Tampa Bay Lightning 2022-23 Season Preview

It didn’t happen until the Stanley Cup Finals, but a team finally eliminated the Lightning. The Avalanche were simply the better squad, but that doesn’t close the window for Tampa Bay’s third cup in four seasons. They have quickly rebuilt their bottom-six, which supplements an outstanding top-two lines. This offseason saw them extend a ton of young players long term, so a lot of guys aren’t going anywhere for a long time.

Offseason additions: D Ian Cole, F Vladislav Namestnikov, D Philippe Myers, D Haydn Fleury.

Offseason subtractions: D Ryan McDonagh, F Ondrej Palat, D Jan Rutta.

Forwards

The loss of Ondrej Palat really weakens the left side of the forward core. What doesn’t help is that center Anthony Cirelli could miss the first two months or so of the season with an injury. Cirelli’s injury will make the opening night lineup look scary, but as long as they are in the playoffs, the Lightning don’t really care about the regular season. A prime example of that is Nikita Kucherov, who did play in the regular season in 2021-22, but only for 47 games. He scored 25 goals with 69 points, which is a pace that would come close to his 128-point, Hart-winning 2018-19 season. At even strength, Kucherov was on the ice for a ridiculous 4.29 goals for per 60 minutes. While he led the team in goals in both Cup-winning runs, Brayden Point only played in nine playoff games, with just five points. Limited to just 66 contests in the regular season, Point scored 28 goals with 58 points. Tampa Bay could turn into a full one-line team if they keep Steven Stamkos on the top line. In his first full regular season since 2018-19, Stamkos scored 42 goals with 106 points, and was once again the best player on the team. He added 11 more goals in the postseason. He played more center this year, but Tampa likes him on the wing. With Cirelli out, he could move over.

In his tenth season with the Lightning, Alex Killorn’s 59 points was his highest. Twenty-five of them were goals. One potentially concerning thing about Killorn is that he was the only regular forward on the team with an expected goals for percentage under fifty. Cirelli’s injury means that Nick Paul will have to step into the top-six for the time being. After coming over at the deadline from Ottawa, he had 14 points in 21 games, then added nine more in the postseason. Paul is a big body with defensive talent like Cirelli, although he lacks the offensive upside. The other big move made at the trade deadline was for Brandon Hagel, who rode a shooting percentage over twenty to a 25-goal season. With only six points in the playoffs and 13 in 45 total games after the trade, Hagel showed that his true role with the Lightning is as a middle-six winger, not the scorer that he was in Chicago.

Four years after the Lightning traded him away for Ryan McDonagh and JT Miller, Vladislav Namestnikov has made his return to Tampa Bay, just after McDonagh was traded to Nashville. He has been on five teams since that 2018 trade, where his scoring has fallen off. Namestnikov did score 16 goals with 30 points for Detroit and Dallas in 2021-22. Ross Colton was the team’s Swiss Army knife last season, playing all over the lineup. That didn’t deter his scoring, as Colton potted 22 goals in his first full NHL season. After dominating in the AHL once again, Alex Barre-Boulet once again sees himself without a clear role. For now, he could get a chance on the third line. Barre-Boulet had six points in 16 games for the Lightning and Kraken last year. He played in 58 AHL games, finishing with 63 points.

When Tampa Bay lost their third line of Yanni Gourde, Blake Coleman, and Barclay Goodrow in free agency last year, they replaced them by moving their younger players to the third line, and building a shutdown veteran fourth line. The center of that line was Pierre-Edouard Bellmare, the 37-year-old who tied his career-high in goals, with nine. Bellmare makes his living in his own end, or rather by not being in it too often. He was on the ice for just 1.18 goals against per 60 at even strength, leading the team. That was just ahead of lineman Patrick Maroon at 1.28. Easily the more physical player, Maroon scored 11 goals with 27 points, as well as 134 penalty minutes and 160 hits. The best thing for Tampa’s bottom-six was a rejuvenation season for Corey Perry. Sure, he didn’t score 50 goals like he did back in 2010-11, but Perry’s 19 goals were his most since 2016-17, and his 40 points were a lot more than anyone expected. Perry added 11 points in the playoffs, en route to his third consecutive Stanley Cup final loss. The forward depth options are thin, so the Lightning will have to reach deep into their AHL bag for potential contributors. The most likely name is Cole Koepke, a sixth-round pick back in 2018. While he has never played in the NHL, Koepke scored 20 goals in 69 AHL games this past season. Another option is Gemel Smith, who has four points in eight games for the Lightning over two seasons. He went to Detroit for a little bit before returning to the Syracuse Crunch and putting up eight points in 13 games.

