We've seen the NHL entry draft come and go and now it's been 3+ weeks since free agents started signing. Sure there's an Alex Tanguay here and a Petr Sykora there, but for the most parts rosters are about set for a lot of teams. So how did our division do?
After the jump we take an early look at who's gotten better, who's treading water and who's losing ground.
New Jersey Devils (106 points)
Said Hello To: Jacques Lemaire (coach), Yann Danis (NYI)
Verdict: The Devils are kind of like the Atlanta Braves of the 1990s. Every year they'd seemingly lose a lot more than they would retain or add. Almost every year folks would write them off before the season starts. But then when the games are played, they're still at the top of the heap (NJD has won the division 8 of the last 11 seasons, the Braves won all those NL East pennants). But nothing last forever, and the Devils may find out what the Braves did -- at some point the dynasty falls when you lose too much slides away. Could this be the year the fall from grace happens? The Devils don't seem to have much scoring depth, but they do have Brodeur and Lemaire so expect a lot of 2-1 final scores, it seems.
Verdict: Ray Shero worked some magic to keep as many players as possible and stay under the salary cap. The team patched holes with guys on one year contracts, so the health of veterans like Guerin, McKee and Johnson will go a long way in determining the seeding that Pittsburgh should get in the playoffs. Otherwise, Dan Bylsma gets his first training camp three months after winning the Stanley Cup to continue implementing his system and keep the wheels rolling.
Philadelphia Flyers (99)
Verdict: To combat Pittsburgh's two towers of offense in Crosby and Malkin that's knocked them out in the playoffs, Philly decided to grab Chris Pronger, who along with Kimmo Timonen and Braydon Coburn gives the Flyers a lot of defensive size and muscle. Ray Emery figures to replace Biron in the net -- can Emery keep his cool and focus in what is a very emotional and intense setting in Philadelphia? If so the Flyers ought to be the most improved team in the division, on paper at least. Though they'll miss what Knuble brought, especially on the power play, it ought to open more ice-time for a youngster like Claude Giroux. The addition of a feisty player like Laperriere adds more gasoline to the fire of abrasive players that borderline harmful, given the PIMs they rack up. Excessive penalties could be the unraveling of the Flyers, given the goaltender is the biggest question mark on the team and the netminder has to be the best penalty-killer.
New York Rangers (95)
Retained: Ryan Callahan (2 years, $2.3 million per)
Verdict: More turnover than a Brett Farve led offense! The Rangers were wheeling and dealing like crazy, they gave players more money than anyone else on the market seemed to (like Kotalik's $3m a year) and more term too (like the two years for 37 year old enforcer Brashear). They did well to unload Scott Gomez's unfavorable contract but then gave the injury prone but electric Gaborik a virtually identical deal. We'll have to wait to see how it all meshes on the ice, but for now seems like a bunch of headscratchers. If any team still is run like there isn't a salary cap, it's gotta be Glen Sather and the Rangers, given some of the free agent decisions they've made, the dollars and years they've handed out and the
New York Islanders (61)
Retained: Doug Weight (1 year, $2 million)
Waved Goodbye To: Yann Danis (NJD)
Verdict: With Rick DiPietro's health in a state of constant uncertainty the Isles did well to pickup two qualified NHL netminders in Biron and Roloson. Last year they had to rely on Joey MacDonald and Yann Danis and need for skill in net was as visible as red light often shining behind the net. Summer 2009 for the Isles will be known as the beginning of the Tavares era, but unless they get some skill around him and Kyle Okposo (like maybe the still available Alex Tanguay), Tavares is going to be more Steven Stamkos than Sidney Crosby at age 18.
Final grades -- (note this is just who's made their team better and doesn't take contracts into account. So we're basically just seeing Chris Pronger as a huge addition, and not the baggage his contract might be in 4, 5 years...And this only takes into account the raw movement in free agency, doesn't account for the core young players who should organically improve their teams.)
- New York Islanders
- Philadelphia Flyers
More or less a wash
- Pittsburgh Penguins
- New York Rangers
Weaker now than on June 30th
- New Jersey Devils
What do you guys think, any botches here? It may have been a relatively uneventful July for the Penguins but it certainly wasn't for some of the other teams in our division.