In case you were wondering, last week I kinda had a post recapping our new division rivals’ offseason moves. I emphasize the word “kinda” because I only finished about half of it before it got published. Little scheduling SNAFU. Whoops.
Let’s try this again shall we?
The Rangers only major acquisition of the offseason was the hiring of new coach Alain Vigneault. Barring any late-summer trades, the Rangers will mostly rely on a new voice in the locker room to be the key difference maker this coming season. However, a few of our new ‘Metropolitan Division’ rivals made some very interesting moves this summer. Some of them voluntary, others not so much (sup Kovy?).
Here’s a look at which teams in our new division should improve, which teams appear to have taken a step back and which teams will likely to duplicate last year’s efforts.
Likely to Improve:
Columbus Blue Jackets: Last year CBJ finished in 4th place and just missed the playoffs. Despite not getting a ticket to the dance, CBJ improved greatly last season and finished the year at 24-17-7. This offseason they’ve been able to retain all of their key core pieces including, Bobrovsky, Anisimov, etc. In free agency they added Mike McKenna and won the Nathan Horton sweepstakes.
With Nathan Horton, Brandon Dubinsky, Anisimov, Gaborik, and Mark Letestu upfront, Tyutin, Johnson, Wisniewsky in the back and Bob between the pipes, the Blue Jackets shouldn’t just improve on last season, they should be considered a threat in this division.
Philadelphia Flyers: Last year the Flyers finished 23-22-3, good for fourth place in the old Atlantic Division and did not qualify for the postseason. Although the Flyers didn’t really address their needs this offseason by acquiring a goaltender or any stay-at-home type defenders, they did double-down on offense.
The Flyers added Vincent Lecavalier and stole Mark Streit from the Islanders in free agency. Those two moves alone should make that team exceptionally dangerous on the powerplay. They bought out Ilya Bryzgalov, which is one of those addition by subtraction moves. They also let oft-injured Daniel Briere walk, as well as Ruslan Fedotenko.
Overall, the Flyers should be a better team. But I’m still not picking them to contend until they get a legit goalie. Bringing back Ray Emery was a bit of a head scratcher for me.
Carolina Hurricanes: Last year the Canes finished in third place in the Southeast Division and didn’t qualify for the postseason again. This offseason they’ve stayed somewhat quiet adding bit players like Nathan Gerbe, Mike Komisarek, Andrej Sekera, and Matt Corrente. Dan Ellis, Bobby Sanguinetti, Joe Corvo, and Jamie McBain all departed. I think most of these acquisitions are lateral moves and until Cam Ward is 100% healthy and gets back to an elite level, I don’t see this team making any waves.
The only move that has some upside to it is the 1 year deal they gave Nathan Gerbe. He had a disapointing season in Buffalo last year netting only 5 goals, but if they play him with the Staals or Skinner, you have to think he’ll have a bounce back season. Still, it’s not a significant enough move to carry them back to the playoffs.
Pittsburgh Penguins: Though they were steam rolled by the Bruins in the Conference Finals, they did finish first in the division with a record of 36-12-0. Hard to bet against that kind of success.
If most teams had lost a Tyler Kennedy, Matt Cooke and Jarome Iginla while only adding a vet like Rob Scuderi, I’d say that team would be in trouble. But if any organization can deal with losing depth players it’s the Penguins. So long as Crosby, Malkin, Letang and Fleury can all stay healthy, the Penguins will be my pick to win the division again.
New Jersey Devils: Last year the Devils finished in fifth place in the Atlantic with a .500 record and did not qualify for the postseason. With the early “retirement” of Kovy and losing Clarkson to free agency, many are predicting gloom and doom for the Devils. And while those were two big game players, I’m sure they’ll adapt. Lou always finds a way.
With Jagr and Clowe on board, the Devils will certainly be a slower team and may have a different look system-wise. Looking over their roster, it kinda begs for them to go back to being a trapping team, rather than the aggressive forechecking team they’ve become under Deboer.
Either way, with Cory Schneider between the pipes as the heir apparent to Martin Brodeur and the addition of Ryder, my guess is that they won’t be any worse than they were last year. After all, the Devils know how to get by without being an offensive juggernaut.
Washington Capitals: For the amount of star power they have on this team, you would think the Capitals would be up there with Chicago and Pittsburgh as successful NHL franchises. Unfortunately for their fans, the Caps just can’t seem to get it together. Last year they finished first in the Southeast Division with a 27-18-3 record, but the new ‘Metro’ division isn’t going to be the cakewalk that the Southeast has been.
The Caps lost their #2 center Mike Ribeiro and they also let Matt Hendricks and Jeff Schultz walk, who were solid role players. Like the Rangers, the Caps stayed quiet this offseason and are expecting their head coach (Adam Oates) to be the difference maker. Time will tell if that plan works, but for now I’m still waiting on McPhee to sign some guys who’ll actually make an effort to backcheck and play in all three zones.
New York Islanders: They lost their powerplay quarterback with Streit signing with the Flyers and got rid of first round pick Nino Niederreiter and replaced them with an agitator in Cal Clutterbuck like they didn’t already have Matt Carkner and Eric Boulton. Poor John Tavares is becoming the new David Wright.