Defensemen

While the analytics community didn’t love Victor Hedman in 2020-21, he still finished third in Norris voting. In 2021-22, every community was all over Hedman. Once again, he was third in Norris voting. Hedman scored 20 goals for the first time, and also set a new career-high in points, with 85. His 65 assists alone would have been the second most points of his career. Hedman’s normal partner, Jan Rutta, signed with Pittsburgh. Zach Bogosian will also be out until November at the earliest. That provides a fantastic opportunity for Cal Foote to step in and earn his stay in the NHL. Foote averaged just over 13 minutes a night in the 56 games he played in, recording nine points.

The pairing of Erik Cernak and Mikhail Sergachev both signed eight-year extensions in the offseason, locking in a potential second pair for the next nine seasons. Cernak had 13 points in 55 games, with 165 hits. He added 84 more checks in 23 playoff games. Sergachev had 38 points, his most since 2017-18, when he was just 19. In each season since, he has taken on a bigger ice time share and a more physical role. Sergachev was the only Lightning player with triple digit hits and blocked shots in the regular season alone.

Filling in the void left by McDonagh’s departure will be Ian Cole, who had 104 blocks and 110 hits for Carolina last year. The Lightning are set to be the veteran’s seventh NHL team, and that doesn’t include when he was traded to Ottawa for a few days in the middle of the 2017-18 season. The return for McDonagh included Philippe Myers, a six-foot-five defender who was highly touted when coming up with Philadelphia, but was waived last season by the Predators. In 27 games, he had four points. Another highly touted player at one point was Haydn Fleury, the seventh-overall pick in the 2014 draft. Fleury was selected in the expansion draft last offseason, but only played in 36 games for the Kraken.

Goaltending

Andrei Vasilevskiy’s season was almost disappointing, as his fifth place Vezina voting finish was his worst since 2016-17, his first year as a starter. Leading the league in wins for the fifth year in a row, Vasilevskiy posted a .916 save percentage and a 2.49 GAA. He was fourth in goals saved above expected. Tampa Bay even got average results out of Brian Elliott, who looked lost in his last few seasons with the Flyers. Only playing in 19 games, Elliott had a .912 save percentage with a 2.43 GAA.

Projected Lines

Steven Stamkos – Brayden Point – Nikita Kucherov

Alex Killorn – Nick Paul – Brandon Hagel

Vladislav Namestnikov – Ross Colton – Alex Barre-Boulet

Patrick Maroon – Pierre-Edouard Bellmare – Corey Perry

Scratched: Cole Koepke, Gemel Smith

Victor Hedman – Cal Foote

Mikhail Sergachev – Erik Cernak

Ian Cole – Philippe Myers

Scratched: Haydn Fleury

Andrei Vasilevskiy

Brian Elliott

St. Louis Blues 2022-23 Season Preview

They were certainly no Avalanche, but the Blues had an incredible offensive team last year, one that did not get enough credit. They were fourth in the league in goals scored and had ten players with 47 or more points. St. Louis had incredible scoring depth and will have most of their key players return for the 2022-23 season.

Offseason additions: F Noel Acciari, G Thomas Greiss, F Josh Leivo, F Martin Frk, F Tyler Pitlick (PTO).

Offseason subtractions: F David Perron, G Ville Husso, F James Neal.

Forwards

The Blues failed to trade Vladimir Tarasenko before the season as they couldn’t find a taker for the sniper coming off of multiple shoulder surgeries. It became a prime example of the best trades being the ones you don’t make, as Tarasenko returned to his old self, scoring 34 goals with 82 points, both of which led the team. His defense was rough, but the team isn’t paying him to be a Selke candidate. It doesn’t hurt to play with one of the best passers in the game, as Robert Thomas had 57 assists in 72 games. He added 20 goals for 77 points, demolishing his previous career-high. Thomas signed an eight-year extension in the offseason. St. Louis found the perfect final piece to their top line by practically stealing Pavel Buchnevich from the Rangers. In his first season with the team, Buchnevich scored 30 goals with 76 total points. His 53.5 xGF% easily led the team. Even though the Blues were a playoff team, Thomas was the only other player above fifty percent.

While Ryan O’Reilly’s production last season was his worst in three seasons with the Blues, St. Louis doesn’t need him to be a 70-point player, especially with how well the rest of the top-six played. It isn’t like O’Reilly struggled, either. He scored 21 goals with 58 points, while finishing fourth in Selke voting. O’Reilly had just a 2.09 GA/60 at even strength. That was actually bested by Brandon Saad and David Perron, his two linemates. Perron left for Detroit in free agency, while Saad remains. His 24 goals and 49 points were his most since 2016-17, when he was still on Columbus. Jordan Kyrou was the fourth man on the first line last year, and at times was put on the third line simply because there was no room for him in the top-six. Perron’s departure opens up that spot. Kyrou broke out in his second full season, scoring 27 goals with 75 points in 74 games.

