The start of the 2022-23 NHL regular season is just around the corner so it is time to take a look at the Metropolitan Division as a whole and see what sort of competition the Pittsburgh Penguins will be looking at this season.
This is Part 1 of our divisional preview and looks at teams we see finishing in the fifth through eighth place spots.
What they did this offseason: Not anywhere near enough. That has to be maddening for Flyers fans after the front office talked a huge game about having a bottomless pit of money and a blank check to fix the team’s many problems. Instead, they let pretty much every top player go because general manager Chuck Fletcher said it would have been too difficult to move the necessary salary to make a major move.
The biggest roster move was trading a couple of draft picks to acquire Tony DeAngelo’s restricted free agent rights, and then sign him to a two-year contract. It is a nonsensical move when you consider the assets they moved a year ago just to get rid of Shayne Gostisbehere (an identical player to DeAngelo, only worse in every possible way) and acquire and sign Rasmus Ristolainen. It just points to a team with no real direction.
They also hired John Tortorella to be their head coach, which could be non-stop entertainment. Especially in games against Pittsburgh. Tortorella already hates the Penguins, and now he has to face them behind the bench of their biggest rival.
Most interesting player: Probably Carter Hart, just because he has the potential to actually make an impact on this roster, but we also still have absolutely no idea if he is good or not. He was supposed to be the guy that solved the decades old goalie problem, and he seems closer to being just another question mark than any kind of solution.
What sort of competition will they be? They honestly might be one of the worst teams in the league. Not quite Chicago or Arizona bad, but probably somewhere in the bottom-five overall. They do not see themselves as that, and probably still envision themselves as a potential playoff contender. But they are not good, and might unintentionally find themselves with high draft lottery odds. It is probably what they need most.
What they did this offseason: Another offseason where you can look at what the Devils did and consider it a win on paper. They landed Ondrej Palat in free agency, acquired John Marino from Pittsburgh, and addressed their goalie situation by getting Vitek Vanecek in a trade with the Washington Capitals. Not really much that is going to move the needle in a meaningful way, but still some very positive additions. Goaltending and defense is still going to be a concern on paper, but it was not a bad offseason by any stretch.
Most interesting player: Assuming he stays healthy I think Jack Hughes is going to have an absolutely monster season. Like maybe top-10 scoring season. His breakout started a year ago, but he ended up missing half of the year due to injury and was not able to fully show what he is capable of. I just see him as a legitimate superstar and one of the most exciting players in the league.
What sort of competition will they be? They always give the Penguins fits, and there is some good talent here, but they still have a long way to go in this division. Hughes, Nico Hischier, Jesper Bratt, Yegor Sharangovish, and Dougie Hamilton is a really good core to build around, but the depth around them is going to hold them back.
What they did this offseason: Shockingly little considering how tough their 2021-22 season was. Their biggest move was firing Barry Trotz, one of the best head coaches in the league, to hire Lane Lambert. Not sure how that is going to work out. When it comes to the playing roster, they missed on every opportunity that was available to them when it came to adding more offense and instead only traded their first-round draft pick for Alexander Romanov and re-signed Mathew Barzal to a long-term contract extension.
Most interesting player: Their best player is starting goalie Ilya Sorokin, but I think Noah Dobson is probably the most interesting player to me because he was truly outstanding this past season and might have the highest upside of any young player on the roster. This is very quietly an aging team that is getting older and is short on impact talent, but Dobson is still just now entering his prime years and is coming off of a true breakout year. He is going to be their No. 1 defenseman before very long.
What sort of competition will they be? Any team you are a team with a goalie is good as Ilya Sorokin and have some high quality defenseman you are probably going to have some kind of chance to compete. There is always the possibility that goalie goes on a season-long run and elevates the rest of the roster to heights and limits it has no business otherwise reaching. There is always that possibility. But that is probably the best and only path for success for this Islanders team. There is just not a lot here offensively, and I have some major questions as to whether or not they upgraded their coaching position. They seem to be gambling that is all they needed this offseason to return to the Stanley Cup Playoff and I just do not see that as a very realistic possibility.
What they did this offseason: They did a lot. They shockingly signed the top free agent available on the open market by landing Johnny Gaudreau, and then also re-signed Patrik Laine to a long-term contract extension to give them a pair of star forwards to build around. All of that also created a salary cap crunch and resulted in them having to give away a really good player in Oliver Bjorkstrand for nothing. They also made one of the most bizarre free agent signings of the offseason when they signed veteran defenseman Erik Gudbranson to a long-term, multi-million dollar contract. Probably should have just skipped that and kept Bjorkstrand. Especially since they have already added a ton of talent to their defense in recent years through the Seth Jones trade and the NHL draft and their draft picks.
Most interesting player: It is Laine because he looked like the version of Laine that was destined for stardom earlier in his career, and he is still at an age where he is just now entering his prime years. He looked like a different player in Columbus after getting away from Tortorella
What sort of competition will they be? They were not bad this past season and probably overachieved a little bit given their roster and the struggles they had in goal. With the addition of Gaudreau and what should be better goaltending this might be a team that can quietly compete for a playoff spot, and maybe even secure a wild card spot if absolutely everything goes right. They were a lot closer than a lot of people realized a year ago, while getting bad goaltending, and then they went out and added one of the best offensive players in the entire NHL. They really need more help down the middle and that is going to largely depend on how good Cole Sillinger can be and how quickly he can get there. He has a ton of potential and showed a lot as a rookie.