Jarome Iginla is still without a team but isn’t giving up hope just yet on one last ride in the NHL.
The 40-year-old Iginla, who last played in 2016-17 with the Colorado Avalanche and Los Angeles Kings, was spotted on the ice at Providence Bruins practice on Tuesday, but there’s nothing in the works as far as a deal anywhere, he told the Providence Journal’s Mark Divver.
4 months after hip surgery, Jarome Iginla on ice with @AHLBruins today. Iginla: 'I’d love to still play. This is kind of the 1st step, getting out here & seeing how it is… I wanted to see if I can still go. I don’t have any deals at this point' pic.twitter.com/LiWaOQfTzG
Iginla’s name popped up in contention for a spot on the Canadian Olympic team this fall, but a hip procedure cost him time on the ice and ultimately a place in GM Sean Burke’s final roster for PyeongChang. (The Canadians are doing just fine without him having reached the semifinals of the tournament.)
Now living in the Boston area after buying a house last spring, Iginla, who played 78 games with the NHL Bruins during the 2013-14 season, was simply taking advantage of a favor from the team. He’s expected to skate with AHL Providence again on Thursday as he continues to see where his body is physically.
Iginla — and for that matter, U.S. Olympian Brian Gionta, who’s also looking to continue playing — can sign with any NHL team, but to be eligible to play in the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs a deal needs to be inked before the 3 p.m. ET trade deadline next Monday.
Last season, the Arizona Coyotes came into the year with great expectations. Then they only won one game in all of October.
Their 1-12-1 start (including a loss to begin November) derailed Arizona’s 2017-18 campaign before it could really start, serving as a cautionary tale for any Coyotes fans getting too excited about this season’s possibilities. Sure, the team showed promise late last season, yet such finishes can drum up false hope.
Adding Derek Stepan and Antti Raanta revved up excitement for the Coyotes last time around; this year, the possible growth of young players and the (perceived?) upgrade from Max Domi to Alex Galchenyuk is inspiring plenty of optimism. Coyotes fans even had a reason to gloat during the preseason, as Galchenyuk made a strong first impression in an exhibition at almost the same time that Domi was suspended for punching Aaron Ekblad.
To rain a bit more on the parade, the team warned that he might not be available for Arizona’s season opener (an Oct. 4 road game against the Dallas Stars).
It’s a shame that the Coyotes didn’t get to show off their shiny new toy against the Stars. Let’s consider a few of the other factors, and who might be affected by this in the short term.
While the Coyotes noted that Galchenyuk might miss that first game on Oct. 4, it’s important to realize that week-to-week is a vague description. For all we know, Galchenyuk may only miss a handful of games, or he might even play on opening night. Then again, it could also mean Galchenyuk may be sidelined for multiple weeks of the regular season.
The former Canadiens forward figures to be a top-six forward for a Coyotes team that’s still expected to be a little light on scoring, so a lengthy loss would sting. That said, it’s not necessarily a lethal blow. When you wonder if another lousy October is looming, the actual context of the schedule may factor in:
Thu, Oct 4 @ Dallas
Sat, Oct 6 vs Anaheim
Wed, Oct 10 @ Anaheim
Sat, Oct 13 vs Buffalo
Tue, Oct 16 @ Minnesota
Thu, Oct 18 @ Chicago
Sat, Oct 20 @ Winnipeg
Tue, Oct 23 @ Columbus
Thu, Oct 25 vs Vancouver
Sat, Oct 27 vs Tampa Bay
Tue, Oct 30 vs Ottawa
That four-game road trip (and five of six games on the road from Oct. 10-23) seems challenging, yet note that the Coyotes don’t face a back-to-back set during the first month. For all we know, that could provide a nice opportunity for Galchenyuk to limit games missed, or strategically heal up. Maybe he’d only need until Oct. 10, thus missing just two contests?
(Such a schedule also opens the door for further coaching sessions – possibly fruitful for a team ripe with young talent – and possibly allows Raanta to soak up a lot of starts.)
Overall, the Coyotes’ early schedule seems manageable enough. Their 2017-18 October wasn’t abnormally difficult, either, so that’s clearly not the only determining factor here.