The team’s center depth in the top-nine has caused Brayden Schenn to be forgotten. While he was limited to 62 games in the regular season, Schenn still scored 24 goals with 58 points. In 343 games since coming to St. Louis, Schenn has 276 points, 30 more than he had over six seasons in Philadelphia. Of all the Blues to go on a crazy scoring pace, the most surprising was easily Ivan Barbashev. In the past, he had produced like a fourth-liner. But in 2021-22, he rode a shooting percentage over 23 to 26 goals and 60 points. The new scoring touch didn’t affect the physicality, as Barbashev set a career-high in hits, with 160. This could be the rookie season of Jake Neighbours, the 2020 first-round pick who got a taste of the NHL last season, with two points in nine games. He was then sent back to the WHL, where he put up 45 points in 30 games for the Edmonton Oil Kings.

Three years after being “tripped” in a controversial non-call that helped the Blues win the Stanley Cup, Noel Acciari has joined St. Louis. While he did score a fluky 20 goals in 2019-20, Acciari has played in just 61 games in the two seasons since, with seven goals and 19 points. He got into just 20 games for the Panthers in this past season. While 2021-22 was the fifth season in which Nathan Walker played in multiple NHL games, it was really the first in which he got a real opportunity. Playing in 30 games, he scored eight goals, which is a 22-goal pace over 82 games. He also lit up the AHL, scoring 19 goals with 44 points in 47 games. After coming over from Ottawa in a preseason trade, 2016 first-rounder Logan Brown had 11 points in 39 games. He also had 17 points in 19 AHL games. While he may have been highly touted as a prospect, Brown’s six-foot-six stature could be beneficial for a fourth line role. Another top pick who hasn’t produced at the NHL level is Klim Kostin. At six-foot-three, he is no slouch himself. Kostin got his best look at the NHL last season, with nine points in 40 games. Journeyman Josh Leivo has always had solid scoring paces, but never plays enough to have good final numbers. He played in seven NHL games for the Hurricanes last year and had three points. Leivo also had 46 points in 54 AHL contests.

Defensemen

Justin Faulk’s long term contract with the Blues didn’t get off to a hot start, but that was repaired last year, as he was the team’s top defender. Faulk scored 16 goals with 47 points and was nominated for the Norris Trophy. However, it should be noted that he had a PDO over 105. Having one of 101 is high on its own. Sustaining 105 over 76 games is practically unheard of. It inflated Faulk’s even strength goals for percentage to 64.1. He’s good, but not at that level. The same could be said for his main partner, Torey Krug. Playing in 64 games, he had 43 points and is capable for much more. Krug also had an insane PDO, at an even 106. His GF% was 62.2 percent.

Colton Parayko’s new eight-year extension that carries a $6.5 million cap hit kicks in this season. It is a ton for a second-pairing defender, although the Blues deploy Faulk and Parayko evenly. The 29-year-old had 35 points in 80 games, tying a career-high. He also had a career-high 169 blocked shots. The Blues extended Nick Leddy after acquiring him from Detroit at the deadline. The offensive defenseman had eight points in 20 games after the trade, then added five more in nine playoff games. Leddy can struggle in his own end, which is why it is important to pair him with a stronger defender like Parayko.

With how much Faulk and Parayko play a night, the third right-defender doesn’t have a whole lot of ice time left for them. That role has mostly been filled by the physical Robert Bortuzzo, who is entering his ninth season with the Blues. His 73 games played last year was a career-high, although his 135 hits weren’t. The competition for his partner is between Scott Perunovich and Niko Mikkola. Perunovich comes in as the much more intriguing option. The oft-injured former second-rounder dominated at the University of Minnesota-Duluth before turning pro. He had 22 points in 17 AHL games last year, and six in 19 NHL games. Perunovich got into seven playoff games, recording four assists. Mikkola has a lot more NHL experience, playing in 54 games last season. The big and lean lefty had 13 points with 81 blocks and 109 hits.

