Last time I looked at the supposed new Central Division, and judged which teams were finished roster tinkering, and which weren’t. Today, I’m moving all the way East (using Greg Wyshynski’s proposed divisions):
The Booooins signed their second last player (they still have Peter Cehlarik, a minor leaguer to go), and they have a full roster with enough space to add Zdeno Chara for another year if they want. They have changed very little, and they might have room to add someone if they decide their one-year-older team needs a boost. They’ve done so little, the rumours the owner wants the season cancelled seem very plausible.
I am a cynic, so I think the Sabres signed Taylor Hall to trade him at the deadline. They have very few contracts signed to players who aren’t on their NHL roster (Tampa has the least, by the way), and yet they have a plausible NHL roster ready to go. They’re penny-pinching beyond the Hall signing. It’s not a very good roster, but it’s better than last year’s which is damning with faint praise. They need a depth defenceman or two, and considering the new divisional alignment, maybe the Leafs would do a deal with them. Lawrence Pilut is listed as an unsigned RFA, but he took a full year KHL job and gave the Sabres the one-finger wave goodbye.
The only thing the Canes didn’t do is really address their perpetual goalie issue. They have a very good forward roster, room for 22 men, hot defence, and a tandem of backups. They’ve done this exact thing on purpose too many times for me to assume they’ll fix that this year, but if someone were to suddenly offer a real starter, they’d be in the market and suddenly a very serious contender. So, my question to Dundon is: Are you serious or not?
New Jersey Devils
The Devils might have the most unfinished roster of any team. They are the exact opposite of the doubled up Leafs. They have masses of cap space and 16 players!! This is likely why they wouldn’t release Jack Hughes to the WJC. They haven’t signed Jesper Bratt, who won’t be expensive, but they need to lock up Mackenzie Blackwood, who will cost more than they like. They have some young players to add to get to a full roster — Nick Merkley was very impressive in Finland, and Jesper Boqvist has been good in Sweden. They seem like a team ripe to prosper off of cap dumps or career restart UFA signings, but maybe they just have no money for that. They won’t contend, but the bargain rebuild soldiers on.
New York Islanders
The Islanders are capped out with their best player unsigned. Simple as that. The magic of LTIR takes Johnny Boychuk’s $6 million off the books, and does not give them enough to lock up Mat Barzal to anything but a discounted bridge deal. They will need to run a short roster as well, unless someone else is about to fail his medical. They have some middling prospects coming on, but no wow factor anywhere.
The team is ageing, getting worse with the loss of Devon Toews, and needs a hot goalie to prosper. Starter Semyon Varlamov has always been an every-other-year kind of guy, but a shorter season and a hot rookie in Ilya Sorokin to share the starts might give the Islanders another good regular season. They aren’t bad, that’s clear. But they seem very stalled out as a team that makes the playoffs but can’t get past... okay, I can’t even say it, but they need to take a step, and they just have no way to do that until they shed some more junk contracts.
New York Rangers
The Rangers are hilarious. No, really. They’re capped out, over the bonus cushion and paying a penalty for that, and they look to just be living with it. Okay, they have Alexis Lafreniere, so who cares, right? They’re ready to roll out this roster of wildly divergent individual talents and Jack Johnson, and they’ll see what happens. It’s like when you build a car from mail-order spare parts in your garage to race against stockcars. If none of the bits fall off, you might even win.
Oh, and they’re paying buyouts for five players! Five!
The Flyers have Philippe Myers yet to sign, and that would give them 20 men with a few couple million in space. They seem really weak at forward, in part because of the Nolan Patrick situation — he’s still unable to play, it seems — but they do have other cheap young talent to promote. They look like they are going with who they have, and that got them a great regular season and a fizzle in the playoffs. Roll the dice and try again, seems to be the plan. I don’t get it, to be honest. Shouldn’t Comcast’s team be the most anxious to put out the best possible team on Comcast’s TV stations?
The Capitals are in almost an identical situation to Vegas. They have everyone signed, they know who they want on the team, and they’re over the cap a little with only 21 men. If they don’t have any injured defenders, they have too many, and can move one or two, but they need one or two forwards on the roster, so they aren’t better off unless they move some real salary. Kind of makes you ask yourself why they signed right-shooting Trevor van Riemsdyk, if the weren’t looking to move out a right-shooting defender like Justin Schultz or Dmitry Orlov. This one feels tougher to solve than most of the cap crunches heading into training camp, but they have more practice than most teams at this. One way and another they are ready to play, though with the same-old, same-old Capitals core.
Winning the East
I really want Carolina to wake up and get a starter of note because if they do, they should totally dominate this division. The alternative is Boston. Washington won’t be bad, but they’re as stalled out as the Islanders, just at a much higher level. New Jersey should have no competition for last place. The Flyers might ride their hot young goalie to glory though, because in hockey you never really know what’s going to happen in net.