Category Archives: Previews

Washington Capitals 2018-19 Season Preview

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Washington Capitals

49-26-7, 105 points, 1st in the Metropolitan Division

2018 Stanley Cup Champions, defeated VGK 4-1

Additions: F Nic Dowd, F Jayson Megna, D Brooks Orpik (technically– traded to COL, bought-out by COL, signed by WSH as an UFA), F Sergei Shumakov, F Michael Sgarbossa

Subtractions: F Jay Beagle (signed with VAN), G Adam Carlsson (signed with Rapid City Rush, ECHL), F Alex Chiasson (signed to a PTO with EDM), F Tyler Graovac (signed with CGY), G Philipp Grubauer (traded to COL), D Jakub Jerabek (signed with EDM), F Tim McGauley (signed with Colorado Eagles, AHL), F Anthony Peluso (signed with CGY), F Zach Sill (signed, ELH), F Wayne Simpson (signed with Rochester Americans, AHL)

Still Unsigned: F Adam Chapie

Re-signed: F Riley Barber, D Madison Bowey, F Travis Boyd, F Liam O’Brien, F Devante Smith-Pelly, F Tom Wilson

Offseason Analysis: For the first time since the 2002 Stanley Cup champion Detroit Red Wings, the defending champion of the National Hockey League has a new coach behind the bench. Scotty Bowman retired from coaching after going out in style with the Cup in hand in Detroit.

The 2002 Red Wings lost their first two postseason games on home ice that year. Coincidentally, the 2018 Washington Capitals also lost their first two playoff games– on home ice too– en route to winning the Cup.

Unlike 2002, Barry Trotz did not retire. He took a higher paying job as head coach the New York Islanders, leaving Todd Reirden to assume the duties as the head coach of the Capitals after spending the last four seasons as an assistant coach.

Trotz left Washington after he would have received an automatic two-year extension and $300,000 raise. Given what top-NHL head coaches can make on the free agent market these days, let alone what some might get in a large market, Trotz resigned as the Caps head coach and more than doubled his salary with the Islanders in one offseason.

Reirden, 47, will be making his debut as an NHL head coach this season and will do so with a Stanley Cup winning roster still largely intact.

Gone are Philipp Grubauer (traded to Colorado), Jay Beagle (signed with Vancouver), Alex Chiasson and Jakub Jerabek. In their place are Pheonix Copley, Nic Dowd and other depth players from within the organization.

General Manager Brian MacLellan made two three big moves this offseason. First, MacLellan traded Grubauer and Brooks Orpik to the Colorado Avalanche for a 2018 2nd round pick at this year’s NHL Draft in June. The Avalanche signed Grubauer to a three-year extension and bought-out Orpik’s final year of his contract– keep that in mind in a few minutes.

MacLellan’s next big move this offseason was taking care of RFA Tom Wilson. Wilson signed a six-year extension worth $5.167 million per season that’ll keep him in a Caps sweater through the 2023-24 season, despite producing 35 points in 78 games played on a line with Evgeny Kuznetsov and Alex Ovechkin.

In 391 career NHL games since entering the league in 2013-14, he has 104 points (35 goals, 69 assists). That’s .266 points per game, for anyone keeping track at home.

Based on his playing style, Wilson draws comparisons to Boston Bruins winger, Brad Marchand. In Marchand’s first five years in the league (300 games played, 2009-14), he had 186 points (92 goals, 94 assists). That’s .620 points per game, for the record.

If you take into account that Marchand’s first season in the league was only 20 games in 2009-10 and add on the 2014-15 season (77 games played) to his numbers to truly reflect Wilson’s first five full-seasons, you get 228 points in 377 games from 2009-15 for Marchand. That’s only .605 points per game– a difference of .015 points per game in 77 additional games.

Regardless, up through this point in Wilson’s career, his “comparable” has had more points per game. Playoffs be damned.

Marchand had 39 points in his first four years of postseason play (2011-14, 66 games played). Wilson had five career postseason points in 41 career Stanley Cup Playoff games prior to 2018 (Wilson appeared in at least three playoff games in every postseason run except for 2014– zero playoff games played).

Including Washington’s Cup winning run, Wilson has 20 career playoff points in 62 games.

Once again, that’s a .591 points per game measure for Marchand in postseason play from 2011-14 and only .323 points per game for Wilson in his entire career’s worth of postseason action (2012-18).

Marchand broke into the league at 21-years-old. He’s now 30. Wilson entered the NHL as a 19-year-old and is now 24.

The only point to takeaway here is Wilson’s contract extension is a big bet on behalf of MacLellan. Luckily, if things work out, MacLellan will look like a genius for locking up Wilson through the first few years of potential unrestricted free agency.

But if things go south, not only will this contract be ridiculed, but it could prove difficult to move, despite not including a no-trade-clause. At $5.167 million per season, it’s not a terrible cap hit, but it’s certainly one in which Washington would likely have to retain some salary if they were ever to move Wilson.

Oh and about Orpik– he signed a one-year, $1.000 million contract with the Capitals shortly after free agency began and the defender wasn’t receiving many offers. The league reviewed MacLellan’s process of trading the veteran NHLer, Colorado’s buyout and Washington’s new deal and deemed it was not circumventing the collective bargaining agreement.

So Washington remains an unlikely Stanley Cup contender by default, having become titleholder to the term “defending champion” in addition to the retention of (without doing the actual math) 95% of the Cup-winning roster. The question remains, can they repeat?

Or more accurately, can they do what their biggest rival– the Pittsburgh Penguins– most recently did in 2016 and 2017– in 2019?

Offseason Grade: B+

It could’ve been an “A-“, but then the Caps just had to sign Tom Wilson at that length and term without having any proof of being an effective scorer in the regular season and playoffs.

For all intents and purposes, Wilson got lucky in the postseason like how Devante Smith-Pelly got lucky and went on a hot streak matching his goal scoring output (seven goals in 75 games) from the regular season in this year’s playoffs (seven goals in 24 playoff games).

Vegas Golden Knights 2018-19 Season Preview

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Vegas Golden Knights

51-24-7, 109 points, 1st in the Pacific Division

Lost in Stanley Cup Final to WSH, 4-1

Additions: F Daniel Carr, G Zach Fucale, F Alex Gallant, D Nick Holden, F Curtis McKenzie, D Jimmy Oligny, F Max Pacioretty (acquired from MTL), F Paul Stastny

Subtractions: D Philip Holm (signed, KHL), F James Neal (signed with CGY), F David Perron (signed with STL), F Teemu Pulkkinen (signed, KHL), D Luca Sbisa (signed with NYI), F Nick Suzuki (traded to MTL), F Tomas Tatar (traded to MTL), F Paul Thompson (signed with FLA)

Still Unsigned: D Chris Casto, D Jason Garrison, F Mikhail Grabovski, D Clayton Stoner

Re-signed: F William Carrier, G Oscar Dansk, F William Karlsson, D Colin Miller, F Tomas Nosek, F Brandon Pirri, F Ryan Reaves, D Shea Theodore

Offseason Analysis: Only one team in the NHL’s more than a century of existence has ever won the Cup in their inaugural season. The 2017-18 Vegas Golden Knights almost joined the 1917-18 Toronto Arenas as the only teams to win the Cup in their inaugural season. Toronto beat the Pacific Coast Hockey Association’s (PCHA) Vancouver Millionaires 3-2 in a best of five-game series.

