St. Louis Blues 2021-22 Season Preview

All offseason, the Blues decided to stock up on wingers as they expected a trade of Vladimir Tarasenko. But, they didn’t move the face-of-the-franchise. So now, there is an incredible amount of depth for St. Louis up front. The team was very disappointing last year. Can they bounce back?

Offseason additions: F Pavel Buchnevich, F Brandon Saad, F James Neal (PTO), F Michael Frolik (PTO).

Offseason subtractions: F Mike Hoffman, D Vince Dunn, F Jaden Schwartz, F Zach Sanford, F Sammy Blais, D Carl Gunnarsson.

Forwards

In the third year of his third stint with the Blues, David Perron was the team’s best offensive player. He scored 19 goals with 39 assists, to lead the team with 58 points in 56 games. It was his first time averaging over a point-per-game, and the 33-year-old’s second-highest point total with St. Louis. Ryan O’Reilly put together another great season, finishing fifth in Selke voting and 18th in Hart for his efforts. O’Reilly scored 24 goals with 30 assists. Over his three seasons as a Blue, O’Reilly is yet to miss a game. The elite defender averaged over twenty minutes a game for the sixth consecutive season, while winning 58.8 percent of draws. The Rangers’ efforts to increase in grit ended up with the Blues getting Pavel Buchnevich. The 26-year-old Russian had a career year in 2020-21, scoring 20 goals with 48 points in 54 games. He has the flexibility to play anywhere in the top-nine for St. Louis. With Tarasenko still with the team, the question is, for how much longer? Will the Blues look to move him midseason? Tarasenko has missed nearly all of the games since winning the Stanley Cup in 2019. In 34 games combined in the two years since, he has scored just seven goals. Four of those goals with ten assists came in 24 games in 2020-21. How will the elite sniper be after another shoulder surgery? Brayden Schenn scored 16 goals last year, which was actually his lowest since 2012-13. He was on pace to beat his 2018-19 mark, but the shortened season intervened. Schenn had 20 assists, while reaching triple-digit hits for the tenth consecutive season. Brandon Saad has played against the Blues a lot as a rival with the Blackhawks and Avalanche, and he now joins the team he just beat in round one last year. He scored 15 goals in 44 games for Colorado last season. Where Saad really turned it on was the postseason, scoring seven times in ten games. He had a league-leading shooting percentage of 22.1 percent last season. Take away with that as you will. A second-rounder in 2016, Jordan Kyrou was productive in his first-full NHL season. Playing in all but one game, he scored 14 goals with 35 points. That was good enough for fifth on the team. Robert Thomas had a rough and rocky junior season, playing in just 33 games. Thomas scored three times with nine assists for what was easily his worst of his three seasons. Entering his fourth NHL season, Thomas just turned 22 in July. After going to the open market, Tyler Bozak came back to the Blues. The veteran had 17 points in 31 games last year, for a very good 44-point pace. Of course, you cannot expect that from Bozak as a fourth line center. Bozak’s offensive upside is worth it with his good defense. Ivan Barbashev scored 25 goals over the two seasons prior to last year. He scored just five last season, along with seven assists in 38 games. The checking forward had 49 hits as well. Former first-round pick Klim Kostin can make the team out of camp. Kostin has six NHL games under his belt, but struggled in the KHL last year. Kostin had just 18 points in 43 games for Omsk Avangard last year. Logan Brown, who grew up in the area, joins the Blues after a training camp trade with Ottawa. Brown played in just one NHL game last year, and had nine points in 13 AHL games. The season before, he had eight points in 23 NHL games with 28 in 25 AHL contests. For the first time in his 11 year career, Kyle Clifford did not record over 100 hits. He had to settle at 69 in 50 games, along with seven points. He had 30 penalty minutes, fourth on the team. With Oskar Sundqvist still recovering from a torn ACL, MacKenzie MacEachern has an opportunity. The former third round pick has averaged less than nine minutes a game in his career, but still has 166 hits in 101 games.

Defensemen

After losing Vince Dunn to Seattle, the Blues did not bother to get a replacement. So, they enter the season with a thinner defense than they have had in years past. Torey Krug brought his power play expertise in his first year with the team, with 12 assists on the man advantage. Overall, Krug had 32 points in 51 games. Krug finally was a true number one defenseman for the first time in his career. Justin Faulk looked like an awful addition to the team in 2019-20, but he had a nice redemption year, averaging over 24 minutes on ice a night. Faulk scored seven goals with 25 points, along with 87 blocks and 127 hits. As he entered what would be a contract season, the Blues decided to extend Colton Parakyo until the end of the decade. In the beginning of his career, Parakyo was a great two-way defender, but now he is more on the defensive side. He had 12 points in 32 games, with 64 blocks. He is a good player, although the long-term contract is a dicey move. Despite just a 43.56 xGF%, Marco Scandella was able to reach an actual GF% of 54.84. In the first campaign of his four-year extension, Scandella averaged over a hit and a block a game. Oddly enough, Robert Bortuzzo led the Blues in xGF%, at 51.27. The hard-nosed right-handed shot also had the best xGA/60 among regular Blues. That provides a major contrast to his potential partner, Niko Mikkola. Mikkola was not an angel defensively, but his 3.24 GA/60 was brutally unlucky. Mikkola’s 33.3 GF% was tied with Jamie Drysdale for third-worst in the league among defenders with as much ice time as Mikkola. Only David Savard and Ben Hutton were worse. Jake Walman played in 24 games, with an ugly 2.55 xGA/60. The former Providence defender blocked 20 shots with 26 hits.

