The 2017 NHL Offseason has been rather hectic, however, the Expansion Draft, Entry Draft, and the bulk of Free Agency has come and gone. Some teams made a large splash, some added a few helpful pieces, and others spent this busy time tanning on the beach. Now, we’ll be looking at each team, division by division, and wrap up everything that this offseason has provided. We’ll also look at each team’s key additions and subtractions, and their season expectations. The expectations will be placed on a scale of where they’ll finish in the standings.
The scale looks like this:
Bottom Feeder: A team that really has no shot at making the playoffs, and will remain relatively low in the standings
Not a Playoff Team: A team that isn’t quite low enough to be referred to as a Bottom Feeder, but they aren’t quite at a level to compete for a playoff spot either.
Playoff Contender: Teams that are at a level where a playoff spot is a reasonable goal. Go ahead, say you think the team will make the playoffs. It’s alright. Even if they don’t make it.
Playoff Team: A team that should make the postseason in some capacity. Even if it’s the 16th-seed, they’re still there.
Cup Contender: They don’t just make the playoffs, but they’re probably good enough to go all the way.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, lets get to the wrap-up.
Today, the Metropolitan Division is under the microscope
Disclaimer: Re-signings are left off of “Additions” since they are not technically additions in the aspect we are looking at. With that being said, all but the TOP draft picks were excluded from “Additions” as well.
- Key Additions: Marcus Kruger (C), Justin Williams (RW), Josh Jooris (F), Keegan Kanzig (D), Trevor van Riemsdyk (D), Scott Darling (G)
- Key Subtractions: Connor Brickley (LW), Ryan Murphy (D), Eddie Lack (G)
- General Thoughts: Like most writers and hockey analysts, I am hoping onto the improved Hurricanes train. The Hurricanes, or the Blackhawks 2.0 as some may notice, are quietly growing an extremely good young defensive core and a young forward one that is not that bad either. Their primary defensive core is led by Justin Faulk, who is only 25, followed by Noah Hanifin (20), Jaccob Slavin (23), and Brett Pesce (22), while also consisting of two former Hawks, Klas Dahlbeck and Trevor van Riemsdyk. Combine that with having Haydn Fleury preparing to contribute at a full time NHL level, and you have the best and youngest upcoming defense core in the league. The forward group is also fairly young consisting of players like Sebastian Aho, Victor Rask, and Elias Lindholm, supported by veterans Jordan Staal, Justin Williams, and Lee Stempniak. Add the extremely skilled and dynamic Jeff Skinner to that group, who can be good for at least 55 points, and likely well more than that if he progresses from a great year last year, and you have a team that could very well make the playoffs. Not saying they will, but this team definitely has the skill and the ability to make it to some late April hockey if everything pans out. This, of course, includes the new addition in net of Scott Darling, who has yet to play as the starter of a team. If Darling transitions his play as a backup and spot starter for Chicago when Crawford was hurt and the team starts to score more and more consistently, then expect this team to be among the top 8 in the East.
- Expectation: Playoff Contender
Columbus Blue Jackets
- Key Additions: Artemi Panarin (LW), Tyler Motte (LW)
- Key Subtractions: Brandon Saad (LW), Anton Forsberg (G), Scott Hartnell (LW), Sam Gagner (C), William Karlsson (F)
- General Thoughts: The third best team in the Metro last year made some interesting moves thus far in the offseason, but their goal has to be to improve on last season’s success. Quickly looking at their moves thus far this offseason, one infer that they have lost some significant depth at their forward position. However, they have plenty of young player like Sonny Milano, Tyler Motte, and Oliver Bjorkstrand ready for bigger roles that they will now be able to achieve. Their forward core is the perfect mix of youth, size, skill, and depth and is their biggest strength (outside of possibly Bobrovsky) going into this season. Artemi Panarin is a huge add for Columbus and their powerplay and we will get to see if Panarin is actually as good as advertised or just a product of playing with Patrick Kane (hint: he is that good). Their defense is not as powerful as the aforementioned Hurricanes, or even some other teams in their division, but consists of a really solid top 4 in Seth Jones, Zach Werenski, Jack Johnson, and David Savard. Werenski stormed onto the scene last season with one of the better rookie defensemen seasons within the past few years, and if he can progress on his early success and not hit a sophomore slump, the defense should not be a particular worry. Not much should have to be said in net about Sergei Bobrovsky, but I feel he is not appreciated as much as he should be sometimes and I think we will see another Vezina-caliber season out of him. The last note I want to make on the Blue Jackets and their goal to build on last season’s turnaround is their coach-John Tortorella. For all of Torts’ antics and emphasis on a rough game, I think he is a good coach and a great one for the Blue Jackets in particular that should genuinely help them succeed yet again.
