The Metropolitan Division is never shy about loading up on elite talent, and 2022’s NHL free agency might be remembered best for the shocking decision that saw Johnny Gaudreau sign into join the division...But it wouldn’t be one of the expected spots of Philadelphia, New Jersey or the Islanders it was...the Blue Jackets? That’s going to take a long time to understand.
Here’s what the teams of the division have done around the draft and free agency so far.
In: Brent Burns, Max Pacioretty, Ondrej Kase, Dylan Coghlan
Out: Vincent Trocheck, Nino Niederreiter, Max Domi, Tony DeAngelo, Ian Cole, Brendan Smith, Derek Stepan
Always one of the more active teams at shuffling up the roster, the Hurricanes brought in the veteran Burns as a replacement for DeAngelo (himself a replacement for the departed Dougie Hamilton). They then flexed some cap space muscle to get Pacioretty for free and waved goodbye to Trocheck with that space. Kase’s play has dropped off from injury, but could be a sleeper redemption candidate. The division champs have a lot of turnover as they search for the right mix to get them deeper in the playoffs than they’ve gotten lately.
New York Rangers
In: Vincent Trocheck, Jaroslav Halak
Out: Andrew Copp, Ryan Strome, Frank Vatrano, Patrik Nemeth, Alexandar Georgiev, Justin Braun, Kevin Rooney
The Rangers could have been real players for potentially signing Evgeni Malkin after moving out Nemeth’s salary for draft picks, but instead had to settle for a nice consolation prize in Trocheck. Their balance and depth, built up largely at the trade deadline, quickly departed (Copp and Vatrano) which will be important losses. The ageless Penguin nemesis of Halak slides into the backup goalie position.
In: Darcy Kuemper, Connor Brown, Charlie Lindgren, Marcus Johansson, Erik Gustafsson
Out: Vitek Vanecek, Ilya Samsonov, Justin Schultz, Johan Larsson, Michal Kempny
It’s a complete goalie transformation in DC, with their previous two netminders out and the upgrade of Stanley Cup winning 32-year old Kuemper signed for five years taking over the lead role. The pickup of Brown for only a second round pick is a sneaky good one, especially with Tom Wilson recovering from ACL surgery in the first part of the season.
In: Alexander Romanov
Out: Zdeno Chara, Michael Del Colle, Thomas Hickey, Andy Greene
After coming up empty in the quest for Gaudreau, the Islanders haven’t made many moves yet. They didn’t lose much of value either and still have cap space to re-sign Romanov and RFA Noah Dobson.
Columbus Blue Jackets
In: Johnny Gaudreau, Erik Gudbranson
Out: Gabriel Carlsson
In perhaps the move of the whole NHL off-season, the Blue Jackets see their surprise push for Gaudreau pay off with him joining their team. It’s still shocking to see Columbus, of all places, add a prime age player who is truly among the best players in the game. That covers up the laugh out loud worthy four year, $16 million contract handed out to Gudbranson in a confounding move.
New Jersey Devils
In: Ondrej Palat, Erik Haula, Vitek Vanecek, Brendan Smith
Out: Pavel Zacha, PK Subban
After perhaps lowballing Gaudreau a bit with their offers, the Devils moved on for a pretty good consolation prize of their own with adding the clutch Palat. The move of Zacha for Haula changes up the mix of their centers a bit more too.
In: Tony DeAngelo, Nicolas Deslauriers, Justin Braun
Out: Keith Yandle, Nate Thompson, Martin Jones
For the comic relief, the Flyers failed on Gaudreau and brought in some tough customers that won’t move the needle much, besides the offensive contributions of DeAngelo. It looks like another season of spinning wheels in Philadelphia based on the track of this off-season.
Just based on free agency, the Blue Jackets have improved greatly, and the Capitals probably have taken a step forward based on Kuemper. The Hurricanes will be different, with perhaps varying opinions on if that difference is an improvement. Otherwise, the rest of the division has probably stood pat or lost depth at key places and failed to improve.