Goaltending

St. Louis had a goaltending controversy last year between Jordan Binnington and Ville Husso, which has been cleared up after Husso followed Perron to Detroit. Binnington definitely was not the better goalie in the regular season, as he had a .901 save percentage, a 3.13 GAA, and a -10.4 GSAx. He won the starting job back in six playoff games before getting injured, posting a .949 save percentage and a 1.72 GAA. His new backup, ironically, will be Detroit’s old backup. Thomas Greiss did not fare well after leaving the goalie-friendly Islanders for the Red Wings. He played in 31 games last year, posting a 3.66 GAA with a save percentage of .891. While he is 36 and that can be concerning, Greiss should have better numbers simply by being on a much better team.

Projected Lines

Pavel Buchnevich – Robert Thomas – Vladimir Tarasenko

Brandon Saad – Ryan O’Reilly – Jordan Kyrou

Jake Neighbours – Brayden Schenn – Ivan Barbashev

Nathan Walker – Logan Brown – Noel Acciari

Scratched: Josh Leivo, Klim Kostin

Torey Krug – Justin Faulk

Nick Leddy – Colton Parayko

Scott Perunovich – Robert Bortuzzo

Scratched: Niko Mikkola

Jordan Binnington

Thomas Greiss

Seattle Kraken 2022-23 Season Preview

The NHL gave the Kraken an outstanding opportunity to live the magic of the Golden Knights in their inaugural season. Instead, Seattle confused everybody at the expansion draft, then proceeded to act like an actual expansion team. But don’t fear, lifelong Kraken fans! Even with the fourth overall pick, Seattle managed to luck into Shane Wright, who everyone assumed would be the top pick in the draft. Wright, who had 94 points in 63 OHL games, may not be on the team to start the season. But he is a potential top line center for the future. If the Kraken have drafted well, then this team could become something special soon.

Offseason additions: F Andre Burakovsky, F Oliver Bjorkstrand, D Justin Schultz, G Martin Jones, F John Hayden, D Michal Kempny.

Offseason subtractions: F Riley Sheahan, F Victor Rask, D Haydn Fleury.

Forwards

The all-time leader in goals and points for the franchise is Jared McCann through one season. The expansion draft pick from Toronto (a team he never played for), McCann scored 27 goals with 50 points, both career-highs. His 49.7 xGF% was the second-best on the forward core, behind bottom-six center Riley Sheahan. The most established forward on the team entering last year was Jordan Eberle, who scored 21 goals and was the team’s lone all-star representative. Once a consistent scorer, 2021-22 was actually Eberle’s first 20-plus goal season since 2017-18. The third and final 20-goal scorer on the team was Yanni Gourde, who put up 48 points in 74 games. Gourde had a much bigger role last year, finally playing on a team that didn’t have Brayden Point and Anthony Cirelli as centers ahead of him.

The Kraken pounced at the opportunity to acquire one of the best players on the Blue Jackets for just a third and fourth-round pick. Oliver Bjorkstrand set career-highs last season when he scored 28 goals with 57 points in 80 games. Bjorkstrand is also a very solid defensive winger who struggled with the weak goaltending in Columbus last season. That probably won’t get any better in Seattle, but at least he has experience. The Kraken signed Andre Burakovsky, who also had a career-high in goals, with 22, and points, with 61. Of course, playing on last year’s Avalanche will do that. Since joining Colorado, Burakovsky has scored 61 goals with 150 points in 191 regular season games, rocking a shooting percentage over seventeen percent. He had eight points in 12 playoff games. Even if Wright doesn’t play in 2021-22, Seattle fans have Matty Beniers to look forward to. Drafted second overall in 2021, Beniers scored 20 goals with 43 points in 37 games at the University of Michigan. He then made his way to the NHL, scoring nine points in ten games.

Ryan Donato had an even strength GF/60 of 2.76. Second place on the team was Eberle, at 2.5. Donato scored a career-high 16 goals with 31 points in 74 games, while playing on his fourth team in four seasons. Many were surprised when the Kraken gave Alexander Wennberg a three-year deal with a cap hit of $4.5 million after one good season with Florida. He responded with 37 points, his most since his breakout season of 2016-17. With Sheahan and Calle Jarnkrok gone, Wennberg could step into a bigger role on the penalty kill. The five-year signing of Jaden Schwartz did not work out in its first season, as Schwartz played in just 37 games and only scored eight goals. He did play a ton in the games he was healthy for, but Schwartz could be looking at a third line role after a few new additions.