- Expectation: Playoff Team
New Jersey Devils
- Key Additions: Brian Boyle (C), Nico Hischier (C), Marcus Johansson (LW), Mirco Mueller (D)
- Key Subtractions: Jon Merrill (D), Jacob Josefson (C), Beau Bennett (F), Devante Smith-Pelly (F), Mike Cammalleri (RW)
- General Thoughts: If you knew anything about the Devils last season, you knew that they were bad. Last year’s team did not have many good bonafide NHLers on offense or defense. Looking to this year, however, they are going to need a bounce back season from Cory Schneider if they want to improve, which in my opinion they should not necessarily try to do. Schneider rebounding will be best for everyone, especially Schneider considering how strong his play in the league had been up until last season. Their defense is still in shambles after trading away Larsson for Hall- which was a good move do not get me wrong- but if Andy Greene is arguably your best defender, you might have a bad time. With a defense like theirs, and with no particular strong prospect help coming, they are going to need to score more to help their own cause. With a top six group that could consist of Taylor Hall, Nico Hischier, Marcus Johansson, Pavel Zacha, Adam Henrique, and Travis Zajac, that may be possible since there are plenty of top 6 forward groups that are worse. However, the depth drops off after those top 6 in a very drastic manner, even including the excellent depth signing of Brian Boyle (who I am a very big fan of). Ray Shero has made some pretty good moves with trades like the Johansson and Hall ones along with the Boyle signing, but it would be in his best interest for the Devils to end the season near the bottom of the standings again in an attempt to properly start a rebuild. If Shero plays his cards right, look for the Devils to big players in next year’s free agency and (as a suggestion) maybe in the trade market, specifically for Schneider.
- Expectation: Bottom Feeder
New York Islanders
- Key Additions: Jordan Eberle (RW), Kristers Gudlevskis (G)
- Key Subtractions: Travis Hamonic (D), J.F. Berube (G), Ryan Strome (F)
- General Thoughts: The Islanders are in a bad place right now. They certainly did not improve thus far in the offseason, with a major part of that being their inability to bring in any major free agents. Their arena issues are definitely an essential part of that as it is hard to attract free agents to a team if they are not exactly sure where they will be playing. Not to beat a dead horse, but that has to play into Tavares and his decision on where he will play for probably the next 7 (maybe 8) years when he is a UFA next July. The Hamonic trade signals that they may just be looking to the future anyway considering that now leaves a big, unfilled hole on defense. The forward group has a fair amount of depth and what is looking to be a killer first line in Ladd-Tavares-Eberle (even with Ladd’s declining play). They should be able to score and their forward depth will be their greatest asset this upcoming season. At best the defense and goalie cores- consisting of guys like Nick Leddy, Johnny Boychuk, Calvin De Haan, and Thomas Greiss- will be slightly above average and all together this team could inch out the final wild card spot in the East (thus why I have them as a playoff contender), but in my opinion they will miss the playoffs and have a lot of work to do next offseason if they can’t resign Tavares. With that being said, the team has the depth to have very mild success and I would not be surprised to see them make it to the playoffs in the last few days of the season, but just outside of Tavares and Eberle they really don’t have anything special and should leave Islanders fans wondering and worrying.
- Expectation: Playoff Contender
New York Rangers
- Key Additions: Kevin Shattenkirk (D), Ondrej Pavelec (G), David Desharnais (C), Anthony DeAngelo (D)
- Key Subtractions: Derek Stepan (C), Antti Raanta (G), Oscar Lindberg (C), Dan Girardi (D), Adam Clendening (D), Kevin Klein (D)
- General Thoughts: For several years now, the Rangers are one of the many teams penned in as “ready to decline” and with the way salary cap-era hockey works that may always be true. To continue to find success, a team has to be willing to make drastic changes to their core and that is what the Rangers have done. The Rangers haven’t had the BIGGEST success (Cup Win) in a long time but have been one of the most successful playoff teams in terms of wins within the past few years. One of the biggest problems the Rangers have had these past few seasons in getting to the big scene has been the many defensive liabilities on the team. Dan Girardi has since been bought out and Marc Staal will have to have his minutes reduced after the signing of Kevin Shattenkirk and re-signing of Brendan Smith. With two huge liabilities taken care of, the Rangers defense looks more like it did in 2014 than in 2016. The moves to improve the defense have left a huge hole at center with Derek Stepan gone to Arizona. The depth the Rangers have on the wings with players like Rick Nash, Chris Krieder, and Mats Zuccarello will have to carry the weight left from Stepan’s production. The Rangers GM, Jeff Gorton, did a fairly decent job of filling all of the other holes left from departing players, with the exception of Stepan. However, with a stronger defense in front of Lundqvist and with more growth from the younger players in the forward group- Kevin Hayes, J.T. Miller, and Jimmy Vesey- the Rangers should have no problem making the playoffs again.
