As a result of the revenue impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the NHL salary cap will remain flat for the next three years. The unexpected cap constraint has impacted how companies have managed free agency. NoVa Caps grades each of the 31 teams’ offseasons so far in a four-part series. Today, we conclude our series with the Metropolitan Division teams.
New Jersey Devils
In: G Corey Crawford, D Ryan Murray, F Andreas Johnsson, D Dmitry Kulikov, Head Coach Lindy Ruff
Out: G Corey Schnieder, F Joey Anderson, D Mirco Mueller, C Kevin Rooney, C John Hayden
First-round pick: C Alexander Holtz, C Dawson Mercer, D Shakir Mukhamadullin
Remaining RFAs: G MacKenzie Blackwood, F Jesper Bratt
Analysis: The Devils have made a lot of changes after missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs last season despite a big offseason in 2019, buying out the final two years of Schnieder’s contract, and replacing him with Crawford, a two-time Stanley Cup Champion who posted a .917 save percentage and a 2.77 goals-against average last season. They made some upgrades on defense, acquiring a very good, young two-way defenseman in Murray and a depth addition in Kulikov. Johnsson, who posted 20 goals and 43 points with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 2018-19 before falling to eight goals and 21 points in 43 games last season, was a nice addition and is only 25 years old. The Devils also got an experienced head coach and three first-round picks, including one of the top centers available in the draft in Holtz. They still have to sign Blackwood, one of the NHL’s best rookie netminders last season when he posted a .915 save percentage and a 2.77 goals-against average, but the Devils should be a better team this season.
New York Rangers
In: Rooney, D Jack Johnson, C Colin Blackwell, D Anthony Bitetto
Out: G Henrik Lundqvist, F Jesper Fast, D Marc Staal, C Gregg McKegg, C Lias Andersson
Re-signings: D Anthony DeAngelo, F Phil Di Giuseppe
First-round pick: F Alexis Lafreniere, D Braden Schnieder
Remaining RFAs: C Ryan Strome, F Brendan Lemieux
Analysis: After buying out the final year of Lundqvist’s contract and adding the grand prize of the draft in Lafreniere, the Rangers have had an uneventful offseason, adding some depth pieces including an underperforming defenseman in Johnson. Though, they were able to get a second-round pick for Andersson and found a partner to take on the final year of Staal’s contract, which carries a $5.7 million cap hit. The Rangers re-signed one of their top defenseman in DeAngelo but work still remains with Strome, who set career-highs with 41 assists and 59 points in 70 games last season, and Lemieux in need of contacts.
Columbus Blue Jackets
In: C Max Domi, C Mikko Koivu, C Mikhail Grigorenko
Out: Murray, D Markus Nutivaara, F Josh Anderson, C Alexander Wennberg
Re-signings: Domi, C Eric Robinson, F Nathan Gerbe, D Gabriel Carlsson
First-round pick: F Yegor Chinakhov
Remaining RFAs: C Pierre-Luc Dubois, F Kevin Stenlund, D Vladislav Gavrikov
Analysis: After averaging just 2.57 goals-per-game last season (the lowest among the 24 teams that participated in the NHL’s return-to-play plan), the Blue Jackets tried to solve their biggest weakness at center while trading two of their best defensemen from one of the NHL’s top bluelines. After a slow start to his career with the Arizona Coyotes, Domi found a home with the Montreal Canadiens as he recorded 45 goals and 116 points over his two seasons there. The team also added a strong penalty-killer in Koivu and a low-risk but a potentially high-reward option in Grigorenko. While the Blue Jackets definitely got worse on defense, Gavrikov had a strong first season in the NHL where he recorded five goals, 18 points, and a +1 rating. However, they still need to sign Gavrikov as well as Dubois.
New York Islanders
In: Schnieder, C Austin Czarnik
Out: G Thomas Greiss, C Derick Brassard (maybe), D Devon Toews, F Matt Martin (maybe), F Tom Kuhnackl (maybe), D Andy Greene (maybe)
First-round pick: N/A
Remaining RFAs: C Mathew Barzal, D Ryan Pulock
Analysis: After a surprising run to the Eastern Conference Final where they lost to the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Tampa Bay Lightning in six games, the Islanders had a quiet offseason, just adding a bottom-six forward in Czarnik and depth in goal with Schnieder, as their top forward and defenseman are both currently restricted free agents. The Islanders lost just a few depth pieces in free agency as well as their back-up goalie but did not lose anything big and have one of the top goaltending prospects in Ilya Sorokin coming over from the KHL to replace Greiss. They also added a couple of second-round picks from the Colorado Avalanche for Toews, which was not a bad return. However, the Islanders have yet to complete their biggest tasks in re-signing Barzal and Pulock with just $8,905,833 remaining in salary cap space. Until they do, it would be unfair to grade them.