A window for Strome?
One player’s injury is another player’s chance to earn a spot. Just ask Kurt Warner and Tom Brady how random luck can help you establish a sports career.
With Galchenyuk out, the Coyotes may let Dylan Strome get some extra reps as a center, or maybe a more prominent position on the power play. Even if it’s just for a couple games or merely just extra practice time, Strome badly needs to earn Rick Tocchet’s trust.
Perhaps someone else would run with the opportunity if Galchenyuk misses significant time, but Strome comes to mind as a player who’s really at a fork in the road.
We don’t know how much time Galchenyuk might miss. Actually, the Coyotes may not know, either.
It’s not the greatest way for Galchenyuk to begin his Coyotes career, especially since he was probably feeling quite liberated to be out of Montreal. Injury limitations could make it difficult for him to make a good first impression.
Still, this might only be a minor hiccup, and heightened opportunities for Strome (or a peer) could serve as a blessing in disguise.
At this point, it would be tough to blame an Ottawa Senators fan if they decided to just take the year off. Seriously, if you were in their shoes, would you mute mention of the team and its players on social media, and maybe just act as if you’re on a deserted island when it comes to news coverage?
We’re getting to the point where it’s refreshing if there’s only one bad news item per week.
The Senators seemed to meet their quota on Tuesday, then, as waiving forward Zack Smith hasn’t exactly been met with rave reviews from other embattled players. It seems like Matt Duchene is saying hello to his old friend darkness, considering the quotes shared by reporters including TSN’s Brent Wallace and the Ottawa Sun’s Don Brennan.
Matt Duchene, on #Senators players reaction to having popular forward Zack Smith placed on waivers: "I'll be honest, it's a kick in the balls for us. That's how it feels."
That specific Duchene quote will draw cringes and giggles, yet there are other comments that are honestly a bit more disconcerting, at least if you’re hoping that the Senators can convince Duchene and Mark Stone to stick around.
” … Unfortunately, I guess, sometimes in this business, things happen that are sometimes beyond hockey reasons and things like that,” Duchene said. “It’s tough right now, we are hurting.”
That last bit speaks volumes. The Senators are hurting before they’ve even played their first shifts of an 82-game season.
Hockey teams sometimes depend upon players valuing loyalty and security over getting the most money possible, so the “it’s business” vibe isn’t exactly promising for a franchise that’s projected every sign of penny-pinching.
It’s tough to deny the dark humor of Duchene going from a seemingly miserable situation in Colorado only to eat several extra helpings of extra misery in Ottawa. Still, the situation might be even grimmer for Mark Stone, as he’s spent his entire career with the Sens. Losing his trust risks losing whatever’s remaining of the soul of the Senators.
” … I’m surprised. But again, it’s not my decision,” Stone said, via Wallace. “I have to come to the rink every day and prepare the same way. To say I wasn’t surprised would be a lie.”
In a vacuum, placing Smith on waivers really isn’t that unreasonable.
After generating 30+ points for two straight seasons along with solid possession stats, Smith’s play really slipped alongside his struggling team in 2017-18. For a team trying to count every nickel and dime, there must be real consternation regarding Smith’s $3.25 million salary/cap hit. Moving Smith to the AHL saves the Senators a bit more than $1M, according to Cap Friendly. Such demotions are just a sad way of life in the “What have you done for me lately?” NHL.
With added context, such a move likely registers as callout to players like Duchene and Stone, and could provide yet another pull toward getting out of Ottawa at the first earthly possibility. Loyalty hasn’t exactly been a two-way street with this team:
These are the players the Ottawa Senators protected 15 months ago in the Vegas Expansion Draft, June 2017
Hoffman -Traded Brassard -Traded Stone -UFA in July Turris -Traded Smith -Waived earlier today Pageau Dzingel -UFA in July
Let’s take a quick look back at this debacle of a Senators summer, asking ourselves: how much money would you need to avoid abandoning this sinking ship? (You know, assuming that the Senators won’t just opt to trade Duchene and/or Stone in the near future, anyway.)
