Preseason games are well underway, hockey is as close as it can be to being officially back. With training camps used to determine how rosters will shape over the course of the season, there’s a lot to sort out by all 32 teams.
After a year in which the divisional structure of the NHL’s teams was switched up, the NHL returns to normal 2021–22 season. This means the hotly contested Metropolitan division will be back together once again. The Metro division should be wide open this year as usual with a plethora of talented teams.
So which Metro division teams improved the most this offseason, which stayed the same, and which got worse? Let’s take a look at each Metro division teams roster moves using Goals Above Replacement (GAR).
GAR value assesses a players value in terms of how many goals they contribute to their team above replacement. It is calculated using even strength offence, even strength defence, special teams contributions, as well as penalty differential. A replacement level player would have a GAR of zero. Consequently, anything above zero is an above replacement level player, and anything negative is a below replacement level player.
All GAR numbers are courtesy of the Evolving-Hockey.com model.
We’ll only be looking at moves involving NHL players who met the minimum requirements last season to have their GAR calculated.
2020–21 record: 36-12-8
Season finish: 1st Central division, eliminated 2nd round (4-2 vs Tampa Bay Lightning)
The Carolina Hurricanes looked like one of the Stanley Cup favourites last season until they ran into the league’s defending champs in the second round. After yet another disappointing playoff exit, the Hurricanes had a disastrous offseason which looks to have pushed them from cup contender to fringe playoff team in a deep Metro division.
Up front the Hurricanes didn’t make any major changes in terms of players going out. The only two notable losses at forward were Warren Foegele who was shipped out for Ethan Bear, and Brock McGinn who left in free agency. Both are solid middle-six forwards, but nothing special. In their place the Hurricanes brought in Josh Leivo and Derek Stepan.
Leivo struggled last year in Calgary but has consistently put up solid underlying numbers at 5v5 and will be a great fit in Carolina. Stepan meanwhile is nothing but veteran depth at this point of his career is right around replacement level.
In a incredible troll move but questionable hockey move, the Hurricanes finished their offseason by getting back at the Montreal Canadiens by signing Jesperi Kotkaniemi to an absurd $6 million AAV. Kotkaniemi is still young and has some potential, but at this point in his career he’s just a bottom-six option and not worth anywhere near $6 million AAV.
On defence and in net is where it got ugly for the Hurricanes. The team decided it wasn’t willing to pay their best defenceman in Dougie Hamilton and let him walk into free agency. In a controversial move they brought in Tony DeAngelo to replace him. DeAngelo is not only a terrible person, he’s also not a very good defenceman. He’ll add some offence but he’s brutal defensively and was below replacement last season.
The team also swapped two young defencemen. They shipped out their former 13th overall pick Jake Bean to Columbus and brought in Bear from the Oilers. Neither player has been above replacement to this point in their careers, but Bear could flourish with a larger role in Carolina.
The team also added veterans Brendan Smith and Ian Cole. Smith’s 8.4 GAR looks impressive, but he got a massive boost from some unsustainable offensive impacts in New York last year. The two years prior he posted GAR totals of -7.4 and -5.0 which is much more indicative of the type of player he is.
In net the team made probably the worst trade of the offseason. For whatever reason the Hurricanes weren’t willing to give their Calder nominee Alex Nedeljkovic the modest raise he wanted, so they shipped him to Detroit for virtually nothing. They also let the dependable Petr Mrazek walk and brought in Frederick Andersen and Antti Raanta in their place.
Andersen was below replacement last season, however he posted GAR totals of 10.4 and 35.3 the two seasons prior meaning he could be set for a bounce back year. Raanta meanwhile has also been a solid 1B goalie in his career, but can never stay healthy. If Andersen can’t bounce back and Raanta gets injured, the Hurricanes will be in big trouble.
The Hurricanes looked set to be contenders for years to come, but after a brutal offseason in which the team made it their priority to spite the Canadiens over paying their top players they’ve set themselves back in a big way. Expect the Hurricanes to fight for a divisional playoff spot, but they are far from a lock and may be more of a wild card team this season.