Goalies

It is tough to say that Jordan Binnington definitely peaked in 2019, but there was never going to be a situation where he topped his 1.89 GAA from that season. Binnington has settled into a decent starting goaltender, with a positive-but-not-crazy GSAA over the last two seasons. In 42 games last year, Binnington had a .910 save percentage with a 2.65 GAA and a 2.6 GSAA. The Blues once again did not get him a veteran backup, so Ville Husso is the other option again. Giving a 25-year-old with bad AHL numbers the backup job went as poorly as you thought it would. Husso had a save percentage of .893 with a 3.20 GAA.

Projected Lines

Pavel Buchnevich – Ryan O’Reilly – David Perron

Brandon Saad – Brayden Schenn – Vladimir Tarasenko

Logan Brown – Robert Thomas – Jordan Kyrou

Kyle Clifford – Tyler Bozak – Ivan Barbashev

Extras: Klim Kostin, MacKenzie MacEachern

Torey Krug – Justin Faulk

Marco Scandella – Colton Parakyo

Niko Mikkola – Robert Bortuzzo

Extras: Jake Walman

Jordan Binnington

Ville Husso

Prediction

The Blues struggled to stay afloat in the awful West Division last year, which is a big concerning piece of information as they re-enter the Central Division. They still have a good team, with the ability to do some damage. Are they legitimate Cup contenders? Maybe not. But the Blues are definitely in line for fourth place in the Central.

Seattle Kraken 2021-22 Season Preview

Hey look, another expansion team! After the cinderella run that the Golden Knights experienced in 2017-18, the Kraken have much higher expectations than they should. But in the league’s worst division by far, Seattle really has a fighting chance. If only they executed the expansion draft better.

Offseason additions: Everyone.

Offseason subtractions: lol.

Forwards

One of the team’s biggest name brands that came in via the expansion draft was Yanni Gourde, but offseason shoulder surgery will cost him the first few months of the season. He scored 17 goals with 36 points for Tampa last year, and added six more in the postseason as the team won another Stanley Cup. Jordan Eberle is the team’s only real first line player from last year. Just like most of the Islanders, he traded offensive production for better defense. Playing alongside Mat Barzal, Eberle scored 16 times with 17 assists in 55 games. He had 11 points in 19 playoff games before being eliminated by Gourde and the Lightning. Jaden Schwartz had been a prolific scorer for the Blues over a number of seasons, but last year was different. He netted just eight goals with 21 points in 40 games. Sure, he did score 22 with 35 assists in 2019-20, but this is a risky bet to take on a 29-year for five seasons at $5.5 million per. Jared McCann was traded away from the Penguins to avoid him going to the Kraken, but the Leafs exposed him anyways, and here we are. McCann is a solid middle-six player who can sub in at center and on the wing. He played in 43 games for Pittsburgh last year, scoring 14 goals with 32 points. With Gourde out, the center depth is very weak, so McCann could be a top line center to start. Calle Jarnkrok can play all over the lineup. He has scored double-digit goals — but no more than 16 in a season — in every season for the Predators since 2015-16. He had 13 with 15 assists last year in 49 points. Alex Wennberg had a revival season with the Panthers, although it was not as good as the $4.5 million that the Kraken gave him per season. Wennberg scored a career-high 17 goals with 29 points last year. The scariest part is that Wennberg had a crazy 20.7 shooting percentage, which is nothing not anything that he has had in his career. Joonas Donskoi has been a solid third-line scorer over the past few seasons. He set a career high in goals in 2019-20, then topped that with 17 last year. Just like Wennberg, there was a ton of shooting luck involved. Donskoi had a 19.8 percentage. Speaking of high shooting percentages, Colin Blackwell had an 18.8 rate last year. For him to score a career high 12 goals with that shooting percentage and while playing a lot with Artemi Panarin, there are significant signs to show that he is not a 21-goal player, which was the pace he was on last season. The five-foot-nine winger still brings the grit that can improve a bottom-six. Marcus Johansson was a very good defensive winger who could score during his prime. But as he has reached his late twenties, Johansson has crashed. He scored just six goals with eight assists in 36 games for the Wild last year. He has played a good amount of center in his career, although the position may not be cut out for him. Former Olympics sensation Ryan Donato has been a fine bottom-six player on the scoresheet in his career. He scored just six goals for the Sharks last year, but he added 14 assists to go with that. He had a 5.8 shooting percentage, offsetting his 14.7 percent from the season before. While he may be known for his odd photo-day pictures now, Brandon Tanev is a very solid fourth line winger. He played in just 32 games last year, but scored seven goals with nine assists, as well as 33 blocked shots and 139 hits. Whoever GM Ron Francis took from his old Hurricanes was going to be notable. It ended up becoming Morgan Geekie, a draft pick by Francis in the third round of 2017. Geekie just completed his first NHL season, with nine points and 28 hits in 36 games. He averaged less than ten minutes a night as a fourth line center for Carolina last year, and the same could be expected from him this year. Green Bay native Mason Appleton had a breakout season for the Jets last year, leading to the Kraken choosing him over defensive defender Dylan DeMelo. Appleton played in all 56 games for Winnipeg, scoring 12 goals with 13 assists for 25 points. Riley Sheahan provides veteran center depth. He played in 53 games for the lowly Sabres last year, scoring 13 points. A second-round pick of the Devils back in 2016, Nathan Bastian had his first proper NHL season last year, playing a bottom-six role for New Jersey. Bastian scored three time with seven assists in 41 games.

