NHL Offseason Review: Metropolitan Division
Eye On Hockey reviews the big turnover in the Metropolitan Division with many players switching to inter-divisional foes this summer.
There's plenty of time remaining in the NHL offseason, but with so much movement before the calendar struck July 15, there's plenty to be gleaned from what has already happened. Big trades, big free-agent signings and the like have created a rather frenetic few weeks of summer without a single puck or skate in sight.
With that in mind, it's time to recap how the landscape and teams around the NHL have changed with Eye on Hockey's Offseason Review. Whipping around all four divisions, the review will cover the offseason additions and subtractions, the money spent and if teams around the league have successfully taken the strides to improve their teams for 2014-15 this offseason.
Today, the Metropolitan Division gets the review treatment as the home division of the Eastern Conference champion New York Rangers saw quite a bit of turnover. The depleted Rangers' 2013-14 lineup in the wake of a rather unfriendly free-agent period is among the several big differences in the Metro.
The Pittsburgh Penguins did most of their restructuring with the suits, canning general manager Ray Shero and head coach Dan Bylsma in favor of Jim Rutherford and Mike Johnston. It hasn't been the easiest of summers after another disappointing playoff loss, but how bad can things be with the reigning MVP and a restructured roster that is still fit for contention?
The Washington Capitals were extremely busy as well, raiding rival Pittsburgh's cupboard on defense in signing Matt Niskanen and Brooks Orpik to big-money deals. It remains to be seen if the money spent in Washington is worth what they'll get, but it's clear the Caps are trying to do something to shake some disappointing seasons.
But the big boys of the division will have company as well as the New Jersey Devils, Columbus Blue Jackets and even the New York Islanders took strides to better their lineups through trades or free agency.
Here's a look at what has happened so far in the Metropolitan.
Biggest acquisition: Though not technically an acquisition, Carolina's best offseason maneuver so far probably was to get Ron Hainsey an extension at an affordable $2.83 million per season for the next three years. The veteran defenseman has been an effective blueliner for the Canes and not letting him get to free agency was an important move as he was a positive possession player in a tough season. Also, bringing back Gleason at an extreme discount for one season gives the club a stop gap before younger talent is ready to join the big club. Trading him to Toronto and then having the Leafs end up buying him out worked out well for a franchise that has been rather fond of Gleason, though the rearguard's best days appear well behind him.
Biggest tasks remaining: The team probably could afford to bring in some veteran help at forward, though not much is out there to be had at this point. That turns the focus to what to do with Cam Ward. The Hurricanes opted not to use any of their compliance buyouts, though Ward and his $6.3 million cap hit over the next two seasons seemed like a tailor-made buyout case. Their commitment to the goalie despite obvious decline may be born more out of not having any better options, though Anton Khudobin may be ready for more responsibility between the pipes. The Canes reportedly were looking to deal Ward, but unless Carolina is willing to eat a big hunk of that salary, they might be stuck with each other for the duration of that contract.
Review: The Hurricanes did next to nothing to improve their roster from a season ago, which presents a rather big challenge for new head coach Bill Peters. The Hurricanes finished seventh in the Metro last season and were 10 points out of the last playoff spot in the East. This is a franchise going through a bit of a transition with Ron Francis elevated to the GM job after Jim Rutherford was "promoted" and subsequently left the organization. Questions about goaltending and forward depth were left unanswered this offseason and it's hard to see the Hurricanes being a competitor as almost all of the teams around them in the division made significant, and positive, alterations to their rosters.
Biggest acquisition: The Hartnell trade likely ends up being a good one for the Blue Jackets in the short term as they dished the unhappy Umberger to Philadelphia. Though Hartnell's contract takes him to his age-37 season at an annual $4.75 million cap hit until 2017-18, he replaces Umberger, who never seemed like a good fit with Todd Richards' roster, at a minimal increase in salary. In Hartnell, the Blue Jackets get another one of those veteran players that has the ability to produce and also somewhat helps continue the changing culture of Columbus' organization. They need battle-tested players in the lineup to help make the next step in the playoffs. Hartnell is that with 91 career playoff games, including a deep run with the Flyers in 2010.