Columbus Blue Jackets
2020–21 record: 18-26-12
Season finish: 8th Central Division, missed playoffs
The rebuild is on in Columbus. After finishing dead last in their division in 2020–21, the Blue Jackets look set to be a lottery team once again in 2021–22. Considering the stage of their franchise, the Blue Jackets had a very solid offseason.
The Blue Jackets made on of the more surprising moves of the offseason at forward, sending long time Blue Jacket Cam Atkinson to Philadelphia for former Blue Jacket Jakub Voracek. This was a pretty even swap, as both players are 32 years old, play the wing, and are pretty one dimensional. Voracek has some more offensive punch however and should fit great alongside the Blue Jackets young forwards.
Outside of that trade Columbus only made some minor moves at forward, including offloading five replacement level forwards and bringing in one in Sean Kuraly.
On defence the Blue Jackets made the biggest trade of the offseason, trading franchise defenceman Seth Jones to Chicago for 21-year-old Adam Boqvist. Jones certainly has the reputation of being a premier defenceman, but he hasn’t been one for years and was well below replacement last season. Getting Boqvist who may already be the better player and is much younger and cheaper was a great move from the Blue Jackets.
Columbus also picked up former first-round pick Bean from the Hurricanes. Bean has struggled to this point in his career but still has loads of potential. He’s the perfect low-cost, high-reward player a team in a rebuild should be looking to target.
The Blue Jackets were very bad last season, and they’ll be very bad this season. That said they’ve started their rebuild off on the right foot by bringing in cheap young players with potential and the Jones trade could look like a steal if his play continues to decline in Chicago. Expect the Blue Jackets to be right in the mix in the Shane Wright sweepstakes this season.
New Jersey Devils
2020–21 record: 19-30-7
Season finish: 7th East division, missed playoffs
A favourite pick as a surprise team for the last couple years, the New Jersey Devils look ready to finally live up to those expectations in 2021–22 after a superb offseason. The Devils are certainly a team to watch in the Metro this year.
At forward the Devils didn’t make a ton of changes, as they essentially swapped out three bottom-six forwards for one top-six forward. Nathan Bastian, selected by Seattle in the expansion draft, is a capable depth forward defensively, but doesn’t bring much else to the table. Likewise Nick Merkley and Mikhail Maltsev who the team traded for defencemen in the offseason are nothing special and not major losses.
In their place the Devils signed the underrated Tomas Tatar. Tatar has regularly posted some of the best underlying numbers in the NHL among wingers the last couple seasons and is a great addition. At a modest $4.5 million cap hit for two seasons, Tatar was a sneaky good pickup by the Devils and will provide their young forward group with a borderline elite possession player.
On defence the Devils made the biggest signing of free agency, inking elite number one defenceman Hamilton to a seven-year, $9 million AAV contract. Hamilton’s cumulative GAR of 33.8 over the last four seasons ranks 14th league wide among defenceman. He’s without question one of the best defenceman in the NHL, and picking him up through free agency is a huge win for the Devils. He’ll immediately become their number one defenceman and best overall player.
The Devils weren’t done there though, as they acquired another top four defenceman in Ryan Graves. Graves was set to be selected by Seattle in the expansion draft, so the Devils took advantage of a Colorado team with their hands tied and picked up Graves for Maltsev and a second-round pick. Graves will provide a boost to the Devils thin top-four from last season.
The team did lose Ryan Murray in free agency, but swapping out Murray and a trio of bottom pairing defenceman in Connor Carrick, Matt Tennyson, and Will Butcher for Hamilton and Graves is a big upgrade for the Devils.
In net the Devils made the correct call of letting Aaron Dell go. His -6.6 GAR ranked 9th last in the league in 2020–21 among eligible goalies. In his place they brought on steady veteran Jonathan Bernier. Bernier was great last season on a terrible Detroit team, and should provide the Devils with a massive upgrade over Dell. With starter Mackenzie Blackwood’s vaccination status in question, Bernier could be relied on more than expected in New Jersey and should be up to the task.
It’s fair to say the Devils had one of the best offseasons in not only the Metro division, but in the entire NHL. The team improved every position, and were the only team in the NHL to add a player with a GAR of at least seven in every position. The Devils still have a ways to go in their rebuild, but after a great offseason they could be right in the middle of the wild card race come April.