The Karlsson – Hoffman catastrophe
You can’t really blame the Senators for everything that happened regarding Erik Karlsson, Mike Hoffman, and those who know them. The franchise blundered their way through the fallout to a jaw-dropping degree, however.
Overall, it was a masterclass in how to implode as a front office, and it was far from the only forehead-slapping moment.
This development might not be on the radar of casual fans, but assistant GM Randy Lee resigning amid harassment charges is likely the ugliest incident of them all. Lee was with the Senators organization for 23 years, including four as an assistant, running the AHL team as part of that gig.
The Senators went viral with laughable video moments sandwiching the lousy Karlsson trade.
From The Department of Unforced Errors comes this absolutely surreal interview between owner Eugene Melnyk and veteran defenseman Mark Borowiecki:
The Ottawa Senators are proud to share the vision for the future of our team and this organization. We are about to launch an exciting plan to rebuild our team and we are inviting you to be a part of our rise to new heights. #OttawaRisingpic.twitter.com/hok2jYCUVi
Time flies when you’re having fun, right Senators fans? (Sorry.)
Not even having the lure of tanking
One can quibble about the Senators selecting Brady Tkachuk over, say, Filip Zadina with the fourth pick of the 2018 NHL Draft. That debate is mostly beside the point, though.
Thanks to the Matt Duchene trade, the Senators are sending their 2019 first-rounder to the Avalanche after keeping their 2018 first-rounder. For all the miseries of the 2018-19 season, they won’t at least be able to … “Slack for Jack?” Or would it be “Lose Huge for Hughes?”
(Let me know, Hockey Internet.)
For all we know, a mix of lottery luck and possibly better-than-expected play might leave the Avalanche with an inferior pick in 2019. Strange things happen in hockey, and a combination of a solid-to-good coach in Guy Boucher, a plausible rebound for Craig Anderson, and contract years for Duchene and Stone could propel them into more competitive play.
Still, most are betting on abject misery. The prospect of all of that losing and brooding opening the door for the Avalanche to land an elite talent pours a mountain of salt in the Senators’ many, many wounds.
That’s especially true if Brady Tkachuk ends up being nowhere near the prospect that his brother Matthew Tkachuk is.
Those are some of the big-picture nightmares that occurred for the Senators, and they probably overlook some other headaches. (Example: attendance issues should only get worse.)
It was already bad enough that the light at the end of the tunnel seemed so dim, and so distant.
To some extent, every rebuilding team faces asks their players “tough things out.” Sometimes you need to just pull the Band-Aid off, which occasionally means ruffling feathers by doing things like they did today in waiving Smith.
The reality, though, is that the Senators continue to pile on more reasons for Duchene and Stone to want to escape what appears to be an explosively dysfunctional franchise. The controversies and poor trade returns for Karlsson and Hoffman might serve as the haystacks, yet sometimes a smaller move like waiving a well-liked player such as Smith may actually be the last straw.
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Sidney Crosby can admit it now: The Pittsburgh Penguins were tired last season, a natural byproduct of becoming the first franchise in two decades to win consecutive Stanley Cups.
And though the Penguins came as close as any team in the last 35 years to capture three straight titles – they recovered from a blah start to reach the Eastern Conference semifinals before falling to Washington – that special gear they relied on so heavily during their run of dominance never materialized.
”Just for whatever reason, shorter summer, mentally not having that desperation level, as a group we were lacking that,” Crosby said.
Crosby isn’t making excuses so much as stating a simple fact. The Penguins played 213 regular season and playoff games from October 2015 to June 2017. A heavy workload to be sure but also a small price to pay to have your name written on hockey’s most prized possession.
While Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and company spent most of last fall downplaying the idea they might be emotionally and physically drained, at times they certainly played like it. The proof came on the defensive end, where they gave up the most goals (250) of any playoff team.
Though they eventually got it going behind Malkin – who finished fourth in the league with 98 points – they also understand sleepwalking for three months cost them a legit shot at home-ice advantage throughout the playoffs and forced them to expend more energy than they anticipated just keep pace in the hyper-competitive Metropolitan Division.
