Last season, the Metropolitan Division was the toughest in the NHL, producing the Stanley Cup champ, the regular season champ and three of the top four teams in the overall standings.
How’s the division shaping up for 2017-18 after a summer of change for a few of its eight teams?
This week, CSN is taking a look at each team’s offseason moves and predicting how they’ll do this winter.
RELATED: CSN'S 2017-18 CAPITALS PREVIEW
Team: Pittsburgh Penguins
2016-17 Results: 50-21-11 (111 points), second in Metro. Defeated the Blue Jackets, Capitals, Senators and Predators en route to a second straight Stanley Cup.
Notable acquisitions: D Matt Hunwick, G Antti Niemi and RW Ryan Reaves.
Notable departures: C Nick Bonino, G Marc Andre Fleury, D Trevor Daley, D Ron Hainsey, LW Chris Kunitz and assistant coach Rick Tocchet.
When they will play the Caps: Oct. 11 and Nov. 10 in Washington and Feb. 2 and April 1 in Pittsburgh.
2017-18 Penguins Analysis:
After hoisting the Cup in June 2016, the Penguins enjoyed a relatively painless offseason in terms of personnel changes.
But Sidney Crosby and Co. weren’t as fortunate after claiming a second straight championship this year. There was some roster churn—and it affected a few important pieces.
Two-way center Nick Bonino signed in Nashville and winger Chris Kunitz, a four-time Cup winner and alternate captain, landed in Tampa. They combined to produce 27 goals and 66 points last season. Forty-year-old Matt Cullen, meantime, remains unsigned and could retire; he accounted for 13 goals and 31 points. All told, that’s a decent amount of production, experience and postseason mettle walking out the door.
Losing Trevor Daley, a puck-moving defenseman who accounted for five goals and 14 assists in 56 games, hurts, as well. He signed in Detroit.
Goalie Marc Andre Fleury, meanwhile, also moved on, getting snapped up in the expansion draft by the Golden Knights. Though Matt Murray is now the Penguins’ No. 1 netminder, they wouldn’t have repeated without Fleury’s heroics in the first two rounds.
As significant as those losses are, though, the Pens’ projected lineup still looks formidable. Eight of the team’s top nine point producers—Crosby, Evgeny Malkin, Phil Kessel, Conor Sheary, Justin Schultz, Patric Hornqvist, Kris Letang and Jake Guentzel—are all back. Pittsburgh, in fact, was the only team to have three players crack the top 20 in points (Crosby, who led the league in goals, Malkin and Kessel). Murray, meanwhile, is healthy, more seasoned and still only 23 years old.
GM Jim Rutherford’s additions were not splashy ones given the Pens' cap situation. Veteran Matt Hunwick, who'll likely slide in on the third D pair, completes a blue line that’s also got Letang, Olli Maatta, Schultz, Ian Cole and Brian Dumoulin. Winger Ryan Reaves adds some beef and toughness to the fourth line, while 33-year-old netminder Antii Niemi will look to put a poor season in Dallas behind him as Murray’s backup.
2017-18 Penguins Season prediction:
Are the Penguins as deep as they’ve been in recent seasons?
In a word, no.
But as I look at the Pens’ roster, I find myself less focused on the lack of a third line center and/or whether Coach Mike Sullivan can squeeze the most out of a handful of less experienced players who’ll need to step up—he’s done it before and I suspect he’ll do it again—and more zeroed in on the fatigue factor.
If I were a Pittsburgh fan, I’d be most concerned about the cumulative effect of my favorite team’s extended back-to-back postseason runs. They played 24 playoff games in 2016 and 25 last season. In fact, 49 games is a record for the most playoff contests in a two-year span. And don't forget the World Cup at the outset of last season.
That’s taxing physically, mentally and emotionally.
The question for me isn’t whether all that postseason hockey will take its toll, it’s how much of a toll does it ultimately take?