Grade: Incomplete (but D+ as of mid-October)
In: Fast, D Joakim Ryan, C Drew Shore
Out: D Sami Vatanen, D Trevor Van Riemsdyk, D Joel Edmundson, F Justin Williams
First-round pick: C Seth Jarvis
Remaining RFAs: F Warren Foegele, D Hadyn Fleury
Analysis: The Hurricanes had an excellent draft but they lost three defensemen from arguably the NHL’s top blueline in free agency. Though, they have a couple of young players in Fleury and Jake Bean ready to replace them. They added a middle-six forward in Fast, who can kill penalties and produce as he recorded 12 goals and 29 points in 69 games with the Rangers last season. The Hurricanes also signed a couple of depth players in Ryan and Shore, but neither is expected to dress as a regular this season. In addition, they still have to sign Fleury and Foegele, who recorded 13 goals and 30 points in 68 games last season. Even though they found success at the draft, the Hurricanes are definitely worse off than they were heading into next season on the NHL-level.
In: F Kasperi Kapanen, D Cody Ceci, D Mike Matheson, F Colton Sceviour, C Mark Jankowski, F John Gruden
Out: Johnson, D Justin Schultz, G Matt Murray, F Patric Hornqvist, F Conor Sheary, F Nick Bjugstad, F Patrick Marleau, C Andrew Agozzino
Re-signings: G Tristan Jarry, D Jusso Riikola, C Jared McCann, C Sam Lafferty
First-round pick: N/A
Remaining RFAs: N/A
Analysis: The Penguins made a lot of changes after their second consecutive early exit, losing Johnson and Schultz on defense and replacing them with Ceci and Matheson, who are not stellar defensively. They also made changes at forward, losing Hornqvist and Bjugstad and acquiring Kapanen, who recorded 13 goals and 36 points in 69 games with the Maple Leafs last season; Sceviour, who posted six goals and 16 points in 69 games with the Florida Panthers last season; and Jankowski, one of the NHL’s top penalty-killing forwards. Though, they overpaid for Kapanen, giving up the 15th overall pick and more. The Penguins re-signed Jarry for three years at $3.5 million per and trading Murray to the Ottawa Senators for a solid forward prospect in Gruden, who posted 30 goals, 66 points, and a +23 rating in 59 games with the OHL’s London Knights last season, and the 52nd pick at the draft. They also re-signed McCann. While the Penguins made a lot of changes this offseason, they almost certainly didn’t make many improvements.
In: D Erik Gustafsson, D Derick Pouliot
Out: D Matt Niskanen, C Derek Grant, F Tyler Pitlick, F Nate Thompson
Re-signings: G Brian Elliott, D Justin Braun, F Nicolas Aube-Kubel
First-round pick: F Tyson Foerster
Remaining RFAs: D Philippe Myers
Analysis: The Flyers had a quiet offseason, as they made only one major change: signing Gustafsson, who plays underwhelmingly in his own zone but was admirable offensively last season as he recorded six goals and 29 points in 66 games, in free agency after Niskanen retired. They also re-signed Braun to ensure they would not lose two of their best defensive defenseman and Elliott at a reasonable $1.5 million cap hit for the next two seasons and added a depth defenseman in Pouliot. The Flyers lost a couple of pieces up front but they didn’t leave any major holes in their lineup. They still have to re-sign one of their top defenseman in Myers, who put up four goals, 16 points, and a +17 rating in 50 games last season.
In: Lundqvist, Schultz, Van Riemsdyk, D Paul LaDue, Head Coach Peter Laviolette
Out: G Braden Holtby, D Radko Gudas, F Ilya Kovalchuk, C Travis Boyd, Head Coach Todd Reirden
Re-signings: D Brenden Dillon, D Jonas Siegenthaler
First-round pick: C Hendrix Lapierre
Remaining RFAs: N/A
Analysis: The Capitals made quite a few changes after losing in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the second year in a row, adding three defensemen in free agency after they allowed 3.44 goals-per-game from December 23 on (the highest among the 24 teams that participated in the NHL’s return-to-play plan), firing Reirden and replacing him with one of the league’s top coaches in Laviolette, and letting Holtby walk in free agency and replacing him with Lundqvist. Other than Holtby, they didn’t lose any big pieces on the roster and re-signed two of their best defensive defenseman in Dillon and Siegenthaler. In addition, almost all of the forwards that helped the team finish second with a 3.42 goals-per-game during the regular season will return next season. However, the Capitals will be forced to make a move before the start of the 2020-21 season as they are slightly over $1 million above the salary cap and have nine defensemen in line for ice-time next season. Nick Jensen is the most likely to move after three right-handed defensemen were signed and the Capitals could use a third-line right wing, though they currently plan to give Daniel Sprong a shot at that spot. While they slightly overpaid Schultz, they got Van Riemsdyk and Lundqvist at nice prices. Forwards Alex Ovechkin and Jakub Vrana are eligible for contract extensions and the Capitals need to get both under contract as soon as possible but this should still be a very good team next season.
By Harrison Brown