WHO IMPROVED THE MOST IN THE METROPOLITAN DIVISION THIS SUMMER?
1. New Jersey Devils
The Devils were 27th in the NHL in goals per game last season and signed one of the best 5 v 5 goal scorers in Mike Cammalleri.
Cammalleri had 26 goals in 63 games for an offensively challenged Flames team and what stands out for Cammalleri was his Goals/60 of 5 v 5 where he ranked sixth in the NHL at 1.237. That’s elite level play at even strength and Cammalleri projects to be a significant addition for the Devils at even strength, a team that scored just 128 goals 5 v 5, 29th in the NHL.
One addition that can be a boom or bust signing for the Devils is Martin Havlat. His play has faded but if he can stay healthy, Havlat could be a 20+ goal scorer for the Devils and like Cammalleri, performed well at even strength last season with a 1.88 P/60.
The Devils project to be a stronger team 1-12 and have options. They could look to move Damien Brunner or Michael Ryder for a defenseman.
Mike Cammalleri – Travis Zajac – Jaromir Jagr
Patrick Elias – Adam Henrique – Martin Havlat
Ryane Clowe – Tuomo Ruutu – Michael Ryder
Danius Zubrus – Steve Bernier – Damien Brunner
Stefan Matteau, Stephen Gionta
The biggest move for the Devils this off-season was locking up Cory Schneider to a seven year extension and deciding to part ways with Martin Brodeur. The Devils missed the playoffs by five points. Schneider played in just 45 games. If 10-12 of Brodeur’s starts go to Schneider which they should have, New Jersey is likely a playoff team.
With Brodeur around the Devils felt compelled to play him more than they should have and that’s why they had to move on from him this summer.
2. New York Islanders
The Islanders added stability in goal with the addition of starter Jaroslav Halak, backup Chad Johnson, and bolstered their top-9 with the signings of Mikhail Grabovski and Nikolai Kulemin.
This is a team extremely deep down the middle with John Tavares, Frans Nielsen, Mikhail Grabovski and Casey Cizikas.
On the wings, it’s a group that boast Kyle Okposo, Nikolai Kulemin, Michael Grabner, Brock Nelson, Cal Clutterbuck, Matt Martin, Josh Bailey, Colin McDonald, Ryan Strome, among others.
A versatile team up front and arguably one of the deepest in the Eastern Conference at forward position.
One area of need (their biggest) the Islanders struck out on addressing was the blueline. They tried to sign Dan Boyle, offered Matt Niskanen over $45 million but came up empty.
3. Columbus Blue Jackets
Columbus key addition was prior to free agency, trading for Scott Hartnell. They swapped a player in R.J. Umberger who they were considering buying out for a consistent 20+ goal, 50+ point player who drives the opposition nuts.
One thing I love about this team is they have an identity upfront. They have a strong mix of grit, scoring, and after last years experience, project to be the type of team that could be built very well for the playoffs.
With a healthy Nathan Horton, a budding superstar in Ryan Johansen and likely continued improvement from the likes of Boone Jenner, Ryan Murray, this is a team trending up, especially upfront.
A top line of Hartnell – Johansen – Horton could emerge into one the toughest lines to defend in hockey. Or Columbus coach Todd Richards could use Jenner with Johansen and Horton, and play Hartnell with Brandon Dubinsky. A team that’s going to be very tough to play against.
If there’s one area the Blue Jackets were lacking in their first round series vs Pittsburgh it was another top-4 defenseman, especially with how poor James Wisniewski played. Will be an area to watch this season.
4. Pittsburgh Penguins
Key Additions for the Penguins included signings of defenseman Christian Ehrhoff, forwards Steve Downie, Blake Comeau and goaltender Thomas Greiss via free agency, while the Penguins added Nick Spaling and Patric Hornqvist in the James Neal trade
Are the Penguins a better team than they were when they ended the season? If we were doing a Stock Up or Stock Down segment, I’d label them as “even”
Among those I’ve spoken with, there is no consensus around the league among NHL types whether the Penguins are a better team or not than last year.
For those who value balance upfront, they lean in the direction of Pittsburgh being a better team, while there seems to be one group out there who feel the top-6 has weakened too much with the trade of James Neal and Pittsburgh letting Jussi Jokinen go as a free agent.
The Christian Ehrhoff signing was excellent value and there’s a very good chance he signs a long-term extension after January 1. However, will he help the Penguins enough in his own end and have they gotten too soft on the backend? Those are some burning questions surrounding this group.
5. New York Rangers
The Rangers paid the price of making the Stanley Cup when it comes to free agency; Role players pricing themselves out of town.
Notable subtractions from the Rangers Cup Final run included the losses of Benoit Pouliot, Anton Stralman and Brian Boyle. The team also bought out Brad Richards because of cap reasons and declining play.
Did they do enough to replace them?
In the short-term they did on the blueline when it comes to Dan Boyle who will upgrade the power play.
The Rangers resigning of Dominic Moore was a strong one, and they added Tanner Glass, Lee Stempniak and Matthew Lombardi as depth signings.
The positive for the Rangers is the core remains in place and they lost players who they can replace via trade if the likes of Stempniak, Lombardi don’t work out.
6. Washington Capitals
The Washington Capitals gave out questionable contracts, especially the deal to Brooks Orpik, but when your talking about who improved for next season, the Capitals are an improved hockey team (marginally) compared to the team they had in April for one reason; Barry Trotz.
The most significant addition for the Capitals was the hiring of Trotz as head coach. Washington was one of the worst coached teams last year when it came to attention to details and structure, players from other teams said. That is surely going to change under Trotz.
Niskanen gives them good insurance in the top-4 with Mike Green no longer the offensive player he use to be, and they’ve lacked a Brooks Orpik type defenseman for years. The problem for Washington is they really needed Orpik back when they were an elite team in 2009-2011 and Orpik could play No. 1 pairing minutes on a consistent basis.
However, Washington has the chance to be a very good defensive team if the goaltending holds up.
Goaltending, though, remains a question mark and loss of Grabovski leaves a hole at center.
7. Philadelphia Flyers
Up against the Cap, the Flyers had a rare off-season in that they didn’t make a splash. Trading Scott Hartnell was a backwards move, even though Hartnell still had five years left on his deal.
Thus far the Flyers have failed to add a top-4 defenseman, a huge area of need.
The biggest news the Flyers made this off-season was Claude Giroux getting arrested for grabbing a male cops butt.
8. Carolina Hurricanes
The Hurricanes have missed the playoffs five straight years and GM Ron Francis is banking on new coach Bill Peters being the difference for this group as Francis has made no impact moves.
Carolina signed 4th line center Jay McClement and added longtime Hurricane Tim Gleason, a player on the downside of his career.
Francis has been unsuccessful this summer to unload some or the bad contracts former GM Jim Rutherford dished out late in his tenure.
While two non-playoff teams in the Devils and Islanders have bolstered their rosters inside the division, Carolina has not made the needed moves to push for a playoff spot, like the Devils, Islanders have done.