New York Islanders
2020–21 record: 32-17-7
Season finish: 4th East division, eliminated 3rd round (4-3 vs Tampa Bay Lightning)
The Islanders will be looking to finally get over the hump this season, also known as the Tampa Bay Lightning. After losing to the Cup champs in the final four for the second year in a row, the Islanders look primed to once again be one of the Metro’s top teams despite a quiet offseason.
In typical Lou Lamoriello fashion, the Islanders kept their offseason very quiet while keeping any moves they were making under wraps for most of the summer. When it was all said and done, the Islanders a very similar team to the one that took the Lightning to seven games last year.
The big loss for the Islanders was through the expansion draft, losing Jordan Eberle to Seattle. Eberle’s GAR of 7.9 was third on the Islanders last season among forwards and he’ll be a big loss to the team’s top-six group. In order to replace him the Islanders went out and signed veteran Zach Parise to a one year contract. Fresh off a buyout, Parise is still a decent middle-six forward and should help the team replace Eberle to a degree.
The Islanders also picked up Richard Panik in a deal with Detroit, shipping Nick Leddy the other way. Despite his solid 4.6 GAR last season, Leddy posted GAR totals of 0.5, 1.2, and -0.9 the three years prior and is set to regress to his replacement level form in 2021–22. Panik meanwhile posted GAR totals of 5.2, 6.8 and 4.9 the three seasons prior.
After the Red Wings retained 50% of his salary, his cap hit is also $4.1 million less than Leddy’s next season. The Islanders essentially sold high on Leddy while buying low on Panik, saving considerable cap space in the process. Overall a solid move as they then went out and spent some of those savings on veteran Zdeno Chara who is still very capable defensively even at age 44.
The Islanders didn’t do much in the offseason, which is probably a good thing. The team has been the closest of anyone in the NHL over the past two years to knocking off the Lightning and they should once again be set for a deep run in a wide open Metro division. Expect them to challenge for a divisional playoff spot.
New York Rangers
2020–21 record: 27-23-6
Season finish: 5th East division, missed playoffs
The Rangers offseason can be described as the offseason of Tom Wilson. Due to the infamous incident and outcome of the May 3rd brawl, the Rangers made it their entire goal this offseason to better prepare for Wilson next season. Not exactly a winning formula.
The Rangers clearly made it a goal to get tougher in the offseason, and that they did. They also got worse in the process. They started the offseason off by acquiring the rights to two time cup champ Barclay Goodrow from the Lightning for a seventh-round pick and then signing him to an absurd six-year $3.4 million AAV contract.
Goodrow was a solid bottom-six forward in Tampa Bay last year posting a GAR of 3 on the team’s third line. That said, he was almost certainly a benefactor of his superior line mates and will never be more than a third line option at best. Paying him $3.4 million for another six years when he’s already 28 makes little to no sense. He’s big though which seems to be the most important factor to the Rangers these days.
The Rangers then followed this up with an even worse move, trading budding star Pavel Buchnevich to the Blues for a second-round pick and depth forward Sammy Blais. Blais’ 1.7 GAR ranked eighth among Blues forwards last year, while Buchnevich’s 8.3 GAR was second among Rangers forwards. No matter how you look at it this was a massive downgrade for the Rangers, even if they did save $4.3 million in cap space. Like Goodrow, Blais is 6’2″ and over 200 pounds.
Next up the Rangers brought in Wilson’s arch nemesis, Ryan Reaves for a third-round pick. Reaves is among the worst forwards in the NHL as his -0.4 GAR ranked 392nd for forwards last year. In every aspect of the game he makes your team worse and a third-round pick is a huge overpay. To make matters worse the Rangers lost Colin Blackwell in expansion. Blackwell is a solid bottom-six two-way forward who’s on a bargain league minimum deal.
On defence the Rangers got better at least, simply by not bringing back Jack Johnson who is among the worst defencemen in the NHL. Meanwhile Brendan Smith’s 8.4 GAR looks like a big loss, but he was floated by some unsustainable offensive impacts last year. The three years prior he posted GAR totals of -7.4, -5, and 0.3. He’s nothing more than a replacement level defenceman and not a big loss at all.
