There was a lot of player movement in the Metropolitan division this offseason as the eight teams looked to improve themselves for the coming season. Many players came and many players went both through signings and trades as the offseason kicked into full gear with the draft and the start of free agency now in the rear view.
A little over a week has passed since free agency opened and the entire division looks a bit different than it did just a few weeks ago. While there is still much work for everyone to do before training camps start and more player movement to come, the early sages of the offseason gave us a glimpse of how the teams stack up against one another.
Carolina has a penchant for shaking things up in the offseason and this year was no different. Quite a few big names are out the door (Tony DeAngelo, Vincent Trocheck) but the Hurricanes had no problem filling in the gaps with trades and signings. Brent Burns is on the back end of his career but can still play and getting Max Pacioretty for basically nothing is a win.
With all the additions and subtractions it could take some time for the Hurricanes to mesh once the season begins, but on paper, they remain the cream of the crop in the Metropolitan division after the start of free agency.
It was a close call between the Rangers and Penguins for this spot, but the Rangers lingering advantage in net gives them the edge for the moment. Igor Shesterkin was the best goalie in the world last season and he looks like he’s just getting started. He’ll now be backed up by Jaroslav Halak which says enough if you are a Penguins fans.
Many key contributors from their run to the Eastern Conference Final are off to greener pastures but the core of the team still remains. They won the Vincent Trocheck lottery which should solidify their top-6 for next season and keep it as lethal as it was last season. They weren’t a great 5-on-5 team but with enough top end talent and a goalie like Shesterkin you can make up for a lot of deficiencies.
This offseason for the Penguins has been more about what happened prior to free agency than anything else. Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang, Bryan Rust, Rickard Rakell, and Casey DeSmith are all returning to keep the Penguins core intact. Wheeling and dealing has transformed the Penguins blue line with more moves possibly still to come.
Biggest area of concern for the Penguins at the moment is the bottom six. As currently projected, the back end of the Penguins roster is lacking depth and overall skill. Josh Archibald was the only notable addition from the free agency period bu Ron Hextall still has time and plenty of options to sort out the situation.
This list is starting to closely resemble what the division looked like at the end of last season but that is for good reason. These top four teams were clearly the best in the regular season and not much hat has transpired since has changed that. Darcy Kuemper is coming off a Stanley Cup and will be an upgrade for the Capitals in goal.
Big question marks surround the future of Nicklas Backstrom who underwent major hip surgery and there is no solid timetable for his potential return. They brought Connor Brown over in a trade with the Ottawa Senators and he should help shoulder some of the blow from losing Backstrom.
It’s been a few seasons since Columbus has seen playoff hockey but the Blue Jackets took a big step in returning to the dance with the most important free agent signing in franchise history. After rumors floated all day of where he might go, Johnny Gaudreau chose Columbus as his new home, shocking the hockey world.
Gaudreau alone isn’t likely enough to pull the Blue Jackets back into the playoff picture and the team is still loaded with holes to fill, but this is a major move for a once rising team that has fallen back on hard times. They also gave Erik Gudbranson a lot of money and term so not all is perfect in the Ohio capital.
Momentum from consecutive Conference Final appearances could not save the Islanders from a truly dismal season. To make matters worse, they made the puzzling decision to fire head coach Barry Trotz and followed it up by barely lifting a finger in the free agency period.
Reports had them in on Gaudreau but in the end they fell short in that pursuit. Still plenty of time for roster re-work before training camp, but with the flurry of free agency in the rear view, one wonders just how much improving the Islanders can do at this point.
Another team reportedly in on Gaudreau but missing out was the Devils. Unlike the Islanders however, the Devils recovered and put together a pretty solid showing at the start of free agency, bringing in a few big names to bolster the roster. Ondrej Palat will bring some much needed offense to Newark but they may need to make the playoffs to unleash his full power.
A trade with the Penguins brought over John Marino who will be solid on the blue line if not the most reliable offensive weapon they have back there. Still, it was a solid offseason for a team still in the rebuilding process but seemingly on the right track.