That can’t happen this time around if they want to throw another downtown parade in June.
”The start is important,” Crosby said. ”You want to start out the right way, especially with how tight teams are. You can’t be playing catch-up.”
A less taxing schedule should help. The Penguins played a league-high 19 sets of back-to-back games in 2017-18. That number drops to 11 this season. For a group whose core of Malkin, Crosby, Phil Kessel and Kris Letang are all in their 30s, that’s no small comfort.
Oh, and there’s the lingering taste of watching the Capitals celebrate a rare playoff triumph in Pittsburgh.
”Of course I’m upset,” Malkin said. ”I feel we beat Washington, we have chance to win. … I never watch (after we lose). I like go to Miami, spend time with my family, my kids. It doesn’t matter, last year or five years ago. I never watch (after we lose). It’s not fun to watch.”
Pittsburgh made just one splashy move in free agency when it lavished a five-year, $16.25 million contract on defenseman Jack Johnson. He called the move a ”perfect fit,” one that unites him with longtime friend Crosby. Still, the length of the deal and Johnson’s forgettable finish in Columbus – he requested a trade in the middle of last season and was a healthy scratch during the playoffs – raised eyebrows. The Penguins consider Johnson a versatile puck mover who could thrive in a system where he won’t be required to do much more than play responsibly and get out of the way.
”It’s always great to come into a team that has high expectations,” Johnson said. ”That’s what you want. That’s what any athlete wants coming into a team. There’s a lot of established guys that have been leaders on this team for a long time. I just wanted to come in and be myself and be part of the group and fit in with the guys and help the team win.”
‘DAD’ IS HOME
Matt Cullen is still going. The veteran center – who turns 42 in November – returns to Pittsburgh after one season in his native Minnesota. Cullen played a vital role both on the ice as a penalty killer and off the ice as a ”glue” guy as the Penguins won back-to-back Cups. Cullen still looked plenty spry during his 21st NHL training camp, and he will give the fourth line a boost.
Matt Murray‘s first full season as Pittsburgh’s firmly entrenched No. 1 goalie did not go to plan. After twice backstopping the team to the Cup before his 24th birthday, Murray struggled to stay healthy and play with consistency. He’s hoping an extra month to prepare for his third NHL season will help and coach Mike Sullivan is quick to point out Murray didn’t exactly receive a serious boost from the play in front of him.
As long as the Penguins have Crosby, Malkin and Kessel in the fold, they’ll be among the most talented offensive teams in the league. The goal this season is to spread the wealth a little bit more. Pittsburgh relied almost exclusively on its top power play and the combination of Crosby and Jake Guentzel late in the season and into the playoffs. A full training camp to integrate Derrick Brassard – who played with an injury most of last spring after being acquired at the trade deadline – should help. If Brassard and Patric Hornqvist can develop some chemistry, the third line could take some of the pressure off the star-laden top two groups.
(The 2018-19 NHL season is almost here. This week Pro Hockey Talk will be previewing all four divisions looking at strengths and weaknesses, whether teams are better or worse this season and more!)
The Metropolitan Division produced the Stanley Cup champion for the third season in a row, yet you couldn’t call it a familiar sight.
After decades of heartbreak as a franchise and a decade of heartbreak for signature star Alex Ovechkin, the Washington Capitals finally did it. After seeing their Presidents Trophy run end and “only” winning the Metro, the Capitals won their first-ever title. Fittingly, they ended up needing to get through the Penguins, a team that’s crushed their dreams multiple times in the past. In hindsight, it HAD to happen that way.
Five Metro teams ended up making the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs, with the surprising Devils, persistent-if-frustrated Blue Jackets, and rising Flyers joining the Capitals and Penguins. Few would bat an eye if the division once again sent a maximum of five squads to the postseason in 2018-19, although the cast of characters could change.
This post winds through the ups, downs, dreams, and fears for all eight teams.
Better or worse?: Oh dear, that’s a loaded question.