Vegas came up three wins short of winning it all in the modern-day best-of-seven game series against the Washington Capitals that the Stanley Cup Final has become.

The Golden Knights didn’t have an unfair advantage in the 2017 Expansion Draft. General Manager George McPhee worked the trade market to his advantage, primarily building the inaugural season’s core group of players through acquisitions.

Owner Bill Foley has touted the “Cup-in-three” mantra, meaning it’s his goal as an organization to win the Cup in their first three years of existence. Upon league expansion in 1967, it took the Philadelphia Flyers seven years to win their first Cup.

Foley wants to do it in half the time.

McPhee’s already gone to work on improving his roster from year one to year two. He’s added Paul Stastny via free agency and Max Pacioretty in a trade with the Montreal Canadiens.

Stastny, 32, joins the Golden Knights after spending last season with the St. Louis Blues and Winnipeg Jets. In 82 games split between the Blues and Jets, Stastny had 16-37–53 totals.

A deadline acquisition by Winnipeg, he had 13 points down the stretch in the remaining 19 games of the regular season, then had his best career performance in the postseason (15 points in 17 games) en route to the Western Conference Final against (his now current team) Vegas.

Despite Stastny’s playmaking style and ability to elevate the players around him in Patrik Laine and friends in Winnipeg, the Jets were no match for the hard-charging Golden Knights.

If you can’t beat them, join them.

The old saying rings true for Stastny, despite Winnipeg’s intentions on re-signing the veteran NHL center entering his 13th season in the league. He’ll slide in on Vegas’ second line behind William Karlsson and play alongside one of his best friends since they played together at the 2010 Winter Games, Max Pacioretty.

Yes, that’s right, Pacioretty is a Golden Knight– in case you’ve been under a rock since training camp.

At its surface, the price of the Pacioretty trade is one well spent for both teams. Vegas acquired Pacioretty in exchange for Tomas Tatar, prospect Nick Suzuki and a 2019 2nd round pick. That’s right about what you’d expect as a going rate for a top-six scorer– one current roster player, a prospect and a draft pick.

But for all that McPhee dealt to the Detroit Red Wings to add Tatar at the trade deadline last season, this Pacioretty deal carries a hefty trade-tree baggage, whereby a lot of assets were ultimately tossed in the pot for Pacioretty’s services.

At the very least, McPhee not only added a five-time 30-goal scorer, but he signed him to a four-year extension right away too. So if things don’t work out this season, the Golden Knights will remain in the hunt for the next few years.

Why’s that?

On top of their solid core group of forwards, Vegas has a crafty defense that’s capable of doing more than turning heads like they did last season. There’s just one catch though– they’ll have to do it without Nate Schmidt for the first quarter of the regular season.

Schmidt will be serving a 20-game suspension for a performance enhancing drug, leaving Colin Miller and Shea Theodore to do the bulk of the work with Brayden McNabb and Deryk Engelland rounding out the rest of the top-four defenders.

Brad Hunt and Nick Holden, in the meantime, seek to use the first 20 games as an audition for the sixth defenseman role upon Schmidt’s return to the lineup.

Miller signed a four-year extension this summer and Theodore signed a seven-year deal worth $5.200 million per season. While seven years might be a bit more than the Golden Knights can chew if Theodore’s play heads south, at least he’s signed to a manageable $5.200 million cap hit– up to 50% of which can be retained in a trade.

With an immense top-nine group of forwards and questions surrounding who will step up on defense in Schmidt’s absence, head coach Gerard Gallant must adjust accordingly as he’s always done– on-the-fly and with the complete buy-in of the dressing room.

In goal, Marc-Andre Fleury— now signed through the 2021-22 season, thanks to a three-year extension this summer on top of the remaining year on his current contract– must find a way to continue his rejuvenated play in net. Last season’s 2.24 goals against average and .927 save percentage are more than likely unattainable in back-to-back seasons.

One thing working in Fleury’s favor is his reduced workload. In his second-straight season under 50 games played, Fleury appeared in 46 games last season after battling a concussion.

Malcolm Subban (2.68 GAA, .910 SV% in 22 games played last season) is still in line to become the next Golden Knights starting netminder in the post-Fleury era, but he undoubtedly must see an increase in playing time this season.

It’s not quite a 1A, 1B option for Vegas, but rather a precaution for Fleury and a means of keeping their starter fresh for what could be another long postseason run.

Unless any of the other Pacific Division teams have anything to say about it.

Offseason Grade: B+

McPhee bolstered his top-six forward group this offseason with two simple moves, while preserving the large-scale depth of the Golden Knights prospect pool. They didn’t land Erik Karlsson, John Tavares or Ilya Kovalchuk, but they did get Max Pacioretty.

And they still have quite an impressive amount of cap space to work with next offseason as the franchise continues to settle into existence.

Winnipeg Jets 2018-19 Season Preview

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Winnipeg Jets

52-20-10, 114 points, 2nd in the Central Division

Lost in Western Conference Final to VGK, 4-1

Additions: D Simon Bourque (acquired from MTL), G Laurent Brossoit, F Dennis Everberg, F Seth Griffith

Subtractions: F Joel Armia (traded to MTL), F Chase De Leo (traded to ANA), D Toby Enstrom (signed, SHL), F Matt Hendricks (signed with MIN), G Michael Hutchinson (signed with FLA), D Jan Kostalek (signed, ELH), G Steve Mason (traded to MTL, subsequently bought-out, current UFA), D Julian Melchiori (signed with FLA), G Jamie Phillips (signed with Charlotte Checkers, AHL), F Buddy Robinson (signed with CGY), F Michael Sgarbossa (signed with WSH), F Paul Stastny (signed with VGK)

Still Unsigned: F Jimmy Lodge, F Shawn Matthias

Re-signed: G Eric Comrie, F Marko Dano, G Connor Hellebuyck,F Nicolas Kerdiles (acquired from ANA and re-signed), F JC Lipon, F Adam Lowry, D Josh Morrissey, F Nic Petan, D Tucker Poolman, D Cameron Schilling, F Brandon Tanev, D Jacob Trouba

Offseason Analysis: For a city with the word “win” in its name, the Winnipeg Jets sure did a lot of winning last season. Paul Maurice coached his club to a 52-20-10 record– good enough for first place in a normal year, but the Nashville Predators were just three points better in the Central Division. Winnipeg finished second in the Central with 114 points.

