• Drew Weber

Metropolitan Division Offseason Recap

The Metropolitan Division had a number of storylines this during the 2018-19 season. It was home to the defending Stanley Cup champions, a Cinderella team that went to the Eastern Conference Final, and a club on the winning side of one of the biggest upsets in NHL history.

But those storylines are over, and a new season brings a new opportunity to create new ones.

Some teams did little over the offseason while others made dramatic changes to their lineup—including three that may have the most improved rosters in the league.

Let’s review.

Washington Capitals (48 - 26 - 8 , 104 Points)

Additions: (D) Radko Gudas, (F) Richard Paník, (F) Brenden Leipsic, (F) Garnet Hathaway

Subtractions: (F) André Burakovsky, (F) Brett Connolly, (F) Dmitrij Jaskin, (F) Nathan Walker, (D) Matt Niskanen

The Washington Capitals were the defending Stanley Cup champions coming into the season, and they followed up their success by winning their division. However, they were bounced in the first round of the playoffs by the Carolina Hurricanes.

Rather than trying to put the team over the top to make another deep postseason run, though, they were forced to move out assets so stay under the salary cap.

In total, the Capitals shipped off an estimated $13.2 million of contracts through trades and free agency while only bringing in $8.3 million of assets. This gave the team enough room to stay cap compliant after the new contracts for players like Jacob Vrana and Nick Jensen kicked in.

Part of the $13.2 million that was sent out came from trading André Burakovsky to the Colorado Avalanche in exchange for Scott Kosmachuk, a 2020 second-round pick, and a 2020 third-round pick.

Although he was a pending RFA when the trade happened, Burakovsky did end up signing a one-year, $3.25 million contract with Colorado that would have given the Capitals financial issues.

Washington also shed an extra $2.4 million by trading Matt Niskanen and his $5.75 cap hit to the Philadelphia Flyers in exchange for Radko Gudas, who makes $3.35 million per season.

Also leaving the team are forwards Brett Connolly, Dmitrij Jaskin, and Nathan Walker, all of whom left in free agency. 

In to replace them are Richard Paník, Brenden Leipsic, and Garnett Hathaway. The three forwards combined recorded 20 more points last season than the three who left Washington on July 1.

New York Islanders (48 - 27 - 7 , 103 Points)

Additions: (F) Derick Brassard, (G) Semyon Varlamov

Subtractions: (F) Valtteri Filppula, (D) Luca Sbisa, (G) Robin Lehner

The New York Islanders were one of the best defensive teams in the NHL last season and were backstopped by a pair of goaltenders who combined to win the William M. Jennings Trophy for allowing the fewest goals against in the league.

But half of that tandem will not be back for 2019-2020, as the Islanders elected not to re-sign Robin Lehner when he became a free agent.

Lehner posted a .930 save percentage during the regular season and was the starting goaltender for the team when they swept the Pittsburgh Penguins in the first round of the playoffs.

Instead, New York signed former Colorado Avalanche goaltender Semyon Varlamov to a four-year, $20 million contract.

Varlamov has had an up and down career, posting numbers well above and below league average at various points.

This is something that has happened with Lehner too, although those numbers occurred while playing on a Buffalo Sabres team that hasn’t had much success in recent years.

But the reason New York chose to walk away from Lehner was because they were part of the Artemi Panarin sweepstakes. 

Rather than locking up one of their goaltenders, they gave Lehner an ultimatum with his contract. However, they moved on before he had a chance to respond, instead pushing their chips all in on snagging Panarin in free agency.

For the Islanders, it was Panarin or bust. And as it turns out, it was a bust.

Panarin ended up going to the New York Rangers, but the Islanders were able to get Derick Brassard in free agency on a one-year, $1.2 million contract.

Brassard had the worst season of his career, earning just 23 points and being traded twice. But the veteran forward feels he will have a better campaign, especially if he doesn’t have to handle the personal chaos of living in three different cities in two months like he did last year.

Pittsburgh Penguins (44 - 26 - 12 , 100 Points)

Additions: (F) Alex Galchenyuk, (F) Dominik Kahun, (F) Brandon Tanev

Subtractions: (F) Phil Kessel, (F) Matt Cullen, (F) Jean-Sebastien Dea, (F) Garrett Wilson, (D) Olli Maatta

The Pittsburgh Penguins put up their fourth-consecutive 100-plus point season last year but were swept in the opening round of the playoffs by the New York Islanders.

