Free agent frenzy is over — now what?
Figuring the starting lineups for next season, that’s what.
What we now know is that last season’s rosters for the Rangers, Islanders and Devils have been permanently altered — generally for the better.
What we don’t know precisely is who will be playing where. Or do we? Well, sort of.
Notable immigrations from the Rangers (Keith Yandle, Dan Boyle) and Islanders (Kyle Okposo, Frans Nielsen, Matt Martin) have been counterbalanced by new, zesty arrivals, providing a healthy transfusion of talent.
Furthermore, anticipated deals between now and training camp could further positively change the complexion of our three metropolitan area clubs.
But that’s for later.
Right now it’s time to visualize starting lineups of our locals based on the moves made so far.
Working on the premise that less is more, General Manager Jeff Gorton made two lower-key, yet well-known, acquisitions and a third that looms as a diamond in the rough.
The new Blueshirts, Michael Grabner and Nathan Gerbe, boast the brand of sonic speed so necessary in this go-go NHL Era inspired — and epitomized — by the Pittsburgh Cup-winners.
Bolstering the defense, Gorton pulled a sparkler out of his hat with an unheralded depth signing. Michael Paliotta may not be a household name on Seventh Avenue but some savants see him as a prize Rangers get.
The 23-year-old starred for the AHL Lake Eric Monsters, who won the Calder Cup.
A graduate of U of Vermont, the Westport, Connecticut native put up good numbers for Lake Erie. Over 68 games, he 23 points (eight goals, 15 assists). A good camp could earn him a seventh spot on D but that remains to be seen.
POSSIBLE OPENING NIGHT LINEUP
TOP LINE: Rick Nash–Derick Brassard–Mats Zuccarello. Zucc and Brass united like two perfectly meshed gears. Big Rick belongs back with his mates, who once put him over the 40-goal mark.
SECOND LINE: Chris Kreider–Derek Stepan–Jesper Fast. This trio is on the lip of a breakout season. They’re young, speedy and talented. Fast in particular had his best season in 2015-16 but has enough of the good goods to be even better.
THIRD LINE: Michael Grabner-Kevin Hayes–J.T. Miller. There are none faster than Grabner — the new Carl Hagelin — who’ll double on the penalty-kill. Miller is improving by the season. What matters here is whether Hayes can leave his sophomore slump in the rear-view mirror.
FOURTH LINE: Tanner Glass-Nathan Gerbe-Pavel Buchnevich. This unit could be a big winner. Guaranteed that Little Nate will become a fan fave and Bucky will vie for rookie of the year. Glass has made meaningful strides toward becoming a useful regular.
FIRST DEFENSE: Ryan McDonagh-Brady Skjei. The Blueshirts best D-man, Captain Ryan will be the perfect tutor for the talented and poised Skjei.
SECOND DEFENSE: Marc Staal–Dan Girardi. No question that Dangerous Dan needed to recharge his batteries. I expect a solid, competent year from both vets.
THIRD DEFENSE: Kevin Klein–Nick Holden. Holden adds a veteran presence and comes off a career season. A healthy Klein never fails to be one of the NHL’s most underrated D-men.
SPARES: Adam Clendening–Dylan McIlrath. Either or both could crack the varsity, depending on their efforts at camp and if any of the above dismay the brass.
GOALTENDING: We already know that Alain Vigneault has one of the NHL’s best starters and best back-ups in the league. No worries here.
For months Isles fans worried over the possible exits of either Okposo, Nielsen and Martin.
Might all three depart as free agents?
Never; or so we figured.
Okposo? Yeah, he’ll go. Martin? Nah, he loves the area too much. Nielsen? Sure, lots of teams eyed him but a strong Islanders offer figured to keep him here.
One-Two-Three and they’re all suddenly ex-Islanders. And, with that came a combination of hand-wringing, aspirin-taking and across-the-area wonderment about how General Manager Garth Snow would replenish the scoring store.
Faster than you can say, Andrew Ladd, Jason Chimera and P.A. Parenteau, Snow’s cupboard once again is full and a new offense-day is on the horizon.
It’s not a stretch to suggest that the newly-branded Brooklynites are better today than they were a year ago.
Coach Jack Capuano‘s club is bigger than before. No less than four forwards available among the top nine stand 6’ 3″. Cappy also has more secondary scoring options beyond John Tavares with the additions of Ladd, Chimera, and Parenteau.
Overall, production should be more consistent than in the past, especially since there’s more potential offense to come from the defenders.
POSSIBLE OPENING NIGHT LINEUP
TOP LINE: Andrew Ladd-John Tavares-P.A. Parenteau. As befits the number one line it features a combination of skill, size, and superstar talent. Ladd along with Parenteau deliver the skill and the Captain has the all-world talent. Tavares should lift the games of his wingers. Each should get 60 points or more.
SECOND LINE: Anders Lee–Brock Nelson–Ryan Strome: This should be the breakout year for all three. They have the potential, now it will be realized. Cappy should stick with this trio. It needs more time to jell, and it will.
