By: Dana Grey
We are just two months shy of opening night for the 2016-2017 NHL season and just weeks away from the World Cup of Hockey in Toronto. Unfortunately, the offseason is not over yet so here’s another free agency recap to get you through the end of the summer. Lets round out the Eastern Conference and look at the key signings made by some of the Metropolitan Division teams.
The Carolina Hurricanes have been a team in the reconstruction phase for a few seasons. The ‘Canes’ had a winning record last year and only missed a wild card spot by seven points. With promising young talent in names such as Noah Hanifin, Victor Rask and Teuvo Teräväinen, GM Ron Francis was looking for a veteran presence to add in free agency. He found just that with his two signings. On July 1st Viktor Stalberg was inked to a 1-year deal worth $1.5 million after playing with the New York Rangers last year. The left-winger notched only 20 points through 75 games last season but adds a great physicality to the Carolina Lineup. The club’s most significant loss this offseason was 3 year Hurricane Nathan Gerbe but Francis found a viable replacement in former Bruin and Devil, Lee Stempniak. The right-winger notched 50 plus points this past campaign and has been a natural goal scorer in the NHL for ten years. Carolina is taking the right steps to rebuild and the future is bright. Don’t expect them to compete for a division playoff position but it is quite possible that they slip into a wild card spot this season.
Signing Grade: B
New Jersey Devils
Another club that missed the 2016 postseason is the New Jersey Devils, a team that hovered around the .500 mark for most of the campaign. The organization lost two blue-collar defenseman this offseason: 26-year-old Mark Warsofsky and more notably David Schlemko, who signed a four-year deal with San Jose. General Manager Ray Shero was able to quickly fill that hole on the back end by locking up former Penguin Ben Lovejoy for 3 years. Lovejoy was a steady and consistent member of the 2016 Pittsburgh Stanley Cup winning team and is a big reason for why he got a whooping $8 million for his new contract. Shero then turned his attention to nabbing a veteran forward and got just that in Vernon Fiddler. The Alberta native has played 13 seasons in the NHL and just over 800 career games. With the Metropolitan division being home to some of the best teams in the league (Penguins, Rangers and Capitals) it will be difficult for New Jersey to join the postseason party. Though with the new addition of superstar Taylor Hall, anything can happen.
Signing Grade: B+
New York Islanders
In their first year at their new stadium, the Islanders won a playoff series for the first time since they reached the Conference Finals in 1993. Once again, the Isles should have a chance to make a postseason run but this year’s team looks a lot different. First lets take a look at the subtractions. Kyle Okposo, who was an Islander’s draft pick back in 2006, was signed by the Buffalo Sabres and leaves a huge gap up front for New York. The Islanders also lost a starting center man of ten years in Frans Nielsen. Combined, Okposo and Nielsen averaged 112 points over the past three years. Come July 1st, GM Garth Snow needed to find point production for his club. Firstly, Snow signed former Blackhawk and Winnipeg Jets captain Andrew Ladd to a 7-year deal worth $38.5 million. An 11-year veteran of the league is a fantastic two-way forward and brings leadership to the dressing room. Another left-winger added to the club is former Washington Capital Jason Chimera who was inked to a two-year deal at the start of free agency. A 40-point scorer last year, Chimera will join another newcomer that can rack up the points in P.A. Parenteau. The right-winger has bounced around the NHL throughout his eight years playing for six different clubs. It’s a fresh new look for the Islanders but they remain a solid well-coached team that will fight for a playoff spot.
Signing Grade: A-
The other five teams in the Metro really didn’t make many moves; the Blue Jackets didn’t add a single player. The ‘Big 3’ (Capitals, Penguins and Rangers) of the division will continue to control the playoff spots most likely, but the Islanders and Flyers could sneak into wild card spots once again.