This outcome disappointed the fans and the players, most notably Evgeni Malkin—who opened up about his struggles last season to The Athletic’s Rob Rossi.

In that article, Malkin talks about issues like his English-speaking skills and his overall confidence in his playing abilities. But Rossi also goes on to talk about the Russian’s apparent dislike for linemate Phil Kessel.

Some sources have said Malkin was under the impression Kessel was satisfied with his previous Stanley Cup championships and was now only concerned about his stats. This allegedly led Malkin to request a trade if Kessel was with the Penguins next season.

For Pittsburgh, it was either Malkin or Kessel.

So, on June 29, the Penguins sent Kessel, Dane Birks, and a 2021 fourth-round pick to the Arizona Coyotes in exchange for Alex Galchenyuk and Pierre-Olivier Joseph.

Galchenyuk posted 41 points with the Coyotes last season, a far cry from the 82 Kessel managed. But when you have to choose between a great player and an elite one, you go with the elite one.

The Penguins did that by keeping Malkin happy.

In addition to the Kessel trade this offseason, Pittsburgh traded Olli Maata to the Chicago Blackhawks for Dominik Kahun and a 2019 fifth-round pick and signed Brandon Tanev to a six-year, $21 million deal.

Kahun and Tanev combined for 66 points with their respective teams last season. That type of production should help the team manage the loss of Kessel and support the middle-six after the retirement of Matt Cullen.

Carolina Hurricanes (46 - 29 - 7 , 99 Points)

Additions: (F) Ryan Dzingel, (F) Erik Haula, (D) Jake Gardiner, (D) Gustav Forsling, (D) Chase Priskie, (G) Anton Forsberg, (G) James Reimer

Subtractions: (D) Adam Fox, (F) Michael Ferland, (D) Calvin de Haan, (G) Curtis McElhinney, (F) Greg McKegg, (F) Patrick Brown, (D) Trevor Carrick, (G) Scott Darling

Unknown: (F) Justin Williams, (F) Saku Maenalanen

The NHL had itself a Cinderella team in the Carolina Hurricanes last year when they made it to the Eastern Conference Final after beating the Washington Capitals in seven games and sweeping the New York Islanders.

Since then, the team has only gotten better.

The bulk of Carolina’s upgrades came in free agency, where they signed Ryan Dzingel, Chase Priskie, and Jake Gardiner.

Dzingel is coming off a year where he earned 56 points, 44 of which being registered while with a terrible Ottawa Senators team.

Priskie and Gardiner, meanwhile, help strengthen an already-stacked blue line.

Priskie was a college prospect playing for Quinnipiac who led NCAA defensemen in goals and finished Top-10 in Hobey Baker voting during his senior year.

His acquisition serves as a replacement for Adam Fox, the highly-touted Harvard defensemen Carolina traded to the New York Rangers in April.

Gardiner, the former Toronto Maple Leafs defenseman, is an analytics darling despite being controversial among fans of his former team. Last year, he earned 30 points in 62 games to go along with a plus-19 rating.

Along with Jaccob Slavin, Dougie Hamilton, and Brett Pesce, Gardiner may be the organization’s fourth defenseman that would be considered a number one on other teams.

The Hurricanes also made four notable trades over the summer:

1) Acquired Patrick Marleau, a 2020 first-round pick, and a 2020 seventh-round pick for a sixth-round selection in 2020. Marleau was later bought out by the team.

2) Sent Calvin de Haan and Aleksi Saarela to the Chicago Blackhawks in exchange for Gustav Forsling and Anton Forsberg.

3) Traded Nicolas Roy and a 2021 conditional fifth-round pick to the Vegas Golden Knights to acquire Erik Haula.

4) Dealt Scott Darling and a 2020 sixth-round pick to the Florida Panthers for James Reimer. The Panthers later bought out the final two years of Darling’s contract.

These new acquisitions are fantastic for the Hurricanes, but the team will start—and possibly end—the year without former captain Justin Williams.

Toward the end of the summer, Williams announced he was going to step away from hockey, though he did not say he was retiring. He doesn’t feel physically and mentally ready to play at the moment and wants more time to figure out his future.