After scoring 17 goals in 51 games in 2020-21, Joonas Donskoi mustered only two in 75 games last season. While he was much better than that suggests, and suffered from a 2.2 percent shooting rate, the Kraken did not get what they were looking for in Donskoi. While he was an important penalty killer, the overall lack of offense has doomed Donskoi to the fourth line. Morgan Geekie scored seven goals with 22 points in his first full NHL season after being the surprise expansion draft pick from Carolina. He was one of the few members of the Kraken to receive passable goaltending when he was on the ice. That led to his 2.48 GA/60 at even strength, the second-best on the team. Brandon Tanev was supposed to be one of the team’s leaders, and he was for the first 30 games of the season. He scored nine goals with six assists, but then unfortunately tore his ACL. He still had 98 hits before the injury. Getting the pest of a winger back will be key for Seattle. Kole Lind had eight points in 23 NHL games last year. In 46 AHL games, he scored 17 goals with 35 points, while also racking up 106 penalty minutes. A waiver claim from Boston, Karson Kuhlman has four points in 16 career playoff games. He put up eight points in 25 games after coming to Seattle.

Defensemen

Seattle clearly tried to create a defensive-first team, with Adam Larsson signed to be the backbone of the defense. But when he has an on-ice save percentage of 88.6 percent, his numbers won’t be good. The team’s awful goaltending elevated Larsson’s GA/60 to 3.28 and lowered his GF% to 39.3 percent. Once infamously traded for Hart winner Taylor Hall, Larsson’s 25 points last season were a career-high. Part of that could be thanks to his partner, Vince Dunn. He had flashed offensive talent in St. Louis, but hadn’t been able to fully unleash it while playing in a sheltered role. Dunn had 35 points in 73 games, but his 2.64 xGA/60 was the worst on the defensive core.

Big Jamie Oleksiak played in a career-high 72 games, and put up 17 points with 182 hits. Standing at six-foot-seven, Oleksiak’s expected goals for percentage of 49.79 was the second-best among Kraken defenders. His new partner will be Justin Schultz, who regressed in his second and now final season with Washington. After putting up 27 points in 46 games the season before, Schultz had just 23 in 74 games last season, while seeing his ice time get cut.

The Kraken love big defenders, which is proved by the six-foot-five Carson Soucy playing behind Oleksiak on the left side. Soucy didn’t show a ton of offensive potential in Minnesota, but scored ten goals with 21 points in 64 games last season. While he only played in 36 games, the underlying numbers for William Borgen were impressive. He had eight points with a 51.15 xGF%. Borgen was superb defensively, with a 2.05 xGA/60 and a 1.7 GA/60. Cale Fleury played in nine games for the big club last year, alongside his brother Haydn. Now, his sibling is gone, and Fleury is looking to secure a bigger role. In 58 AHL games, he put up 33 points.

Goaltending

The Kraken aren’t going anywhere until Philipp Grubauer figures his issues out. He was a Vezina finalist when playing behind an elite Avalanche team, but was the league’s worst goalie in 2021-22. In 55 games, he posted an ugly .889 save percentage with a 3.16 GAA. Grubauer’s -31.5 goals saved above expected was by far the worst in the NHL. With Chris Driedger injured, veteran Martin Jones was signed to be the backup. Jones hasn’t had good numbers since 2017-18, but last year’s Flyers weren’t exactly sound defensively. Jones had a .900 save percentage and a 3.42 GAA in 35 games while splitting starts with Carter Hart.

Projected Lines

Jared McCann – Yanni Gourde – Jordan Eberle

Andre Burakovsky – Matty Beniers – Oliver Bjorkstrand

Ryan Donato – Alexander Wennberg – Jaden Schwartz

Brandon Tanev – Morgan Geekie – Joonas Donskoi

Scratched: Kole Lind, Karson Kuhlman

Vince Dunn – Adam Larsson

Jamie Oleksiak – Justin Schultz

Carson Soucy – William Borgen

Scratched: Cale Fleury

Philipp Grubauer

Martin Jones

San Jose Sharks 2022-23 Season Preview

The Sharks’ descent from perennial playoff chokers into salary cap hell has been a tough one to watch. They didn’t hire a new GM until the first week of July, and chose failed Rangers bench boss David Quinn as their new head coach. The offseason was mostly unspectacular, aside from the fact that they were able to unload most of the Brent Burns contract. They are still at the cap right now… but baby steps are important.

Offseason additions: F Luke Kunin, F Oskar Lindblom, F Nico Sturm, F Steven Lorentz, D Markus Nutivaara, D Matt Benning, F Evgeny Svechnikov.

Offseason subtractions: D Brent Burns, D Nicolas Meloche, F John Leonard, G Adin Hill, F Rudolfs Balcers, F Jonathan Dahlen.

