NHL offseason grades: Metropolitan Division

NHL offseason grades: Metropolitan Division

Divisions: Central | Pacific (Sept. 6) | Atlantic (Sept. 7)

With the NHL offseason all but wrapped up, we’re handing out comprehensive grades for all 32 teams. The four-part series carries on with an in-depth look at each Metropolitan Division club.

Some contract figures are reported. Most players on two-way deals have been omitted.

Carolina Hurricanes

Andrew Lahodynskyj / National Hockey League / Getty

Key arrivals

Key departures

Re-signed

Rookies who could crack the lineup

The Hurricanes nabbed arguably the top available free agent on July 1 by signing Orlov to a reasonable short-term deal, further strengthening one of the league’s top D corps. Carolina has three impressive pairings to roll out each night, which bodes well for the pair of veteran netminders the club re-signed. This summer’s netminder market wasn’t enviable in the slightest, so we won’t fault the Canes for sticking with familiarity. Neither Andersen’s nor Raanta’s new contracts are financial burdens, and the club has proven it can cruise to the playoffs with that tandem between the pipes.

Carolina’s big splash up front was signing Bunting, who’s fresh off back-to-back 23-goal seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs. He put up those numbers playing primarily with Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner, so we’re not convinced he’s the guy to galvanize the Hurricanes’ 15th-ranked offense from a year ago. He’s a fine complementary piece, but a bigger splash on the offensive side of things – via free agency or trade – would’ve made Carolina’s offseason near flawless.

In addition to some shrewd shopping in free agency, general manager Don Waddell aced some key in-house business. Locking up Aho, the face of the franchise, for max term and less than $10 million is a coup given what the 26-year-old brings to the ice each season. Fair new deals for Staal and Fast also earn passing grades from us as they’re two key pieces of Carolina’s offensive identity.

Grade: B+

Columbus Blue Jackets

Mitchell Leff / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Key arrivals

Key departures

Re-signed

Unsigned

Rookies who could crack the lineup

Columbus didn’t steal the show in free agency like it did last summer with the Johnny Gaudreau signing, but the Blue Jackets took a step in the right direction this offseason. Mike Babcock’s reputation as a head coach is at an all-time low, but he flat-out knows how to guide teams to the playoffs. We’re not suggesting the Blue Jackets are a shoo-in for a top-eight spot in the Eastern Conference in 2023-24, but they’re likely to play a tighter system than they did under Brad Larsen. Some notable additions on the back end should make the club much more difficult to play against.

Severson and Provorov should each slot into Columbus’ top four, and their arrivals are sorely needed for a club that ranked 31st in goals against per game (4.01) last season. The Blue Jackets also hardly surrendered any notable assets to add either player. Free-agent splashes don’t matter when you can find quality players on the trade market for cheap.

Last but not least, the Blue Jackets’ biggest acquisition of the summer was at the draft. The club was undoubtedly bummed to lose out on the chance to select Connor Bedard, but Fantilli falling into their laps at third overall is one hell of a consolation prize. The University of Michigan product is an old-school blend of size and skill, and he projects to be able to immediately contribute at the NHL level. Fantilli joining the likes of Kent Johnson, Cole Sillinger, and Jiricek creates one of the league’s top young cores.

Grade: B+

New Jersey Devils

Elsa / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Key arrivals

Key departures

Re-signed

Rookies who could crack the lineup

Tom Fitzgerald cemented New Jersey’s status as an elite NHL team with some tidy work across the board this offseason. The three players listed in the arrivals section came at a minimal cost, and the addition of a perennial 25-goal threat in Toffoli gives the Devils arguably the most dangerous top six in the league that’s equally responsible in its own end.

Fitzgerald’s in-house work is what earns New Jersey the bulk of our praise. The Devils had ample cap space but didn’t get carried away with extensions for Meier and Bratt – two of their most important players. Those two, along with Jack Hughes and Nico Hischier, are locked in together through 2027 for less than 40% of New Jersey’s cap. As the salary limit rises in coming years, the contracts for the Devils’ big four forwards are likely to age better and better. Fitzgerald has created one of the league’s most enviable salary-cap structures and currently projects to have over $21 million available in the summer of 2024 to keep New Jersey in the mix as a Cup contender.