Defensemen

What the Golden Knights had in Marc-Andre Fleury, the Kraken will have in Mark Giordano. Let’s just hope that Giordano doesn’t get ghosted. The undrafted 2018-19 Norris winner completed his 15th season for the Flames last year, and while he is not a top defenseman, Giordano is still a very solid two-way player. He had nine goals with 17 assists in 56 games for Calgary last year, blocking 110 shots. Defensive stalwart Adam Larsson agreed to a contract before the Kraken took him in the expansion draft. Larsson only had 1.9 xGA/60 last year, leading regular Edmonton defensemen. He does give you no offensive ability whatsoever, with 1.77 xGF/60, hurting his xGF%. The Kraken are making a buy-low play on Vince Dunn, who was great in his first three seasons but slowed down a bit last year. Dunn still had 20 points in 43 games last year, but was on the trade block for most of it. At just 24 years of age, Dunn could be a very valuable piece for the Kraken. Just like Larsson, UFA Jamie Oleksiak signed and was picked by Seattle. In his first stint with the Stars, he was a depth defender. But over the last two seasons, Oleksiak was a very productive second-pairing player. The six-foot-seven, former 14th overall pick had 14 points with 148 hits last year for Dallas. The monster played a good deal with budding star Miro Heiskanen last year. Carson Soucy is also a huge defenseman, at six feet and five inches tall. He played in 50 games for the Wild last year, with 17 points, 62 hits, and 49 blocked shots. He spent a team-leading 51 minutes in the penalty box. Haydn Fleury was heavily sheltered on a good Hurricanes team last year, and did get to average over 20 minutes a night in 12 games for the Ducks at the end of the year. He scored two goals for Anaheim with 15 blocks and 17 hits. Jeremy Lauzon finally broke into the Bruins starting lineup for good last season, and now he is forced to break into another team’s starting six. He played in 41 games last year, with 53 blocks and 98 hits. Also in the mix are Will Borgen and Haydn’s brother, Cale Fleury. Neither have a ton of NHL experience but both have skill.

Goalies

When the Kraken passed on Carey Price, a goaltending committee seemed like the obvious choice. Then Seattle signed Philipp Grubauer. The 29-year-old had a career season last year, finishing third in Vezina voting. He played in 40 games, with a .922 save percentage and a 1.95 GAA, as well as a 14.5 GSAA. Grubauer could easily have a tough time going from the elite Avalanche defense to an expansion group. Chris Driedger emerged as a very good goalie for the Panthers last year, but there was no room for him with top prospect Spencer Knight and expensive Sergei Bobrovsky in the fold. Driedger played in a career-high 23 games, with a .927 save percentage and a 2.07 GAA. He had a .931 save percentage in 35 games as a Panther in his career.

Projected Lines

Jaden Schwartz – Jared McCann – Jordan Eberle

Calle Jarnkrok – Alex Wennberg – Joonas Donskoi

Ryan Donato – Marcus Johansson – Colin Blackwell

Brandon Tanev – Morgan Geekie – Mason Appleton

Extras: Riley Sheahan, Nathan Bastian

Mark Giordano – Adam Larsson

Jamie Oleksiak – Vince Dunn

Carson Soucy – Haydn Fleury

Extras: Will Borgen, Jeremy Lauzon, Cale Fleury

Philipp Grubauer

Chris Driedger

Prediction

While they had the opportunity to be much, much better, the Kraken still have a solid squad. With the Golden Knights looking like the only serious competitor in the Pacific Division, Seattle has a real chance. However, I see them just missing the playoffs, failing to follow in Vegas’ footsteps.

San Jose Sharks 2021-22 Season Preview

No team looks more depressing than the Sharks right now. Sure, the Red Wings may be worse on paper, and the Ducks are pretty awful as well. But San Jose is just on another level. Not only is their roster well below average, but they have veterans tied up for a long, long time. For a rebuilding team, the Sharks have managed to arguably have four of the league’s twenty worst contracts, if not higher.

