This summer is far more exciting for New Jersey Devils and New York Rangers fans than last season.
As expected, the Devils picked centre Jack Hughes first overall in the NHL draft and the Rangers selected winger Kaapo Kakko. New Jersey got a potential generational talent and New York got an instant impact scorer.
But both teams are doing much more. Both traded for cornerstone defencemen, with the Devils acquiring P.K. Subban from Nashville and Rangers landing Jacob Trouba from Winnipeg.
Subban had a down year for the Predators, as Blues fans saw first hand. His offensive production slipped and he was mistake-prone in his zone.
There was plenty of grumbling about his outsized personality and his busy off-ice life. The nondescript Devils could use some personality, though, and they will give Subban every chance to re-establish himself as a top-tier talent.
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Subban should be quite comfortable in that big market. He can do his thing without feeling hemmed in.
This looks like a great fit for both sides. Subban will be the lead defenceman for the Devils.
“Once you reach 30, everyone wants to look at you’re on the way down,” he told reporters in New Jersey. “I have a lot of hockey to give. Playing in Nashville, there were a lot of great defencemen there, so it’s always getting an opportunity to play 26, 27 minutes a night or be on the power play.”
Hughes should slot in behind Nico Hischier as the No. 2 Devils centre for his rookie season. He and Subban will join Hischier and Taylor Hall (who missed much of last season while injured) on a recharged power play.
The Devils could also explore the goaltender market, although veteran Cory Schneider showed signs of finally regaining his old from late last season.
As for Trouba, he is coming off of his breakout season. He forced the Jets to move him by refusing to consider a long-term deal in Winnipeg for personal reasons.
He and Kakko will accelerate the Rangers’ rebuild. With former Blues president John Davidson running the show in New York now, that team will take a run at unrestricted free agent Artemi Panarin too.
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The Rangers could also revive former Blues defenceman Kevin Shattenkirk, whose comeback from knee surgery last season did not go well at all. He produced just 28 points in 73 games with a minus-15 rating.
Now he is healthier for his summer work than he has been in some time.
“I think the excitement around our team the last month or two, it drives you as a player,” Shattenkirk told NHL.com. “We’re going to be better a lot sooner than people think. That always makes it fun.”
The busy Devils and Rangers are applying pressure on the New York Islanders — last season’s surprise team in the Eastern Conference. GM Lou Lamoriello kept Jordan Eberle and Brock Nelson out of free agency with new deals, but top goal scorer Anders Lee is testing the market.
The Islanders overcame the loss of John Tavares last season, but they could take a huge step back if Lee leaves this summer.
Elsewhere in the East, the Pittsburgh Penguins are looking to free up salary cap space, so defenceman Keis Letang could join winger Phil Kessel in play.
Conversely, the Florida Panthers are going for it. That team is pitching both Panarin and fellow Blue Jacket Sergei Bobrovsky as expected.
This could be one of the more dynamic off-seasons in recent NHL years. Many teams are buying and the tighter than expected salary cap is forcing some teams to sell.