The Caps experienced the most significant turnover of any Metro team, and not for the better. Washington lost Kevin Shattenkirk, Justin Williams, Nate Schmidt, Karl Alzner and Marcus Johansson. They did lock up Evgeny Kuznetsov, T.J. Oshie and Dmitry Orlov, but any way you slice it this team took a giant step back. To his credit, GM Brian MacLellan admitted that the salary cap had simply caught up to him and after going for it the last two seasons the writing was on the wall. Washington still has a ton of talent and will absolutely be in the playoff hunt, but the Caps don’t look like the bona fide contender they’ve been for the last decade.
New Jersey Devils
New Jersey might be the Metro club that made the biggest improvements this offseason. The Devils added Johansson, top pick Nico Hischier and free agent Brian Boyle to aid an anemic offense that’s been waiting patiently for youngsters to emerge. With Pavel Zacha already a regular and Michael McLeod on the way, New Jersey is finally turning the corner and ready to put some pucks in the net. The defense looks like the weak link even after the Devils snatched Mirco Mueller from San Jose. But after several years of irrelevance, the Devils are about ready to be a factor in the division once again.
Pittsburgh’s biggest acquisition was the head-scratching trade for Ryan Reaves, but when you’ve won back-to-back Cups, you get the benefit of the doubt. Losing Marc-Andre Fleury was expected but will put more pressure on Matt Murray – although there’s no reason to think he isn’t up for the challenge after securing two rings before technically completing his rookie season. Losing Nick Bonino, Matt Cullen, Ron Hainsey, Chris Kunitz and Trevor Daley will test Pittsburgh’s depth, but the core remains intact and the Penguins should enter the season as the overwhelming favorite for a three-peat.
Columbus Blue Jackets
The Brandon Saad for Artemi Panarin stunner was a major shakeup for a team that might not have needed it. It will be fascinating to see how Panarin plugs into this group, but there’s no denying his pure talent. Outside of that swap, the Blue Jackets were pretty quiet. They dumped Scott Hartnell’s contract and lost Sam Gagner and William Karlsson, but by and large the same group remains that took the league by storm last year. The big key for Columbus will be getting another great season from Vezina Trophy winner Sergei Bobrovsky – whose career arc has been a bit of a rollercoaster. Health has certainly been a factor, but if Columbus is to continue its rise than elite goaltending will be a must.
The Hurricanes did well to secure their stud young blueliners, Brett Pesce and Jaccob Slavin, while both players are still on the rise. Carolina boasts perhaps the best young defense in the league and is in great position to keep it together while the ‘Canes figure out their offense. Adding Williams and Marcus Kruger will provide some veteran leadership and supplementary scoring, but Carolina is still looking for a gamebreaker. Perhaps Teuvo Teravainen can still become that player. The biggest move for Carolina was the deal for Scott Darling. Cam Ward is a shell of himself and the Eddie Lack experiment went horribly, so the Hurricanes are looking for a full reset in net. Behind Carolina’s tough D, Darling could have a similar impact on Carolina to what Cam Talbot did for Edmonton.
The Flyers have steadily been executing their plan to build from the back-end out over the last few years and they’re on the cusp of seeing the positive results of their patience. Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov are already established as stars-in-the-making and the next wave of young blueliners is about to join them. Landing Nolan Patrick at the draft should inject new life into the offense, where Jordan Weal and Travis Konecny provided a boost last year. Still, I’ll admit I’m puzzled by the Brayden Schenn trade. The Flyers’ biggest question is in goal, where they let Steve Mason walk and replaced him with Brian Elliott. “Moose” is coming off a miserable season and is certainly no sure thing – which can also be said about incumbent Michal Neuvirth. Philadelphia has top young goalie prospects closing in, but until they arrive the Flyers will have a hard time completing their turnaround.
New York Islanders
The Isles’ big acquisition of Jordan Eberle for Ryan Strome should give John Tavares a terrific running mate – but was it enough? All that matters for the Islanders right now is Tavares’ future and thus far they haven’t gotten a commitment from the 26-year-old. Snagging Eberle was a nice move to show Tavares New York is focused on icing a competitive team, but it seemed like more dramatic dominoes were going to follow, potentially in the form of Matt Duchene. Instead, the Isles sent Travis Hamonic to Calgary for future draft picks, which seems like a bit of a contradictory message. Obviously all eyes are on Tavares, but the Isles will also be watching top prospects Matthew Barzal and Anthony Beauvillier closely. Both look like future stars and could transform New York’s fortunes quickly.