After scoping out the changes made this off-season by last season’s top teams in the Metropolitan Division, we’re onto the muddy middle of the teams that should be mixing it with hopes to make the playoffs.
eason and look at the changes they have made since the season ended.
#4 New York Islanders (42-21-9, 93 points)
Overview: The Islanders eked into the playoffs last season after a Vezina-worthy season by Ilya Sorokin, though they bowed out in six games in the first round against Carolina. The sign-and-trade of Bo Horvat added a top player to the mix in-season and should pay dividends moving forward.
Important Additions: Julien Gauthier, Karlson Kuhlman
Important Losses: Josh Bailey
Still to go: Maybe unrestricted free agent Zach Parise?
—The Islanders didn’t have much cap space and chose to use what they had on a series of mostly lengthy, lengthy re-signings: Pierre Engvall and Scott Mayfield each got seven year contracts. Franchise goalie Ilya Sorokin got an eight year extension. 35-year old backup Semyon Varlamov got four. GM Lou Lamoriello is YOLO’ing it with the core he has. In fact, NYI already has $87 million on the books for 2024-25, which likely means they’re locked in for better or worse with the mostly aging core they have. That core no longer includes long-time member Josh Bailey, who had to be traded away to make all the money work.
#6 Washington Capitals (35-37-10, 80 points)
Overview: Injuries to key players over the course of the season never allowed the Capitals to get on track in 2022-23, and a rally never came for a team that was on the outskirts of the playoff picture for most of the year. So ended an eight-year streak of playoff appearances and only the second time the Caps hadn’t qualified for the post-season since 2008. In terms of the franchise life-cycle, the arrow looks to be pointed in the down direction after a 15 year run of success. (Sound familiar?)
Important Additions: Max Pacioretty, Joel Edmundson
Important Losses: Conor Sheary, Craig Smith, Connor Brown, Matt Irwin
Still to go: Resolving Evgeni Kuznetsov’s trade request?
—Are the Capitals existing these days to attempt to be competitive or exist to try and feed Alex Ovechkin on his quest towards Wayne Gretzky’s goal mark? They didn’t change much up, perhaps because there wasn’t much ability to do. So like the Islanders they will largely go with the same aging group. The long-shot hope is that Pacioretty can re-gain his health after two Achilles’ tears in five months from August 2022-January 2023. Pacioretty isn’t expected to be ready for the start of the season.
If the Penguins want to qualify for the playoffs, chances are they are going to have to out-perform both of these teams. For better or worse, there are a lot of similarities with where the Islanders, Capitals and Pens all are in 2023. They’re all locked in with their cores, and for all three their best and key 8-10 top players are all 30+ (with an exception like Mat Barzal here or there). It’s arguable the best days for these groups are all in the rear view mirror.
But the fun part about the NHL is that surprises can happen. Vegas went from out of the playoffs in 2022 to champs in 2023. Countless teams sneak into the playoffs as a seventh or eighth seed and end up making it to the Stanley Cup Final. Bottling magic or capturing lightning in a bottle can — and regularly does — happen.
Thus is the hopes for the teams in the middle like NYI, Washington and Pittsburgh. That all the best case scenarios line up from injuries to goaltending to special teams play. It’s possible that some could hit. But it’s also a numbers game as well. There aren’t enough seats at the table for everyone, maybe not even two out of the three.