- Expectation: Playoff Team
- Key Additions: Nolan Patrick (C), Jori Lehtera (C), Brian Elliott (G)
- Key Subtractions: Michael Del Zotto (D), Steve Mason (G), Pierre-Edouard Bellemare (F), Brayden Schenn (C)
- General Thoughts: The Philadelphia Flyers have some serious question marks concerning their team and while they have the ability to click and do well- as seen by their long win streak mid-season- they also have the ability to crash and burn as seen by how badly they missed the playoffs while being securely in a playoff spot in January. The problems start and end with a lot of the players. Giroux had an off year by his standards and since he is going to 30 by midseason, we may have seen the best of him. Voracek started slow but finished strong and Gostisbehere played no where near as well as he did his rookie season (although his benching was still questionable). The Flyers have a very strong prospect core and are going to need spots for those young guys- Nolan Patrick, Ivan Provorov, Travis Konecny, Samuel Morin, and Oskar Lindblom (to name a few)- that just aren’t available with guys like Valtteri Filppula and newly acquired Jori Lehtera(still a good player just made them a lot older) taking up playing time. While the Flyers have a lot of prospects that could make their future look nice, their cap situation looks like it is only going to get worse with some seriously bad (MacDonald) contracts being on the books for a few more years. They are also going back to trying out the two mediocre goalie route (Shameless plug: It doesn’t work; check out our other article on the topic!) with signed free agent Brian Elliot, who may be worse than Mason, and Michal Neuvirth. This team has some seriously dangerous contracts, but at the same time a semi-promising future. This team could perform really well like their ten game win streak showed us fans, but expect more decline to occur especially considering they traded away a really promising, still young, center in Brayden Schenn before the team’s record really gets any better.
- Expectation: Playoff Contender
- Key Additions: Antti Niemi (G), Matt Hunwick (D), Ryan Reaves (F)
- Key Subtractions: Nick Bonino (C), Trevor Daley (D), Ron Hainsey (D), Chris Kunitz (LW), Mark Streit (D), Marc-Andre Fleury (G)
- General Thoughts: Looking at the key subtractions, it is pretty easy to see some serious Stanley Cup depth has left for greener (money) pastures. Jim Rutherford, GM of the Pens, has an easy enough job of filling those holes however with some decent young players who can all be spread out on different forward lines and play with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Phil Kessel. Those guys are all players who make the players around them significantly better and they don’t necessarily have to be star guys to play well with them. I mean genuinely look at Crosby’s career (at least recently) and you can notice that no star player has ever really meshed well with Crosby, this includes Kessel, and probably the closest thing to it working well is when Malkin occasionally plays on his line in special scenarios or when James Neal was on his wing. With that being said, the biggest hole is probably on the third line center position where Bonino left to the team the Penguins beat in the Finals, the Predators. Fleury was taken in the expansion draft but Murray had already supplanted him as the #1 goalie for the most part, so Niemi is a nice addition for a backup. Matt Hunwick is an underrated, serviceable d-man who won’t make any flashy plays, but also won’t make many mistakes if he isn’t asked to play too many minutes. Ryan Reaves is apparently worth a first round pick but can play a spot on the fourth line. The defense is shaky as always but fans (and Penguins haters) have no real reason to believe that this team will not be filled and ready to compete again in October. Maybe the core of the team will be physically tired after making two successful Cup runs in a row, but more than likely they’ll have their eyes set on a third Cup run with the best player-Crosby (not yet McDavid)- and the 101st best all time player- Malkin- leading the way.
- Expectation: Cup Contender
- Key Additions: Devante Smith-Pelly (F)
- Key Subtractions: Karl Alzner (D), Kevin Shattenkirk (D), Marcus Johansson (F), Nate Schmidt (D), Justin Williams (F),
- General Thoughts: Taking the same approach as the Pens, the key subtractions start with Alzner and go to Williams and in between are all players playing significant roles on this team. I mean these four players are all fairly good players: two of the defensemen played top 4 minutes, the other is a promising young defenseman who already has had strong play, a forward who just had a breakout season and was traded solely for picks, and the other is an aging winger who still puts up points in the regular season, but more importantly is a leader and clutch player in the playoffs. They replaced all of these losses with… Devante Smith-Pelly? The Caps gained some serious holes in their lineup to give contracts that were bad (Oshie) and good (Kuznetsov) but will almost certainly hurt them in the long run. What can’t be overlooked is the serious star power on the team still in Ovechkin, Backstrom, Carlson, and Holtby, but is that enough anymore? On a slightly related note, will Ovechkin be going to the Olympics like he has promised several times? Will the Caps be without their best player for a span of two weeks? Do they have enough faith in rookies to fill their roster or will the lost depth be too much to handle? Can they even fit 6 more roster players into their approximate $4 million in remaining cap space? Look, this roster still has an underrated #1 center in Backstrom, possibly the best pure goal scorer the league has ever seen, and a Vezina-level goalie going into next season and that is a lot more than could be said about most teams. But the Caps thrived in the regular season because of their depth and I’m not sure they are going to be able to replicate that depth with their available options. Thus, I tentatively have them as a playoff team and think they will probably be a wild card team, but check back in for our midseason reviews.
- Expectation: Playoff Team….. ?
That does it for today, but we’ll be putting out another wrap-up on Friday! Plus, if you keep checking back, we’ll put putting up a full standings prediction following our wrap-ups!
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