One thing’s for sure: they’re different. They changed their coach and GM, so we’ll see if Rod Brind’Amour can maintain the possession-happy ways that partially explain why the Hurricanes have frequently been go-to dark horse candidates. (Here’s hoping that “Rod the Bod” is more progressive and modern than “Team Grit” and “Team Grind” would indicate.)
Let’s lean toward better because, frankly, it’s tough to imagine their goaltending declining from last year’s season-sinking mess.
Strengths: Hamilton and free agent signing Calvin de Haan bolster a defense that already ranked among the deepest in the NHL. That’s especially true if the Hurricanes hang onto Justin Faulk, even if Brind’Amour will need to juggle to get everyone proper ice time. (Most other NHL GMs are sarcastically playing the world’s smallest violin.)
Beyond defense, Carolina boasts a ton of youth, and Svechnikov only strengthens that point.
Weaknesses: Goaltending, duh.
Mrazek didn’t exactly stop every puck that came his way after being traded from Detroit to Philadelphia, and while he showed flashes of brilliance in the past, his best Red Wings days are moving further away in the rearview mirror. Mrazek and Scott Darling could be OK, yet they don’t exactly inspire utmost confidence.
Also, while that offense has some pieces, it’s fair to wonder if there are enough gamebreakers. Trading away Skinner did not help.
2017-18 Highlight: The team kindly collects the best of last season in this clip.
MVP Candidate: Hamilton may put on an exhibition that will make him the guy in Carolina, but let’s bet on Aho, who led the team in scoring last season and is just 21 years old. Aho isn’t a household name, yet if you turn on a Hurricanes game, he’ll likely be the player who captivates you.
Playoffs or Lottery?: As “fool me once” as this feels, Carolina leans closer to the playoffs. No, this is not a recording; yes, it will be tough for them with plenty of other viable teams in the East. Whether they actually make it or not, Carolina is much more likely to be in the bubble than in the cellar this season.
COLUMBUS BLUE JACKETS
Better or worse?: Worse, in some ways for matters that are out of their hands. The uncertainty surrounding Artemi Panarin and Sergei Bobrovsky – two enormously important players – hangs over Columbus like a dark cloud. If one or both gets traded away, you can move this from a soft worse to a hard worse.
Strengths:Zach Werenski and Seth Jones might comprise the NHL’s most dazzling young defensive duo, and if they continue progressing in this current direction, you might not need the young caveat much longer.
Also, the Blue Jackets currently have a high-end forward (Panarin) and a Vezina-quality goalie (Bob). Currently.
Weaknesses: It could all come crashing down if they move Bob and Bread. We can all acknowledge that Pierre Luc-Dubois was a success as a rookie, but how good is he really if he doesn’t have one of the world’s most explosive wingers helping him out? They might need to go back to a rat-like mentality if they lose their stars.
MVP Candidate: Panarin and/or Bob if one or both stays. If not, Seth Jones was really drumming up Norris Trophy buzz, although he’d need to fight off his buddy Zach, who’s generally an even more explosive scorer.
Playoffs or Lottery?: It’s easy to forget that the Blue Jackets generated 108 points in 2016-17, and were quite potent with 97 last season. They haven’t met their goals during the postseason yet, but they’ve been a force during regular seasons. Of course, losing their stars could warp that outlook …
Generally speaking, they’ve mostly just stayed in place, but call it a step back.
Strengths:Taylor Hall faces long odds in producing back-to-back Hart Trophy seasons, but he’s a spectacular winger who absorbed a comically outsized array of abuse during his Edmonton days. Hall is awesome, and the Devils have some other nice forwards, including Nico Hischier, who immediately backed up his status as the top pick of the 2017 NHL Draft. Kudos to New Jersey for embracing its strengths on offense last season, and there’s little reason to expect them to turn away from what worked.
Weaknesses:Cory Schneider was basically in a crisis in 2017-18, and it’s not as if that defense is really equipped to bail him out. The Devils’ forward group has some other nice pieces (especially if Marcus Johansson can get healthy), yet they still ask Hall to pull off one too many miracles.
2017-18 Highlight: All Hail Hall.
MVP Candidate: Uh, duh, the reigning MVP.