Biggest tasks remaining: The focus for the Blue Jackets at this point centers on two things. The most immediate of deals to be completed is with restricted free-agent forward Ryan Johansen, who is coming off a career year. Getting the young budding star under a reasonable contract despite such a great season is going to be key. Too rich of an extension too soon can hamstring the team if Johansen finds himself unable to maintain that level of play. He doesn't have a track record yet to know for sure. The other big contract looming over the organization is that of goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky, which expires at the end of the 2014-15 season. Bobrovsky's Vezina pedigree means he is due a healthy raise and could touch over $7 million annually under a rising salary cap. As big as that is, there may be more maneuvering necessary to get a suitable deal done with Johansen, while also attempting to avoid a holdout in the process.
Review: The Blue Jackets' biggest jobs this offseason were internal and remain so. Adding Hartnell and also younger players like D'Amigo and Gibbons to push for roster spots helps fill some gaps for the Blue Jackets, but their core is intact. The recent re-signing of Brandon Dubinsky to a long-term deal was one of the three big steps the Blue Jackets need to take as an organization with Johansen and Bobrovksy next on the list. Continuing to build around the young group they've maintained in the wake of Rick Nash's departure will help the Jackets stay competitive in the long-term. That is why going after quick-fix UFAs this offseason made little sense for the team and so they didn't attempt to do that. They might not be overwhelmingly better than they were last season, but this Blue Jackets team is deserving of some attention going forward.
Biggest acquisition: Cammalleri is the main outsider that should help improve New Jersey's goal-scoring woes of a season ago. The question is how much this contract is going to hurt as it stretches into Cammalleri's age-37 season. He can score, which is something the Devils need, but the five-year term and $5 million annual cap hit is nothing to sneeze at. The Devils only had two 20-goal scorers last season in Jaromir Jagr and Adam Henrique. Should Cammalleri stay healthy, he should be a third next year. Additionally, the Devils did well to solidify their goaltending by handing Cory Schneider a seven-year, $42 million deal.
Biggest task remaining: There's not a lot left for the Devils to do this offseason now that they've essentially moved on from franchise icon Martin Brodeur. Restricted free agent Jacob Josefson needs a new contract and should get a reasonable one. Ryan Carter is still awaiting a new contract as an unrestricted free agent, but the team has apparently been working to re-sign him as well. That will help fill out the depth at forward. What will be more interesting is what happens throughout the year. All but one of the Devils' projected regular defensemen for next season have contracts expiring after the 2014-15 campaign.
Review: The Devils have had an interesting summer. You can never call GM Lou Lamoriello predictable, that's for sure, but he has seemingly been effective this offseason. The Cammalleri contract might not work great in the long-term, but it seems like an important addition to bring scoring in the shorter term. Re-signing Jagr was also an important move for the upcoming season as he was the best player on the club at 42 years old last season. Getting the post-Brodeur goaltending situation under control for the long-term with re-signing Schneider was important for the health of the franchise and for Schneider, who finally gets to head into a season with some assurance he's the No. 1. The Havlat signing for one year and low money may end up being a really good deal for the Devils if he can stay healthy (and that's a big if). The money makes it low-risk with potential for high reward after Havlat was bought out by the Sharks. He can still score. Losing Mark Fayne will probably hurt more than that departure will be given credit for, but overall, the Devils made strides to improve their team and should be better next season.
In: G Jaroslav Halak (trade, 4 years, $18 million), F Mikhail Grabovski (4 years, $20 million), F Nikolai Kulemin (4 years, $16.75 million), G Chad Johnson (2 years, $2.6 million), F Cory Conacher (1 year, $600,000), D T.J. Brennan (1 year, $600,000)
Biggest acquisition: GM Garth Snow's aggressiveness was on full display and his gamble to acquire Halak's exclusive negotiating rights from the Capitals was his masterstroke of the summer. There was no guarantee he would be able to get Halak to sign, but Snow made it happen with a four-year deal and an extremely affordable (especially for a goalie) cap hit of $4.5 million. The Islanders' goaltending was the league's worst with an .894 save percentage in 2013-14. Halak had a .921 save percentage in a roller-coaster season that sent him from St. Louis to Buffalo to the Capitals. He had a .930 mark in the 12 games he played in Washington. Halak is 29 and it's anyone's guess how long he'll maintain his level of play, but there's no question his .918 career save percentage is going to help the Islanders win a few more games next season. The Islanders also made improvements to their forward group with adding former Maple Leafs teammates Grabovski and Kulemin. They spent big for those guys, but they'll help the Islanders.
