The 2021-22 NHL season is just around the corner so let us take a look at the Pittsburgh Penguins’ competition around the Metropolitan Division and a look at where each team might finish.
We start today with team’s 5-8 and will look at the top four teams on Friday.
What they did this offseason: They made a couple of significant trades, dealing Seth Jones to the Chicago Blackhawks for Adam Boqvist and a first-round pick, and then trading Cam Atkinson to Philadelphia for Jakub Voracek. The Jones trade is one that could end up being a long-term win as his play has been trending in the wrong direction for a couple of years now and Chicago had to pay him $9 million per year long-term. That contract could be a real problem real fast.
The Atkinson trade seems like a short-term loss, but Voracek can still play a little.
They also made a couple of big re-signings by committing long-term to defenseman Zach Werenski on a massive contract and signing starting goalie Elvis Merzlikins. The Werenski deal might be an overpay slightly, but he is an outstanding player, Columbus had to keep somebody after countless departures by star players, and they had the salary cap space to make it work.
Most interesting player: Patrik Laine. When he is at his best he is an elite goal scorer and that is something that the Blue Jackets absolutely need. But his initial debut in Columbus after the trade from the Winnipeg Jets was a disaster. Will he rebound this season away from John Tortorella? Also what is his future in Columbus?
What sort of competition will they be? They are probably, on paper, the worst team in the division so it will probably be a long season in Columbus. But even so if Laine bounces back and Merzlikins has a big year they will not be an easy two points on any given night.
What they did this offseason: They spent big money. They signed Dougie Hamilton, one of the league’s top defenseman, to a massive long-term contract in free agency, added Tomas Tatar on a really good contract, acquired defenseman Ryan Graves in a trade with the Colorado Avalanche, and also brought in Jonathan Bernier to share the goal crease with Mackenzie Blackwood.
Most interesting player: Jack Hughes. Interesting in the sense that he is probably on the verge of becoming a superstar. He took a huge step forward from year one to year two and looked like an impact player most games. He seems poised to take an even bigger step forward this season and if he gets some help around him on the wings could be an elite scorer in the league. He is going to be a foundational player along with Nico Hischier and Hamilton for that team.
What sort of competition will they be? A lot of it will depend on if Blackwood and Bernier play great in net and if Hughes takes that big step forward. This is a very young team, and it should be an improved team, but it is probably still a year or two away from really contending.
What they did this offseason. They had a very Philadelphia Flyers-like offseason by making a lot of big and bold moves. Some of them were better than others. Ryan Ellis is a huge addition to their blue line, and Keith Yandle is a heckuva cheap pickup. The Rasmus Ristolainen trade makes no sense and might undo some of the good defense pickups. Combined with the trade of Shayne Gostisbehere to Arizona and they have completely overhauled their defense, and paid a very steep price to do so in terms of draft picks (and Nolan Patrick and Philippe Myers). They also got Atkinson in the Voracek trade.
Most interesting player. Carter Hart. No player in the NHL probably plays a bigger role in the success or failure of their team this season than Hart. If they get the Hart from the first two seasons of his career, they will be very good. If they get the Hart of the 2020-21 season, they will probably be very bad. Honestly I think he is probably closer to the goalie we saw in his first two years than the goalie we saw most recently.
What sort of competition will they be? This is where the Metropolitan Division gets tough because every team starting here could finish in any order between first place and sixth place and it would not be a surprise. A couple of good teams are going to miss the playoffs in this division. So this is going to be a very good team and one that is going to be very competitive. It will all depend on which version of Hart they get though.
What they did this offseason: They made a ton of changes, from the general manager’s office, to the head coach, to the roster. They overreacted to the Tom Wilson incident, just like every other team in the Metropolitan Division does when they run into Tom Wilson, and acquired Ryan Reaves, Barclay Goodrow, Samuel Blais, and Patrik Nemeth, while trading Pavel Buchnevich (for Blais and a draft pick). Goodrow is a fine pickup, but the other three are very questionable at best. Would not be surprised if Reaves and Nemeth do not finish the season on the roster.
Most interesting player: Adam Fox. The Rangers’ roster is loaded with young talent and a couple of high level veterans. Fox has quickly emerged as one of the top players just two years into his career and already has a Norris Trophy to his resume. He is one of the league’s elite defensive players and has plenty of offense to go with it. Already one of the best all-around defensemen in the league.
What sort of competition will they be? There is immense pressure on this Rangers team to make the Stanley Cup Playoffs and they should be within reach. A lot of their success will depend on the development of young players like Alexis Lafreniere, Kaapo Kakko, Vitali Kravtsov, Igor Shesterkin, and Fox. If they all take big leaps forward, combined with the presence of Artemi Panarin, Chris Kreider, and Mika Zibanejad, this could be a really good team really quickly here.