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Construction Season: Retooling the NHL's Metropolitan Division teams

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The NHL offseason is officially in progress and the draft begins Friday night. The question being asked around the league is: How can general managers use late June and early July to improve their clubs? What kind of tasks are on their to-do lists and how might they get creative?

On Monday, we tackled the Metropolitan Division teams. Others in this series:

Washington Capitals

Brian MacLellan didn't sit on his hands after the Stanley Cup was awarded last week. Wisely, the architect behind the 2018 Cup winner got to work.

Sure, it's only two medium-sized moves, but by acquiring Radko Gudas and signing Carl Hagelin to a four-year extension, MacLellan inched closer to solidifying his 2019-20 roster. After those transactions, Washington has $72.3 million committed to 17 players next season, according to CapFriendly, leaving roughly $10.7 million for six others.

The Washington Post / Getty Images

The Gudas deal, which sent fellow right-handed defenseman Matt Niskanen to Philadelphia, required some creativity from MacLellan. He convinced Flyers GM Chuck Fletcher to trade the younger player, who also has less term remaining on his contract, and to retain some of Gudas' salary. Those considerations are connected to future moves as the Capitals attempt to lock in some key restricted free agents.

Top priority is Jakub Vrana, fresh off a 47-point breakout season, who is the club's lone RFA without arbitration rights. Since money is tight, MacLellan may be forced to bridge the 23-year-old winger, perhaps with a two- or three-year deal.

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Forwards Chandler Stephenson, and Dmitrij Jaskin, plus defenseman Christian Djoos, round out the RFA list. Veterans Brett Connolly, Brooks Orpik, and Devante Smith-Pelly are all scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency on July 1. Connolly, a nice depth piece up front, will probably be the only UFA still on the roster this fall.

Big picture, the Caps - who hold only five picks in the draft, including the 25th overall selection - must keep one eye on the present and another on the near future. Nicklas Backstrom and Braden Holtby become UFAs next summer and will command big paydays, while Alex Ovechkin's next deal and the Seattle expansion draft loom in the 2021 offseason. - Matisz

2019 draft picks

Round 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Pick 25 56 118 129 211

Pittsburgh Penguins

In uncertain times for the Penguins, one constant is Jim Rutherford's desire to prop open the club's Cup contention window for as long as possible. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel, and Kris Letang are all 31 or older, and the club's prospect pool isn't particularly deep, so it won't be easy.

In May, the Pittsburgh general manager's very public Kessel trade proposal with the Wild fall through, and this past weekend, he bid farewell to defenseman Olli Maatta. In a salary dump, the two-time Cup champion was dealt to the Blackhawks for Dominik Kahun and a fifth-rounder. The Penguins now have $76.6 million on the books for 2019-20, with 18 of 23 NHL roster spots filled.

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After being swept in the first round by the Islanders, just about every name on the Pens' roster has been tossed into the rumor mill this spring - including No. 1 blue-liner Letang and top-six winger Patric Hornqvist. Kessel, who has a modified no-trade clause, will "probably" stay put after nixing the Wild trade, but never say never with Rutherford. The man loves to wheel and deal, and he's said that he'll look to improve team chemistry this summer.

Pittsburgh could buy out the remaining four years of Jack Johnson's contract, though devoting $1 million of the cap for the next eight years to a non-rostered player sounds troublesome. Buyouts are nice in theory, but there’s always a drawback - in this case, throwing away money despite a tight budget.

As for free agents, the Pens have only three RFAs: Zach Aston-Reese, Marcus Pettersson, and Teddy Blueger. Matt Cullen, who turns 43 in November, is a UFA, along with Garrett Wilson and Zach Trotman.

At the draft, the Pens are slated to pick 21st overall. They have six total selections, but none in the second and third rounds. - Matisz

2019 draft picks

Round 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Pick 21 145 / 151 203 / 207

Columbus Blue Jackets

The possible mass exodus of Sergei Bobrovsky, Artemi Panarin, Matt Duchene, and Ryan Dzingel could leave Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen with some gaping holes to fill, and he may be hard-pressed to fully compensate.

Backup goaltender Joonas Korpisalo has shown flashes but hasn't been consistently effective. That means Kekalainen likely needs to add a proven No. 1 goaltender in addition to making up for the loss of those key scorers.

Jamie Sabau / Getty Images

The goalie market will be relatively thin this summer, so unless Columbus wants to roll the dice on a veteran such as pending free agents Mike Smith or Brian Elliott (who wouldn't exactly be upgrades), the trade route is probably the best avenue to explore.

