larger deals or go to arbitration. And the most recent action for New Jersey was to send a fifth rounder to Dallas for defenseman Colin Miller - a depth defenseman for a blueline that figures to bring in Luke Hughes and Simon Nemec for next season.

The Devils are now set for at least the next four seasons with their core: Nico Hischier, Jack Hughes, Bratt, Meier, Dougie Hamilton, John Marino, and Jonas Siegenthaler. The time for winning is now. Adding Toffoli for two pending free agents helps that cause. Luke Hughes already shown he can be great in the NHL. Nemec could do so soon. The only question for the Devils is in net. They got decent-to-good goaltending last season. But do they need to become great? Can they add a Name goaltender? Should they? We shall see if they do and they actually get one. One thing is for sure: The Devils are not a flash in the pan and Fitzgerald has been on a heater of his own this Summer.

Did They Get Better?: Yeah, at least a little bit. Toffoli is better than Sharangovich. Miller is an upgrade over Brendan Smith and is fine cover for the likes of Hughes and Nemec. Blackwood being dealt away means no games spent on finding out whether Blackwood can rebound. Securing Meier will really show how much he can do over a full season (for up to eight of them). There may be some growing pains in replacing Severson and Graves with Hughes and Nemec, but it may not be for too long. If Luke Hughes plays like he did in Game #82 in D.C. or in some of those games against Carolina, then he is going to be excellent real soon.

Carolina Hurricanes

2022-23 Finish: 52-21-9, 113 points, 68.9% Points, 1st Place - Eastern Conference Finals loss to Florida (4-0)

Players In: Michael Bunting (Free Agent), Dmitry Orlov (Free Agent), Griffin Mendel (Free Agent), Anthony DeAngelo (Trade) Domenick Fensore (Entry Level Contract), Yaniv Perets (Entry Level Contract), Justin Robidas (Entry Level Contract)

Players Out: Massimo Rizzo (Trade), Shayne Gostisbehere (Free Agent - Detroit), Max Pacioretty (Free Agent - Washington), Mackenzie MacEachern (Free Agent - St. Louis), Calvin de Haan (Free Agent - Tampa Bay), William Lagesson (Free Agent - Toronto), Maxime Lajoie (Free Agent - Toronto), Zach Sawchenko (Free Agent - Vancouver), Jake Gardiner (UFA), Jesse Puljujärvi (UFA), Ondrej Kase (UFA), Dominik Bokk (UFA), Derek Stepan (UFA), Malte Stromwall (UFA), Ryan Dzingel (UFA), Stelio Mattheos (UFA), Jack Dugan (UFA), Cavan Fitzgerald (UFA)

Players Re-Signed: Jordan Staal, Jesper Fast, Antti Raanta, Frederik Andersen, Dylan Coghlan

Players Left to Re-Sign: N/A

Other Notable Moves: N/A

Their Salary Cap as of July 8: $80.179 million ($3.320 million in space), 37 contracts

Offseason Thoughts: Carolina edged out New Jersey’s most successful regular season ever to take the Metropolitan. They showed in the playoffs how frightening they can be. But they were swept because all of their offensive prowess, aggressive 1-2-2/2-12 forechecking, and shot creation was denied by supremely hot Sergey Bobrovsky. Did management panic and demand for an overhaul to not have that happen in 2024? No. Which is smart because getting goalie’d really does not have a good answer.

Instead, Carolina decided to be more measured in their decisions. They decided to keep their goalies and bring back Jordan Staal, Jesper Fast, and Dylan Coughlan. The latter three helps stave off the many departures from the depths of their roster. Returning Raanta and Andersen is understandable as when they are healthy and available to play, they are more than capable of backstopping a contender. If either is not, then Pytor Kochetkov can do the job. He probably replaces Raanta in 2024-25 anyway.

This is not to say that Carolina has not been active. They added a solid left winger in Michael Bunting, who could be a mid-term answer for the pending UFA Teuvo Teräväinen. They spent big to bring in Dmitry Orlov. He is a great defender in all three zones. A signing that may spell the departure of Brett Pesce. They are about to re-acquire Anthony DeAngelo, who played for Rod Brind’Amour before and is basically a cheaper replacement for Shayne Gostisbehere. They have been rumored to be in on Erik Karlsson and Vladimir Tarasenko. I do not know how either would fit under their cap, but that is GM Don Waddell’s problem and not the rumor’s problem. It could be argued they could have aimed higher for a forward. But that is asking too much of a free agent market that was short on scorers. No, Tarasenko is not who he once was.

My big question is whether Carolina is going to push all the way in for this upcoming season. Their pending UFA list for 2024 is Sebastian Aho (their best player), Teräväinen, Brady Skjei (one of their top defensemen), Pesce (one of their top defensemen), Jordan Martinook (third line leader), Stefan Noesen (solid fourth liner), and Raanta. Their pending RFA list includes Martin Necas (one of their top forwards), Jack Drury, Seth Jarvis, and Coghlan. This team could look very, very different in a season or two. It begs the question as to whether they will still be contenders. Their window may be closer to being closed than it may seem. For now, though, they are the team to beat in the Metropolitan.

Did They Get Better?: Yeah. Bunting is a good addition to their middle six at forward. Orlov is a great defenseman and DeAngelo can be a real threat on a sheltered third-pairing. Carolina is still the team to beat in the division - for this coming season at least. Next season: Well, Waddell & Co. have their work cut out for them. But that’s a 2024 problem and not an issue for the 2023 Offseason Metropolitan Division snapshot.

While this is more or less an exercise in perception, my overall read is that the Metropolitan Divison will continue to be a challenge. I do not think any team will bottom out like Columbus did last season. While I do not think Philly, Washington, or Columbus will be playoff teams, they will not be easy points for opposing teams. The non-playoff teams were not standing pat with either coaching or management changes. While I think two of the playoff teams did not get better, I do not think they got worse enough to miss out. The Isles could be a risk of falling out. However, between Pittsburgh and the Isles, I am going to favor the team with the vastly superior goaltenders. Which are the Boys in Belmont.

For the People Who Matter, the Devils fans, you do have to appreciate how the Devils look in comparison to the other teams. It is a stable organization for a team that has only deepened their commitments to an already successful roster. Without being remarkably odd looking like the seven year deals in Long Island. Fitzgerald has been great with respect to taking care of a lot of the pending free agents early and with shrewd choices. Only Kevin Bahl needs a new deal and the Devils have more than enough money to do that. My only concern with him - and this also applies to Carolina and Waddell - is whether he risks too much in chasing a perceived improvement.

Of course, the games are played on the ice. We shall see how all of these moves work out in October 2023. Until then, this is how I see the division.

Now I want your take. What do you think of the offseason moves made within the Metropolitan Division? How do you think the Devils’ offseason stacks up with the other 7 teams in the Metropolitan Division? While it is early, who do you think will take the division in 2023-24 based on what we know now? Who will end up in the basement? Where should we expect the Devils to end up by next April? Please leave your answers and other thoughts about the offseason of the Devils and the other seven teams in the division in the comments. Thank you for reading.