With Labor Day over, so too is summer. Soon NHL teams will officially start training camp for the 2015-16 season. No better time than now to look back at the Pittsburgh Penguins biggest rivals in the Metropolitan Division and see what changes they made over the summer. Today we'll check the fellow playoff opponents, and save the non-playoff opponents for later in the week.
Last year:52-22-7, 252 GF, 192 GA, 113 points (1st place in division and conference)
Playoffs: Defeated Pittsburgh and Washington, lost to Tampa
In: Emerson Etem, Antti Raanta, Jarret Stoll, Viktor Stalberg (also Brian Gibbons, Jayson Megna)
Out: Martin St. Louis, Carl Hagelin, Cam Talbot, Matt Hunwick
Theme: Business as usual - a mostly steady off-season for the team that has dominated the Metropolitan Division in the playoffs in the 2 years that it has been around in current format.
The story: However, hopefully for the rest of the division, this off-season might have helped pull them back to the pack. Trading Hagelin for Etem is a step-back, and trading Talbot (and his impressive .926 save % in 36 games) is a downgrade too.
Then again, Rome isn't exactly crumbling and NYR brings back most of their team that won the division by a whopping 12 points last season. All 6 of their starting defensemen are back, as are six of the top eight scorers. The loss of St. Louis+Hagelin (and their combined 87 points) might sting, but younger players like J.T. Miller and Jesper Fast will have bigger roles and guys like Chris Kreider are already legit good NHL players.
Question: Will Lundqvist make for another division title? The goalie will turn 34 in season and hasn't had the heaviest work-load in the past few seasons. Will he be able to carry the load again this year, and more importantly if he gets injured again will the team be able to stabilize and rally again like last year?
Last year:45-26-11, 242 GF, 203 GA, 101 points (tied-2nd place in division)
Playoffs: Defeated NY Islanders, lost to NY Rangers
In: T.J. Oshie, Justin Williams, Dan Ellis, Taylor Chorney (also Zach Sill actual LOL)
Out: Mike Green, Eric Fehr, Joel Ward, Troy Brouwer, Curtis Glencross, Tim Gleason
Theme: Right-wing revamp - a major restructuring of the RW position with Oshie+Williams in and Brouwer/Ward (and occasionally Fehr) out.
The story: The Capitals felt a cap squeeze (har har) when re-signing Braden Holtby, Marcus Johansson and Evgeni Kuznetsov saw their salary cap hits go from $4.75 million last season to $12.85 million this year. When that happens, wave useful vets like Ward, Green and Fehr good-bye. To revamp, the Caps focused on their forward group- adding Oshie in a trade and Williams as a free agent on a two-year contract.
Question: Will good health continue? The Caps have had remarkable run recently with 12 of their important players all playing 75+ games. They also rode Holtby for 73 games, and while he's young and handled it well, that probably isn't a good ask of a goalie for each season. Defensively the depth drops off precipitously after the top 4, if there are any long-term injuries, a guy like Chorney might be in their top 6 for good. Washington is in good shape with skill and has plenty of talent to hedge that risk.
New York Islanders
Last year:47-28-7, 252 GF, 230 GA, 101 points (tied-2nd place in division)
Playoffs: Lost to the Capitals in the first round
In: Thomas Greiss
Out: Michal Neuvirth, Lubomir Visnovsky
Theme: Counting on the youth - After almost no roster movement this off-season (only adding Greiss as a backup) the Islanders held firm and will trust their younger players like Ryan Strome, Michael Del Colle, Ryan Pulock to help them make the next step
The story: NYI has been on a yo-yo, playoffs in 2013, not in 2014 and back in 2015. This year they'll look for consistency by counting on the young guns they've built up. A very quiet off-season for the Islanders, where their biggest moves were re-signing Anders Lee and Thomas Hickey and that's about it. The Islanders will try to use the internal growth and see gains from their younger core to lead them back to the playoffs for the second year in a row and try and win a playoff series for the first time in a long time.
Question: Will no movement be enough? The Islanders made big splashed in 2014 and it was enough to boost them up back to the playoffs. With other teams in the division (namely Columbus) pulling out the stops for external improvement, how will NYI's strategy of internal growth and consistency stack up?
Overall, the Capitals have definitely have the most changes from 2014-15 to 2015-16, and have a possibility to be stronger. The Rangers have to be the team that's weakened the most on paper, but they still of course will be a formidable opponent. The Islanders remain the most unchanged with the jury still being out as to how effective that would be.