Welcome to the Murderer's Row
The Metropolitan Division was already a competitive environment, but this offseason has seen it become positively bloodthirsty. Time to look at where things stand, and where the Blue Jackets stack up.
The Blue Jackets made a big splash this offseason with the trade for Brandon Saad, but that same deal seemed to open the floodgates for several other Metropolitan Division teams to open their wallets and start firing on major trades or free agent acquisitions, making what had been a strong division into arguably the toughest in the NHL.
The road to the Stanley Cup almost certainly still goes through Chicago until proven otherwise, but every team in the East is looking at a steep climb to make the postseason, and the top five teams in the Metro are likely to be major challenges on every night they play.
I thought we'd take a look at our fellow cellmates, and see where the Jackets' moves have placed them in the pack.
First up? The big dog in the yard.
Key Additions: Emerson Etem, Antti Raanta, Magnus Hellberg, Raphael Diaz
Key Departures: Martin St. Louis (retired), Cam Talbot (EDM), Carl Hagelin (ANA)
Last year's division champions, the Rangers came within a series win of the Cup final, and will remain a challenge as long as Henrik Lundqvist minds their net, but this year brings some changes - and questions - on Broadway. The Rangers still need to finish extending RFA Derek Stepan, and have decided to shake up their forward corps with the trade for Etem, who they hope will make up for the loss of Hagelin's speed.
While St. Louis flamed out in the playoffs, he was a significant part of the Rangers offense last season, contributing 21 goals and 31 assists in 74 games. The expectation is that Stepan, Rick Nash, and Derick Brassard will help fill in that gap, and that players like Chris Kreider, Kevin Hayes, and Mats Zuccarello will be given larger roles, but there's still some open questions there. They remain a very "top heavy" forward corps, and the fourth line in particular has been a source of concern.
The battle between Hellberg and Raanta to see who will back up King Henrik bears watching, but the really interesting story for the 2015-16 Rangers might be their defense. The big contracts given to Marc Staal and Dan Girardi are beginning to look a bit steep for their on-ice results, and both Dan Boyle and Keith Yandle will be UFAs at the end of the season.
Key Additions: T.J. Oshie, Justin Williams
Key Departures: Mike Green (DET), Troy Brouwer (STL), Joel Ward (SJS), Eric Fehr (Unsigned)
After another dominant regular season followed by a mid-round playoff exit, the time had come for changes in Washington.
The additions of Oshie and Williams provide the Capitals with a couple of "clutch" guys who will be expected to give their locker room the boost they need for postseason success. Recently re-upped forward Evgeny Kuznetsov will be the main replacement for Brouwer's scoring alongside Oshie, while Williams could easily play in an "energy" role similar to Ward while contributing significant offense. Oh, and there's this guy named Ovechkin who we understand is pretty good.
On the defense, Matt Niskanen and John Carlson are expected to replace Green's production but keep an eye on Dimitri Orlov, who will be in a contract year. He may use this opportunity to grab a larger role.
Finally, in net, RFA Braden Holtby is looking to get paid before he takes up the net once again, while Justin Peters and Dan Ellis are likely to battle in camp for the backup role.
If this team had gotten just a few breaks in their series against New York, they easily could have advanced to the Eastern Conference Final. It's going to be very interesting to see if the changes this offseason were the key to unlocking that potential, or if they'll have trouble recapturing that performance.
Our next installment will be up in a few days! A huge thank you to Ryan Real, who produced the graphics and our header. Check out his awesome work on the full lineup!