Continuing our look at the 2021-22 Metropolitan Division by looking at teams 1-4, including your Pittsburgh Penguins.
4. Pittsburgh Penguins
What they did this offseason: Honestly, not much. They lost Brandon Tanev in the expansion draft and traded Jared McCann rather than lose him in the expansion draft. So really Seattle cost the Penguins two players while only getting back Filip Hallander. There were a couple of minor free agency additions to help fill those voids with Danton Heinen and Brock McGinn joining the team, but beyond that it is mostly the same core group of players. Including the goalies.
Most interesting player: Jeff Carter. He was acquired at the trade deadline to fill the third line center void, and now is being thrown into top line duty to start the season with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin sidelined. Crosby will be back soon, but Malkin is going to be out months. Carter was great after the trade, but what does he have left in the tank for his age 37 season playing in a first-or second-line role at times? He is not going to shoot 24 percent again.
What are they going to be? A fringe playoff team, but probably a playoff team. Maybe a Wild Card team. They still have enough high end players to carry them, and when healthy they will have great quartet of centers to build around. The key is going to be Tristan Jarry, and while there is every reason to be skeptical of him he is not going to be as consistently bad as he was in the playoffs. He better not be, at least.
What they did this offseason: Not much. Honestly, the biggest storyline here might be what the did NOT do, which is not trade Evgeny Kuznetsov after some speculation that they might be parting ways with him. This is largely the same roster. It is an older roster. One of the oldest rosters in the league. But it is still a very good roster.
Most interesting player: Anthony Mantha. I almost went with Ilya Samsonov here, just because he plays such a vital position, but Mantha is fascinating to me because his acquisition at the trade deadline was so controversial. They paid a huge price to get him (giving up Jakub Vrana, Richard Panik, and a bunch of draft picks) and he is going to have to produce to make it worth it. I think he will, and I think he played better than his overall numbers indicated after the trade. He is a perfect fit for the way the Capitals play and the way the roster is constructed, blending size, skill, and power.
What sort of competition will they be? In some ways they are exactly like the Penguins: An aging core of superstars with some question marks elsewhere on the roster whose season will largely depend on what happens with the goalies.
What they did this offseason: They added veterans Zach Parise and Zdeno Chara to the roster, while also re-signing Kyle Palmieri. Definitely intriguing moves, and the additions of Parise and a full season of Palmieri definitely improve the forward depth of the roster. If Oliver Wahlstrom takes a step forward in his development this is a heckuva lineup. Good news for the Penguins: Jordan Eberle is no longer around to score 28 goals against them every game after he was taken by the Seattle Kraken in the expansion draft.
Most Interesting Player: Ilya Sorokin. He was one of the biggest factors in the Islanders playoff win over the Penguins, and he gives the Islanders two legitimate starting goalie options. Excellent starting goalie options, as well. It is only a matter of when, and not if, he takes over the primary job and becomes a star.
What sort of competition will they be: They never look like anything special in the regular season, but they just absolutely ruin your postseason dreams. The combination of Barry Trotz, the defensive structure, and the goaltending has made them one of the fiercest playoff teams in the league the past three years as they keep knocking on the door of the Stanley Cup Final.
What they did this offseason: They completely overhauled their goalie position (which was very good a year ago!) by moving on from Petr Mrazek and Alex Nedeljkovic, and bringing in Antti Raanta and Frederik Andersen. That would have been a dominant duo three years ago, but now given their ages and recent injury history it does make the position a bit of a wild card and question mark heading into the season. It could be really good. Or it could go very wrong.
They also caused some chaos with the restricted free agent offer sheet to land Jesperi Kotkaniemi from the Montreal Canadiens. It all seemed like petty payback for the Sebastian Aho offer sheet a couple of years ago.
They also let Dougie Hamilton go in free agency.
Most interesting player: Jesperi Kotkaniemi. Honestly, it has to be Kotkaniemi. He still has big potential, and he has shown signs of being a really good two-way player, but it is getting to the point where he has to take a big step forward offensively if it is ever going to happen for him. The Hurricanes are paying him $6 million this season to be a complete lottery ticket with no idea what his long-term future is. Let us see how it all goes.
What sort of competition will they be? The goalies are a question mark and losing Hamilton is going to hurt, but this is still an excellent team full of high end players at forward and defense. Aho, Andrei Svechnikov, Vincent Trocheck, Teuvu Teravinen, Jaccob Slavin, Brett Pesce, and Martin Necas is a great core to build around and this should — SHOULD!! — be a Stanley Cup contending roster this season. They look like the best team in the Metropolitan Division on paper.