Forwards

Playing on some bad Sharks teams has caused Timo Meier’s excellence to go under the radar. He had 162 hits and was nominated for the Lady Byng Trophy, which goes on top of his 35 goals and 76 points. Meier was first on the team in both goals for percentage and expected goals for percentage by over a percentage point in each. Tomas Hertl’s eight-year extension will kick in this season. The goal for it is to not be the new horrible contract on the books for San Jose. Hertl scored 30 goals for the second time in 2021-22, while also eclipsing 60 points for the second time of his career. In his first full season at age 27, Alexander Barabanov mostly played on the first line. He racked up 39 points in 70 games, which isn’t bad considering he was acquired for an AHL forward currently playing in Sweden.

While he has definitely seen some things during his tenure with the Sharks, Logan Couture still produced last year. He scored 23 goals with 56 points, both his most since 2018-19. Aside from Meier, Couture was the only Sharks forward with an xGF% above fifty. While Luke Kunin scored 10 goals in 38 games in 2020-21, he followed that up with just 13 in a full 82 games last season. The 24-year-old added only nine assists, leading to Nashville trading him away this offseason. Part of the decline could be due to a complete change in play style. Kunin had 99 penalty minutes and 223 hits. Both of those were career-highs by a sizable margin. San Jose picked up Oskar Lindblom in free agency after the Flyers surprisingly non-tendered the young winger. Lindblom’s development was stunted by a rare cancer in 2019-20. When he came back the next year, he clearly wasn’t the same player as before. But Lindblom was solid on a horrible Philadelphia team in 2021-22, scoring 12 goals with 26 points. This is a guy who scored 11 goals in 30 games prior to his diagnosis. His role with the Sharks should be more than it was last season.

Before either player ended up with the Sharks, Luke Kunin and Nick Bonino were traded for each other in 2020. The veteran Bonino is still a very solid third line center who excels in his own end. He scored 16 goals in his first season with the team, and was second on the forward core in xGA/60. The only player ahead of him was winger Matt Nieto, at 2.19. In the second season of his second stint with the Sharks, Nieto had 17 points and 96 hits in 70 games. Neither Bonino nor Nieto produced much offensively, which could be mended by Kevin Labanc’s return. He was limited to just 21 games last year, scoring three goals with three assists. Labanc has shown offensive talent in the previous four seasons, averaging nearly 40 points.

After a Stanley Cup victory, Nico Sturm secured a three-year deal with the Sharks. He spent last year with the Wild and Avalanche, two very good teams. Sturm had no goals and six assists in 34 games for Colorado, split between the regular season and playoffs. He scored nine goals in 53 games for Minnesota. In his first NHL season with more than 30 games played, Noah Gregor had 23 points in 63 games. He also blocked 49 shots with 118 hits while only having 25 penalty minutes. As part of the return for Burns, the Sharks got Steven Lorentz back. A former seventh-round pick, Lorentz played in 67 games for the Hurricanes, scoring eight goals with five assists. Six years after becoming a first-round pick in the incredible 2015 draft, Evgeny Svechnikov finally secured a full-time NHL role. It came with the Jets, as he played in 72 games. Svechnikov scored seven goals with 19 points, both the most of his career. In a sheltered role, the six-foot-three winger had 104 hits. If the Sharks want physicality like that, the answer is Jeffrey Viel. While he had just five points in 34 games, Viel had 84 hits. The more eye-popping number is penalty minutes; Viel had 114 of them.

Defensemen

The departure of Burns leaves Erik Karlsson as the top dog in San Jose. He may not be worth his $11.5 million cap hit for the next five seasons, but Karlsson is still a very good player. Injuries bit him, which is something that he has been accustomed to. Karlsson scored 10 goals with 25 assists for 35 points in 50 games. His main partner, Jacob Middleton, was dealt to Minnesota at the deadline. That could open up Karlsson to play with Burns’ old partner, Mario Ferraro. Finishing second on the team in ice time, Ferraro had 14 points with 151 blocks and 140 hits in 63 games.

The decline of Marc-Edouard Vlasic has been in place for a number of years now, but the most telling number has been his ice time. On average, Vlasic’s share dropped to just over 15 minutes last season. Once a defensive stalwart, he was on the ice for 2.79 goals against per 60 minutes. The only regular defenseman who was worse than him was Nicolas Meloche, who the Sharks let go in free agency. Vlasic doesn’t even block as much shots anymore. Once a lock for triple-digits, he had just 90 in 75 games, with his ice time cut certainly playing a role in that. Nearly the entire Sharks defense is on a multi-year deal, including Radim Simek, who is yet to have played in 50 games in a single season. Simek had two points with 96 hits in 36 games last season.