If there’s one knock on the Devils’ offseason, it’s that they didn’t go out and get a goalie. The club was linked to Jets superstar Connor Hellebuyck, and a move of that magnitude would lock up an A+ from us. New Jersey’s incumbent tandem of Akira Schmid and Vitek Vanecek should be good enough to get the club to the playoffs with ease, but they’re relatively unproven. That said, the Devils aren’t desperately in win-now mode like many other Cup hopefuls, so we can let it slide for now.

Grade: A

New York Islanders

Mike Stobe / National Hockey League / Getty

Key arrivals

Key departures

Re-signed

Rookies who could crack the lineup

No one expected the Islanders to be active in free agency after making a big-ticket move with the Bo Horvat trade last season, but Lou Lamoriello found a way to be busy on July 1 with a trio of long-term extensions that left the hockey world mostly confused.

We’ll start with the good: signing Sorokin for maximum term is a win for the Islanders. As long as he’s in the crease, New York will have a legitimate chance to make the playoffs given the Vezina runner-up has proven to be one of the world’s best netminders across only two full seasons at the NHL level. Sorokin’s age (28) makes this deal risky down the line, but the Islanders’ identity has long been goal prevention, and the star goaltender is far and away the most important piece of that puzzle.

The Engvall and Mayfield deals make much less sense. Giving term to depth pieces has proven to age poorly time and time again. Though Engvall impressed after a trade from the Maple Leafs, he doesn’t have a body of work worth committing to for seven seasons. He turned 27 this summer and has a career high of 35 points. The rising cap makes this deal somewhat palatable for now, but it’s difficult to imagine suitors were lining up at Engvall’s door with seven-year deals when he hit free agency.

Mayfield has been an underrated piece of New York’s defensive structure for several seasons, but he’s trapped behind Ryan Pulock and Noah Dobson on the right side of the Islanders’ depth chart now and throughout the foreseeable future. It’d have been sensible to let Mayfield walk and find a cheaper replacement for the bottom pairing, but Lamoriello opted to give the stay-at-home rearguard $3.5 million until he’s 37 – with trade protection to boot. Mayfield isn’t a bad player by any means and is by all accounts a prominent leader. That said, it was a major surprise to see him get the longest deal of any free-agent defenseman this summer.

Grade: C-

New York Rangers

Jonathan Kozub / National Hockey League / Getty

Key arrivals

Key departures

Re-signed

Rookies who could crack the lineup

Salary-cap limitations prevented the Rangers from making any signings of financial significance this summer, but Chris Drury was able to pull off a slew of cheap additions to fill out the fringes of the lineup. The most intriguing signing was Wheeler, who should slot into the top six and earn power-play minutes. The 37-year-old has long been one of the game’s top playmakers, but after the failed Patrick Kane experiment, it feels a bit odd for the Rangers to target another pass-first veteran without speed. The Blueshirts’ lack of pace was a significant problem in the first round against the Devils, and the addition of Wheeler won’t fix that.

Beyond transactions, the big story out of Broadway this summer was the firing of head coach Gerard Gallant, who reportedly clashed with Drury after the club let a 2-0 series lead slip away to its archrivals. Gallant led New York to the playoffs in each of his two seasons behind the bench, but the Rangers have turned to Peter Laviolette, who’s led three different franchises to the Stanley Cup Final through a 21-year career. He didn’t find much success during his stint with the Washington Capitals and will face immense pressure off the bat to keep the Rangers in the Metropolitan mix.

The Rangers can’t receive a completely fair grade until we see how Laviolette’s influence impacts the team over the course of a full season, but their collection of low-level signings is enough to earn a middling result.

Grade: C

Philadelphia Flyers

Christian Petersen / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Key arrivals

Key departures

Re-signed

Unsigned

Rookies who could crack the lineup

Daniel Briere began what projects to be a long-term rebuild for the Flyers this summer, offloading an array of veterans while staying away from potentially burdensome contracts in free agency. Many felt a fire sale was imminent in the City of Brotherly Love, but the rookie general manager kept things pretty tame in his first offseason in charge.

