This is the first of a two-part offseason primer for the Metropolitan Division; late this week we’ll take a look at each team’s offseason to-do list.
The ending of the Washington Capitals’ season can only be described as disappointing. The Caps did not show up to the bubble and had a record of 2-5-1 combined in the seeding round and first round combined. Even with the break between the season and the post-season the Caps couldn’t shake the slump they found themselves in when the season ended. In February and March combined the Caps had a record of 6-8-3. They still earned the division title but the gap at the top was closing with the Flyers just one point behind in second. Their overall lazy play and apathy for the playoffs this season cost head coach Todd Rierden his job as head coach.
Statement from Capitals senior vice president and general manager Brian MacLellan pic.twitter.com/SBCKSHUpQg— Washington Capitals (@Capitals) August 23, 2020
The Caps have struggled with being at the salary cap and making the right decisions. Looking at the trades they had to make this season, they shipped out Andre Burakovsky before the season started and in December, they traded Chandler Stephenson to Vegas.
Both went on to play huge roles in the playoffs for their new teams with Burakovsky registering 17 points and Stephenson shoring up Vegas down the middle. The Caps only added Brenden Dillon and Ilya Kovalchuk at the deadline, neither of which turned out to be impact players when the Caps needed a change to get things going for the end of the season. Now they are stuck with tough decisions in the offseason to figure out how to fix their blue line.
By all means the Flyers outperformed expectations this season. Not only did they return to the playoffs, they thrived in the strange bubble playoffs which saw them earn the top seed in the Eastern Conference in round robin play. While they will be disappointed in a game seven loss to the New York Islanders, they have a platform to build on for future seasons. The Flyers were the opposite of the Capitals as they came on strong at the end of the season and rode that into some playoff success. Their regular season record was 19-8-2 in 2020.
Hartsy's already ramping back up for next season.— Philadelphia Flyers (@NHLFlyers) September 19, 2020
Hear more from Carter on the latest Flyers Daily Podcast presented by @PennMedicine.
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They also achieved their success without the front office going all in with the roster. It was largely unchanged from the last season with only a couple of minor signings and trades, none of which was for a top-six forward or top-four defensemen. They have focused on maintaining their current roster and singing their players to extensions. The best news for the Flyers came late when Oskar Lindblom was able to start in the final two games of the playoffs for the Flyers. This came just months after his cancer diagnosis while he was having a great season, leading the Flyers in goals at the time of his diagnosis. It was great to see him able to return.
The Penguins had another disappointing end to their post-season, this time losing in the preliminary round to the 12th-seeded, 24th-ranked Montreal Canadiens. Last season they were swept by the New York Islanders in the first round. The Penguins struggled on the blueline and between the pipes. Matt Murray has likely played his last game as a Penguin. During the regular season he had a .899 sv% and a 2.87 GAA which only slightly improved in the playoffs to a .914 SV% and a 2.50 GAA. It took Mike Sullivan too long to make the switch to go to backup Tristan Jarry even though Jarry was leaned on at the end of the season.
In hilarious fashion, the Penguins and Mike Sullivan also continued their commitment on defenseman Jack Johnson in these playoffs. Johnson averaged 15:56 per game in the playoffs, which was last on the team, but he still managed to be on the ice for five goals against and only one goal for which equated to a 16.7 GF%. The third pairing of Johnson and Justin Schultz struggled all four games but no changes were made at the backend so they could continue rolling out their bottom pairing with a 44% and 46.2% Corsi, respectively. Don’t worry though, Jack Johnson isn’t going anywhere, he just keeps getting votes of confidence from GM Jim Rutherford.
The Carolina Hurricanes made the playoffs in consecutive seasons for the first time since the 2000-01 and 2001-2002 seasons. The season was certainly a success for the Hurricanes, but it did come at a cost. The Canes were buyers at the deadline for the first time since the Jim Rutherford era ended. The good news is they only acquired one true rental in Sami Vatanen. The other pieces in Brady Skjei and Vincent Trocheck are signed for additional seasons. This move helped the Canes improve their top six and their top four for seasons to come.
The break between the season and the bubble playoffs helped the Canes more than any other team in the league as they were able to get their top goaltender back and eventually Dougie Hamilton back in the lineup. They looked great against the New York Rangers but ran into the buzz saw that is the Boston Bruins again, who were probably the worst matchup for Carolina in the first round. The Canes should be able to keep the momentum going for next season and need to aim higher in the standings to avoid bad matchups going forward.