They won their first playoff series in franchise history, eliminating the Minnesota Wild in five games in the First Round, then upset the Predators in a Game 7 on the road in the Second Round.

The Jets didn’t just set franchise records, they established the bar for future benchmarks of success (minus a Cup), but while Winnipeg soared into the Western Conference Final, they were in for a crash landing in five games against the Vegas Golden Knights despite having home-ice advantage.

Three wins. Just three wins shy of their first Stanley Cup Final appearance for both renditions of the Jets.

Connor Hellebuyck emerged as a legitimate starting goaltender and General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff made sure to lock him up by re-signing the 25-year-old goaltender to a six-year extension worth $6.167 million per season.

Hellebucyk’s deal is a manageable cap hit and carries him through his mid-prime, leaving Cheveldayoff’s options open for more in the future, let alone vitally important cap space in the now as there’s kind of a big deal in Winnipeg this season.

Patrik Laine‘s entering the final year of his entry-level contract. Based on his abilities alone, he’ll see upwards of $9.000 million per season. Based on his comparison in play to Connor McDavid, Auston Matthews, Jack Eichel and more– he could be seeing John Tavares money (in the $11.000 million AAV ballpark).

Oh yeah, Matthews is a pending-RFA in July 2019 too.

Laine’s play was elevated in the postseason by offseason departure, Paul Stastny, after Stastny was acquired by the Jets at the trade deadline. Winnipeg wanted to retain his services, but Stastny chose the Golden Knights over a return to Manitoba.

Despite losing a quintessential playmaker in the short run, the Jets gained an edge on cap space in the long run. Cap space that will come in handy for Laine and other pending-RFAs including Kyle Connor, Marko Dano, Jacob Trouba and trade deadline depth pickup turned playoff scoring bottom-pair defender, Joe Morrow.

Trouba went through arbitration this offseason as the ongoing saga continues with his future in Winnipeg– whereas the last couple of seasons it appeared he was on his way out in a transaction, the Jets and the 24-year-old defender have mulled things over on a mutual relationship.

It’s just taking one little step at a time, as the defender was awarded a one-year, $5.500 million extension this summer.

There’s hope for reconciliation in a post-Toby Enstrom era, where Dustin Byfuglien and Tyler Myers are two of the three most important blue liners in Winnipeg– with Trouba as the third.

Backing up Hellebuyck this season is Laurent Brossoit, who’s coming off of a career-worst (min. 10 games played) 3.24 goals against average and .883 save percentage in 14 games with the Edmonton Oilers last season.

While Brossoit was with the Oilers (of all teams), that doesn’t scream breakout season by a backup goaltender. In fact, it’s on par with Michael Hutchinson’s 3.26 GAA and .907 SV% in three games with Winnipeg last season and Steve Mason’s 3.24 GAA and .906 SV% in 13 games with the Jets.

Unless Brossoit taps into the once-touted potential he had in his WHL days of Junior hockey, Cheveldayoff’s made a lateral move behind Hellebuyck on the depth chart and lends Maurice to over-rely on his starter to compensate for goaltending struggles.

That’s where things can get ugly.

Otherwise, the Jets should be just fine in 2018-19.

Offseason Grade: C

The Jets introduced an alternate sweater for the first time in Manitoba since the franchise relocated from Atlanta in May 2011. It’s not the low-point of the offseason, however, it will take off a few grade points for such a bland script font as its crest.

Otherwise, Winnipeg’s offseason was par for the course for a roster that has the potential to go just as far– if not further– this season as they did last season. However, next summer is where things could get muddy.

Tampa Bay Lightning 2018-19 Season Preview

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Tampa Bay Lightning

54-23-5, 113 points, 1st in the Atlantic Division

Lost in the Eastern Conference Final to WSH, 4-3

Additions: F Andy Andreoff (acquired from LA), D Cameron Gaunce

Subtractions: F Carter Ashton (signed, KHL), D Mathew Bodie (signed, KHL), G Peter Budaj (traded to LA), F Erik Condra (signed with DAL), F Alex Gallant (signed with VGK), F Chris Kunitz (signed with CHI), F Matthew Peca (signed with MTL), D Andrej Sustr (signed with ANA)

Still Unsigned: D Jamie McBain

Re-signed: F Adam Erne, D Slater Koekkoek, F Kevin Lynch, F Cedric Paquette

Offseason Analysis: The 2017-18 Tampa Bay Lightning had their best season in franchise history. Well, regular season, that is. Jon Cooper led his team from behind the bench to a 54-23-5 record (113 points) and the first seed in the Eastern Conference all the way to the 2018 Eastern Conference Final against the Washington Capitals– their former division rival in what was once the Southeast Division.

It was their first postseason meeting since 2011 and the Bolts had home ice advantage in a Game 7. What could possibly go wrong? Washington was never supposed to get past the Second Round, let alone beat the Pittsburgh Penguins en route to landing in the Eastern Conference Final– plus Alex Ovechkin was always criticized for his Game 7 play in his career– and the Lightning had all of their offensive weapons, including Nikita Kucherov and Steven Stamkos.

But Stamkos had no points in Game 7 against Washington, similar to the last five Game 7s he’s played. In six career Game 7s, Stamkos is pointless. Both literally and figuratively, if you may.

Tampa was shutout on home ice and their 2018 postseason run came to a crashing halt, one win shy of reaching their second Stanley Cup Final in three years.

For a team that’s made the Eastern Conference Final in three of the last four calendar years (2015, 2016 and 2018)– they’ve only gotten better, yet they haven’t had the results they’ve wanted (or expected) by now.

Steve Yzerman walked into the Lightning front office with Stamkos and Victor Hedman already on the roster, he left its day-to-day duties having drafted Kucherov (2011) and Andrei Vasilevskiy (2012), while signing an undrafted Tyler Johnson and acquiring Ryan Callahan, Mikhail Sergachev, Ryan McDonagh and J.T. Miller over the years.

Yzerman’s seamless transition from Tampa’s face of the franchise star in Martin St. Louis to Stamkos, Kucherov and Co. was destined to win a Cup while the former face of the Detroit Red Wings superstar was at the helm of operations.

But Yzerman stepped down as General Manager, leaving the duties of cap management and roster creation to now former assistant GM Julien BriseBois earlier this month.

BriseBois’ transition to power will be peaceful, as Yzerman was sure to lock up core members of the roster in Kucherov and McDonagh to extensions beginning in the 2019-20 season this offseason.

It’d be unfair to grade BriseBois’ offseason maneuvers over the last 16 days at the same weight as the rest of the GMs in the league, but it’s worth noting– neither Yzerman nor BriseBois were able to snag Erik Karlsson in a trade with the Ottawa Senators.

Instead, the biggest prize on the trading block this offseason went to the San Jose Sharks– a team the Lightning can only face in the postseason in the Stanley Cup Final. If they make it that far.

