New York Islanders
After underperforming the year before and striking out in the Johnny Gaudreau sweepstakes, the Isles bounced back and made a last minute run to the playoffs, edging the veteran teams of Pittsburgh and Washington. They’ve followed that campaign up by signing Julien Gauthier and trading away Josh Bailey. They are also almost $500,000 over the salary cap.
Despite all that, this team has an abundance of players that play well together. Ilya Sorokin and Semyon Varlamov are a stable goaltending duo. Whenever you have a good goalie combo in net, you always have a chance to win. Adam Pelech and Ryan Pullock are still patrolling the blueline while Mathew Barzal, trade deadline acquisition Bo Horvat, Anders Lee, Nelson Brock, Kyle Palmieri, and Cal Clutterbuck still make for an imposing set of forwards. They aren’t the greatest set of forwards, but they are feisty enough to give you fits.
The Isles are always hard to figure out. When you think they are going to be good, they disappoint. When you expect them to suck, they surprise. No matter what, they will always be the other New York team. They could easily be a third place team or last place team. They are younger than the Rangers and, with acquring Horvat last year, are in a good place to rise up. Keep an eye on them.
The Pens missed the playoffs for the first time since 2005-06. Pittsburgh only had to win one game in their final three and they would’ve clinched a spot in the playoffs. They were facing the Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Blackhawks, and Columbus Blue Jackets; three teams that were out of the playoffs including two of the worst three teams in the NHL. Win one and they are in. The Pens lost all three games. They blew it. With a roster of seasoned, battle hardened veterans, they blew it. Instead, Florida got it and rode the wave all the way to the finals.
That is the problem with Pittsburgh. They are an old team now. They spent the previous offseason trying to bring the band back together and kept Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang in house with Sidney Crosby in a vain attempt to recapture their glory years. Much like the Rangers, this team is on the wrong side of 30 with just seven skaters on their roster under 30. All of this cost former Flyers GM Ron Hextall his job as GM. Part of me likes to think that Hexy took that job to sabotage the team for the Flyers sake. If he did do that, he did a great job!
The Pens aren’t awful, but they aren’t the menacing team they once were. Their experience and hockey knowledge do give them an edge most teams won’t have. However, they are slipping. When you drop three games against basement dwellers in order to make the playoffs, that shows you are backsliding big time. The Pens also have to worry about Jake Guentzel, one of the few guys under 30, hitting the free agent market next year. Guentzel is currently injured and should miss a few months due to ankle surgery.
Flyers fans only need to rejoice. This hated rival is falling apart and is heading for an extended rough patch coming up. Of course, let’s be honest, this comes after an extended run where they won three Stanley Cup Championships too. It was bound to happen.
However, the Pens won the Erik Karlsson sweepstakes. He could help them big time and could potentially stop their slide. He could jumpstart both their offense and defense. The trade cost Pittsburgh a lot, however. Gone is next year’s first round pick and 2025’s second rounder. Also gone is last year’s trade deadline pickup Mikael Granlund, Jan Rutta, Jeff Petry, and goaltender Casey DeSmith.
Karlsson will be a great addition to this team. Is it too little too late? This season could be the Penguins last ditch effort to win a Cup with Crosby, Malkin, and Letang. If they don’t win it this year, there is a good chance their window is forever shut with this crew. And if that is the case, they also just mortgaged their future for nothing.
It wasn’t that long ago that they were the titans of the division. They are in a free fall now. They’ve gotten old. Alex Ovechkin is 37 and Nicklas Backstrom is 35. The Caps have over $18 million tied up in these fading superstars and are almost $1 million over the cap.
The cash strapped team made just one major free agent signing in Max Pacioretty and hope that the injury prone star can have a bounce back season. In return, they lost several players, including Conor Sheary, to free agency.
For a team that lost a lot of time due to injuries, they didn’t do enough to build their team up. Likewise, their finances are strangling them. In short, they are an older version of the Flyers. While just having Ovechkin could help any team be successful, they don’t have much beyond him. It is not unfathomable to foresee that this team is heading for the cellar. It could happen this year or next year, but they are not who they once were.
Columbus Blue Jackets
This was the favorite sleeper of every analyst last year when they signed Johnny Gaudreau to a long term deal. Then Zach Werenski got hurt and his future is in jeopardy. CBJ also lost Jakub Voracek to a career threatening injury. While Gaudreau and Patrik Laine put up big numbers for Columbus, the rest of the team was pretty much garbage.
To this end, the Jackets made a trade with the Flyers for Ivan Provorov to help bolster their blueline. He should most likely be paired up with with either Adam Boqvist or Damon Severson and become a solid defensive pairing. In fact, Columbus’s defense was fairly good last year, but they could not score goals outside of Gaudreau and Laine. Their first round draft selection of Adam Fanitlli was a pretty solid one and he should compete for a spot on the team during their training camp.
Yes, they have Boone Jenner and Cole Sillinger, but the Jackets don’t have a whole lot after that. What makes them unpredictable is their youth. Another year together will make them stronger. A stronger defense will help them be more competitive. They won’t make the playoffs, but they may not be a basement dweller either. A lot of this season will depend on the health of their players and what moves, if any, they make during the season. Much like the Flyers, this is a young team that is looking to get better. They are looking to make their move up in the standings in the upcoming seasons.