Offseason additions: F Nick Bonino, F Andrew Cogliano, G Adin Hill, G James Reimer, F Nick Merkley.

Offseason subtractions: F Patrick Marleau, G Martin Jones, F Ryan Donato, F Marcus Sorensen, G Josef Korenar, F Alex True, F Kurtis Gabriel.

Forwards

With various accusations and investigations targeted towards him, the Sharks will miss Evander Kane for some time. The team’s best player last year, Kane scored 22 goals with a team-leading 49 points. His 42 penalty minutes were second on the team, behind only enforcer Kurtis Gabriel. His on-ice presence will be missed. Logan Couture is still a good scoring center, although he has definitely regressed as he has fallen on the wrong side of 30. Couture scored 17 goals with 31 points last year, and he also received a Selke vote. While it may not seem like much, Couture’s 49.3 face-off percentage was actually his best since 2013-14. Timo Meier scored 30 goals in 2018-19, but he has declined in the two years after. He scored just 12 times with 19 assists for 31 points last year. Meier did receive some poor shooting luck, scoring just on just 7.7 percent of his shots. For a top-six winger with an average size, Meier is surprisingly physical. He laid 75 checks in 54 games in 2020-21. Playmaking winger Kevin LaBanc scored 12 times with 16 assists in 55 games, playing a career-high 16 minutes and 25 seconds a night on average. In the last four seasons, LaBanc’s penalty minutes have ranged from 31 to 38 in every season. Entering the final season on his contract, Tomas Hertl could be moved soon. With Kane out, there is a pretty simple case for Hertl being the best player on the team. He is a great two-way center, and his 19 goals with 43 points were the second best on the team. Hertl has played over 500 games as a Shark, scoring 151 goals. Even if it were to be unlikely that he signs an extension, it would take a haul to get him out of San Jose. Alexander Barabanov scored 11 goals in 43 games for the KHL’s St. Petersburg SKA, which earned him a contract with Toronto. He unfortunately struggled there in 13 games, but was a completely different player after a trade to the Sharks. In nine games, the 27-year-old scored three times with four assists. That kind of trial will earn you a second look on a bad team. Jonathan Dahlen has played in the AHL before, but 2020-21 should be his debut season in the NHL after he dominated the Swedish league. Playing in 45 games for Timra IK, Dahlen scored 25 goals with 46 assists for a whopping 71 points. A former second-round pick, Dahlen was a part of the Ottawa and Vancouver organizations before a trade to San Jose in 2019. Despite never playing for the team after they drafted him in 2007, Nick Bonino has finally made his way back to the Sharks. Since he was a prospect for the team, Bonino has won two Stanley Cups and established himself as one of the league’s best two-way third line centers. He spent 2020-21 with the Wild, scoring 10 goals with 16 assists in 55 games. He may not exactly be known as a sniper, but Bonino has sustained a shooting percentage of at least 14.4 percent in each of the past four seasons. Originally traded away for Erik Karlsson, Rudolfs Balcers was claimed back off waivers this season. The Latvia native played in 41 games, scoring eight goals with nine assists for 17 points. He also had 81 hits, which was second on the team behind Kane among forwards. A sixth round pick in 2018, John Leonard was about as dominant as can be in 2019-20 for UMass-Amherst. He scored 27 goals in 33 games. Twenty. Seven. Leonard was less impressive in his first NHL season last year, with three goals and ten assists in 44 games. Dylan Gambrell averaged over 16 minutes on ice per night in 49 games last year, which is a ton of a bottom-six center. Gambrell scored five goals with seven assists. The former second-rounder also blocked 54 shots with 77 hits. Former NHL iron man Andrew Cogliano will make the Sharks his fourth NHL team this season. He played in 54 games for Dallas last year, scoring five goals with six assists. The physical veteran played in his 1,000th game at the end of 2019-20. Local kid Matt Nieto returned to the Sharks after a few seasons with the Avalanche. He scored five goals on 45 shots over 28 games. Noah Gregor lit up the WHL, and has played very well for the San Jose Barracuda of the AHL. In 10 games for them last year, he scored three times with six assists. Gregor’s NHL numbers have not been as good. He scored five times in 30 games last year, which is a solid pace of almost 14 over 82 games. Depth defender Christian Jaros was sent to the Devils in July for former first-rounder Nick Merkley. He played in 27 games for New Jersey last year, with a solid ten points. Eight of those were assists.