Yzerman chose not to re-sign Chris Kunitz and Andrej Sustr, seeing the former as too old for Tampa’s core and the latter as an expendable asset that was a healthy scratch most nights. He did, however, re-sign glue guy forwards Adam Erne and Cedric Paquette, as well as defender Slater Koekkoek to one-year bridge deals.

Their successful roster is largely intact, despite trading backup goaltender Peter Budaj to the Los Angeles Kinds for forward Andy Andreoff early this summer, but as Cooper seeks to decrease Vasilevskiy’s workload, Budaj’s 3.77 goals against average and .876 save percentage in eight games last season weren’t going to cut it– even with his injuries.

Budaj’s back with the Ontario Reign (AHL) after Jack Campbell beat him out for the backup job behind Jonathan Quick in Los Angeles.

Meanwhile, Louis Domingue looks to improve on his 2.89 GAA and .914 SV% in 12 appearances with the Lightning last season, after going winless in seven appearances with the Arizona Coyotes (4.33 GAA, .856 SV%) before being acquired by Tampa.

Budaj’s eight appearances and Domingue’s 12 games in a Bolts uniform left Vasilevskiy to suit up for a career-high 65 games last season. He had a 2.62 GAA and a career-high .920 SV% in what was a Vezina Trophy finalist year with a 44-17-3 record.

While Vasilevskiy is one of the top-starting netminders in the league, 65 games played in the regular season, plus a maximum 28 potential games in the postseason is nearly 100 games of hockey. Multiply that by 60 minutes and, well, you get the point (hopefully).

Cooper has to rely on Domingue and his defense to reduce the minutes Vasilevskiy has to stand on his feet (or head) in order to keep his number one goaltender from getting fatigued.

Goaltending is all about finding that sweet spot– both in the rhythm of the game while making saves and in the ebbs and flows of the season-long schedule (including the possibility of a deep postseason run).

Offseason Grade: C+

So that’s it really.

Tampa didn’t create a mega-defense, because they didn’t get Karlsson. San Jose did.

They didn’t cause a disturbance in the Force with two potential No. 91s that would’ve seen John Tavares assume a new identity on the roster, because the Toronto Maple Leafs signed the biggest free agent on the market.

And that’s okay.

For Tampa, an “average” offseason meant sticking with their guys– the ones that reached the Final in 2015, almost reached it in 2016 and were brought in for the Conference Final run in 2018. Other than nailing down a backup goalie, the Bolts are ready to defend their top of the table standing in the Atlantic Division.

Nashville Predators 2018-19 Season Preview

Nashville Predators

53-18-11, 117 points, Presidents’ Trophy winners

Lost in the Second Round to Winnipeg (4-3)

Additions: C Colin Blackwell, LW Connor Brickley, RW Rocco Grimaldi, D Dan Hamhuis, C Zachary Magwood, LW Zac Rinaldo, D Jarred Tinordi

Subtractions: C Cody Bass, LW Brandon Bollig, D Stefan Elliott, D Alexei Emelin, C Mike Fisher, D Petter Granberg, LW Scott Hartnell, G Anders Lindback, C Mark McNeil, G Matt O’Connor, D Rick Pinkston, D John Ramage, C Trevor Smith, D Scott Valentine, LW Harry Zolnierczyk

Re-signed: D Ryan Ellis, RW Ryan Hartman, W Miikka Salomaki, G Juuse Saros

Offseason Analysis: The Predators had all the ingredients of a Stanley Cup winner last year. The offense was solid, the defense was stifling, and the goaltending was world-class. They boasted largely the same group that had made it all the way to the Final in 16-17, so now they had the experience and know-how that allows teams to get to the promised land. They dominated the regular season and walked into the playoffs with a Vince McMahon-like strut. Mike Fisher was so confident in their abilities to win a Cup that he quite literally decided he’d rather get back into hockey shape and unretire to join them for the playoffs rather than stay home and be Carrie Underwood’s husband (she never did return my letters about being her fill-in husband while he was away).

After dispatching of the Avs in the First Round, though, the Preds encountered a problem. They encountered (arguably) the one team that was capable of beating them: the Winnipeg Jets. The knock-down, drag-out playoff matchup hockey fans and media were begging for was to be the downfall of the Preds. Winnipeg’s unrelenting physicality, superior offensive firepower and the shattering of Pekka Rinne‘s confidence were too much for the Preds to overcome, and they’d fall unceremoniously in a 5-1 home loss after managing to force a Game 7.

Luckily for the Nashville brass, the offseason they faced wasn’t supremely daunting. Apart from a few young RFA’s and some aging role players (plus the re-retirement of Fisher), they had no real NHL-level contract concerns. The core of the team was secure heading into the 18-19 campaign. But still the sting of defeat in back-to-back potential Cup-winning years hurt, and efforts to counter a potential third year of the same had to be made.

With no draft picks until the fourth round, GM David Poile instead focused on free agency to bring immediate help to his team. When things opened up on July 1, he first tasked himself with helping them from within, re-signing wingers Miikka Salomaki (two years, $750 thousand per) and Ryan Hartman (one year, $875 thousand) and young stud No. 2 goaltender Juuse Saros (three years, $1.5 million per) to very reasonable deals. He then snagged one of his former draft picks in Dan Hamhuis, inking the 35-year-old to a two-year, $2.5 million contract to replace the departed Alexei Emelin and solidify the defense. Poile then knocked a big task off of next year’s to-do list when he signed defenseman Ryan Ellis to an eight-year, $50 million contract extension ($6.25 million cap hit) that takes hold next summer. Ellis has grown into one of the Preds’ most versatile and reliable defenders, and Poile saw no reason to wait on locking him up for the foreseeable future.

Few other signings were notable names, mostly organizational depth, although newcomers Rocco Grimaldi, Zac Rinaldo, Colin Blackwell, and AHL-contracted Brian Cooper have made noise to this point in training camp and are all still on the preseason roster heading into the final days/cuts.

Up front, the lineup will look largely unchanged from last year’s group, with really only depth positions likely up for grabs. Winger Scott Hartnell was the only full-timer from last year to depart, and 2017 first round pick Eeli Tolvanen looks poised to inherit his place in the lineup. While lacking Hartnell’s snarl, Tolvanen is a deadly shooter and spent last year lighting up the Finnish Elite League as a rookie fresh out of the USHL. With success in a men’s league and experience on North American ice, Tolvanen should be ready for an NHL roster spot. The only other notable absence, at least to start the season, will be the lack of power forward winger Austin Watson. The 26-year-old was suspended for the first 27 games of the season after pleading no contest to charges of domestic battery over the summer. It comes after Watson finally solidified his place in the Predators lineup last season, and they’ll have to make due without his size and physicality for at least the first few months of the year.

