Pittsburgh Penguins fans are underwhelmed, to say the least. A few are feeling a little confused, while others accept the tough situation general manager Ron Hextall inherited with bloated contracts for young defensemen, aging stars, few draft picks, plenty of needs, and less than a handful of prospects.
The Penguins have not been players on the free-agent market aside from a four-year, $11 million deal to Brock McGinn, a one-year. $1.1 million deal to Danton Heinen. They also signed a few two-way deals, including Dominik Simon, defenseman Taylor Fedun, and forward Michael Chabut.
The Penguins surely will not lead any preseason power rankings with that intake. However, they did win the Metro Division with a motley crew of injury substitutes, players out of their skates, and career years. The Pittsburgh Penguins still have a guy named Sidney Crosby, a top-tier first pairing defenseman Kris Letang, and a few wingers capable of scoring 30 goals, or close enough.
We often judge the teams closest to us in a bubble, but the Penguins will be judged based on their performance against the Metro Division and the rest of the Eastern Conference. You remember those two entities, right?
And several of the Metro Division teams have made big moves.
Pittsburgh Penguins vs. Metro Division Contenders
In: Brock McGinn, Danton Heinen, Dominik Simon, Taylor Fedun
Out: Cody Ceci, Jared McCann, Brandon Tanev, Frederick Gaudreau.
Analysis: Far more out than coming in. McCann scored .74 points per game, and Tanev had a career year with .5 points per game. Cody Ceci is yet to be replaced. McGinn and Heinen each scored about .33 points per game.
The points-per-game stat is not full a fair comparison, but it does show the offense the Penguins lost and did not replace. The Penguins have taken a step back.
In: Four two-way contracts, Dylan McIlrath, Hunter Shephard, Matt Irwin, and Lucas Johansen
Out: Brenden Dillon
Analysis: The other old guard in the Metro Division hasn’t done much. They lost goalie Vitek Vanecek via the expansion draft, then re-acquired him via trade. Trading Dillion netted them two second-round picks and space for Trevor van Riemsdyk.
The Capitals are status quo.
New York Islanders:
Out: Nick Leddy, Jordan Eberle, Andrew Ladd. Casey Czikas? Kyle Palmieri? Travis Zajac?
Analysis: The New York Islanders’ offseason is incomplete. Rumors persist they’re working on a Vladimir Tarasenko deal, and even GM Lou Lamoriello admitted he’s doing everything to re-sign “our people.” It’s impossible to grade them until we see a full roster, but the Islanders aren’t worse for wear unless they lose Palmieri because they have in-house replacements for Leddy and Eberle.
The Islanders are a great 3/4 regular-season team but faltered at the end of each of the last two regular seasons, only to receive an extended break before the playoffs. They are a lockdown team, but can they sustain the pace over 82 games?
In: Nate Thompson, Martin Jones, Keith Yandle, Cam Atkinson, Rasmus Ristolainen, Ryan Ellis. Two-way contracts: Adam Clendening, Ryan Fitzgerald, Nick Seeler, Gerald Mayhew, Cooper Zech.
Out: Shayne Gostisbehere, Jakub Voracek, Nolan Patrick, Philippe Myers, Brian Elliott.
Analysis: The Flyers shook up their roster. GM Chuck Fletcher felt his team couldn’t shake the malaise, but they lost players who needed a change of scenery. Now, they’re physical and deeper. Expect Yandle to have a bounce back. Expect Ristolainen to look better on a better team and to inflict even more damage. Ellis is a strong defenseman without the baggage of the Flyers’ blue line. Goalie Martin Jones will have a chance to reverse his career nose-five as Carter Hart’s backup.
We like the Flyers moves, even if the analytics-driven Twitter-gencia insists the players aren’t good at hockey. They’re a playoff-worthy team, especially with Alain Vigneault.
New York Rangers:
In: Ryan Reaves, Dryden Hunt, Jared Tinordi, Patrik Nemeth, Sammy Blais, Barclay Goodrow,
Out: Pavel Buchnevich, Brett Howden, Colin Blackwell, Jack Johnson.
Analysis: The Rangers were better in the second half of the season. New GM Chris Drury may have gone a bit overboard trying to get grittier. Nemeth is a below-average defenseman. Reaves is a five-minute per game player, even with Vegas.
Tinordi is a tough defenseman who played well with the Bruins but is a career depth d-man. He’ll be a good fit for Gerard Gallant’s positional game. Goodrow is a gritty winner, and the younger Rangers core with Norris Trophy winner Adam Fox and Alexis Lafreniere will be better. That’s a scary thought.
Oh, and New York is lurking in the Jack Eichel sweepstakes. Tinordi and Reaves are nice adds. Goodrow is a great add. New York takes a big step forward this year. If the Islanders falter at the end, or the Penguins don’t keep pace, the Rangers are in the playoffs.
In: Brendan Smith, Ethan Bear, Tony DeAngelo, Ian Cole, Josh Leivo, Frederick Andersen, Jordan Martinook, Antti Raanta. Two-way deals: Sam Miletic, C.J. Smith, Spencer Smallman.
Out: Warren Foegele, Jake Bean, Morgan Geekie, Petr Mrazek, Alex Nedeljkovic. Dougie Hamilton.
Analysis: Carolina upgraded their goalie situation with Andersen and Raanta. Regardless of what you think of DeAngelo personally, he’s a darn good offensive defenseman and will pick up a lot of the slack left by Hamilton’s departure. Add the competent Ian Cole and Ethan Bear, with Smith as depth, and Carolina added some sandpaper on the blue line, stronger netminding, and look out.
End of July Outlook:
Carolina and Washington will be atop the division. The Rangers will take a few minutes to jell, and the Islanders will be firmly in the playoff picture for the entire season. Philadelphia will also take a while to jell.
The Pittsburgh Penguins will have a window to get ahead of the teams which underwent big changes, but–as things are now–will be on even footing with the Flyers and Rangers in the second half after those teams come together and new players adjust.
There will be six playoff-worthy teams in the Metro. A stumble, a bad few weeks, or the wrong injury for one or two teams will be bad news. The Pittsburgh Penguins’ 15-year playoff streak has never been in more perilous jeopardy.