Playoffs or Lottery?: Last year, it was a no-brainer to be lottery, and then the Devils made a stunning run to a playoff berth. GM Ray Shero deserves some credit for not overreacting and messing things up by adding a bunch of short-term investments, but New Jersey is unlikely to walk that tightrope again. They’re closer to lottery fodder heading into 2018-19.
NEW YORK ISLANDERS:
Better or worse?: (Laughs awkwardly.)
Strengths:Mathew Barzal should soothe some of the John Tavares-related wounds, as he is a splendid scoring wizard of a sophomore. Sure, it will be tough to ask him to top or match last season, especially with a lot more pressure on his shoulders and far more attention from opposing defenses. Barzal, Jordan Eberle, Anders Lee, and Nick Leddy provide the sort of offensive spark that might make the Islanders fun to watch, at times.
Also, Barry Trotz could help clean up that disastrous defense.
Weaknesses: Good grief, that defense was horrendous last season, and the goaltending couldn’t clean up matters, either. Both stand as likely problems heading into 2018-19, although improvements are easy to imagine simply because the bar is so long. Unfortunately, no Tavares means that their offense is weaker by a face of the franchise-sized margin.
2017-18 Highlight: The Islanders might as well put up a Barzal billboard.
MVP Candidate: Sorry to heap all of these expectations on you, Barzal, but there’s no other choice. The 21-year-old scored 85 points in 82 games last season, and who’s to say that isn’t just the tip of the iceberg?
Playoffs orLottery?: Lottery, by a mile. On the bright side, the Islanders hit it out of the park during the 2018 NHL Draft, and could very well land another blue chipper in 2019. Jack Hughes could look really nice as a one-two punch with Barzal, eh?
NEW YORK RANGERS
Better or worse?: Worse, yet by design. Management acknowledged that a rebuild is in motion. The fascinating question is: how long will they commit to that plan? What happens if Artemi Panarin really does heart New York?
Weaknesses: That defense is a tire fire inside a Dumpster fire transported by a train wreck. Holy smokes. Also, Lundqvist may indeed be feeling his age and all of that past hockey mileage, and the offense is unlikely to hang with other explosive groups in the Metro. So, let’s broadly say “lots.”
2017-18 Highlight: Pavel Buchnevich made a fan’s day last season.
MVP Candidate: If anyone’s even in the realm of Hart chatter, it has to be King Henrik. Even Rangers management might root against that, consider New York’s eyeing of the basement.
Playoffs or Lottery?: Lottery, and expect the Rangers to chase more chances at first-round picks. Could they trade Zuccarello? Maybe the question is actually, “Who won’t they trade?”
Better or worse?: The glorious return of James van Riemsdyk gives a boost to a power play that already consistently ranked among the NHL’s most terrifying groups. Considering how Nolan Patrick ended last season, it wouldn’t be surprising if he made a nice jump – if not leap – this season, too.
Strengths: Remember that bit about Columbus’ defensive duo? Philly readers might have been yelling at their screens while eating decadent sandwiches (seriously, I need to get to Philly one of these days). Ivan Provorov and Shayne Gostisbehere are right up there with the best young duos in the NHL. With Claude Giroux revamped last season, Sean Couturier climbing the Selke ranks, and other scorers looking promising – opponents can’t be happy that Travis Konecny blew up once the calendar turned 2018 – this offense should be potent.
It sure seems like GM Ron Hextall’s vision is coming into focus, and it’s a sight for sore eyes.
Weaknesses: Head coach Dave Hakstol isn’t exactly beloved by Flyers fans, so that’s something to watch if Philly stumbles out of the gate.
Brian Elliott tends to play best when people count him out, and all three of Philly’s potential goalies should have motivation (contract years for Elliott and Michal Neuvirth, Carter Hart wanting to prove himself as NHL goalie now). Still, goaltending is the eternal question for the Flyers, and this year probably won’t disappoint.
2017-18 Highlight: Giroux clinched a Flyers playoff spot in style.
