Metropolitan Division free-agency preview: Penguins, Capitals, Rangers all have big holes to fill

ByAndrew Knoll ESPN logo
Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Arguably the NHL's best division last season, the Metropolitan featured the Stanley Cup-champion Pittsburgh Penguins, the Presidents' Trophy-winning Washington Capitals and the upstart Columbus Blue Jackets. Here's what those three teams -- and the rest of the division -- are up against heading into free agency. (Free agents are unrestricted, unless otherwise noted.)

Carolina Hurricanes

Notable free agents:LWBrock McGinn, CJay McClement

Needs: Forwards, forwards, forwards. The Hurricanes would like to add quality and consistency to their young group up front. They will likely need to move a goalie, eitherCam Ward or Eddie Lack,ahead of next season. Six of their defensemen are headed for restricted free agency next summer.

Cap space: $25.7 million

Big moves so far: Carolina brought in goalie Scott Darling and defenseman Trevor van Riemsdyk, two Stanley Cup winners who have played key supporting roles for the Chicago Blackhawks in recent years.

Columbus Blue Jackets

Notable free agents: C Alexander Wennberg (RFA), RWJosh Anderson (RFA), CSam Gagner

Needs: Deals for Wennberg and Anderson might leave the well-rounded Jackets with limited cap space to fill out their group of forwards and perhaps add a depth defenseman.

Cap space: $10.3 million

Big moves so far: Columbus acquired the creative and prolific winger Artemi Panarin via trade from the Blackhawks.

New Jersey Devils

Notable free agents:DDamon Severson, GKeith Kinkaid

Needs: The Devils were horrendous offensively last season and only slightly better on defense. They also ranked the bottom third of the league on both the power play and penalty kill. Yet, on paper, they are not terribly far from respectability and have the money to solidify their lineup. They need bodies at forward and skill on defense, so they will have to spend wisely.

Cap space: $24.5 million

Big moves so far: The Devils selected Nico Hischier, a dazzling pivot, No. 1 overall in the entry draft. He's a player who has patterned his game afterDetroit Red Wingslegend Pavel Datsyuk. The Devils also acquired former San Jose Sharks defenseman Mirco Mueller.

New York Islanders

Notable free agent: DCalvin de Haan(RFA)

Needs: The Islanders need to extend the contract of potential 2018 unrestricted free agentJohn Tavaresby any means necessary. The Isles might seek to add another forward but they also have to re-sign de Haan and likely add another defenseman. Their convoluted goaltending situation seems a bit clearer, but no more effective.

Cap space: $9.4 million

Big moves so far: The Isles traded for formerEdmonton Oilersright winger -- and Tavares' former World Juniors linemate --Jordan Eberle. They also dealt stalwart defenseman Travis Hamonic to theCalgary Flamesfor draft picks.

New York Rangers

Notable free agents: C Mika Zibanejad (RFA), RWJesper Fast (RFA), DBrendan Smith

Needs: The Rangers lost two of their four centers from last season -- they traded top-line pivotDerek Stepan to the Arizona Coyotes,and the Vegas Golden Knights tookOscar Lindbergin the expansion draft -- although New York does have wingers with experience at center. The Rangers also might look for an experienced backup goalie to easeHenrik Lundqvist's load after dealingAntti Raanta. They also covet an impact defenseman, especially a right shot, and have been linked to free agent and New York native Kevin Shattenkirk.

Cap space: $20 million

Big moves so far: The Rangers jettisoned the contract of Stepan, a mainstay, and backup Raanta,who will be a free agent in 2018,in a deal with Arizona to gain assets and create cap space.

Philadelphia Flyers

Notable free agents:GSteve Mason, CJordan Weal, DMichael Del Zotto

Needs: The Flyers likely do not intend to re-sign Mason, so they will look to improve their goaltending. They might also reconfigure their defense corps between acquisitions and call-ups such as prospectsSamuel Morinand Travis Sanheim.

Cap space: $12.5 million

Big moves so far: The Flyers drafted center NolanPatrick, perhaps the most NHL-ready prospect of the draft, at No. 2 overall. They also traded forward Brayden Schenn for forward Jori Lehtera and draft picks. And Philly re-signed defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere to a six-year contract.

Pittsburgh Penguins

Notable free agents:CNick Bonino, LWChris Kunitz, LWConor Sheary (RFA), DTrevor Daley, DBrian Dumoulin (RFA), DJustin Schultz (RFA)

Needs: Between retaining free agents and adding talent, defense has to be the Penguins' primary focus. A healthy Kris Letang would go a long way toward that goal. Bringing back Bonino will help maintain their excellent depth up front.

Cap space: $18.9 million

Big moves so far: They Penguins parted ways with goalie Marc-Andre Fleury, who was drafted by the Golden Knights, freeing up considerable cap space. They also made a draft-day deal with the St. Louis Blues to bring in a burly enforcer, right winger Ryan Reaves.

Washington Capitals

Notable free agents:D Kevin Shattenkirk, RWJustin Williams, CEvgeny Kuznetsov (RFA), LWAndre Burakovsky (RFA), DKarl Alzner, DDmitry Orlov (RFA), GPhilipp Grubauer (RFA)

Needs: This offseason might be more about retaining players than adding them for the Caps. It appears likely they will lose Shattenkirk, Alzner and possibly Williams. Their notable restricted free agents will command sizable contracts, and what remains might go toward bolstering the Caps' blue line.

Cap space: $19 million

Big moves so far: The Capitals re-signed free agent T.J. Oshie to an eight-year, $46 million contract.