Stealing Kevin Hayes from the Blackhawks last summer may prove to be a coup of nearly the same magnitude as the Ryan McDonagh trade back in 2009.
Hayes racked up 45 points as a rookie and showed improvement with almost every passing game in the second half of the year. He’s already a huge part of the Rangers’ present and future, but there’s some uncertainty over where he fits into the lineup entering the 2015-2016 season.
Hayes thrived as New York’s third-line center for most of last year, but he played primarily right wing at Boston College. On an individual level, the biggest knock on Hayes playing center is his ugly 36.3% faceoff win percentage. To many #fancystats gurus that’s a non-issue, but it’s still a factor the Rangers are likely to consider (although the Blueshirts have deployed Stepan as their primary pivot for several seasons now and he has never won more than 46% of his faceoffs in a single season). Hayes also struggled defensively in his freshman season. Read More→
Last year: 45-26-11, second in the Metro Division. Eliminated by the Rangers in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.
Key additions: Justin Williams, TJ Oshie
Key subtractions: Mike Green, Troy Brouwer, Joel Ward, Eric Fehr, Tim Gleason
Offense: The Capitals usually high-flying offense added shootout guru Oshie and Mr. Game Seven Williams this summer, giving Washington the most talent up front its had during the Ovechkin era. The two veterans will give coach Barry Trotz all kinds of options, but the biggest reason for excitement is the continued growth of forwards Evgeny Kuznetsov and Andre Burakovsky. Kuznetsov seized control of the No. 2 center role as the season progressed and looks poised to become an opposing coach’s nightmare after focusing matchups on Ovechkin and Nicklas Backstrom. 20-year-old Burakovsky demonstrated flashes of his explosiveness against the Blueshirts in the playoffs, and has the luxury of being brought along slowly thanks to Washington’s impressive depth. The Capitals did lose 59 goals with the departures of mainstays Brouwer, Ward and Fehr, but Washington shouldn’t have any difficulty replacing that production with increased roles for younger players and the aforementioned Oshie and Williams. And don’t forget about 2014 first-round pick Jakub Vrana, who could hit the ground in the NHL with two feet running.
Last year: 42-35-5, fifth in the Metro Division. Missed the playoffs by nine points.
Key additions: Brandon Saad, Gregory Campbell, Zach Werenski, Gabriel Carlsson, Mike Paliotta, Paul Bittner
Key subtractions: Marko Dano, Artem Anisimov, Mark Letestu, Jeremy Morin, Jack Skille
Offense: A team already loaded with young talent pulled off the shocker of the offseason by landing the 22-year-old Saad from Chicago. In the process, Columbus identified its three pillars up front to build around, with Saad joining superstar in the making Ryan Johansen and new captain Nick Foligno. Former Ranger Brandon Dubinsky was a critical cog as recently as 12 months ago, but he’ll be in more of a depth role going forward and will be expected to provide a tremendous example for the younger players. David Clarkson’s contract sticks out like a sore thumb and Scott Hartnell might join him before long, but it hardly matters. The aforementioned trio along with Boone Jenner, Alex Wennberg, Cam Atkinson, Josh Anderson and Matt Calvert represent the present and future for Columbus, with top prospects Sonny Milano, William Karlsson, Kerby Rychel and Oliver Bjorkstrand following close behind. The Jackets have an embarrassment of riches and just need to take some time to determine who else is part of the core alongside Johansen, Foligno and Saad.
Last year: 33-31-18, sixth in the Metro Division. Missed the playoffs by 14 points.
Key additions: Sam Gagner, Evgeny Medvedev, Michal Neuvirth, Colin McDonald
Key subtractions: Chris Pronger’s contract, Zac Rinaldo, Nicklas Grossmann
Offense: The Flyers had no choice but to reward Jakub Voracek with a massive extension after he finished fourth in the league in points last season. Between him and Claude Giroux, the Flyers have the start of a dynamic offense. Unfortunately, they’ve had trouble filling in holes around that duo, not dissimilar to the Penguins’ struggles to find running mates for Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. There were high hopes for Brayden Schenn and Sean Couturier, but while both fill valuable two-way roles, neither has proven capable of posting big offensive numbers. The next-best scoring threat remains power forward Wayne Simmonds, who is virtually unmovable in front of the net, especially on the power play. Perhaps newcomer Gagner will finally blossom, or someone like Michael Raffl or Matt Read will really emerge, but Schenn and Couturier remain the two players squarely in the spotlight. 2015 first-round pick Travis Konecny could be the answer before long. Read More→
Last year: 30-41-11, eighth in the Metro Division. Missed the playoffs by 27 points.
