This piece is the second part of a two part series on the Metropolitan Division. The off season personnel changes or decisions made by the New York Islanders, Columbus Blue Jackets, New Jersey Devils, and the Philadelphia Flyers is profiled below in Part 2.
New York Islanders Fifth in the Metro Division in 2021-22, Missed NHL Playoffs
The largest off season decision made by the Islanders was the replacement of decorated veteran coach Barry Trotz with former NHL forward Lane Lambert.
In: (Major personnel)
Defenseman Zdeno Chara: Remains unsigned
Defenseman Andy Greene: Remains Unsigned
Initial overall assessment:
Penguins fans and the Eastern Conference still have some reasons to fear this team as much as any in the Metro Division. The team never shook off the effects of an early Covid-19 issue club wide early in the season, was required to play the first month of last season entirely on the road while a new arena was being completed on Long Island, and appears to have battled the effects of tension between the locker room and coaching staff in late season. Despite all of the above, the team was the hottest club in the league down the regular season stretch, and the core of the club which eliminated the Penguins twice on the way to consecutive Eastern Conference Finals in the recent past is still intact. The lost leadership of former captains Chara and Greene may be missed, but the team’s overall size, physicality, tight defensive structure and philosophy, and the supreme talent of Mathew Barzal and Anders Lee will again be featured. The Isles will again likely pose a threat to the entire division , despite the overall advancing overall age of the roster.
Columbus Blue Jackets Sixth in Metro Division in 2021-22, Missed NHL Playoffs
The Jackets signed a large Free Agent contract with skilled forward Johnny Gaudreau, perhaps the most offensively gifted forward on the 2022 Free Agent market.
Forward Johnny Gaudreau: Signed as a Free Agent from Calgary
Defenseman Erik Gudbranson: Signed as a Free Agent from the Calgary
Forward Alexandre Texier: Leave of Absence, will likely miss the 2022-23 season.
Initial overall assessment:
The Blue Jackets snagged perhaps the biggest fish available in this year’s free agent flurry in Gaudreau, who stunned many by signing with club over other Northeast markets and teams. He will certainly add to a skilled forward group which already includes Patrik Laine and Jake Vorachek. The team surprised many league watchers in 2022-23 under rookie coach Brad Larsen by playing tight defensive hockey with a fairly unknown group, and until tailing off in late season. The Jackets could well contend for a playoff spot with similar play in 22-23, and with Gaudreau in the mix. Depth is fairly thin, and injuries to Gaudreau, Laine or defenseman Zach Werenski would have a major effect on this club. Texier’s penalty killing and skating is also a loss of some significance
New Jersey Devils Seventh in the Metro Division, Missed NHL Playoffs
Major moves and personnel changes were made by the Devils rivaling Pittsburgh, the Rangers and Carolina in number, and pressure is clearly building on the organization’s recent high draft picks.
Forward Ondrej Palat: Signed as Free Agent from Tampa Bay
Goalie Vitek Vanecek: Trade with Washington
Defenseman John Marino: Trade with Pittsburgh
Defenseman Simon Nemec: The 2nd Overall Pick in the NHL Draft in 2022
Defenseman Brendan Smith: Signed as Free Agent from Carolina
Forward Pavel Zacha; Signed with Toronto Maple
Defenseman Ty Smith: Trade with Pittsburgh
Defenseman P K Subban: Remains Unsigned
Initial overall assessment:
The addition of Swiss Army knife forward Palat, who played a key role in all 3 Cup recent drives in Tampa, will surely add to this clubs efforts in all areas. His past ability to contribute big goals at key times, penalty killing, his defense on top wings, and leadership is likely one of the best signings in this past off season. The timing is probably due to the increasing pressure on recent high draft picks Nico Hischier and Jack Hughes, and the overall team to reach the next level and playoff contention. The heavy reliance on an offense first Dougie Hamilton and aging Subban on defense, plus a revolving door of 8 goaltenders used last season simply doomed the club to a very disappointing 2021-22. Though the team is a bit undersized, potential truly exists for a young, fast skating, highly skilled club which could surprise. Vanecek is likely also an upgrade in the crease, as are Marino, Nemec and Brendan Smith on the backline.
Philadelphia Flyers Eighth in Metro Division, Missed NHL Playoffs
Controversial moves behind the bench and on ice, and rebounds in play are needed from top forwards coming off an injury plagued 2021-22.
Forward Nick Deslauriers: Free Agent from Minnesota
Defenseman Tony DeAngelo: Trade with Carolina
Defenseman Justin Braun: Returned as Free Agent from NY Rangers
Goalie Martin Jones: Signed with Seattle Kraken
The biggest news out of Philadelphia this off season was the signing of John Tortorella to coach the club. The second most significant news was the trade for talented, but at times, controversial puck moving defenseman Tony DeAngelo with Carolina. The most interesting story to watch is how the bombastic and controversial duo can mesh with an overall frustrated organization, team, and fan base to rebound from a very bad 2021-22 season. The team did battle the loss of two of its top centers and leadership early in the year in Sean Couturier and Kevin Hayes. Both were injured for large blocks of time. Puck moving defenseman Mark Ellis also played only 4 games due to injury, and the Claude Giroux potential trade situation hung like a cloud over the team and its young players all season long. The best of those young players last year, forward Joel Farabee, is also coming back from off season back surgery. The combination of numerous recent high draft picks falling short of expectations when combined with high cost, longer term, past contracts to veterans have placed the once formidable Flyers in very difficult position at present. Time is now for this entire club to also start the reverse of its on ice fortunes, and Tortorella, GM Chuck Fletcher will bear either the brunt of continued struggles, or enjoy the benefits of any success ahead. The Flyers are not likely to be a playoff team.