The NHL season begins in Czechia on October 7th with games on back-to-back nights between the San Jose Sharks and Nashville Predators. Before the first official puck drop, it is always helpful to know what each team’s outlook is. This is article two of four that will be released over the next two weeks breaking down and predicting the 2022-23 NHL season.
The Eastern Conference is once again stacked where each team will have to run the gauntlet just to earn a playoff spot. It would not be surprising if all eight playoff teams had at least 100 points like in 2021-22. Another thing to watch will be if the Metro can get five teams into the playoffs as I believe it is the deeper of the two Eastern Conference Divisions.
The Hurricanes were one of the most active teams this summer, while keeping the majority of its team together. The Canes made both an abundance of trades and free agent signings. The Canes brought in Brent Burnes to anchor its top defensive pair and Max Pacioretty to slot into its already mega-talented forward group.
The Hurricanes also made some minor moves bringing in Ethan Bear and Ryan Dzingel along with re-signing Martin Necas. Paul Stastny also signed an under the radar one-year deal. Stasny can slot in on any of the four Hurricane lines. Carolina is going to be a force in the East and have a legitimate chance to lift Lord Stanley’s Cup.
Columbus Blue Jackets
The Jackets made the biggest splash in this off-season’s free agency signing Johnny Gaudreau to a seven-year, $68.6 million deal. Columbus also signed Jack Roslovic, Adam Boqvist, Erik Gudbranson and Patrik Laine to multi-year contracts.
Even with all this help either staying home or coming in from outside sources, the Jackets still have some holes. The bottom six forwards and entire defense core is simply not good enough to compete in the juggernaut that is the Eastern Conference. CBJ will be better this season but are still a year or two away from making serious noise.
New Jersey Devils
The Devils made some moves this summer as well, but, like the Jackets, are not talented enough throughout the lineup to compete in the East. The Devils acquired both Erik Haula and John Marino in trades. New Jersey also signed goaltender Vitek Vanceck and forward Ondrej Palat to multi-year deals.
The young talent is now there for New Jersey and its depth is filling in nicely. If the Devils can find a consistent goaltender, and can get a few players to make big steps, New Jersey could surprise some people in the regular season. This is another team that is very close to breaking through.
New York Islanders
There was a point deep into free agency where the Islanders were the only team to not make a single move. While this may look stupid to do as a team that missed the playoffs a year ago, it wasn’t an awful move. The Islanders went to the Eastern Conference Finals two short years ago and have kept the same group together. It is quickly forgotten that New York played the first month and a half on the road last year as its new arena was being finished. This is a team that played well once it was able to find some normalcy in terms of its schedule.
The Isles return a very deep team in all aspects that loves to focus of defense and physicality. That is how New York has been successful before and are still built to be successful in the same way. I would not be surprised if the Islanders made some noise and found themselves in a playoff spot come April.
New York Rangers
It was a near dream season for the young Rangers. Now, the glaring questions is whether New York can repeat or even top its previous performance. The Rangers lost a few major depth pieces this offseason. Andrew Copp, Tyler Motte, Frank Vatrano, Kevin Rooney and Ryan Strome all departed the Big Apple. With subtractions comes additions. The Rangers signed big-name free agent Vincent Trocheck to a seven-year contract while also adding depth in center Ryan Carpenter and a new backup goaltender in Jaroslav Halak.
The Rangers still send a potent top six forward group and solid top two defensive parings to the ice but may lack the depth it had a year ago. The Rangers can certainly repeat its 2021-22 season but will need to rely on its powerplay and goaltending once again to do so.
The Flyers are going to be bad; really, really bad. Philadelphia simply doesn’t have the talent to hold its own in a stacked Eastern Conference. Yes, the Flyers went out and signed Owen Tippett and Nicolas Deslauriers, but those are two depth moves. The Tony DeAngelo signing gives Philly a top-pair defenseman but that’s still not solving any major issue. Not to mention that Carter Hart is not good outside his yearly 10 game stretch where he doesn’t allow a goal. It’s going to be a long year for the Flyers.
The Penguins decided to run it back yet again as the team re-signed Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang to deals which should take them both through the end of their careers. Pittsburgh also brought back key players for a discounted price. Bryan Rust and Rickard Rakell both inked six-year contract, while Kasperi Kapanen and Danton Heinen both signed shorter-term deals.
The Penguins also remodeled its defense below the top pair of Letang and Brian Dumoulin. Defenders John Marino and Mike Matheson were traded away for defensemen Ty Smith and Jeff Petry along with depth forward Ryan Poehling. Veteran defenseman Jan Rutta was also brought on board to round out Pittsburgh’s blue line. The Penguins also have P.O. Joseph as its seventh defenseman and used its first-round selection on defenseman Owen Pickering. The Penguins are going to be back in playoff contention looking to clinch a spot for a 17th straight season.
Like Pittsburgh and Boston, the Capitals are getting old. I already predicted the Bruins to have a down year and miss the playoffs, but I don’t think the Caps are going to have the same misfortune. The Capitals are still full of house-hold names like Alex Ovechkin, Evgeny Kuznetsov, John Carlson and Nicklas Backstrom.
Washington went out and finally addressed its biggest issue: goaltending. Darcey Kuemper will be between the pipes for the Caps this season. Washington also went out and acquired Connor Brown and signed Dylan Strome. The Capitals, like its rival Penguins, just keep on chugging along, aging like a fine wine.