It’s the offseason for (almost) everybody, but while the NHL Entry Draft in June and the free agency bonanza on July 1 are the biggest days of the summer, it’s important to survey the division and note that several teams have already made some major changes. Today we take a peak at what the Penguins’ division rivals have been up to.
The Capitals are currently a little busy with their first Stanley Cup Final in 20 years, but let’s not forget that their head coach’s contract ends soon. Do they bring him back no matter what now? Are his feelings hurt that he wasn’t extended? There’s a lot of work through there. Plus, John Carlson is a key unrestricted free agent and slotting him into their cap structure with a big raise may not be possible. Obviously, this has all been set on the back-burner for now, but the Caps have a lot of important dealings waiting.
The Flyers don’t have much going on. Their AHL team is in the third round of the playoffs, and former 2013 first round pick Sam Morin is out until February 2019 with a recently torn ACL. Tough one. Philly has picks 14 and 19 overall in the upcoming Draft — the extra one from last year’s trade with the St. Louis Blues.
After another first round collapse, the Blue Jackets are mostly treading water. They’ve locked up a couple assistant coaches with contract extensions, and Boone Jenner is a restricted free agent, but otherwise, they should be pretty status quo for next season with generally the same team coming back. Columbus’s short-term goals lie in building on two-straight playoff appearances in 2016 and 2017.
New Jersey hits May following a pleasantly surprising season, and the Devils have been quiet apart from gearing up for the Draft and free agency. They probably know they need to surround Taylor Hall with more talent, and GM Ray Shero finds himself in uncharted waters having a TON of cap space. Watch for them to make waves by trying to add a big FA James Neal, Rick Nash, or James van Riemsdyk to their growing roster. Shero has always been bold and has an interesting opportunity this summer to continue to add some badly needed skill to his club.
Everyone above made the playoffs and have had pretty low-key offseasons to this point. But below the playoff line, there’s always more mayhem as teams embrace change. All three clubs below have had extensive re-toolings of coaching staffs and/or front office personnel as they try to get back to winning ways.
Under new ownership, the Hurricanes alienated what metrics says is a pretty good coach in Bill Peters, and got him to resign. They also hired an NHL head coach with no head coaching experience whatsoever in Rod Brind’Amour. That’s usually a track record for disaster. Owner Tom Dundon has also replaced Ron Francis and Joe Nieuwendyk in the front office for new GM Don Waddell. They’re picking at No. 2, STILL have goaltending issues, and might be looking to make impactful trades. This is the team to watch in the division for an “about to do something really crazy” alarm. Sometimes drastic moves can be good, though.
After Toronto moved on from Lou Lamoriello, the New York Islanders were quick to grab him to lead their hockey operations. A smart move, as the Islanders are in disarray and potentially bracing for face-of-the-franchise center John Tavares to leave in free agency and set them back a few years. If Lou can get Tavares to re-sign, the whole franchise’s outlook changes. It’s also been mentioned that Lamoriello recently acquired New Jersey net-minder Cory Schneider and Toronto goalie Frederick Anderson in short order. The Islanders could use a goalie upgrade, so expect Lamoriello to be decisive and add someone here sooner than later.
The last place Rangers are also at a bit of a cross-roads. They finally fired head coach Alain Vigneault and replaced him with Boston University’s David Quinn. It’s been hailed as a generally smart idea for fresh blood, but Quinn is also very inexperienced at the NHL level, despite his extensive college success. There’s also rumors the Rangers will sign Ilya Kovalchuk this summer to a big money contract, which really doesn’t make sense to dump a ton of money to a 35-year-old forward, but a New York rebuild is more impatient than most.