Patrick Nemeth is an upgrade on both Johnson and Smith and will provide the Rangers with some solid veteran depth on defence.
Overall the Rangers had a rough offseason. Despite possessing one of the most skilled young forward groups in the NHL, the team made it a priority to get bigger and tougher in the offseason, making their team worse in the process. Given their talent up front, in net, and having Adam Fox they should still be in contention for a wild card spot.
2020–21 record: 25-23-8
Season finish: 6th East division, missed playoffs
After an incredibly disappointing 2020–21 season, the Philadelphia Flyers were one of the busiest teams in the league this offseason. They completely reshaped their defence, making some great moves while also making some terrible ones. It’s hard to say if they really got much better overall.
The most unexpected move of the Flyers offseason was trading long time Flyer Voracek back to Columbus after 10 years in Philadelphia. In return the Flyers got winger Atkinson. Both Voracek and Atkinson are similar players in terms of their position and overall impacts, although Voracek offers more offensively. Atkinson however costs about $2.5 million less against the cap. Overall the trade was probably a loss on the ice for the Flyers, but a minimal one and they also saved some cap space in the process.
The Flyers also added Derek Brassard and Nate Thompson at forward. Brassard is a great bottom-six depth piece and at a cap hit of just $825,000, it was a nice add for the Flyers. Thompson meanwhile has been below replacement for the past two seasons and the Flyers would’ve been better off not adding him.
As mentioned the Flyers clearly went into the offseason with the goal of overhauling their defence. The Flyers shipped out three of their six regular defencemen from last season, while bringing in three new ones. It was a mixed bag in regards to who they brought on.
First off the team traded for Ryan Ellis, parting ways with Philippe Myers and Nolan Patrick. Ellis is a bona fide top pairing defenceman, despite what his 2020–21 GAR might tell you. Even last season in which he dealt with injuries he was still second among Predators defencemen for GAR at 3.6.
The year prior however he posted an NHL-best GAR of 23.2 among defenceman. The year before that his GAR was 11.4, 25th in the NHL. There’s a very good chance Ellis has a bounce back season in 2021–22, and although Myers was decent last year and has potential, Ellis is a massive upgrade on the blueline.
They also brought on veteran Keith Yandle on a cheap one-year, $900,000 deal. Yandle struggled last season, but throughout his 14-year career the 2020–21 season was the first time his GAR was below replacement level. He’s a good bounce back candidate in 2021–22 and at just $900,000 for one year it was a low-risk potentially high-reward move by the Flyers.
Unfortunately it went south after that. The Flyers traded away Shayne Gostisbehere to the Coyotes for virtually nothing in order to clear his $4.5 million cap hit. Gostisbehere actually led Flyers defenceman in GAR last season at 9.1, although he did post a brutal -3 GAR the year prior in 2019–20. That said he’s probably somewhere in the middle of those two seasons, and still a capable top-four defenceman.
The bigger issue is the reason the Flyers shed Gostisbehere’s salary is so that they could then go out and make one of the worst deals of the offseason. They shipped out Robert Hagg, the 14th overall pick in the 2021 draft, and a 2022 second-round pick for one of the league’s worst defencemen in Rasmus Ristolainen. Ristolainen’s -4.3 GAR last year ranked 19th last among defenceman. Hagg’s -3 GAR ranked 33rd worst, but somehow the Flyers still found a way to downgrade by trading him.
In net the Flyers made a great move by letting Brian Elliot go. His -12.2 GAR ranked second last in the league in 2020–21, ahead of only Flyers teammate Carter Hart. Unfortunately they decided to fix their goaltending issues by bringing in one of the league’s worst goalies in Martin Jones. Jones’ 2.9 GAR ranked 42nd among eligible goalies season. Over the past three seasons, Jones has posted a cumulative GAR of -6.2 which ranks 101st in the league.