The Blue Jackets gave the entire hockey community what they wanted in the playoffs, an early Maple Leafs exit. However, their success was short lived as they fell to the Tampa Bay Lightning in five games in the first round. The Blue Jackets had every reason to not be successful this season. They had the most injuries for a team by far this season. At one point the Blue Jackets had 12 injuries between Nov. 30 and Jan. 3 which included starting goaltender Joonas Korpisalo. Despite all of this they were ranked fifth in the division and were tied with the Toronto Maple Leafs for the final traditional playoff position.
The fact that head coach John Tortorella did not win the Jack Adams is insane. Almost every season you can track who wins the Jack Adams award right down to which team has the highest team save percentage and that’s exactly who won this season. The Boston Bruins’ 93.3% is the highest in the NHL at even strength. The Bruins are a much more talented team with a Vezina winning goaltender, and a backup in Jaroslav Halak, who still played well in the playoffs.
New York Islanders
The Islanders were ranked sixth in the division at the stop of the season but earned the seventh seed in the bubble playoffs. While many complained that the Islanders played a boring game in the playoffs, they reached the Eastern Conference Finals and forced a game six. For many it was surprising but, for those who watch the Metropolitan Division, it’s not shocking that a Barry Trotz coached team shut down goal scoring and ground out multiple series wins. It’s almost like that’s what the Caps have been missing the last two seasons…
The Islanders were able to build off their playoff success from last season even without their Vezina-winning goaltender, Robin Lehner. The combination of Semyon Varlamov and Thomas Greiss was successful in replacing the Vezina winner. Their biggest add this season has been Jean-Gabriel Pageau who they acquired from the Ottawa Senators for a first-round pick and a second-round pick in the 2020 NHL draft. He scored 11 points in 22 playoff games including eight goals. The Islanders then immediately signed him to a six-year, $30-million deal ($5 million AAV).
New York Rangers
The New York Rangers have to be thrilled with this season. They had a Hart Trophy Finalist in Artemi Panarin, were gifted a postseason berth, acquired the Canes first round pick, and won the first overall pick for the upcoming draft. They outperformed all expectations coming into the season. While they were seventh in the division they were still ranked 11th in the conference and were better than four Atlantic Division teams. Despite sweeping the Hurricanes in the regular season, they were swept by the Canes in the preliminary round. This just goes to show that the Rangers do have a long way to go to be a good playoff team.
Sebastian Aho. WOOOOW. Enjoy every angle of this highlight-reel goal from Aho, who strips the puck from Trouba and walks DeAngelo for a goal that puts the Hurricanes up 3-1 on the Rangers in game three. pic.twitter.com/YfGH9VeYVm— Brett Finger (@brett_finger) August 5, 2020
This season the Rangers went for the strategy of splitting up their top two players of Panarin and Mika Zibanejad up to make two skilled lines and balance scoring. The two would reunite to play on the top power play unit which was one of the top units in the league with a 22.9% success rate. This worked throughout the regular season for the Rangers, but it proved to not work as much in the post season and had to try to reassemble their top line to give them a real quality top line and not two lines with one player that a team could focus on to shut down. While the Rangers are advancing themselves along the rebuild, they still have a long way to go.
They’ll get another big boost this fall, as the Rangers won the NHL’s draft lottery and the right to take presumed No. 1 pick Alexis Lafreniere.
The Devils were the lone Metropolitan Division team to not make the bubble post-season but were still came in 14th in the Conference. Heading into the season after acquiring P.K. Subban, Wayne Simmonds, and Nikita Gusev there were high hopes for the Devils who just had the top overall pick in the draft with Jack Hughes slotting right into the NHL lineup at center. The Devils started 2-5-3 and could never recover. In December they started the big sell by first trading Taylor Hall. They also later traded long-time captain Andy Greene, Blake Coleman, Simmonds, Sami Vatanen and Louis Domingue from December through the trade deadline in February.
The season proved to be pivotal for the organization as the Devils also fired their head coach, John Hynes, in December and their general manager, Ray Shero in January. They went from having hopes that last season was a fluke in missing the playoffs, to a full sell and rebuild. They were able to make this decision before it was too late and get assets back for rental players like Greene, Vatanen and Hall before they could walk after this season for free. It was a great move that should hopefully see them take the Rangers’ path to a rebuild and not a Red Wings path to a rebuild.