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We've officially reached the dog days of the summer.
While some teams aren't completely finished with their off-season shopping – New Jersey Devils ownership recently hinted at as much
– the vast majority of the work is done.
At this point, most teams are just taking care of housekeeping with restricted free agents and searching through the bargain bin in free agency. Put another way, the rosters we see from teams now will very closely resemble October's versions.
With that in mind, I thought it'd be fun to go through each Metro Division team and take stock of where they're at.
We'll start with last season's Metro winners, Washington, and work our way down to the Devils.
The Capitals changed quite a bit around the edges. They traded Andre Burakovsky to Colorado for picks (I wouldn't have, but it's clear he'll get more opportunity there). They swapped Matt Niskanen for Radko Gudas, which I liked considering the salaries involved, and dipped their toes into the free agent waters signing wingers Richard Panik, Brendan Leipsic, and Garnet Hathaway. I like Panik as a middle-6 scorer and Leipsic is a nice depth piece. Hathaway won't bring much beyond forechecking ability and a bunch of hits but he can be a serviceable role player with the right linemates. I don't know that the Capitals are much better but I don't see any reason for them not to be at or near the top of the division once again next season.
New York Islanders
Not for a lack of trying, GM Lou Lamoriello has had a very quiet summer. He wasn't able to re-sign Robin Lehner, or chose not to, and replaced him with Semyon Varlamov. That's a bigger downgrade than you'd think. From 2016-19, 39 different goaltenders logged at least 4,500 minutes at 5v5. Lehner ranked 7th in save percentage (.927, just below Andrei Vasilevskiy and Ben Bishop) while Varlamov tied the likes of James Reimer, Petr Mrazek, Mike Smith and Jake Allen, among others, for 21st. Perhaps Varlamov can be propped up playing in Barry Trotz' stingy defensive system. That will need to be the case because, if the goaltending isn't elite once again, I don't see this Islanders team coming close to replicating last year's success.
I thought the Penguins started the summer off fine by acquiring Dominik Kahun from Chicago. He strikes me as a natural fit for the team's style of play, and could be a nice piece to mix and match with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Things quickly went downhill after that. Pierre-Oliver Joseph may develop into a quality NHL defender, in which case the trade *could* end up being a win, but in the short-term Phil Kessel is a much better, and more efficient, player than Alex Galchenyuk. That matters for a team in win-now mode. I don't think the money saved in that deal being spent on Brandon Tanev – for six years! – makes up for the talent lost. Though the Penguins should still be good, I'm not sure they're legitimate contenders.
Losing Micheal Ferland stings a bit, especially considering he actually signed a pretty reasonable contract in free agency, but I otherwise love what Carolina has done this off-season. Erik Haula is a really nice addition for them. I liked the decision to buy-low on Ryan Dzingel, too, and they kept one of the league's best defense cores completely in tact. They're a deep, balanced, team from top-to-bottom and the continued growth of Sebastian Aho, Andrei Svechnikov, Martin Necas, and co. gives the team a pretty high ceiling.
Columbus Blue Jackets
Something tells me the Blue Jackets are going to follow up their best season to date with one of their worst (in a handful of years, anyway). They lost a ton of talent in Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky, Matt Duchene, and Dzingel. Besides Gustav Nyquist, they didn't really add anything. I don't think their offense is going to be very good and a Joonas Korpisalo/Elvis Merzlikins goaltending tandem might be the league's worst. I think the Jackets are going to take a big step back.
They had a pretty solid core in place, especially up front, and added to it with Kevin Hayes. The contract is risky down the line but for now he's a clear upgrade at 2C. He'll help. I don't love how GM Chuck Fletcher went about reshaping the defense. Matt Niskanen and Justin Braun are perceived to be better than they currently are and the Flyers used a ton of their cap space, and some draft capital, to bring them in.
Could the Flyers be better? Yes. Are they good enough to contend? I still don't think so, and the clock is ticking with Claude Giroux (31), JvR (30) and Jakub Voracek (29) starting to get up there in age.
New York Rangers
I love the summer the Rangers have had. I don't think Neal Pionk is anything more than a depth player. Essentially, they added an elite forward (Panarin) and a top pairing defenseman (Jacob Trouba) with a mid-to-late 1st round pick being the only meaningful asset lost. Top prospects Kaapo Kakko, Vitali Kravtsov and Adam Fox have all put pen to paper on entry-level contracts and will be ready to make meaningful contributions sooner than later. Igor Shesterkin and Egor Rykov aren't far off, either, and both have decided to come over from Russia. The Rangers might not be *great* this season but they will be quite a bit better, and there is real potential with this team moving forward.
New Jersey Devils
The Devils, like the Rangers, have made real efforts to get out of the basement and become relevant again. P.K. Subban might not be in the midst of his prime but he is still very good and fills a massive need. Jack Hughes should be able to contribute in the top-6 from the word go. Wayne Simmonds, for all his faults, is one of the best net-front players in the league – especially on the power play – and his name brings some credibility to the organization. Jesper Boqvist and Ty Smith are high-end prospects who could be ready to go come October. If the goaltending holds up, I think this team could compete for a wild card spot this season.
All in all, this is shaping up to be a very competitive division. The Devils and Rangers are going to be much better. Roster wise, the Hurricanes have improved upon a team that made the final four. The Penguins and Capitals still have the firepower to make noise. The Flyers...who ever knows with them? I think the Islanders and Blue Jackets are the only teams I feel safe banking on a noticeable step backwards.
Luckily we only have to wait *checks notes* a little more than two months to begin to see if I'm right.
Wheeling and dealing
The floor has been set for Will Butcher's next contract
Pavel Zacha will play an important role in 2019-20
Wayne Simmonds' poor 2018-19 campaign was not a one-off
Devils sign Jack Hughes to ELC
Let's talk about Taylor Hall
The Devils should extend Nico Hischier sooner than later