Adding onto the motif of long contracts for depth defenders, the Sharks gave Matt Benning a four-year deal worth a total of $5 million this offseason. Benning has experience on the power play and had 11 points in 65 games for Nashville in 2021-22. The Sharks gave Markus Nutivaara $1.5 million to play this season, signifying that he will get a shot to be a regular. An incredibly vague injury cost Nutivaara all but one game last season. He had 10 assists in 30 games in 2020-21, and was a regular for Columbus prior to that. Jaycob Megna’s role could range from seventh-defender to the top pair, as he did get an extended look with Karlsson last season. Megna, who hadn’t played in the NHL since 2018-19, dressed for a career-high 44 games, recording eight points with 92 blocked shots.

Goaltending

The Sharks have struggled to find a goalie for a long time, but they did have two effective options by the end of the season. In exchange for Middleton, San Jose acquired Kaapo Kahkonen from Minnesota. Once considered to be the goalie of the future for the Wild, Kahkonen couldn’t take the job from Cam Talbot. In eleven games after the trade, he was solid, with a .916 save percentage and a 4.61 GSAx. Veteran James Reimer was also above league average in GSAx, and made a career-high 46 starts last season. Reimer had a .911 save percentage in his first year of stint number two in San Jose.

Projected Lines

Timo Meier – Tomas Hertl – Alexander Barabanov

Oskar Lindblom – Logan Couture – Luke Kunin

Matt Nieto – Nick Bonino – Kevin Labanc

Noah Gregor – Nico Sturm – Steven Lorentz

Scratched: Evgeny Svechnikov, Jeffrey Viel

Mario Ferraro – Erik Karlsson

Radim Simek – Marc-Edouard Vlasic

Markus Nutivaara – Matt Benning

Scratched: Jaycob Megna

Kaapo Kahkonen

James Reimer

Pittsburgh Penguins 2022-23 Season Preview

Entering this past offseason, it appeared that the Penguins’ front office run by Ron Hextall and Brian Burke had an impossible task of keeping all of their pending free agents. While they had to let a few go, Pittsburgh was able to retain almost everybody, including franchise icons Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang on discounted cap hits. A few seasons in a row of playoff disappointment means that running it back with a similar roster has more than a few skeptics. But it has never been the fault of the veterans for the team’s recent demise.

Offseason additions: D Jeff Petry, D Jan Rutta, D Ty Smith, F Ryan Poehling, F Josh Archibald.

Offseason subtractions: F Evan Rodrigues, D Mike Matheson, D John Marino, F Brian Boyle, G Louis Domingue.

Forwards

As long as Sidney Crosby is in Pittsburgh, the Penguins will be going for the Stanley Cup. He was still dominant in his age-34 season, although Crosby was not nominated for the Hart Trophy for just the second time since concussions nearly ended his career prematurely. Playing in 69 games, he scored 31 goals with 84 points. Crosby’s defense has gradually improved as he has aged, and he had a ridiculous 62.3 GF% this season. After three consecutive disappointing playoff series, it was huge for Crosby to have ten points in six postseason games. The same could be said for Jake Guentzel, who scored eight times in seven games versus the Rangers. In the regular season, Guentzel scored 40 goals for the second time, while setting a new career-high in points, with 84. The big deadline grab for the Penguins was Rickard Rakell, who only got into two playoff games. He was a rental, but Pittsburgh gave him a six-year, $30 million extension in the offseason. In 19 regular season games after the trade from Anaheim, Rakell had 13 points while mostly playing with Crosby.

The injury concerns are very, very real for Evgeni Malkin. He hasn’t played in every game in a season since 2008-09, and only has 70 games played in two seasons since then. Malkin was once again limited to just 41 games last year, and he is not as much of a physical player anymore, despite his haunting stature. While he did produce, with 20 goals and 22 assists, Malkin had just a 44.8 goals for percentage at even strength. Part of the reason why the Penguins brought in Rakell was because it allowed Bryan Rust to drop down to Malkin’s line. While he played in only 60 games, Rust was amazing, scoring 24 goals with 58 points. It was a new career-high for him, although just like everybody on the team, Rust struggled with injuries. He came through big in the postseason, with eight points in seven games. Pittsburgh signed Danton Heinen for depth last year, but he earned his way into middle-six minutes. Heinen scored 18 goals with 15 assists while only missing six games. He also had a ridiculous 58.9 xGF% at even strength. The only regular forward who was higher than him was actually Dominik Simon, who was a part of the Rakell trade.

