We have reached the point in the NHL offseason where most of the significant moves around the league have already been made.
The top free agents are all signed.
The draft is over.
There could still be some significant trades (Jack Eichel?), but most of the major ones probably already happened.
Rosters may not be totally set, but they are probably pretty close to what we will see on opening night.
So how do we feel about where the Penguins sit among their divisional rivals? They are coming off of a 2020-21 season where they won the makeshift Eastern Division. This year they return to their normal Metropolitan alignment, lose Boston and Buffalo, and regain Carolina and Columbus.
Like most teams in the league, the Penguins have their share of questions at the moment.
- We do not know when — or even if — we will see Evgeni Malkin during the regular season.
- The Penguins seem prepared to roll with Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith as their goalie duo again and nobody really knows how that is going to work. Hopefully better than the Stanley Cup Playoffs did.
- Jared McCann and Brandon Tanev are gone, Brock McGinn and Danton Heinen are here. That seems like a downgrade on paper.
- The core players are another year older.
The good news is there are still a lot of positives on the roster. Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel are still elite. The top-six at forward and top-four on defense should still be rock solid and good enough to contend with. While the goalies are a question, the upside is at least still there.
It is a team that should still have a relatively high ceiling as well as a high floor.
But where does that put them among the rest of the Metropolitan?
Teams they should definitely be better than
New Jersey Devils. I love what the Devils did this offseason with Dougie Hamilton, Tomas Tatar, Jonathan Bernier, and Ryan Graves all joining the roster, and I think Jack Hughes is ready to take an enormous step forward. But this is still a team that has a lot of flaws beyond the top of the roster. MacKenzie Blackwood and Bernier should be a good goalie duo, while Hughes and Nico Hischier is a good foundation, but they are not ready to contend yet.
Columbus Blue Jackets. The Blue Jackets tend to overachieve and get the most out of the talent they have, but this is simply not that good of a team. Maybe Patrik Laine rebounds away from John Tortorella, but this is a team lacking in high end talent and depth.
New York Rangers. Love the Rangers’ young talent and they are definitely on the right track and should at least be in contention for a playoff spot this season, but I am not yet ready to put them ahead of the Penguins. A lot depends on how much Kaapo Kakko and Alexis Lafreniere develop this season.
Teams the Penguins are probably better than
Philadelphia Flyers. The Flyers are a total wild card because nobody knows what their goaltending is going to do. If Carter Hart plays like the Flyers expect Carter Hart to play, they might have a chance to be pretty good. But good enough to be one of the top-three teams in the division? I am not sure of that. Ryan Ellis was a big-time addition, but they probably plan on playing Rasmus Ristolainen 22 minutes per game and that is not going to help them. The rest of their offseason is solid, but sometimes it is the wrong move that ends up making the difference.
New York Islanders. I know the Islanders have won two playoff series against the Penguins in the past three years, but the Penguins have had the better regular season record in two of the past three years (and the one year they did not the two teams were separated by just points) and still have the better high-end talent on paper. It is also pretty clear that with better goaltending the Penguins probably win the most recent playoff series. Hey, who knows, maybe I would pick the Islanders in a best-of-seven playoff series. But I still think the Penguins are going to finish with the better regular season record.
The question marks
Washington Capitals. The Capitals are still the Capitals. They have pretty much matched the Penguins step for step and rebuild for rebuild over the past 15-16 years and there is no reason to think that is going to immediately change this season. Still a very good, deep, talented team. The problem is they are also the oldest team in the league at forward and defense (both groups have an average age of 30 or older, while every defenseman on the NHL roster is over the age of 30) and the goaltending remains a question mark. The Penguins and Capitals should be in contention for the top spot in the division all season.
Carolina Hurricanes. This is the team that would concern me. The Hurricanes have been an outstanding team for three years now and have major talent at every level of the roster. Even without Hamilton this is still an excellent defense, and the forward group is deeper and more talented than it often times gets credit for being. The question, as it always is with this team, will come down to the goaltending where Antti Raanta and Frederik Andersen will play the position this season.