Williams put up 53 points in 82 games with Carolina last season.

Perhaps the most eye-catching news for the Hurricanes this offseason, though, was the Sebastian Aho offer sheet.

Aho signed a five-year, $42.27 million contract with the Montreal Canadiens. But since he was an RFA instead of a UFA, Carolina had the option to match the offer and retain him.

The $8.45 million cap hit was well below market value for a player that just earned 83 points, so the Hurricanes easily decided to match, meaning Aho would get that same contract but with Carolina.

If the Hurricanes allowed Aho to go to Montreal, they would have received a first, second, and third-round pick from the Canadiens as compensation.

Columbus Blue Jackets(47 - 31 - 4 , 98 Points)

Additions: (F) Gustav Nyquist, (F) Marko Dano

Subtractions: (F) Matt Duchene, (F) Artemi Panarin, (F) Ryan Dzingel, (G) Sergei Bobrovsky, (F) Mark Letestu

The Columbus Blue Jackets were the definition of “all in” last season. 

After finding out neither Artemi Panarin nor Sergei Bobrovky would return to the team next season, general manager Jarmo Kekalainen gave up four high draft picks, two non-NHL players, and Anthony Duclair to acquire Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel from the Ottawa Senators.

It looked like the gamble paid off at first, as the team upset the top-seeded Tampa Bay Lightning in a four-game sweep. But then they ran into a Boston Bruins team that knocked them out in six games en route to a Stanley Cup Final appearance.

Now, the exodus of talent is upon them. None of Duchene, Dzingel, Panarin, or Bobrovsky will play for the Blue Jackets next season.

Columbus didn’t do much to replace those players in the offseason, either. All they did was pick up Marco Dano and Gustav Nyquist in free agency.

Nyquist agreed to a four-year, $22 million contract after earning 60 points in 81 games last season with the Detroit Red Wings and San Jose Sharks.

Meanwhile, Dano signed a one-year, $800,000 deal. He has yet to play over 40 games in a season, although he may have the opportunity to do so this year with so many roster spots open.

The Blue Jackets finally came to terms with RFA Zach Werenski as well, signing him to a three-year contract worth $15 million.

Werenski was the first of the many RFA holdouts to rejoin his team. Days later, the next dominos fell when Mitch Marner and Ivan Provorov ended their holdouts with their respective teams.

The rest should follow suit shortly.

Philadelphia Flyers (37 - 37 - 8 , 82 Points)

Additions: (Head Coach) Alain Vigneault, (F) Kevin Hayes, (F) Kurtis Gabriel, (F) Andy Andreoff, (F) Tyler Pitlick, (D) Matt Niskanen, (D) Justin Braun

Subtractions: (F) Justin Bailey , (F) Tyrell Goulbourne , (F) Ryan Hartman, (F) Corban Knight, (F) Jori Lehtera, (F) Phil Varone, (G) Radko Gudas, (D) Andrew MacDonald, (G) Michal Neuvirth, (G) Cam Talbot

Unknown: (F) Travis Konecny

The Philadelphia Flyers made a number of changes during the summer after coming nowhere near a playoff berth last season.

In to lead the team next year is new head coach Alain Vigneault.

Vigneault has coached over 1,000 games, accumulating a 648 - 435 - 35 - 98 record (W - L - T - OTL) for the Montreal Canadiens, Vancouver Canucks, and New York Rangers. He has qualified for the playoffs 11 times in his 15 full seasons as an NHL coach.

The new bench boss will have a number of first-year Flyers to work with, including Kevin Hayes, who signed a seven-year, $50 million contract many believe was a massive overpayment for someone who just put up over 50 points for the first time in his career.

Hayes was originally an RFA for the Winnipeg Jets, but Philadelphia acquired his rights for a fifth-round pick in 2019.

There are also three new defenseman on the team: Justin Braun, Matt Niskanen, and Tyler Pitlick. All three players came via trades that sent out Radko Gudas, Ryan Hartman, a 2019-second round pick, and a 2020 third-round pick. 

One defenseman who is making his return is Ivan Provorov.

Provorov was one of the many RFAs that entered September without a contract. But shortly after the comparable Zach Werenski signed his three-year, $15 million deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets, the Russian blue liner agreed to six-years worth a total $40.5 million.