In Watson’s absense, I have the opening night forward group looking like:
Forsberg – Johansen – Arvidsson
Fiala – Turris – Smith
Tolvanen – Bonino – Sissons
Salomaki – Jarnkrok – Hartman
Extra forwards Grimaldi and Frederick Gaudreau

The defense also only lost one regular from last year, and Hamhuis should step right into that slot. Really only the No. 6 slot to his right remains a question, and while Matt Irwin and Anthony Bitetto are more than capable, they both have an uphill battle to unseat Yannick Weber based solely upon the fact that he’s the only right handed shot among them. The only problem facing the Preds here is that none of the three are on two-way contracts, so basically they get to decide who they’re most comfortable putting on waivers. In the end I think Irwin’s NHL experience could give him the edge in that decision.

Defensive lineup should look like:
Josi – Ellis
Ekholm – Subban
Hamhuis – Weber
Extra defender Irwin

In goal, it’s Pekka Rinne and Jusse Saros. Sorry I couldn’t make that any more entertaining.

Er, well, it is a contract year for Rinne. So… umm… that’ll be interesting, I guess.

Offseason Grade: B

Less really was more, here.

Poile played it smart, as he often does. He kept his spending to a minimum (the Preds should enter the season with a smidge north of $8 million to play with) and used the depth he’s accumulated to still ice one of the better lineups in the league.

The defense is arguably the best (or at least top three) in the league, and none of the top seven are in contract years. (In fact, only four forwards likely to make the NHL club are to see free agency next year, and every one of them is still RFA eligible)

Rinne is likely looking at his last shot at a Cup as a No. 1 guy (he’ll turn 36 this year), so he’ll be leaving nothing on the table.

The forward group is solid, if not spectacular. But with all that aforementioned cap space available, scoring punch can certainly be brought in sometime before the deadline if it proves to be a concern heading towards the playoffs.

We haven’t seen the last of Smashville playoff runs.

Boston Bruins 2018-19 Season Preview

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Boston Bruins

50-20-12, 112 points, 2nd in the Atlantic Division

Lost in the Second Round to TB, 4-1

Additions: D Cody Goloubef, G Jaroslav Halak, D Steven Kampfer (acquired from NYR), F Mark McNeill, D John Moore, F Joakim Nordstrom, F Chris Wagner

Subtractions: F Kenny Agostino (signed with MTL), D Chris Breen (signed with Providence Bruins, AHL), D Tommy Cross (signed with CBJ), F Austin Czarnik (signed with CGY), F Brian Gionta (retired), F Justin Hickman (signed, Norway), D Nick Holden (signed with VGK), G Anton Khudobin (signed with DAL), D Adam McQuaid (traded to NYR), F Riley Nash (signed with CBJ), D Paul Postma (signed, KHL), F Tim Schaller (signed with VAN), F Tommy Wingels (signed, Switzerland)

Still Unsigned: F Rick Nash

Re-signed: F Anton Blidh, F Colby Cave, F Sean Kuraly

Offseason Analysis: My fellow hearty New Englanders, we’ve reached the third year of Boston Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney‘s secret three-year Cup masterplan. This is the year– it’s make or break. Live free or die Do or die.

Why? Because Charlie McAvoy, Brandon Carlo, Danton Heinen and Ryan Donato are all pending-RFAs at season’s end with about $16.500 million to spend next offseason– wait, actually, that’s not that bad. It’s tricky, tedious stuff, but manageable if they do it right (Sweeney’s not the last guy, so…?).

Considering David Krejci ($7.250 million cap hit through the 2020-21 season), David Backes ($6.000 million cap hit through 2020-21) and for some reason Torey Krug ($5.250 million cap hit through 2019-20) have all been the topic of trade rumors this offseason, Sweeney will likely end up with well over $20.000 million to work with for the 2019-20 roster.

Oh and 41-year-old ageless wonder and captain, Zdeno Chara‘s $5.000 million cap hit comes off the books after this season, but as long as he’s still trucking, he’ll be in a spoked-B sweater until he retires. (P.S. That’s right, Jaromir Jagr, I’m going with Chara as the new ageless wonder, at least in the National Hockey League.)

But this? This is 2018-19.

Gone are Tim Schaller and Riley Nash, two bottom-six forwards who– let’s be honest– you didn’t think would have the kinds of seasons they had in 2017-18.

I’ve already gone over this plenty of times this offseason on the podcast and in writing, but Schaller legitimized himself as a third liner at best (and rightfully earned his new contract with the Vancouver Canucks), while Nash had a career-high 41-point season at 29-years-old– can that ever be repeated on his three-year deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets?

Maybe at least once, but not at the price the Bruins could afford with a plethora of youth needing renewals in the next couple of offseasons (oh and coming for roster spots too).

Gone as well are Anton Khudobin and Nick Holden– last season’s backup goaltender and depth piece acquisition on the blue line in February.

In are Chris Wagner, Joakim Nordstrom and whoever makes the roster from Providence this season. John Moore’s new on defense too– he signed a 5-year, $2.750 million per season, contract on July 1st and as a result, became Adam McQuaid’s de facto replacement turned actual-facto (I’m making that a thing) replacement after McQuaid was shipped off to the New York Rangers on September 11th.

The thought process is simple with Wagner and Nordstrom.

Wagner likes to hit and Nordstrom’s coming in exactly like Riley Nash did two years ago. He’s a durable penalty-killer signed at $1.000 million AAV for the next two seasons. Low risk, high reward (as long as he reaches his goals).

Jarolsav Halak’s in town as the backup goaltender for the next two seasons with a cap hit of $2.750 million. Head coach Bruce Cassidy almost has a 1A, 1B option in goal with Halak’s previous starting goaltender experience, though he’ll likely see about 30 games this season to Tuukka Rask‘s 50-plus starts. Both goaltenders will be right in their sweet-spot.

Remember Steven Kampfer? The 2011 Stanley Cup champion doesn’t have his name on the Cup (he only played 38 games in 2010-11), but he’s back in black-and-gold as part of the return in the McQuaid transaction with New York.

Kampfer’s signed through this season at $650,000 and will likely be utilized as an emergency recall from the Providence Bruins, unless Cassidy doesn’t mind carrying eight defenders (with Matt Grzelcyk already as the seventh defenseman). He’ll wear No. 44 this time around with Boston, as Krug is wearing his old No. 47.

Fun fact, Krug wore No. 44 at Michigan State, but Dennis Seidenberg was already wearing that number when Krug signed as an undrafted free agent with the Bruins in March 2012.

The Rangers also gave up a 4th round pick and a conditional 7th round pick in the 2019 NHL Draft, which could come in handy at the trade deadline as extra pieces in any Cup or bust making moves Sweeney might have up his sleeve.

Also departed this offseason are Paul Postma (remember him?), Tommy Wingels (off to go explore the Swiss Alps), Brian Gionta (retired as a Sabre, technically) and Austin Czarnik (actually living up in Calgary with the Flames after the Bruins ran out of space didn’t tender a qualifying offer to at least feign interest in prolonging their relationship).