Briere’s most significant piece of business was the three-team deal that sent Provorov to the Blue Jackets. The Flyers made out pretty well in the end, recouping two high draft picks and a reliable big-league defenseman in Walker. The deal allowed Philadelphia to add promising blue-liner prospect Oliver Bonk to a development pool that desperately needs an infusion of top-end talent.

Speaking of, drafting Matvei Michkov with the seventh overall pick is a resounding win for the Flyers. It signified a much-needed leap of faith for the disgruntled fanbase and was the pick with the most upside. It’s up to Briere to keep laying the foundation as Michkov plays out his KHL contract, but the dynamic Russian forward is an outstanding building block and single-handedly raises Philly’s grade.

Grade: B-

Pittsburgh Penguins

Bruce Bennett / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Key arrivals

Key departures

Re-signed

Rookies who could crack the lineup

Welcome to Pittsburgh, Kyle Dubas. The Penguins president and general manager showed no fear or hesitation in his first few months in his shiny new role, renewing optimism for a fanbase and organization that was in the doldrums after missing the playoffs for the first time since Sidney Crosby’s rookie season.

Dubas managed to swing the biggest trade of the summer by adding Karlsson and shed a series of problematic contracts authorized by his predecessors along the way. Bringing in the reigning Norris Trophy winner isn’t without risk, but a puck-mover of Karlsson’s caliber should go a long way toward revitalizing a Pittsburgh offense that almost inexplicably ranked 16th league-wide in goals per game and 14th in power-play proficiency last season.

Even before the Karlsson blockbuster, Dubas was one of the league’s busiest executives. He went to work July 1, dishing out a bevy of contracts to bolster Pittsburgh’s depth, which was arguably the club’s most prominent flaw a season ago. Eller and Acciari are dependable bottom-six options, and Smith, acquired via trade at the draft, has 25-goal upside. If there’s one move that gives us pause, it’s the Jarry contract. Five years might as well be a lifetime for a goalie in today’s NHL, and the 28-year-old has been unable to find consistency to this point in his career. It’s easy to understand why Dubas didn’t go elsewhere given the weak market and years of trouble between the pipes in Toronto, but Jarry will need to prove he’s worth such a lucrative contract – and fast.

Grade: A-

Washington Captials

Scott Taetsch / Getty Images Sport / Getty

Key arrivals

Key departures

Re-signed

Rookies who could crack the lineup

The Capitals were tabbed as strong candidates for major changes this summer after missing the playoffs, but they laid low despite reportedly placing a pair of notable forwards – Evgeny Kuznetsov and Anthony Mantha – on the trade block. Nothing materialized on either front, and the Capitals will head into 2023-24 with largely the same lineup that struggled a season ago. General manager Brian MacLellan may be hopeful that health will be the biggest difference, as his club was ravaged by injuries to key players for the majority of 2022-23.

Washington’s most significant addition was Pacioretty, who was a cheap bet to help provide some offense. He has six 30-goal seasons to his credit, but consecutive Achilles tendon tears could seriously jeopardize what he has left to contribute as a 34-year-old. Acquiring Edmundson at a retained cost was a shrewd move, too, but like Pacioretty, his addition probably isn’t enough to move the needle in a highly competitive Metropolitan Division.

Despite bringing in some new blood, the Capitals’ headliner from the summer was Wilson’s mammoth extension. The veteran enforcer is a key piece of Washington’s core, but paying him $6.5 million from until age 37 is a dicey decision, especially considering he’s fresh off a major knee injury. The Capitals’ nucleus is already on the back nine of their respective careers, and it’s difficult to imagine where a player like Wilson fits into a potential rebuild.

As mentioned in the Rangers section, we can’t accurately assess a coaching hire until we see the on-ice product. Spencer Carbery is said to be capable of reviving Washington’s offense, which is imperative for the club to get back on track. We commend the Capitals for making a change behind the bench, but their overall lack of action this summer outweighs the swap in our assessment.

Grade: C

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