Defensemen

Two-time Norris winner Erik Karlsson still has offensive talent, but his defense, which was never particularly strong, has completely fallen off. Even Karlsson’s production with San Jose has not been too strong. He was healthy last year, missing just four games. Still, Karlsson scored eight goals with just 22 points. Not a good thing at all for an offensive defenseman earning $11.5 million a season against the cap. Another former Norris winner having a rough go of things lately is Brent Burns. Now 36-years-old, Burns had 29 points, 22 of which were assists. He blocked 94 shots, just narrowly missing extending his streak of six seasons at triple-digits. Since 2013-14, Burns has not missed a single game. Mario Ferrero was an impressive defender in his second season, with 17 points in 56 games. Despite being undersized at five-foot-eleven and 185 pounds, Ferraro recorded 155 hits with 96 blocked shots. Six-foot-three Nikolai Knyzhov played in all 56 games last year when he had only three NHL games coming into the season. The six-foot-three defender recorded ten points with 84 hits in relatively sheltered ice time, at under 17 minutes a game. Once the game’s best defensive defenseman, Marc-Edouard Vlasic has been a shell of his old self since signing a massive contract extension. He had six points last year, and an average 50.4 xGF%. That’s fine for a guy averaging 17-and-a-half minutes like he did last year. But for someone with a $7 million cap hit for the next five seasons? That needs to be elite. At age 34, that probably won’t happen again. Vlasic actually had a higher xGA/60 than Radim Simek, who just turned 29 after his third NHL season. Simek only played 14 minutes a night, but still had 76 hits with 49 blocks in 40 games. A second-rounder by Colorado in 2015, Nicolas Meloche made his NHL debut last year, with an assist in seven games. He had nine helpers in 29 games for the Barracuda. Jacob Middleton had seven points in 22 AHL games last year, and has played in 14 NHL games over the past three years.

Goalies

Compared to the disaster that has been Martin Jones over the past couple of seasons, this year’s goaltending is much, much better. A second-round pick was sent to Arizona for Adin Hill, who has solid fringe-starter potential. Hill played in 19 games for the Coyotes after starting the season as the third goalie, and he had a .913 save percentage with a 2.74 GAA. Hill’s 2.8 GSAA is solid for a guy who was in his age 24 season. James Reimer may be known as a Maple Leaf, or a Panther, or a Hurricane, but he was a Shark at one point. In eight games back in 2015-16, Reimer had a .938 save percentage for San Jose. Of course, he is not that goalie still, nor was he ever. For Carolina last year, Reimer had a .906 save percentage in 22 games.

Projected Lines

Alexander Barabonov – Logan Couture – Timo Meier

Jonathan Dahlen – Tomas Hertl – Kevin LaBanc

John Leonard – Nick Bonino – Rudolfs Balcers

Andrew Cogliano – Dylan Gambrell – Matt Nieto

Extras: Nick Merkley, Noah Gregor

Mario Ferraro – Brent Burns

Nikolai Knyzhov – Erik Karlsson

Marc-Edouard Vlasic – Radim Simek

Extras: Jacob Middleton, Nicolas Meloche

Adin Hill

James Reimer

Prediction

The Sharks have young talent that could grow into their core of the future. But their veterans are the ones holding them back. The contracts are awful. Everyone over the age of 30 has fallen off a cliff. I’m not sure if there is any other team that would be less attractive to a future General Manager. Not only is this team not a playoff squad, they are a lottery pick contender.

Pittsburgh Penguins 2021-22 Season Preview

Things for the Penguins are not exactly at an all-time low, but entering 2021-22, they look worse than they have in many years. Both Sidney Crosby and Evgeny Malkin are hurt. They have been bounced in the first round in three years in a row. The farm system is still awful, and they had a rough offseason. Are they even playoff favorites?

Offseason additions: F Brock McGinn, F Danton Heinen, F Brian Boyle (PTO), D Taylor Fedun, F Dominik Simon.

Offseason subtractions: F Jared McCann, F Brandon Tanev, D Cody Ceci, F Frederick Gaudreau, F Colton Sceviour, F Mark Jankowski.