Plus, Rick Nash is still undecided about coming back to play. Should he do so, Boston has about $5.060 million in cap space to spend on what would undoubtedly be his last chance at a Cup– if last season’s disappointing, concussion-filled, end to a season wasn’t already his last.

Good on Rick Nash either way– if he decides to hang up the skates, nobody can blame him for taking his health seriously. If he waits it out until February or so and is 100% ready-to-go, then let him have a shot at going out the way he wants to– on his own terms.

The 50-20-12, 112-point season Bruins we saw last year in Boston have a lot of pressure this season. A lot more is expected heading into 2018-19 than was expected heading into 2017-18, but it’s a good place to be in. Not to mention Cassidy is the right man behind the bench to get the job done.

The time is now.

Offseason Grade: C+

Despite groans from the fanbase, right or wrong, the Bruins had a slightly above average offseason. Boston placed an emphasis on their youth when Sweeney came in and retooled the prospect pool, so they’ve stuck with the plan.

They didn’t overspend, given John Moore’s potential as a quality top-four defender at precisely what Adam McQuaid (a bottom-pair blue liner) was making. They didn’t land John Tavares or Ilya Kovalchuk this offseason, but the fact they were even in the conversation lends them some serious credibility as a contender.

In order to be enlightened and crowned champion, first you must climb a seemingly impossible mountain. This team has those expectations and it all starts from within.

Toronto Maple Leafs 2018-2019 Season Preview

Toronto Maple Leafs

49-26-7, 105 points, third in the Atlantic Division

Lost in First Round to Boston, 4-3

Additions: RW Adam Cracknell, F Tyler Ennis, C Josh Jooris, C Par Lindholm, G Eamon McAdam, D Igor Ozhiganov, D Jordan Subban, C John Tavares

Subtractions: F Miro Aaltonen (signed with Vityaz Podolsk, KHL), RW Kyle Baun (signed with Belfast Giants, EIHL), C Tyler Bozak (signed with STL), W Martins Dzierkals (signed with Dinamo Riga, KHL), F Colin Greening (signed with Toronto Marlies, AHL), F Leo Komarov (signed with NYI), W Matt Martin (traded to NYI), C Tomas Plekanec (signed with MTL), D Roman Polak (signed with DAL), F Ben Smith (signed with Adler Mannheim, DEL), LW James van Riemsdyk (signed with PHI), LW Nolan Vesey (traded to EDM)

Offseason Analysis: Let’s just get this out of the way early: Johnny T is coming home!

I’m not even a Maple Leafs fan and that gets me mildly excited.

After all, Tavares is departing a team that qualified for the playoffs only thrice during his nine-year tenure and joining one that scored a (t)third-best 270 goals last season without his offensive acumen. With Tavares’ 272-349-621 career totals effectively replacing Bozak’s 136-229-365 marks in just as many seasons (the only difference being Tavares will play no lower than on the second line, while Bozak was the Leafs’ third-line center), it’s safe to say Toronto’s offense – which was already stacked by simply mentioning C Auston Matthews‘ name – is now rivaled only by Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay and Winnipeg.

So, that means the Leafs are locks for the Stanley Cup, right? I mean, that’s what all the Toronto fans have been telling me…

Regrettably, I must poke a hole in that balloon, at least until the squad proves me wrong in the first month or so of the regular season.

Don’t get me wrong, I have no doubts about the Leafs’ offense. Few are going to keep up with Toronto’s attack, which may very well be capable of flirting with the 300-goal mark this year (that’s 3.66 goals per game, Leafs fans).

Instead, my concerns reside along Toronto’s blue line, and I’m sure G Frederik Andersen agrees with me. With Andersen in net last season, the Maple Leafs allowed at least 30 shots on goal 44 times.

He started 66 games last campaign.

For those struggling to do the math, Andersen – who started 80 percent of the Maple Leafs’ games last season and accrued 3889 minutes – faced at least 10 shots per period in two-thirds of his appearances.

Talk about a heavy workload.

To Andersen’s credit, he posted five shutouts and a solid .918 save percentage last season, so he performed marvelously given the immense pressure on him. However, there’s no doubt he would have preferred to see fewer than the 33.9 shots against per game coming his way, a regression from the 32.6 shots the Leafs allowed in 2016-2017.

In my last season preview, I mentioned how Pittsburgh might be a team looking to trade a defenseman should Juuso Riikola continue to impress. If that proves to be the case, General Manager Kyle Dubas would be wise to get in contact with counterpart Jim Rutherford to at least inquire about an asking price, as the Pens have exactly what the Leafs are in the market for: an established, NHL-ready defenseman with significant playoff experience.

The asking price would likely be high considering both are expected to be major players in the Eastern Conference. However, with visions of Stanley Cups dancing in their dreams, the initial cost of addressing the Maple Leafs’ defensive deficiencies likely pale in comparison to the time wasted in a contention window with a porous blue line.

Offseason Grade: B+

Yes, the Maple Leafs landed Tavares. As a result, they automatically earn better than a passing grade. However, doing little to improve a blue line that allowed the fourth-most shots has me very concerned that this club won’t see much of an improvement on that end of the ice. Dubas had better have a plan to address that issue soon, as Matthews’ contract next summer is not going to be cheap, which will make it difficult to retool the defense. In the meantime, hopefully the offense will meet or exceed expectations, as Scotiabank Arena could see more than a few high-scoring games this year.

Minnesota Wild 2018-19 Season Preview

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Minnesota Wild

45-26-11, 101 points, 3rd in the Central Division

Lost in First Round to WPG, 4-1

Additions: D Matt Bartkowski, F J.T. Brown, F Eric Fehr, G Andrew Hammond, F Matt Hendricks, F Mike Liambas, D Greg Pateryn, F Matt Read

Subtractions: F Patrick Cannone (signed, DEL), F Matt Cullen (signed with PIT), F Kurtis Gabriel (signed with NJ), D Alex Grant (signed, KHL), D Dylan Labbe (signed with Wichita Thunder, ECHL), D Viktor Loov (signed, KHL), G Steve Michalek (signed, Austria), F Zack Mitchell (signed with LA), D Zac Palmquist (signed with Lehigh Valley Phantoms, AHL), G Niklas Svedberg (signed, SHL), F Daniel Winnik (signed to a PTO with BOS), G Adam Vay (signed, Kazakhstan)

Still Unsigned: F Adam Gilmour, D Kyle Quincey

Re-signed: D Matt Dumba, D Nick Seeler, F Jason Zucker

Offseason Analysis: Despite a late-season decline, Devan Dubnyk managed to backstop the Minnesota Wild to a third place finish in the Central Division standings– locking up their sixth consecutive postseason appearance and guaranteeing a First Round matchup with the Winnipeg Jets.