Biggest task remaining: The Islanders have some restricted free agents to re-sign, most notably Calvin de Haan, who will be looking for a regular role on the big club next season. The rest of the decisions could be made in training camp. No. 5 overall pick Michael Dal Colle has stated his desire to push for a roster spot next season, while top defensive prospect Griffin Reinhart also has eyes on taking someone's spot. Figuring out where the young guys fit in this revamped lineup will be a challenge, but those players first have to prove they're ready.
Review: If a general manager sets a goal in the offseason to come out of the summer with a better team than he went into it with, Snow has succeeded. There's little doubt the Islanders improved in areas of weakness and set themselves up much better to be a competitor in 2014-15. The defense is still suspect, no question, but improvement in net and bringing in a legitimate No. 2 center like Grabovski gives the lineup a little more bite. The Islanders aren't going to scare a ton of teams, but they're not going to be pushovers at all. Could they sneak into a playoff spot? Sure seems like a more realistic possibility than it did at the beginning of the summer.
In: D Dan Boyle (2 years, $9 million), F Tanner Glass (3 years, $4.35 million), D Matt Hunwick (1 year, $600,000), F Chris Mueller (1 year, $600,000), D Mike Kostka (1 year, $650,000), D Steven Kampfer (1 year, 2 way)
Biggest acquisition: After a tight salary cap and unrestricted free agency essentially raided the Rangers lineup, Glen Sather brought in a solid veteran defenseman in Boyle. He'll bring stability, even as he hits the downside of his career. Unfortunately for the Rangers, they lost far more than they could replace underneath the cap. The rest of New York's acquisitions were depth players and minor leaguers. Boyle has some left in the tank for sure and he'll help the power play, but the roster's depth has been significantly depleted.
Biggest tasks remaining: The big job for the remainder of the summer for the Rangers is to get their three big restricted free agents under new contracts. Chris Kreider could be the franchise's future star, while Derick Brassard was bolstered by a great postseason and Mats Zuccarello was the team's leading scorer. All three are due new deals as RFAs and all three have filed for salary arbitration. Kreider is first up on July 23. By virtue of losing so many UFAs, the Rangers have more than enough cap space to bring all three back, but they'll want to do so sensibly. It just so happened that all three had rather terrific seasons for the Blueshirts and will expect to be paid accordingly.
Review: In a word, this summer has been rough. The Rangers had no choice but to buy out veteran center Brad Richards. Then they watched rather helplessly as Stralman, Boyle and Pouliot all signed for more money than the Rangers could reasonably offer. Bringing in Dan Boyle is helpful, but the multiyear contract for Tanner Glass was one of free agency's more puzzling maneuvers. The Rangers will have quite the competition for their defensive corps featuring guys that have bounced between the NHL and AHL over the years in Mike Kostka, Steven Kampfer and Matt Hunwick. The Rangers do have a terrific core of players, but it seems as though they've simply lost too much to expect similar results as last season.
Biggest acquisition: Bringing back Umberger via trade was a rather interesting move. It did wind up saving the Flyers some money on the cap, but only by about $150,000. In the Flyers' situation, however, every little bit helps. If Umberger is rejuvenated by his return to Philadelphia, he still has the potential to pop in 20-plus goals.
Biggest task remaining: In a summer where the Flyers were basically paralyzed by their salary cap number, there wasn't much to do. The only thing Philly probably would like to accomplish at this point is trying to find a taker for Vincent Lecavalier. With his annual $4.5 million cap hit until 2017-18, the market for him is going to be thin, so it's easier said than done. Without making that deal, however, there wouldn't be much left for the Flyers to do.
Review: It wasn't an overly exciting offseason for the Flyers. They really couldn't do anything. Though Chris Pronger's contract will come off the cap once he's placed on long-term injured reserve, the Flyers are still tight to the ceiling, which means some other kinds of moves could be coming yet. Not being able to deal Lecavalier isn't helping matters and the amount of money still in a mediocre defense is prohibitive as well. The Flyers have a team that can compete for the playoffs again this season and likely will make it, but there wasn't much they could do this summer to make sure that happens.