Forwards

If lucky, Crosby could only miss about a week or two of the season. The franchise cornerstone since day one, Crosby had another stellar season in 2020-21, as he finished fourth in Hart voting. In 55 games, Crosby scored 24 goals with 62 points. His defense has improved over the years, to the point where he is now a well above-average player in his own end. So, you can still pencil Crosby in the projected lines. Malkin? Not so much. After another injury-riddled season, Malkin had knee surgery, which will cost him about two months. With Malkin and Crosby out to start, the Penguins will have some serious center problems. They will be alleviated a bit by Jeff Carter, the veteran center who went on a crazy shooting streak after a midseason trade from Los Angeles. Carter scored on 24.3 percent of his shots in his 14 regular season games with Pittsburgh, for nine goals. He added four more in six playoff games. Jake Guentzel had a great regular season, but after another dud of a playoffs, the pressure is mounting. Crosby’s number one wing scored 23 goals with 57 points in 56 games last year, but he had just a goal and an assist in the postseason. This isn’t to say that Guentzel has never been a playoff performer. He led the team with 13 playoff goals as a rookie en route to a Stanley Cup in 2017. The next year, he scored 10 goals in 12 games. A similar thing could be said about Bryan Rust, who was overall underwhelming on the top line in the loss versus the Islanders. While he was not quite the point-per-game player he was in 2019-20, Rust was still good. He scored 22 goals with 20 assists for 42 points. It looked like Jason Zucker’s time in Pittsburgh was coming to an end after an unproductive year, but alas, he is still a Penguin. A prolific scorer and King Clancy winner in Minnesota, Zucker’s first full year with the Penguins was rough. He scored just nine times with an equal amount of assists. He gave bottom-six production for a guy who previously had scored at least 20 goals in four consecutive seasons. The silver lining is that in just 38 games, those nine goals are a pace of 19. Kasperi Kapanen’s first year with Pittsburgh was overall successful, seven years after the team drafted him in the first round. An absolute demon off the rush, Kapanen used his great speed to have 30 points in 40 games, 11 of which were goals. He played all over the Penguins’ lineup. Danton Heinen scored 16 goals with 47 points in his first full NHL season of 2017-18, but it has been all downhill since. While he was still effective as a third liner with the Bruins, Heinen really fell off with the Ducks last year. He scored just seven goals with seven assists in 43 games. He comes to Pittsburgh looking for redemption. Evan Rodrigues had the same amount of goals and assists as Heinen last year, but in 35 games. He started the year playing with Crosby but he was injured for a decent amount of time. Rodrigues played in the first two playoff games but was healthy scratched for the rest after Malkin came back from injury. Radim Zohorna, an undrafted Czech native who has a fake sounding name, had a big 2020-21. It started with 12 goals and 10 assists in 21 games in his home country. Zohorna had 11 points in 12 AHL games, and even played in eight games for the big club. In those eight, he scored twice with two assists. That is a good first impression, which will help him as he fights for a spot this year. The Penguins actually have a much better fourth line than third, even after losing Brandon Tanev to Seattle. Zach Aston-Reese has developed into an elite defensive bottom-six winger. Among Penguins with at least 400 minutes on ice last year, “ZAR”‘s 1.5 GA/60 was the best. He added nine goals with six assists as well. Aston-Reese was tied with Teddy Blueger with a 1.93 xGA/60, the best among Penguins under the same ice-time parameters. He matched his 22 points from the season before, in 26 less games. Joining them in place of Tanev will be Brock McGinn, who was signed to a four-year deal. If that seems like a lot for a bottom-six winger, that’s because it is. But, they did originally get Tanev on a six-year contract. McGinn scored eight times with 44 hits in 37 games for the Hurricanes in his sixth and final season in Carolina. Veteran center Brian Boyle is now a Penguin, as he’s in camp on a professional tryout. The six-foot-six Boyle last played in 2019-20 as a member of the Panthers. Then, he had 15 points with 34 blocks and 65 hits in 39 games. Returning to Pittsburgh is Dominik Simon, the winger who scored 19 goals with 43 assists in 168 games for the team over the three seasons prior to 2020-21. He spent last year with the Flames, where he didn’t get on the scoresheet in 11 contests.

Defensemen

Just like Malkin, Kris Letang is entering the final season on his contract. There doesn’t seem like a way where he leaves, but it is still a situation to monitor. He is not the two-way defender that he was in his prime, but Letang is still an offensive threat. He had 38 assists plus seven goals for 45 points in 55 games last year while averaging nearly 25 minutes on ice a night. Fifteen of Letang’s points were on the power play, as he finished ninth in Norris voting. His steady partner, Brian Dumoulin, is now entering his seventh season already as a Penguins regular. The defensive half of the Pittsburgh top pair had 14 points in 41 games last year, with 55 blocked shots and 63 shots. Dumoulin has been limited by injuries over the past two seasons, only playing in a combined 69 regular season games. John Marino had a surprisingly great rookie season in 2019-20, but he regressed in year two. Marino is known for his defensive abilities, so it is not like his 13 points in 52 games is a concern. The most alarming number for Marino was a drop from a 54.5 xGF% to a 47.9. The Penguins reportedly shopped Marcus Pettersson, but nothing came of it. Pettersson did have a solid 51.5 xGF%, which is better than any of the aforementioned defensemen. The slim left-hander had just nine points last season. The argument for dealing Pettersson was that the Penguins also have a great skating lefty in Mike Matheson behind him. His first season in Pittsburgh was not half bad, as he had 16 points in 44 games. Matheson is not the strongest defender, but playing less than 19 minutes a night like he did last year with his offensive ability, the trade-off can be worth it. The question is regarding his partner. With no big addition coming in and Cody Ceci leaving for Edmonton, veteran Chad Ruhwedel could start. The 31-year-old San Diego native has been a great plug-and-play option for the Penguins over the past five seasons. He got into 17 games last year, with two assists, 13 blocks, and 32 hits. Mark Friedman had nine hits, two goals, and an assist in five games after being claimed off waivers last year from Philadelphia. He only average eleven minutes a night on ice, which is about as low as it can get for a defender. 2017 first-round pick Pierre-Olivier Joseph debuted last year, with five points in 16 games. For him to start, he would have to potentially play on his off-side. There is still a great possibility that he is a starter by the end of the year.