Unfortunately for the Wild, they had a First Round matchup with the Winnipeg Jets. Oh and Minnesota’s head coach is Bruce Boudreau, so everyone knows about the playoff curse surrounding him by now, right?

Kidding aside, Minnesota lasted five games against Winnipeg when they realistically should’ve been swept by the jumpin’ Jets.

After nine seasons of being in charge, Chuck Fletcher was fired and Paul Fenton was hired as Minnesota’s new General Manager.

Fenton, of course, served as the assistant GM for the Nashville Predators (2006-18) and had been familiar with Wild owner, Craig Leipold– given their two seasons of overlap as employee and employer in Nashville from 2006-08 before Leipold sold the Predators and bought Minnesota.

Additionally, Fenton was highly-touted as the best “available” prospective General Manager that was potentially on the market for going big time and moving up in the rankings. Under the guidance of David Poile for over a decade with the Preds, Fenton is more than ready for his new role with the Wild.

Unfortunately, he’s inheriting a mess. Yes, even though the Wild have made the playoffs six seasons in a row now, they haven’t gotten past the Second Round.

Plus Zach Parise and Ryan Suter are under contract for forever (slight exaggeration) and both have an injury history (Parise’s career was nearly over and Suter’s going to miss the start of this season). They’re also on the books at over $7.500 million per season each with no movement clauses.

Parise, 34, and Suter, 33, aren’t going anywhere anytime soon, unless someone’s willing to eat some cap hit.

Minnesota has about $1.770 million in cap space with seven pending free agents (including two RFAs) next offseason. Eric Staal is one of them and he’s already indicated he’s willing to be more than patient while the Wild figure themselves out.

Staal’s currently making $3.500 million per season and reached the 40-goal plateau last season in a rejuvenating 76-point year (42 goals, 34 assists). At 33, he’s not going to get any younger, but he’s still a vital component of the roster with at least a couple more decent seasons left in him. Perhaps he’ll be the next ageless wonder, even.

Eric Fehr was given a second chance after the San Jose Sharks acquired his services from the Toronto Maple Leafs last season and he impressed the Wild enough to sign him to a one-year deal. Either that or Minnesota found their perfect placeholder while a) youth develops and b) they figure out how to free up cap space next offseason.

While the performance on the ice is to be determined– what with an underrated goaltender in Dubnyk and a solid blue line now that Matt Dumba is locked up through the 2022-23 season– this season will be a season in transition, no doubt, for the front office.

Perhaps Boudreau’s next to go after Fletcher’s roster building couldn’t get the Wild over the Second Round hump, does Leipold start pointing fingers behind the bench? Is it only natural that a new General Manager bring in their own plan for the bench to go along with the personalities on their roster?

It’s a make or break season for Minnesota, whether anyone wants to accept it or not.

Offseason Grade: C-

Hiring the best “GM prospect” as your new General Manager was Minnesota’s biggest move this offseason. Well, that and re-signing Matt Dumba to a friendly long-term deal worth $6.000 million per season through 2022-23.

But Paul Fenton’s got plenty of headaches ahead, regardless of team performance on the ice and that’s where the navigation of this franchise gets tricky. Besides, none of the free agents added to the roster this offseason scream “steal of the century”, though signing Andrew Hammond as a third-string goalie doesn’t hurt– goaltending depth is all too often over-looked.

Anaheim Ducks 2018-19 Season Preview

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Anaheim Ducks

44-25-13, 101 points, 2nd in the Pacific Division

Swept in the First Round by San Jose, 4-0

Additions: G Jared Coreau, F Chase De Leo (acquired from WPG), F Brian Gibbons, F Anton Rodin, F Carter Rowney, D Luke Schenn, F Ben Street, D Andrej Sustr

Subtractions: D Francois Beauchemin (retired), G Reto Berra (signed, Switzerland), F Jared Boll (retired), F J.T. Brown (signed with MIN), F Derek Grant (signed with PIT), F Chris Kelly (retired), F Nicolas Kerdiles (traded to WPG), F Mike Liambas (signed with MIN), F Andre Petersson (signed, KHL), F Corey Tropp (signed with San Diego Gulls, AHL)

Still Unsigned: D Kevin Bieksa, F Jason Chimera, F Nick Ritchie, F Scott Sabourin, F Antoine Vermette

Re-signed: F Ondrej Kase, F Kalle Kossila, D Brandon Montour, F Kevin Roy, D Andy Welinski

Offseason Analysis: Despite finishing one point ahead of the San Jose Sharks in the final standings at the end of the regular season, the Sharks took a bite out of the Anaheim Ducks in the First Round of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs. So much of a bite, in fact, it swept the Ducks off their feet.

Get it? Because they got swept in the postseason.

Despite winning the Cup with Randy Carlyle behind the bench in 2007, Anaheim needs to recognize just how much has changed in the last 11 years. The Ducks got back with their ex and fell into their old habits in a new-age game.

Corey Perry, Ryan Getzlaf and Ryan Kesler aren’t the players they used to be. It’s not that Perry can’t score, it’s just that he’s not as effective. As for the Ryans (Getzlaf and Kesler), one’s still existent (Getzlaf) though he’d be much better on the second or third line– or at least flanked by youth on his wings– and the other (Kesler) has become irrelevant.

Rickard Rakell would be better at center and well… the key is Carlyle has to revamp the lines, given what General Manager Bob Murray‘s handed to him this offseason (not much).

Brian Gibbons and Carter Rowney are fourth liners, so depth down the bottom-six is covered, at least. Meanwhile Luke Schenn and Andrej Sustr provide excellent coverage as sixth defensemen fighting for the last spot on Anaheim’s blue line, which is one of two bright spots for the Ducks heading into 2018-19.

Anaheim’s defensive core is strong with Hampus Lindholm, Josh Manson, Cam Fowler and Brandon Montour as their top-four defenders. As one of the most under-the-radar defensive core, they’ve kept John Gibson‘s workload to a manageable– wait, actually, Gibson faced 435 shots more in eight additional games last season than he did in 2016-17.

For the record, Gibson faced 1,437 shots against in 52 games (25-16-9 record) in 2016-17, while he faced 1,872 shots against in 60 games (31-18-7) last season. Though the workload increased, Gibson’s save percentage improved from a .924 to a .926. He also won over half the games he played in last season.

So Anaheim’s main strong point is the best American goaltender in the game, while having one of the better than average defenses in the game. Meanwhile, Nick Ritchie remains an unsigned RFA that Murray has to manage carefully.

Quintessential to the transition from the 2000s/2010s style Ducks to the 2020s era Ducks, the 22-year-old left winger is Anaheim’s biggest blue chip roster player outside of the crease. Ritchie is just waiting to emerge with a breakout year as Troy Terry joins the fold on offense.

The fact of the matter remains– play the kids more.