MVP Candidate: Giroux crossed the triple-digit barrier for the first time last season, collecting a whopping 102 points. If he can avoid the erosion of age – he turned 30 in January – then the Flyers captain could be in the Hart discussion once again.
Playoffs or Lottery?: Playoffs. Considering the young players Philly boasts, it’s not outrageous to daydream about exponential growth for the Flyers. If they see more baby steps than leaps, they’re still likely to at least be in the bubble.
On one hand, Matt Murray is likely to enjoy a better season, and the hope is that Kris Letang will be healthier. On the other, this team’s getting older; considering how star-dependent this team can be, any slippage from Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin could really sting.
Strengths: Still, those stars.
Crosby and Malkin remain among the cream of the crop. All of the drama around Phil Kessel really distracts from the remarkable feat he accomplished in 2017-18, setting a new career-high with 92 points, including 34 goals.
This team has a lot of weapons, and a coach willing to actually deploy them. It’s plausible that Derick Brassard will rebound during a contract year, too.
Weaknesses: This Penguins team gives up almost as much as it produces, and that puts a heavy burden on Murray. If Brassard and others can’t get it together, Pittsburgh will continue to ask the world of their world-beaters. In a team sport like hockey, that frequently translates to asking too much.
2017-18 Highlight: Last season felt like an elaborate MLB tryout for number 87.
MVP Candidate: The Penguins remain a pick your poison proposition: will Crosby be the top star this year, or will Makin snatch the crown? Despite playing four fewer games in 2017-18, Malkin generated 98 points to Crosby’s 89. Sometimes it’s as simple as which superstar center enjoys the most help. In that regard, did you know that Jake Guentzel is entering a contract year?
Playoffs or Lottery?: Playoffs. This team’s managed to clinch berths even during seasons when multiple star players miss huge chunks of time due to injury. The Penguins remain all-in, and the window to contend remains open. We’ll see if they can put it all together.
Better or worse?: Worse, yet not to the extreme that plenty of championship teams encounter. They managed to bring back key pieces of their magical curse-breaking Stanley Cup run, with John Carlson‘s re-signing ranking as arguably the biggest surprise. They didn’t even break the bank with depth players, generally speaking, as many championship teams do. That Michal Kempny deal was remarkably reasonable.
Then again, they did give Tom Wilson a gobsmacking amount of money, and Barry Trotz is out. Also, they killed untold number of brain cells celebrating their epic victory …
Strengths: The Capitals feature the many building blocks of a juggernaut. Alex Ovechkin is the high-end sniper. They have a great one-two punch of centers in Nicklas Backstrom and Evgeny Kuznetsov, while their supporting cast features a nice veteran (T.J. Oshie) and intriguing young scorers such as Jakub Vrana and Andre Burakovsky. For all the worries about Todd Reirden taking over for Trotz, he might be more willing to unleash Vrana and Burakovsky. The defense has some nice pieces, and Braden Holtby shook off a tough regular season to remind us why he’s one of the league’s most reliably great goaltenders.
There just aren’t a lot of holes on this team.
Weaknesses: Reirden’s never been a head coach, and he’s facing a huge challenge in trying to repeat. Like the Penguins, the Capitals aren’t ancient, yet Father Time is at least hovering as a threat, at least when it comes to competing at the highest levels. With Philipp Grubauer in Colorado, Washington may not have much of a safety net if Holtby once again falters.
2017-18 Highlight: Pick your favorite.
MVP Candidate: People expect Ovechkin to stagger through the first few months of the season after knocking the biggest, silver item off of his bucket list, and understandably so.
On the other hand, he’s Alex Ovechkin. Despite playing a physical style where he receives and delivers a raucous number of hits, Ovechkin’s managed to play almost every game possible. Ovechkin’s played in far more games than Crosby (1,003 to 864) despite his rambunctious style.
Playoffs or Lottery?: Most seasons, it’s more reasonable to merely wonder if the Capitals will win the Presidents’ Trophy, or just their division. With a coaching change, less certainty at backup, creeping age, and the Stanley Cup hangover, maybe the Capitals will relinquish the Metro crown. Regardless, they still have the tools for a playoff berth.