Goalies

Tristan Jarry was so bad in the playoffs, that he single-handedly threw the series and raised questions on whether he should be back for 2021-22. Jarry had an all-star caliber 2019-20 while splitting time with Matt Murray, but when hand the starting job, he had just a .909 save percentage in 39 games. That is concerning, but he still had an above-average GSAA of 1.3. But he was on another level against the Islanders, and not in a good way. Jarry started every game, with a percentage of .888 and a 3.18 GAA. He allowed several costly goals, most notably passing the game five overtime winner to Josh Bailey on a silver platter. The reason why Jarry had to play every game is because Casey DeSmith was injured. DeSmith was the better regular season goalie despite only getting 20 games of the workload. He had a .912 save percentage with a 2.54 GAA and a 2.0 GSAA.

Projected Lines

Jake Guentzel – Sidney Crosby – Bryan Rust

Jason Zucker – Jeff Carter – Kasperi Kapanen

Radim Zohorna – Evan Rodrigues – Danton Heinen

Zach Aston-Reese – Teddy Blueger – Brock McGinn

Extras: Dominik Simon, Brian Boyle

Brian Dumoulin – Kris Letang

Marcus Pettersson – John Marino

Mike Matheson – Chad Ruhwedel

Extras: Mark Friedman, Pierre-Olivier Joseph

Tristan Jarry

Casey DeSmith

Prediction

The Penguins do not look all that good right now. There are a ton of major question marks with this team, especially with Malkin out. The center depth behind Crosby is bad, with Carter primed for regression. The third line may not be an effective fourth line. Is Matheson’s partner, whoever may that be, going to be good enough to play daily? And of course, the goaltending problem. This Penguins team is very flawed. In a rough division, that may not be able to play. It seems harsh, but I don’t see this team in the playoffs as of now.

Philadelphia Flyers 2021-22 Season Preview

Of the teams that come to mind when thinking about this past offseason, the Flyers are not the main headliners, but maybe they should be. Philadelphia made three major trades over the past few months. The problem for them was the timing. The draft overshadowed two of the moves, and one came at the very end of the time before the expansion draft trade freeze. So with big events happening as the Flyers were wheeling and dealing, they tend to be forgotten.

Offseason additions: D Ryan Ellis, F Cam Atkinson, D Rasmus Ristolainen, G Martin Jones, F Derick Brassard, D Keith Yandle, F Nate Thompson.

Offseason subtractions: F Jakub Voracek, D Philippe Myers, D Shayne Gostisbehere, F Nolan Patrick, G Brian Elliott, D Robert Hagg, F Andy Andreoff, F Carson Twarynski, G Alex Lyon.

Forwards

The Flyers didn’t just give Sean Couturier an eight-year extension this offseason for fun. His elite defensive skills have been known for quite awhile now, as he finished second in Selke voting in 2017-18 before winning the whole thing in 2019-20. He may have only fallen in fifteenth in 2020-21, but him playing in only 45 games has something to do with it. Couturier scored 18 goals with 41 assists. His 56.9 percent face-off rate while averaging over 19 minutes on ice per game was crazy good. Captain Claude Giroux may have exited his prime already, but he is still a very good player. He has mostly moved to the wing, but is still an elite face-off man, winning nearly sixty percent of draws last year. Giroux scored 16 goals with 27 assists for 43 points in 54 games. It was only the second time since 2009-10 and the first since 2014-15 where Giroux did not receive a vote for the Hart, Selke, or Byng Trophy. After his no goals in 16 playoff games in 2019-20 became a narrative, Travis Konecny broke his streak of three consecutive seasons of exactly 24 goals by netting… eleven. His shooting percentage was not outrageously unlucky, either. Sure, his 11.0 percent was his worst since he was a rookie, but that is average. The Flyers have a ton of players who can score, but Konecny should be “that guy”. He wasn’t last year. A 21-year-old Joel Farabee led the team in goals with 20, a big improvement from the eight in his rookie season. There was shooting luck involved, but Farabee has established himself as a key cog to the future of the Flyers. The Kraken didn’t bite on James van Riemsdyk, so he returns to Philadelphia after another good season. van Riemsdyk’s 43 points tied with Giroux and Jakub Voracek for the team lead, with his 17 goals leading that trio. For the 11th season in a row, van Riemsdyk either reached 20 goals or was on pace to reach twenty. It will be quite a bit before we see Kevin Hayes after the center had abdominal surgery. This was a tough offseason for Hayes, who recently lost his brother, Jimmy. Hayes’ absence could lead to Morgan Frost getting a great opportunity. The 2017 first-round pick had seven points in 22 games in 2019-20, but only got into two NHL games last year thanks to a dislocated shoulder. Coming back from Columbus for Voracek is Cam Atkinson. The scoring winger had 41 goals in 2018-19, but his goal total has collapsed since then. His 15 last year was still respectable. Atkinson has suffered from a single-digit shooting percentage over the last two seasons. Oskar Lindblom won the Masterton in his return last year, and Head Coach Alain Vigneault recently revealed that the young winger is officially cancer free. Lindblom is looking to get back to where he was before the diagnosis, when he had 11 goals through 30 games. He scored eight times with six assists in 50 contests last year. Philadelphia had a tough choice to either trade or extend center Scott Laughton at the trade deadline, and they decided to bring him back for five more seasons. The gritty defensive bottom-sixer had 20 points last year, nine of which were goals. He made his presence known physically, with 141 hits. That was five off of his career high, which came in 29 more games back in 2018-19. Nic Aube-Kubel also cranked up his hits, with 120 in 50 games in 2020-21. The 2014 second-round pick added three goals with 12 points on 53 shots. Veteran Derick Brassard joins the Flyers, who will be his fifth Metropolitan team played for. He was a prolific scorer for the Rangers in his prime, but Brassard is now a bottom-six player. He spent last season with the Coyotes, scoring eight goals with 20 points in 53 games. Nate Thompson returns to the Flyers, who acquired him at the end of 2019-20. Thompson left Philly for the Jets last year, where he had five points with 60 hits in 44 games. Wade Allison was impressive in his debut season, scoring four goals with three assists in 14 games. The six-foot-two winger also had 28 hits. Allison also had nine points in 10 AHL games.

