Where Rangers, Metropolitan Division rivals stand ahead of 2024 NHL free agency

NHL: New York Rangers at New Jersey Devils
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The NHL free agency period doesn’t start until Monday, but that hasn’t stopped the New York Rangers nor their rivals in the Metropolitan Division from getting some important offseason business done already.

The Rangers signed restricted free agent forward Kaapo Kakko to a one-year, $2.4 million contract and then placed veteran forward Barclay Goodrow on waivers, where he was claimed by the San Jose Sharks. That freed up $3.6 million in salary cap space the next three years.

Of course, bigger news could be on the way since the Rangers are reportedly looking to trade captain Jacob Trouba. The hope there is that all, or at least part, of his annual $8 million cap hit would disappear, though New York would have to go find another top-six defenseman to replace him. All of this could lead to further issues if he’s not traded, so stay tuned.

Contracts still need to be negotiated and signed with RFA defensemen Ryan Lindgren and Braden Schneider.

The other teams within the division have been just as busy.

Related: Top right-wing options likely will be available for Rangers when free agency begins

Rangers, division rivals taking care of business before NHL free agency begins

NHL: Stanley Cup Playoffs-New York Rangers at Washington Capitals
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Perhaps the biggest offseason move within the Metropolitan Division, so far, is an underrated one. The Philadelphia Flyers and stud forward Matvei Michkov, the No. 7 overall pick from the 2023 NHL Draft, are working on a contract after he terminated his KHL deal.

Michkov is a highly-touted prospect, who fell to the Flyers at No. 7 due to questions about how long he would stay in Russia after being drafted. Now that pick is looking like an absolute steal and the 19-year-old will have a chance to make the Flyers roster out of training camp.

“This is a huge win for the Flyers and their fanbase. It’s going to be very interesting to see what it does for their projection,” NHL insider Elliotte Friedman said on a recent episode of 32 Thoughts.

Philadelphia was a pleasant surprise this season, holding down the third seed in the Metro for most of the season. A late collapse, including losing nine of 11 to close out the season, saw the Flyers finish four points out of the second wild card from the Eastern Conference.

It’s not an exact mirror of a situation, but the Rangers expedited their rebuild after landing star winger Artemi Panarin in free agency. Now the Flyers rebuild is receiving a major shot in the arm.

“I don’t think it’s fair to compare him to Panarin, cause Panarin had been in the League for longer,” Friedman added. “But remember, the Rangers talked about a complete teardown, and then Panarin showed up on their lap and the rebuild was over. I don’t think that’s 100 percent a fair comparison, but injecting that talent into your lineup sooner than you expected — it’s going to change the trajectory of the franchise.”

The don’t have a ton of cap space — in fact, their $4.32 million is third lowest in the NHL, and that’s after buying out Cam Atkinson, which is another significant piece of business taken care of. Let’s see how creative they can get in free agency.

The New Jersey Devils have been extremely busy this offseason, starting with hiring Sheldon Keefe as coach. Right after that, they made headlines by trading for goalie Jacob Markstrom, addressing one of their biggest issues from this past season, when they shockingly missed the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

With Markstrom the new No. 1, and veteran Jake Allen acquired late last season to be the No. 2, the Devils shipped goalie Akira Schmid to the Vegas Golden Knights along with former first-round pick Alexander Holtz for rugged forward Paul Cotter and a third-round pick in 2025.

The Devils also traded top-four defenseman John Marino to Utah for a second-round pick Saturday, No. 49 overall. That was a key move because it opened up a lineup spot and some cash for the Devils main offseason target, UFA defenseman Brett Pesce of the Carolina Hurricanes.

A team on the rise two seasons ago, the Devils are aiming to bounce back in a major way in 2024-25, and are making major strides toward that goal already.

Carolina’s been active in their own right, signing defenseman Jalen Chatfield to a three-year deal before he could become a free agent. And after failing to get pending UFA forward Jake Guentzel to bite on an eight-year, $64 million contract offer, the Hurricanes traded his negotiating rights to the Tampa Bay Lightning on Sunday for a third-round draft pick.

With Guentzel gone and Pesce, Brady Skjei, Teuvo Teravainen, Jordan Martinook, Tony DeAngelo and Stefan Noesen among those set hit free agency July 1, the Hurricanes could be the team that changes the most in the Metro before next season. Plus, they’re looking to move disgruntled RFA forward Martin Necas in a trade.

The Washington Capitals, who snuck into the postseason with 91 points this past season before being swept by the Rangers in the first round, have been retooling their roster too. Stunningly, they took on the final seven seasons of Pierre-Luc Dubois’ contract worth $8.5 million per in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings. It’s a risky move, but if they can get the big-bodied center right, he can be an important boost offensively for a team that needs it.

To that end, the Capitals also acquired forward Andrew Mangiapane in a trade with the Calgary Flames. He scored 35 goals in 2021-22 but has just 31 goals the past two seasons since.

Washington also acquired goalie Logan Thompson on Saturday from the Vegas Golden Knights. He’ll pair with breakout star Charlie Lindgren to give the Capitals a solid — and extremely cap-friendly ($1.866 million combined) — goalie tandem next season since they already sent veteran goalie Darcy Kuemper to the Kings in the Dubois trade.

The Pittsburgh Penguins entered the fray Saturday, trading for former Rangers forward Kevin Hayes in a deal with the St. Louis Blues. Last week, they also re-signed No. 2 goalie Alex Nedeljkovic before he could his free agency July 1.

It’s been a quiet offseason so far for the New York Islanders, who are up against the cap and need to make a trade to free up some money. So far, their biggest offseason news was Ryan Pulock’s insane wedding and reception Saturday. Well, that, or the well-received selection of forward Cole Eiserman with the No. 20 overall pick in first round of the NHL draft on Friday.

As for the Columbus Blue Jackets, they’ve kicked the tires on trading forward Patrik Laine, but can’t consummate any deal until he’s officially out of the NHL/NHLPA Player Assistance Program. There was word Sunday that Columbus is going to buy out the final season of defenseman Adam Boqvist’s contract.

So, the Rangers and their Metropolitan Division rivals are taking care of business. But it’s really going to get serious Monday. Stay tuned.

Lou Orlando has spent the past two seasons as a New York Rangers beat reporter for WFUV Sports. The... More about Lou Orlando

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