THIRD LINE: Jason Chimera-Casey Cizikas–Cal Clutterbuck. The Crash Line — minus Matt Martin — will be a more productive unit, thanks to the Chimera arsenal. Reader Jacob Valk labels the revised unit, “The C-Cubed Line.” Chimera may not hit as much as Martin but plays a better all-around game.
FOURTH LINE: Josh Bailey–Nikolay Kulemin–Shane Prince. There’s talent and speed here. Both Bailey and Kulemin are in their career primes and could turn this into an effective outfit. Prince has the hustle. Bailey and Prince also will adequately handle penalty-killing.
FIRST DEFENSE: Nick Leddy–Johnny Boychuk. Top to bottom Leddy is the Isles best D-man. His offense is aces and still could get better. For whatever reason, Boychuk’s game deteriorated in 2015-16. He’s capable of a comeback season tallying at least 30 points.
SECOND DEFENSE: Travis Hamonic–Calvin de Haan. With the burden of trade rumors lifted, Hamonic should have a career year. His offense improves annually but it’s in his own zone where he most excels. No question, de Haan has been a work in progress especially in his own end of the rink.
THIRD DEFENSE: Thomas Hickey–Ryan Pulock. In a short time, Hickey has proven his small physique is not a negative trait. Wise with the puck and the body, he’s been a pleasant surprise. While there are other candidates to round out the pairing – Scott Mayfield, Adam Pelech, to name two — The Maven like’s Pulock for his offense and especially laser shot from the point.
SPARES: Alan Quine, Adam Pelech, Mathew Barzal, Michael Dal Colle, Scott Mayfield, Mikhail Grabovski.
GOALTENDING: Jack Capuano has a neat choice between two starters; Jaroslav Halak — if healthy — andThomas Greiss. J.F. Berube is in reserve if needed. All things considered, it’s a first-rate combo.
Ray Shero took a giant step toward winning ‘General Manager of the Year’ when he talked the Oilers into taking Adam Larsson in exchange for the scoring machine named Taylor Halll. But, ‘Hero Shero’ didn’t stop there.
He added veteran Vern Fiddler for offensive depth and then pulled another coup by signing free agent defenseman Ben Lovejoy, who was an essential part of the Penguins Cup-winning team.
Shero also corralled still-young-and-promising Beau Bennett up front, while retaining Devante Smith-Pelly and Jon Merrill.
The moves significantly upgrade the offense, while bolstering the backline, despite the loss of Adam Larsson.
Faster than anyone thought, Shero has constructed a playoff-worthy team. The offense has been turned glossy while the defense is still young and, at the moment, a wash. In goal, as my sidekick, Leo Scalione, Jr., puts it, “Cory Schneider is Cory Schneider.”
POSSIBLE OPENING NIGHT LINEUP
TOP LINE: Taylor Hall-Adam Henrique–Mike Cammalleri. That Hall and Henrique clicked in Junior hockey (Windsor) gives coach John Hynes a nifty one-two punch. When healthy, Cammy is one of the NHL’s best natural scorers. All together this line has the kind of scoring potential the Devs enjoyed with Zach Parise and Ilya Kovalchuk.
SECOND LINE: Reid Boucher–Travis Zajac–Kyle Palmieri. Now that Palmieri found his true game in Newark, he should be just as good this year. Ditto for Boucher who began fulfilling his promise as an offensive force last season. Reid and Kyle should allow Zajac to focus more on the defensive end. Hall’s arrival also takes pressure off the longtime Devil. The key here will be Boucher.
THIRD LINE: Beau Bennett-Jacob Josefson-Devante Smith-Pelly. Bennett is ready to show why the Penguins once made him a first round pick. Healthy and motivated, Beau, Devante and Jacob all are in the position to take their games up a notch and give Hynes quality time.
FOURTH LINE: Sergey Kalinin-Vern Fiddler-Pavel Zacha: The sixth overall pick in the 2015 Draft, Zacha is ready for his full-time NHL debut. His size, speed and hockey smarts should combine for Grade A offense. Kalinin’s offensive growth has been steady and should continue up on the graph. Well-known to G.M. Shero, Fiddler will provide savvy for his younger mates.
FIRST DEFENSE: Andy Greene–John Moore. Ever improving, Moore should fit snugly alongside the captain, who makes every partner a better D-man. Expect Moore to give the Devs more offense than Adam Larsson.
SECOND DEFENSE: Ben Lovejoy-Damon Severson. Cup-winner Lovejoy is the ideal partner to convert Severson’s abundant talent into a positive, which it was not last season. Big Ben will take care of his end while Damon will try to be the next Scott Niedermayer.
THIRD DEFENSE: Seth Helgeson–Steve Santini or John Merrill. Youthful Santini appears ready for The Show and Helgeson has impressed in cameo appearances. That Merrill inked a new contract indicates that management believes he can improve on what was a mediocre campaign in 2015-16.
GOALTENDING: Cory Schneider-Keith Kinkaid. It’s possible that Schneid — a top three NHL goalie — could play 65 games. Kinkaid, so far, has been see-saw. If it’s more saw than see next season, impressive Scott Wedgewood will get the nod.
SPARES: Patrik Elias, Raman Hrabaranka, Joseph Blandisi, Bobby Farnham.