Defensemen

The final six years of Ryan Ellis’ massive contract are now on the Flyers’ books are a big offseason trade with the Predators. The savvy two-way defender only played in 35 games last year, but he was still good. Ellis had 18 points with 63 blocked shots. He should jump straight to the top pairing, something that he did not always have on Predators teams with Shea Weber and PK Subban. This deal gives Ivan Provorov easily the best defensive partner of his career. The 24-year-old left-handed shot had 26 points with 106 blocks last year. Overall, he did struggle, so adding Ellis will be important. Since debuting in 2016-17, Provorov has not missed a game. Second-pairing Travis Sanheim has lost his partner, Philippe Myers, who went back the other way for Ellis. He blocked 73 shots with 15 points in 55 games. Sanheim’s reputation was hurt by a terribly unlucky 93.9 PDO, which would be impossible to repeat. The Flyers replaced Myers with Rasmus Ristolainen, trading two valuable picks for the former Sabres top-pairing guy. Ristolainen has always had awful analytics, which makes this trade look rough. But he should play less than the ~24 minutes that he has averaged in his career, plus with a better team around him. That could help. Ristolainen is known for his physicality, with 193 hits last year. The Panthers bought out Keith Yandle, prompting the Flyers to pounce on a cheap deal. He is a good power play quarterback, but really struggles defensively. Yandle had 27 points last season, 18 of which came on the man advantage. Defensive defender Justin Braun would be a great match for Yandle. He played in 53 games last year, blocking 73 shots with 78 hits. Braun’s time in Philadelphia has not been as great as his long tenure in San Jose, but he is still a stable, third-pairing player. Drafted 14th overall in 2019, Cam York made his NHL debut in 2020-21, playing in three games. York had 20 points in 34 games at the University of Michigan, then had five in eight AHL games. York could make the team, although the likely outcome is that he goes to the AHL. Yegor Zamula played in two NHL games last year in his first professional season. He also had six assists in 25 AHL games. The undrafted defender was a point-per-game player in his final WHL season.

Goalies

The Flyers goaltending was an absolute mess, as Carter Hart went from promising future elite goalie to the league’s worst starting goalie. Hart started 27 games, with an ugly .877 save percentage and a 3.67 GAA. His -22.6 GSAA was shocking to see after he had a 7.0 and a 4.5 in his first two seasons. To help Hart carry the load, Martin Jones was brought in. Jones has been a starting goalie for many seasons, which is a positive. The negative is that before Hart’s collapse, he was the league’s worst starter. That is not to say that Jones was good in 2020-21. He had a save percentage of .896 with a 3.28 GAA. Jones has had a GSAA worse than -11 in three consecutive seasons.

Projected Lines

Claude Giroux – Sean Couturier – Travis Konecny

James van Riemsdyk – Morgan Frost – Joel Farabee

Oskar Lindblom – Scott Laughton – Cam Atkinson

Nate Thompson – Derick Brassard – Nic Aube-Kubel

Extras: Wade Allison

Ivan Provorov – Ryan Ellis

Travis Sanheim – Rasmus Ristolainen

Keith Yandle – Justin Braun

Extras: Cam York, Yegor Zamula

Carter Hart

Martin Jones

Prediction

The Flyers are primed to regress to the mean in a good way. There is no way that Hart posts another truly awful season given his talent. Will they be better than they were last year? Almost certainly. But they will have to be better than two of the Islanders, Hurricanes, Penguins, Capitals, and Rangers. That just does not seem plausible right now.