Kekalainen needs to get a netminder and some offense back in a sign-and-trade involving Bobrovsky and/or Panarin to ensure Columbus isn't left with nothing if or when those superstars leave. - Gold-Smith

2019 draft picks

Round 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Pick - - 81 - - - 212

New York Rangers

The Rangers could make some big splashes this summer if they look to sign the likes of Panarin, and landing a big fish or two in free agency is undoubtedly tempting for GM Jeff Gorton.

However, that wouldn't fit with where New York is in its rebuild. Landing a superstar forward or defenseman would obviously accelerate the process, but the Rangers aren't close to competing for the Stanley Cup. Signing one or even two stars would be a waste considering how flawed the rest of the roster is.

Gorton should focus on the draft, where his club has four picks in the first two rounds, including No. 2 overall. Selecting Kaapo Kakko is a no-brainer, but adding him and several other promising prospects to the organization will better serve the team's future and will go a long way toward getting the Rangers back on the path to prolonged success. - Gold-Smith

2019 draft picks

Round 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Pick 2 49 / 58 68 112 130 161 205

Philadelphia Flyers

For the first offseason in ages, the Flyers don't need to address their goaltending thanks to the emergence of Carter Hart. However, there are other areas of concern - like special teams. The Flyers' power play ranked in the bottom third of the NHL, and only five teams had a worse penalty kill.

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On defense, trading away Gudas for Niskanen didn't make much sense, and neither would dealing Shayne Gostisbehere. Fletcher said he'd be aggressive this summer, but the GM should be improving the roster, not making it worse.

Fletcher didn't have much to lose by acquiring Kevin Hayes' rights from the Jets for a low pick before the start of the negotiating period, and the Flyers' top-six forward group would be all set if they can convince Hayes to sign. Regardless, Philadelphia should look to bolster its bottom six in free agency, and the team will need to add a center if Hayes opts to take his talents elsewhere. - Gold-Smith

2019 draft picks

Round 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Pick 11 41 64 / 72 103 - 165 / 169 196 / 201

New York Islanders

The Islanders crossed one significant item off their to-do list by re-signing Jordan Eberle, but two critical tasks loom: They need to hand out new deals to Vezina Trophy finalist Robin Lehner and captain Anders Lee, both of whom are pending unrestricted free agents.

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Unlike their cross-town counterparts, this New York squad is looking to build off its surprising success and should absolutely make a push for Panarin. General manager Lou Lamoriello and head coach Barry Trotz transformed the Islanders into a defensive juggernaut, but they're a bottom-third goal-scoring club that could use a boost on the left wing.

If the Panarin pursuit doesn't pan out, Lamoriello would be wise to target Duchene. Whether it's through free agency or the trade market, upgrading the offense should be the New York GM's primary goal. - Gold-Smith

2019 draft picks

Round 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Pick 23 57 - - 147 178 209

New Jersey Devils

Taylor Hall's future is of the utmost importance for Devils GM Ray Shero, who's able to start negotiating an extension with his all-world winger July 1.

That situation should command most of Shero's attention in early July and beyond, but he'll also have a lot on his plate at the draft. The Devils have the first overall pick, plus five other picks in the first three rounds.

In terms of free agency and trades, Shero has a lot of holes to fill on a lackluster New Jersey roster, but he should look to upgrade it with younger players who have upside rather than making a big, expensive splash.

The Devils likely won't be competitive in the near future, so stockpiling prospects and assets should be Shero's top priorities beyond securing the long-term services of the 2018 Hart Trophy winner. - Gold-Smith

2019 draft picks

Round 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Pick 1 34 / 55 / 61 70 / 80 96 127 158 189

Carolina Hurricanes

Priority No. 1 for Hurricanes GM Don Waddell is getting leading scorer and restricted free agent Sebastian Aho's new deal done. Meanwhile, goalies Petr Mrazek and Curtis McElhinney, plus captain Justin Williams and forward Micheal Ferland, are among Carolina's pending UFAs.

Gregg Forwerck / Getty Images

The Hurricanes have plenty of cap flexibility with which to retain those players, but Waddell should also use it to add some secondary scoring from outside the organization.

Also, considering Carolina's defensive depth, now is truly the time to trade a blue-liner for a productive forward. If the right swap isn't there, going after Panarin or settling for a proven playmaker like Gustav Nyquist in free agency would be a prudent backup plan. - Gold-Smith

2019 draft picks

Round 1 2 3 4 5 6 7
Pick 28 36 / 37 / 59 90 121 152 181 / 183 216

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