The Metropolitan Division was undoubtedly the most competitive last season, with 3 of the league’s top 5 points finishers within it, including the eventual Stanley Cup Champion Penguins. Some teams in the Metro have prepared poorly, while others look to take a minor hit and move on from expansion relatively unscathed. No major surprises exist outside of Brooklyn, where the Islanders took the crown for the most unorthodox and confounding strategy.
The Penguins seem to have known for quite some time that Marc-Andre Fleury was Vegas bound. GM Jim Rutherford balked at trade offers last off-season despite the goalie’s no-movement clause potentially complicating matters further down the line. The organization finally asked him to waive his clause in February, and both parties seem willing to move on. Rutherford did seem to be leaning toward the 7-3-1 model originally, but eventually opted to go with the 4-4 route to protect both Olli Maatta and Justin Schultz. If for whatever reason Fleury is not chosen, playoff performer Bryan Rust is almost certainly the claim. Columbus’ list is about what we expected, but it still seems strange to see Josh Anderson and Jack Johnson are left exposed. If there is a deal in place for a 1st round pick, as reported earlier by the Columbus Dispatch, Johnson is the likely selection. He’s still got a lot of talent, and with all his international experience, he could be a great leader for younger players in Vegas.
The Philadelphia Flyers made one of the smarter (if unexpected) decisions of the day and opted to protect Scott Laughton over assistant captain Pierre-Edouard Bellemare and the streaky Michael Raffl. Jordan Weal is still left exposed, and theoretically any of the three could be headed to Vegas. The Washington Capitals are absolutely going to lose a solid player, and it’s destined to be either the very promising defenseman Nate Schmidt or standout goalie Philipp Grubauer. The Capitals knew this was coming for a long time, but it can’t hurt any less to lose assets in this fashion. A possible scenario to watch out for is whether Vegas will pursue T.J. Oshie as a free agent in the short-term. They have first dibs on negotiations if they want to open that conversation, and he’s considered by many to be the top available UFA. The team doesn’t really need another goaltender, and their defense would survive without Schmidt, even with his incredible talent.
The New Jersey Devils arguably have the weakest roster on paper at the moment, and it shows with the potential selections Vegas need to consider. Mike Cammalleri is unproductive and overpaid, Beau Bennett has all but busted when he isn’t injured, Jacob Josefson scored one goal last season, and Devante Smith-Pelly is with his third club in as many years. The New York Rangers couldn’t move Antti Raanta and now it seems probable that Vegas will take advantage. Other options would include Jesper Fast and the very productive (27 goals) Michael Grabner, neither of whom is good enough to justify passing on the solid Raanta. No surprises here, but management certainly waited until the final hour to buyout Dan Girardi – which allowed them to utilize that 7-3-1 strategy effectively. Carolina will offer up one of the worst prizes to the Golden Knights, and Lee Stempniak is the only name that truly jumps out. Long-time goalie Cam Ward finds himself on the outs, as does Eddie Lack, but when the team moved for Scott Darling this fate was very foreseeable. Perhaps management will try to entice Vegas to claim one of the keepers and help their logjam along.
The New York Islanders seem to have botched their efforts today, but there may be machinations behind the scenes which could justify such a bizarre strategy. GM Garth Snow opted to protect only 3 forwards and 5 defensemen – the only team to do so. Even worse, one of the defenseman left unprotected was Calvin de Haan. Assuming there is no deal to take a blueliner in the works, Vegas could choose de Haan or their favorite from a large selection of intriguing forwards. Josh Bailey, Brock Nelson, and Ryan Strome are all available, and each provides a different skillset. McPhee could even take one of the league’s toughest bottom sixers in Casey Cizikas or a crafty, veteran Nikolai Kulemin. He has loads of options, and none of them are any good for an Islanders team who survive off their depth. Why Adam Pelech, with his 12 career points and 46.6% Corsi For in 2016-17, was worth protection over any of those names will surely be one of the draft’s greatest quandaries.
Vegas will get an opportunity to draft their starting two goaltenders from the Metro, and will have a wide assortment of options elsewhere. The Washington situation should be fun to speculate on, and trying to find a worthwhile pick in New Jersey could be an adventure for the Knights. Snow’s Islanders are just an incredible anomaly, and that list may draw some serious criticism.