The Flyers obviously made it a goal to shake things up in the offseason, and they certainly did. Picking up Ellis and Yandle look like very solid moves, however shipping out Gostisbehere to acquire Ristolainen was a big mistake. They also still have major question marks in net if Hart can’t bounce back. The Flyers will be right on the playoff bubble this year for both a wild card and divisional playoff spot.
2020–21 record: 37-16-3
Season finish: 1st East Division, eliminated 1st round (4-2 vs NY Islanders)
The Penguins did what they usually do in the offseason, exchange depth pieces as they keep their core intact for another run. They’ll be looking to bounce back from a disappointing first round exit, but with the news that Evgeni Malkin will be out long-term their offseason was rather lackluster.
At forward the Penguins suffered one of the biggest losses league wide due to the expansion draft. Jared McCann was a lock to get picked up by Seattle, so the Penguins were forced to ship him to Toronto for a minimal return. This was a huge loss for the Penguins as McCann was exceptional last season.
He posted a GAR of 17.9, good for second in the entire NHL behind only Connor McDavid. It wasn’t just a one off either. McCann posted a GAR of 12.8 the season prior in 2019–20 which was 38th league wide. He’s one of the better two-way centres in the NHL and he will be sorely missed by the Penguins next year especially with Malkin out.
The losses didn’t stop there though. The Penguins then lost another solid two-way forward in Brandon Tanev in the expansion draft. They also lost Frederick Gaudreau and Colton Sceviour in free agency, again two dependable bottom-six players.
To replace them they went out and signed a trio of forwards, brining in Danton Heinen, Brock McGinn, and Dominik Simon. Both Heinen and McGinn are okay depth pieces, but neither will move the needle much. Simon meanwhile was below replacement last year and is better off as an extra forward. The Penguins probably did enough to replace Tanev, Gaudreau, and Sceviour, but really didn’t address the loss of McCann at all.
On defence the Penguins made the right call to let Cody Ceci go get overpaid in free agency after an outlier season for the veteran. Despite his impressive 6.8 GAR last year, Ceci had posted a GAR of -0.1, -0.7, and 0.3 the three years prior. There’s a good chance he goes back to being sub replacement level next year.
The Penguins didn’t have a busy offseason, mainly switching out supporting parts, but the loss of Jared McCann cannot be understated especially with Malkin already injured. The Penguins are worse than they were last season, but they still have Sidney Crosby, Jake Guenztel, Kris Letang, etc. and should be in the running for a divisional playoff spot once again.
2020-21 record: 36-15-5
Season finish: 2nd East Division, eliminated 1st round (4-1 vs Boston Bruins)
The Capitals had perhaps the most quiet offseason in the entire NHL, only bringing in one NHL player. Washington suffered a quick exit from the playoffs last season and like Pittsburgh will be looking to take another run at the cup with their aging core and superstar before time runs out.
The Capitals saw minimal changes at forward, only seeing depth forwards Michael Raffl and Daniel Carr leave the team in free agency. The good news is both were below replacement last season and will be easy to replace internally.
On defence the Capitals made their only major move of the offseason, trading veteran Brendan Dillon and his $3.9 million AAV cap hit to the Winnipeg Jets for two second-round picks. The Capitals were incredibly tight to the cap and Dillon was the odd man out, although he probably shouldn’t have been. Dillon’s 9.9 GAR led all Capitals defencemen in 2020–21. The team also let veteran Chara walk in free agency. Although he’s 44 years old, he’s still a reliable bottom pairing option.
The only replacement the Capitals brought in for Dillon and Chara was Matt Irwin. Irwin has been below replacement for two years now and is far from an adequate replacement for Dillon or Chara.
The Capitals had a quiet offseason, but the limited moves they did make made their team worse. Like Pittsburgh though as long as they have Alexander Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, John Carlson and company they’ll be in the mix for a divisional playoff spot.
Wide open division
Like the Central division in the west, the Metro is a complete toss up. Unlike in the Central though there is no clear best team in the division, and you could pick at least five teams to realistically claim top spot come playoff time.
Again like the Central, the Metro isn’t top heavy but possesses seven teams who have a legitimate shot at making the playoff next season. The playoff race in the Metro should be one of the most exciting to watch across all divisions with nearly every team in the division fighting for a divisional playoff spot.
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