Key additions: Noah Hanifin, Eddie Lack, James Wisniewski
Offense: The Staal brothers are still serviceable players, but they are no longer stars capable of carrying an offense. The present and future lies with junior Elias Lindholm and 23-year-old Jeff Skinner, whose quick rise has been thwarted by a myriad of injuries. Lindholm, Skinner and Eric Staal are really the only players that should even be sniffing top-six roles on a decent club. There are few players with upside like Victor Rask, but for the most part Carolina’s anemic attack is comprised of recycled parts. Read More→
Last year: 47-28-7, third in the Metro Division. Lost to Washington in seven games in Round One.
Key additions: Thomas Greiss, Matt Barzal
Key subtractions: Griffin Reinhart, Tyler Kennedy, Lubomir Visnovsky, Michal Neuvirth, Colin McDonald, Matt Carkner, Eric Boulton
Offense: The Islanders’ fourth-ranked offense returns every key contributor and could see significant jumps in production from young forwards like Ryan Strome, Anders Lee and Brock Nelson. It’s a testament to the team’s depth up front that the extended absences of projected key contributors Kyle Okposo and Mikhail Grabovski didn’t cripple the attack last season. The Islanders are finally not completely reliant on superstar John Tavares to create offense and are equipped to roll multiple scoring lines. In some ways, their lineup construction is similar to the Lightning’s, with Tavares and Steven Stamkos drawing the attention of opposing shutdown pairs, allowing a secondary line of talented youngsters to rack up points by the bundle. Read More→
Last year: 32-36-14, seventh in the Metro Division. Missed the playoffs by 20 points.
Key additions: Ray Shero, John Hynes, Pavel Zacha, John Moore, Kyle Palmieri
Key subtractions: Lou Lamoriello, Bryce Salvador, Michael Ryder, Scott Gomez, Steve Bernier, Mark Fraser, Martin Havlat
Offense: The Devils may have finally landed a true blue chipper to build around with the drafting of Zacha, but their group of forwards is still at the bottom of the league. New Jersey chose to let several of its over the hill veterans depart as free agents in a clear attempt to discover what the team has in youngsters like Stefan Matteau, Jacob Josefson and Reid Boucher, but it is abundantly clear that New Jersey needs a total overhaul up front. Still, Zacha and Palmieri may be keepers, and along with Adam Henrique they are the early pieces of a long-term offensive rebuild. Read More→
Last year: 43-27-12, fourth in the Metro Division. Fell to the Rangers in five games in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals.
Key additions: Phil Kessel, Sergei Plotnikov, Tyler Biggs, Tim Erixon, Steve Oleksy
Offense: The Penguins finally decided that inserting random wingers alongside Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin might not be the best recipe for success and flipped their salary allocation from the blueline to the flanks. In doing so, they brought in five-time 30-goal scorer Phil Kessel, who could challenge for the Rocket Richard Trophy next season. They also acquired the talented Russian Plotnikov, who figures to get an early chance alongside Malkin. Though this might sometimes be the perception of the Penguins’ forward group, it will be far from the case in 2015-2016. A top-nine including Crosby, Malkin, Kessel, Plotnikov, Patric Hornqvist, Pascal Dupuis, Chris Kunitz, David Perron and Brandon Sutter will be very difficult to match. Read More→
Last week I hypothesized about how the Rangers could make up for the 38 goals they lost when Carl Hagelin and Martin St. Louis departed and determined that there were plenty of reasons for optimism including Keith Yandle’s potential impact on the power play and improved production from young forwards. Then I began wondering about how having different luck could change things.
Luck has become a buzzword since the emergence of the #fancystats movement, with many theorizing that a team and player’s goal scoring totals could fluctuate wildly due as much to dumb luck as anything else. PDO is the most commonly used new stat to evaluate overall luck, but since the Rangers still have Henrik Lundqvist in goal, I’m not too worried about their luck changing on that side of the puck.
With the front office’s apparent decision to hang on to Kevin Klein, it now seems likely the Rangers will entire next season with an identical defense and starting goaltender to the group that made it to the Eastern Conference Finals.
The real cause for concern is up front, where the departures of Martin St. Louis and Carl Hagelin stripped the Blueshirts of 38 regular season goals, equivalent to over 15% of their total offense in 2014-2015. Read More→