8. Columbus Blue Jackets
General Manager Jarmo Kekäläinen and the Columbus Blue Jackets knew a catastrophic offseason was on the horizon, yet they did nothing to soften the blow. With impending marquee free agents Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky surely on their way out, Columbus decided to go all in on their 2018-2019 season without reserving and thought for seasons to come: trading several draft picks for two more highly touted after free agents Matt Duchene and Ryan Dzingel knowing they would most likely look elsewhere in the offseason. While they maintain their top defensive core in the division and entire league, the question marks are far too glaring in terms of scoring options and goaltenders to justify hope for a solid season. But hey…you never know with the parody the NHL offers.
7. Philadelphia Flyers
Who got seven million for seven years from Philly? Kevin Hayes, actually? My exact thoughts on the stunning contract Philadelphia penned the former New York Ranger center. The Flyers will now be paying 27% of their cap to Hayes, Matt Niskanen, and Jakub Voracek until 2021-2022 with Ivan Provorov, a top pairing defensemen, still unsigned. There’s certainly no lack of talent on Philly’s roster, and if Carter Hart can turn a magical rookie season into an even better sophomore one, this Flyers team could make a run at the playoffs. However, with a depleting core and an incredibly inexperienced goaltender, the Flyers land here for now.
6. New York Islanders
So let me get this straight, you offer Vezina candidate Robin Lehner less money and term than aging backup Semyon Varlamov. I’m not catching Lou Lamorillo’s play here, but I see Varlomov as a steep downgrade. The Isles did a fabulous job with team defense for first year coach and Jack Adams winner Barry Trotz, but to be blunt, they would’ve been nowhere near the playoffs without Lehner manning the cage. Another nail in a tough offseason for uncle Lou was the last second decision from Artemi Panarin to decline the Isles offer and sign with their rivals across the Brooklyn Bridge. Despite proving everyone wrong last season, I can’t see the Isles taking much of a step forward with this many holes and a continuing absence of top-tier talent.
5. Pittsburgh Penguins
Connor McDavid was nine years old the last time the Pittsburgh Penguins missed the playoffs. Despite losing Phil Kessel to the Arizona Coyotes, the Pens added scoring depth in both Alex Galchenyuk and recent signee Brandon Tanev. Their depth chart, however, displays gaping holes in their forward depth and blue-line. Kris Letang, Patrick Hornqvist, and Evgeni Malkin, who are due to be paid a combined 23 million, need to show their worth or be traded in order to fill their obvious needs. If the Pens are able to hold their decade and a half postseason run in tact, Sidney Crosby must be the kid accompanied with stellar play from Matt Murray behind a depleted defensive core.
4. New York Rangers
Has any team rebuilt their entire organization (minus Lundqvist) in a shorter period of time than the New York Rangers have? They acquired a first round pick for lame-duck Kevin Hayes, traded nothing for standout rookie defensemen Adam Fox, landed the 2nd overall pick and an absolute stud in Kaappo Kakko, and signed a top forward/defensemen in Artemi Panarin and Jacob Trouba. Oh…and don’t forget Greg McKegg. The future in the Garden (for hockey exclusively) is blinding, but that doesn’t mean expectations for winning starts in 2019-2020. We still have to see whether Henrik Lundqvist at 37 can stay relevant, and they need to look elsewhere quickly if he can’t. They aren’t far off, but it’ll take a little time to adjust to a completely restructured roster.
3. New Jersey Devils
Without a doubt, the two winners of the 2019 NHL free agency are the aforementioned New York Rangers and the New Jersey Devils. Lucking out on the first pick to land sensation Jack Hughes was the first step. Don’t be surprised to see Hughes shine on day one with the extreme skills and speed he presents. The top two issues for the Devils in 2018-2019 were offense from the blue-line, enter P.K Subban, and injuries, enter Taylor Hall (2017-2018 Hart Winner) who missed 48 games. To top it off, in maybe the most underrated move of the offseason, the Devils secured back-to-back KHL MVP Nikita Gusev on a two year deal and winger Wayne Simmonds on a one year deal. The catch, like with many teams, lays in the crease with Cory Schneider and Mackenzie Blackwood. If a finally healthy Schneider can regain his form from a few years back, this team could be very dangerous. If not, the solid young Blackwood will have to gain experience quickly behind an average to below-average blueline.
2. Carolina Hurricanes
Whether or not the incredible phenomenon of the “storm surge” reappears, owner Tom Dundon and the Carolina Hurricanes have brought life back to hockey in Raleigh and the surrounding areas. After shocking just about everyone with their first round upset of the defending champ Washington Capitals and eventual placement in the Conference Finals, the Hurricanes refused to take a step backwards in the offseason. Instead, Carolina locked up star center Sebastian Aho after an unprecedented offer sheet from Montreal, and added solid middle-six depth with Eric Haula and Ryan Dzingel. The forward depth in Carolina is impressive to say the least as is the defensive core. So, what is the one question mark? Yep, again it’s goaltending. Petr Mrazek is back on a two year deal after a solid try-out season in Carolina, but co-starter Curtis McElhinney signed with Tampa Bay, leaving his job to Anton Forsberg, James Reimer, or Alex Nedljkovic. Goaltending is truly the only question mark to the young, fast, and now experienced Carolina Hurricanes roster.
1. Washington Capitals
Another year and another quiet offseason for the Washington Capitals. With a core of Alexander Ovechkin, Nicholas Backstrom, Evegeni Kuznetsov, John Carlson, and Braden Holtby, you can’t blame them. More or less, this Caps team is the same as the 2017-2018 champs and the one that would’ve been favorite if not for the stunning seven game upset from Carolina. Ovechkin clearly showed in that series he still is not meant to be messed with. Minus an average d-core apart from John Carlson, the Caps remain stacked and look to control the Metro division for the fourth straight year.