In: D Christian Ehrhoff (1 year, $4 million), F Steve Downie (1 year, $1 million), F Blake Comeau (1 year, $700,000), G Thomas Greiss (1 year, $1 million), F Patric Hornqvist (trade), F Nick Spaling (trade)
Out: F James Neal (trade), D Matt Niskanen (UFA), D Brooks Orpik (UFA), F Chris Conner (UFA), F Brian Gibbons (UFA), F Tanner Glass (UFA), D Deryk Engelland (UFA), F Joe Vitale (UFA), F Lee Stempniak (UFA), G Tomas Vokoun (UFA)
Biggest acquisition: Can Christian Ehrhoff adequately replace the holes left by Niskanen and Orpik? Maybe not in total, but he's going to soften the blow in a big way. He's a pretty good defenseman and with the door open for the Penguins to promote Simon Despres to the blue line full time, the Pens' defense may not miss a beat next season. Getting Ehrhoff on a short-term, $4 million deal gives the Penguins plenty of options. Additionally, Ehrhoff was terrific in a bad situation with the Sabres last year. It should be interesting to see what he looks like at this stage of his career on a contender.
Biggest task remaining: The Pens have some big RFA deals to finalize including with Despres, who very well could (and should) be part of Pittsburgh's defensive corps next season. There are also deals to get done with Brandon Sutter, who seems to be growing into a pretty decent NHLer, and offseason acquisition Nick Spaling, who will definitely bolster depth in Pittsburgh.
Review: This has been a crazy summer for the Penguins. Firing Ray Shero and Dan Bylsma and bringing in a new regime led by Jim Rutherford was a rather bold move from Pittsburgh's ownership. That was followed by more boldness, including dealing away former 40-goal man James Neal to shed money. That deal brought Hornqvist and Spaling the other way, which helps the Penguins fill some needs at forward. Letting Niskanen and Orpik walk probably was made easier when they saw how much the Capitals spent to get both. There are definitely still concerns about the bottom of Pittsburgh's lineup, but they remain a contender thanks to the top of their lineup led by Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and some moderate improvement in other positions.
In: D Matt Niskanen (7 years, $40.25 million), D Brooks Orpik (5 years, $27.5 million), G Justin Peters (2 years, $1.9 million), F Chris Conner (1 year, 2 way)
Out: F Dustin Penner (UFA), G Jaroslav Halak (trade)
Biggest acquisition: The Caps landed the biggest fish on the free-agent market and handed Niskanen July 1's most expensive contract. It's a long-term deal for a defenseman surging into the prime of his career. The pressure on Niskanen to maintain the rather impressive play he showed over the past few seasons in Pittsburgh, none better than 2013-14, will be immense. Whether he can handle it remains to be seen, but the Caps made a significant addition to a position that needed some shoring up. They doubled down on Penguins by adding Orpik on a really expensive deal as well, but Niskanen is a big key to what the Caps are going to do going forward.
Biggest task remaining: The Caps are extremely tight to the cap at this point and have enough players to fill out their NHL roster anyway. So they're likely done for the summer, but that doesn't mean their hockey ops tasks will cease. The biggest thing left to do is make a decision on defenseman Mike Green. He will become a restricted free agent after the 2014-15 season, so he could be extended at any time now. The Caps would be pretty crazy to let Green go for nothing, but the moves they made this summer are going to make re-signing Green that much more difficult. The club is also looking at No. 1 goalie Braden Holtby becoming a restricted free agent after next season. So there's some big things on GM Brian MacLellan's plate even after he already spent a lot of his owner's money this summer.
Review: There's little doubt that the Capitals improved their blue line this summer. But at what cost? The money and term handed to 34-year-old Orpik seems to be quite the overpay and could look really bad in a few more years if it hamstrings the Capitals. But as expensive as he is, Orpik makes the Caps' blue line deeper. The top five defense for Washington is rather good with Green, Niskanen, Orpik, John Carlson and Karl Alzner. The forward group has a lot of scoring punch already but stood to improve after last season and didn't, so that could make things interesting as the Capitals are up against the salary cap. Overall, they're a better team, even if the salary structure is going to make things challenging over the next few seasons.
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