Give Ron Hextall credit.
Limited in the moves he was able to make due to salary cap restrictions this offseason, the Philadelphia Flyers general manager still upgraded on offense, defense and at backup goalie – and shed some salary in the process.
He inked Russian Evgeni Medvedev, a puck-carrying defenseman out of the Kontinental Hockey League, and goaltender Michal Neuvirth, while picking up forward Sam Gagner in a trade with the Coyotes. Hextall subtracted defenseman Nick Grossmann, goalie Ray Emery, forward Zac Rinaldo and Chris Pronger’s contract.
While the moves positioned the Flyers better in terms of the cap for this season and beyond, they didn’t necessarily tip the needle all that much with the on-ice product. As the roster currently stands – Hextall could pull off a trade between now and training camp – the Flyers are a fringe playoff team again.
However, there were teams in their division who did make potential landscaping changes that could separate them from the pack. So let’s take a look at which organizations in the Metropolitan Division made the largest strides since the end of the Stanley Cup.
Jim Rutherford made a blockbuster trade for the second straight summer to bolster his already dynamic offense. One year after shipping 40-goal scorer James Neal to the Predators for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling, the second-year GM completed a nine-player swap that netted the Penguins forward Phil Kessel. While it cost the Penguins a slew of former and future first-round draft picks, the Pens added another lethal goal scorer to play alongside Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
Like the Pens, the Caps rattled some cages for the second offseason in a row. They vastly improved their defense last season with the signings of Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen, and this year they upgraded the offense by signing Justin Williams and trading for TJ Oshie. The latter, a highly skilled player, will complement stars Alex Ovechkin (the league’s leading goal scorer last season) and Nicklas Backstrom (assists leader), while Williams brings clutch playoff performances to a team that fell one victory shy of reaching the conference finals.
Columbus acquired one of the game’s rising young stars. Sending four players and a draft pick to Chicago, the Jackets netted Brandon Saad. The 23-year-old had 23 goals and 29 assists last season and brings a wealth of playoff experience after having already won two Stanley Cups with the Blackhawks. Combined with the young core in place, Columbus is poised to return to the playoffs and make a deep run.