It can only help manage the workload of the physically worn out Ducks that have been around for the last decade. Perry might still produce, but it’s time to break him free from Getzlaf on the first line.

Ondrej Kase could move up a line, but Jakob Silfverberg isn’t actually the problem on the second line.

Anaheim’s in the middle of something– middle of the road, middle of a transition or middle of mediocrity. Whatever it is, they didn’t do much this offseason to fix it this season, but there’s still time to turn things around in the next few years– wait, Perry, Getzlaf and Kesler all have NMCs in their contracts that have three, three and four-years remaining respectively?

Oh boy.

Offseason Grade: D+

No you can’t get an “A” by default after having Francois Beauchemin, Jared Boll and Chris Kelly retire in one offseason from your roster.

John Gibson might be the closest thing to Dominik Hasek that we’ve seen since Dominik Hasek led the nonchalant 1999 Buffalo Sabres (seriously, look up the scoring leaders for that team, it trails off after Miroslav Satan— shouts Puck Soup) in the dead puck/trap era to the Stanley Cup Final– that’s if Gibson single handedly leads the Ducks to the 2019 Stanley Cup Final, mind you, and the mountain looks too steep.

Pittsburgh Penguins 2018-2019 Season Preview

 Pittsburgh Penguins

47-29-6, 100 points, second in the Metropolitan Division

Lost in Second Round to Washington, 4-2

Additions: F Matt Cullen, D Stefan Elliott, C Derek Grant, RW Jimmy Hayes, D Jack Johnson, G John Muse, D Juuso Riikola

Subtractions: D Lukas Bengtsson (signed with Linköpings, SHL), C Vincent Dunn (signed with Orlando, ECHL), D Matt Hunwick (traded to BUF), C Josh Jooris (signed with TOR), W Tom Kuhnhackl (signed with NYI), D Andrey Pedan (signed with Ak Bars Kazan, KHL), F Carter Rowney (signed with ANA), LW Tom Sestito (retired), W Conor Sheary (traded to BUF), D Jarred Tinordi (signed with NSH)

Offseason Analysis: Almost every season during C Sidney Crosby and F Evgeni Malkin‘s tenure has started with the goal of hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup.

However, this campaign is a little bit different than any before it.

Pittsburgh entered last season as the reigning back-to-back champion. The Pens had their ups and downs during the regular season, but after a six-game victory over intrastate rival Philadelphia in the First Round set up yet another conference semifinals meeting with Washington, fate seemed to be in the black-and-gold’s corner once again.

After all, the Penguins almost always beat the Capitals in the playoffs.

That modifier proved to be important, as the Caps defeated the battle-worn Penguins 2-1 in overtime in Game 6 to eliminate them for only the second time in 11 postseason meetings.

With Washington going on to win its first championship in franchise history, it put the onus on Head Coach Mike Sullivan‘s squad to win this year – not only to reclaim one of the most coveted trophies in the world from a division rival, but also to stake claim to the title of the NHL’s 10th dynasty and first since the 1983-1990 Oilers.

The league officially declares a club a dynasty if it claims at least three championships in the span of four years. With two titles in the past three seasons, this is a make-or-break season for Pittsburgh if Crosby and co. want to add that impressive listing to their resumes.

Offensively, Pittsburgh’s biggest addition for the 2018-2019 season actually occurred at the 2018 trade deadline when it completed a three-way trade for C Derick Brassard. It didn’t help that Brassard suffered a lower-body injury so close the regular season, but Pittsburgh is hoping it will see an improvement from the 4-8-12 totals the former Senator posted in 26 regular season and playoff games after he had a full summer to rest, recuperate and learn Sullivan’s system.

Brassard is just about as close to a lock for the third line’s center position as possible.

After a year of service to the Wild, soon-to-be 42-year-old Cullen was also added back into the mix and will surely assume fourth-line center duties, forcing F Riley Sheahan to the wing. With his immense experience at center, Sheahan will be a valuable commodity capable of playing on either the third or fourth line to serve as the backup face-off man should Brassard or Cullen get kicked out of the dot.

Any other changes to the Pens’ attack will come from within the organization. The clamor around the Steel City for RW Daniel Sprong is deafening (he posted 32-33-65 totals in 65 games played last year in the AHL), but his 2-1-3 effort in eight NHL games last season was not enough to convince Sullivan that he should stay with the senior team full time. He still has one more year left on his contract after this season, but the limited minutes awarded a former second-rounder gives many – including myself – the indication that Penguins coaches and management are running out of patience with the youngster’s growth.

In the same turn, F Dominik Simon and F Zach Aston-Reese earned their first Stanley Cup Playoff minutes last season, but only registered respective three and one assists in their eight or nine postseason outings (Simon managed 4-8-12 totals in 33 NHL regular season games last season, while Aston-Reese posted 4-2-6 marks in his 16 regular season showings).

None are locks for the roster, especially with the signings of Grant (12-12-24 totals in 66 games played with Buffalo last season) – another center that could transition to the wing – and Hayes (3-6-9 in 33 appearances with the Devils). General Manager Jim Rutherford is going to have to be very decisive with who makes the squad and who doesn’t, as he will not want to risk losing any of his talented youths to the waiver wire if he’s forced to make a move during the regular season.

The Penguins were even more quiet on the defensive front this summer, but there is two signings along the blue line worth talking about. While a defensive corps that includes Brian Dumoulin, new hire Johnson, Kris Letang, Olli Maatta, Jamie Oleksiak and Justin Schultz looks like it’d be more than solid enough to keep life easy for G Matt Murray, Pittsburgh could be in line for an upgrade if Riikola continues to impress even more than he already has.

The 24-year-old (he’ll turn 25 on November 9) from Joensuu, Finland has played a majority of the last six seasons playing in SM-Liiga  (Finland’s top professional league) with KalPa – including playing exclusively with the senior team since 2015-2016 – and he’s been reported to be adjusting to the North American game very quickly and is garnering a lot of attention early in the Pens’ training camp.

Now, that’s not to say Riikola (yes, pronounced like the cough drop company) will avoid Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and automatically make the team. With Pittsburgh’s top six defensemen locked into contracts through next season (seventh-man Chad Ruhwedel will be a UFA next summer), it’s hard to find him a spot on the roster as things stand currently.

However, should the organization decide he’s the real deal (for what it’s worth, he’s been practicing with both Dumoulin, a left-handed shot, and Letang, a right-handed shot), I wouldn’t be surprised to see Rutherford begin fielding trade offers for one of his defensemen in efforts to create a spot for Riikola and improve his bottom-six offensive depth.

Offseason Grade: B

It’s hard to say the Penguins had an A-class offseason considering their overall inactivity, but I’d also argue that there was less to fix than a second round elimination at the hands of the eventual champs would indicate. The real work for this roster will be done when deciding to go with youth or experience, as the core of this group is still certainly capable of winning the Stanley Cup once again.