RFA Travis Konecny, however, has yet to come to terms with the team.

New York Rangers (32 - 36 - 14 , 78 Points)

Additions: (F) Kaapo Kakko, (F) Artemi Panarin, (D) Jacob Trouba, (D) Adam Fox

Subtractions: (F) Connor Brickley, (F) Jimmy Vesey, (D) Fredrik Claesson, (D) John Gilmour, (D) Neal Pionk, (D) Kevin Shattenkirk

Unknown: (D) Anthony DeAngelo

The New York Rangers were toward the bottom of the league last season but are easily one of the most improved teams in the NHL.

Much of this is due to them winning the second-overall pick in the 2019 draft, where they selected Kaapo Kakko.

Kakko is sure to become an impact player for the Rangers after he put up 38 points in 45 games against grown men for Turun Palloseura of the Finnish Liiga. It may take him a while to adjust to the smaller North American ice, but once he gets his bearings in the NHL, he’ll be a star.

The Rangers also made two huge splashes in free agency.

The biggest one was signing the most sought after free agent, Artemi Panarin, to a seven-year, $81.5 million contract.

Panarin has been a powerhouse since he entered the league as a 24-year old for the Chicago Blackhawks. He’s registered 320 points in his 322 games with the Blackhawks and Columbus Blue Jackets and won the Calder Trophy in 2016—beating out Connor McDavid and Shayne Gostisbehere in a slightly controversial manner given his age.

New York also acquired the rights to Jacob Trouba from the Winnipeg Jets in exchange for Neal Pionk and a first-round pick in 2019. They soon signed the top-pairing blue liner to a seven-year, $56 million contract.

The Rangers now have a definitive number one defenseman on their roster, but they also went out and traded a 2019 second-round pick and a 2020 conditional third-round pick to the Carolina Hurricanes to get another defenseman in Adam Fox, a highly-touted prospect who just graduated from Harvard University.

In terms of subtractions, New York bought out the remainder of Kevin Shattenkirk’s contract, traded Jimmy Vesey to the Buffalo Sabres for a third-round pick in 2021, and let Fredrik Claesson, Connor Brickley, and John Gilmour walk in free agency.

The gains for the Rangers far out-weigh the losses, and it’s not even close.

New Jersey Devils (31 - 41 - 10 , 72 Points)

Additions: (F) Jack Hughes, (D) P.K. Subban, (F) Nikita Gusev, (F) Wayne Simmonds, (F) John Hayden

Subtractions: (F) Kenny Agostino, (F) Kurtis Gabriel, (F) Nick Lappin, (F) Stefan Noesen, (F) Blake Pietila, (F) John Quenneville, (F) Drew Stafford, (F) Eric Tangradi, (D) Eric Gryba, (D) Ryan Murphy, (D) Steven Santini, (D) Egor Yakovlev

Along with the New York Rangers and Carolina Hurricanes in the “most-improved” category are the New Jersey Devils, a team that acquired three key pieces over the offseason in Jack Hughes, Nikita Gusev, and P.K. Subban.

Hughes came via the 2019 NHL Entry Draft after the Devils won the first overall pick in the draft lottery. That let them select the projected number one pick, who earned 112 points in 50 games with the United States’ national U18 club.

This is the second time New Jersey has won the draft lottery in three years. They selected Nico Hischier first overall in 2017.

The Devils also managed to snag the rights to Gusev from the cash-strapped Vegas Golden Knights for a 2020 third-round pick and a 2021 second-round pick. They then signed him to a modest two-year, $9 million contract. 

Gusev was a force in the KHL last year, racking up 82 points and 65 assists with SKA St. Petersburg last season—both league highs by a wide margin.

Subban also found his way to New Jersey through a trade.

The Devils sent Steven Santini, Jeremy Davies, a 2019 second-round pick, and a 2020 second-round pick to the Nashville Predators to acquire the defenseman.

Subban had a down year last season, earning only 31 points and failing to receive any Norris Trophy or all-star consideration. But perhaps playing for a team where he can be the definitive number one defensemen again will help him find his regain game.

On top of these three impact players, New Jersey also signed Wayne Simmonds to a one-year, $5 million contract.

Simmonds, like Subban, had an off season, but could see a resurgence with a new team.

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