The lackluster play of Jason Zucker continued in 2021-22, as the veteran winger only played in 41 games. When he did play, Zucker didn’t produce, with eight goals and nine assists. Acquired from Minnesota in 2019-20, they hope was for Zucker to play with Crosby and score 30 goals, like he did in 2017-18. He hasn’t done either in Pittsburgh. In 94 games, he has 23 goals with 47 points. Instead of playing with Malkin or Crosby, he mostly played with Jeff Carter on the third line. Carter went on a scoring heater after being acquired in 2020-21. Even in his age-37 season with his shooting percentage declining, he was much more productive than expected. Carter scored 19 goals with 45 points, while being one of five forward to play in at least 75 games. It was also Carter’s most goals and assists since 2016-17. The Penguins have the right to be frustrated with Kasperi Kapanen, who despite good analytical and defensive numbers, didn’t produce a ton last year. Kapanen had 30 points in 40 games in 2020-21, but had just 32 in 79 games last season. He only matched his goal total of 11. The talent is there, but Kapanen hasn’t proved that he is better than the third line.

A first-round pick by the Canadiens in 2017, Ryan Poehling comes to the Pens after an underwhelming 2021-22 season. Playing in 57 games for Montreal, he scored nine goals with eight assists. Pittsburgh utilized a complete shutdown fourth line, although they traded away Zach Aston-Reese, one of the line’s premier members. The center is still Teddy Blueger, who had an xGA/60 of two, and a GA/60 of 1.72. He also had a career-high 28 points. Brock McGinn scored 12 goals in 64 games last year, his most since 2017-18. The former Hurricane had 94 hits with 50 blocked shots, the latter tied with Carter for most among team forwards. An option instead of Poehling is Drew O’Connor, a six-foot-three, undrafted winger who had five points in 22 games last season. O’Connor was effective in the AHL, with 32 points in 33 games. Veteran Josh Archibald came back from myocarditis and played in eight games for the Oilers last season. In 52 games the season before, he scored seven goals with 192 hits.

Defensemen

In his age-34 season, Kris Letang set a new career-high in points, with 68. While his defense isn’t fantastic, Letang is still a top-pairing defender. He finished seventh in Norris voting, and the Penguins have him at a cap hit of just $6.1 million. Unfortunately, that is for the next six seasons. Pittsburgh got a healthy season out of Brian Dumoulin… until he only could play in one playoff game. He’s been the rock of the Penguins’ defense when he’s played, supporting Letang defensively.

Jeff Petry had 42 points in 55 games in 2020-21. But as the Canadiens fell off a cliff, so did he. Petry had just 27 points in 68 games, leading to an offseason trade. Still, Petry led the Habs’ defense in xGF% and blocked 117 shots with 140 hits. He will be paired with the lanky Marcus Pettersson, who has seen his role be diminished in each of the past two seasons. He had 19 points in 72 games last season while averaging under 16 minutes of ice time a game. He will again be a second-pairing defender, so the team needs more out of him.

The team shipped out John Marino to New Jersey to accommodate Petry, and brought in promising undersized defender Ty Smith. He had 20 points in 66 games for the Devils last year, but really struggled in his own end. Smith was the only regular Devils’ defender with an xGF% under 50, and his was just under forty-seven. Pittsburgh signed Jan Rutta from Tampa Bay, who reaped the benefits of playing with Victor Hedman. Rutta had 18 points last year, his most since his rookie season of 2017-18. He is a big guy with a ton of playoff experience, which naturally got him a three-year contract in the offseason. Various injuries led to Chad Ruhwedel playing in a career-high 78 games in 2021-22. Ruhwedel is entering his seventh season as a depth defender for the team, signing five different contracts in the process. He had an extraordinary xGF% of 57.9 this past season.

Goaltending

Goaltending was once again the downfall of the Penguins in the playoffs, as they had to watch third goalie Louis Domingue play in most of their games. Tristan Jarry returned only for game seven, where he was still clearly hurt. While he struggled the season before, Jarry was great in the 2021-22 regular season. He had a .919 save percentage with a 2.42 GAA, plus a positive goals saved above expected. Backup Casey DeSmith was roughly average in that stat, as he played in 26 games. DeSmith had a .914 save percentage and a 2.79 GAA.

Projected Lines

Jake Guentzel – Sidney Crosby – Rickard Rakell

Danton Heinen – Evgeni Malkin – Bryan Rust

Jason Zucker – Jeff Carter – Kasperi Kapanen

Ryan Poehling – Teddy Blueger – Brock McGinn

Scratched: Drew O’Connor, Josh Archibald

Brian Dumoulin – Kris Letang

Marcus Pettersson – Jeff Petry

Ty Smith – Jan Rutta

Scratched: Chad Ruhwedel

Tristan Jarry

Casey DeSmith