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2018-19 Metropolitan Division preview: New York Islanders

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2018-19 Metropolitan Division preview: New York Islanders

The Capitals have won the Metropolitan Division three straight years. Can they defend their title? Here’s a preview of each team in the division for the 2018-19 season.

Today's team: New York Islanders

2017-18 Results: 35-37-10, 80 points, seventh in the division. Did not qualify for the playoffs.

Notable acquisitions: F Valtteri Filppula, F Leo Komarov, F Jan Kovar, F Tom Kuhnhackl, F Matt Martin, F Chris Wagner, G Robin Lehner, head coach Barry Trotz

Notable departures: F John Tavares, D Calvin de Haan, G Jaroslav Halak, head coach Doug Weight

When they will play the Caps: Nov. 26 in Brooklyn, Jan. 18 in Washington, March 1 at Nassau Coliseum, April 6 in Washington

Offseason recap: The biggest story of the offseason across the league was Tavares’ decision to leave the Islanders for his hometown Toronto Maple Leafs. Bringing in Lou Lamoriello as president of hockey operations and general manager and Trotz as head coach present a massive upgrade on Long Island from the mess that was Garth Snow and Weight, but it wasn’t enough to entice Tavares to stay.

To make matters worse, it seems as if there was no real plan for what the team was going to do if Tavares did in fact leave. Granted, replacing a player of Tavares' caliber is difficult, but re-signing Thomas Hickey for four years, trading for Martin and signing players like Filppula, Komarov and Kuhnhackl feels like Lamoriello is grasping at straws.

Plus, an abhorrent defense likely got worse with the loss of de Haan. The Islanders did not bolster their blue line at all and got only a minimal (at best) upgrade in net with Lehner.

It certainly looks as if the Islanders put all their energy into getting Tavares to re-sign and didn’t think too much about Plan B or how to improve other positions in which they are severely lacking.

Biggest strength: Offense

Yes, Tavares is gone, but he actually wasn’t the team’s leading scorer last season. Rookie Mathew Barzal was with 85 points, just edging out Tavares’ 84. Tavares also did not lead the team in goals. That honor went to Anders Lee whose 40 goals beat Tavares’ 37.

That’s not to suggest the Islanders won’t miss Tavares. The offense absolutely will take a step back without him, but the Islanders were tied for seventh in the NHL last season with 3.18 goals per game. Tavares may have been the Islanders’ best forward, he may have made his teammates better (Josh Bailey is not getting 71 points without Tavares), but New York was not nearly as dependent on him offensively as a team like New Jersey is with Taylor Hall.

Biggest weakness: Keeping the puck out of the net

New York allowed an NHL high 293 goals last season thanks to atrocious defense and goaltending and things do not look like they are going to be much better anytime soon.

It’s hard to see how the blue line gets better this season with zero additions and the loss of de Haan. In goal, New York added Lehner in free agency after he was not qualified by the Buffalo Sabres. Lehner and Halak had identical save percentages last season at .908. Even if Lehner proves to be an  upgrade in net, he will only be a minimal one even with Mitch Korn working with him.

2018-19 season outlook: Whenever a team loses its franchise player, it’s a blow, but the future may not be all that bad on Long Island. There’s no question the franchise is in better hands now with Lamoriello and Trotz, plus Barzal is the real deal. The team also had one of the better drafts of 2018.

For now, however, the outlook is bleak.

New York missed the playoffs last season because of their defense and their goaltending. Trotz and Korn will help improve those areas, but the defense returns the same personnel minus de Haan and Lehner could not even get a qualifying offer from Buffalo. Whatever improvement there is on the backend likely will be minimal.

And then there’s Tavares. Without him, the offense is going to take a step back. The rag-tag group of forwards Lamoriello brought in over the offseason don’t come close to replacing what Tavares brought to the lineup.

So to sum up, the offense lost its franchise player, the defense got worse and the goaltending may be just as bad if not worse than last season.

Trotz certainly has his work cut out for him.

2018-19 season prediction: The Islanders will finish dead last in the Metropolitan Division.

Other Metropolitan Division previews:

Carolina Hurricanes
Columbus Blue Jackets
New Jersey Devils

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Capitals hint at their plans for Shane Gersich next season with new contract

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Capitals hint at their plans for Shane Gersich next season with new contract

Capitals general manager Brian MacLellan began tackling the items on his very long to-do list with the signing of prospect forward Shane Gersich. The team announced Monday that Gersich was re-signed to a one-year, two-way contract that carries a cap hit of $700,000.

Gersich will remain a restricted free agent at the end of the deal but will still be one year away from becoming arbitration eligible.

Gersich, who will turn 23 in July, just finished his first full professional season with the Hershey Bears, recording eight goals and 16 assists in 66 games.

“I learned a ton,” Gersich told NBC Sports Washington about his first AHL season. “I think our staff here is unbelievable. They've taught me so much, whether it's [showing] me video or doing skills or whatever. Can't say enough good things about them. And just my overall game, playing 200 feet and being aware of little details in the game. I think my game's grown a ton.”

Gersich’s original contract was for two seasons, but the first year was burned at the end of the 2017-18 season when he signed out of college at the end of the season and joined the Caps’ roster.

That transition from Stanley Cup champion to AHL the following season was a tough one for Gersich initially.

“Obviously, you were making your NHL debut and stuff like that, then it's kind of back to work and square one,” Gersich said. “For me, I know [I'm] definitely not the kid that's going to shy away from working or anything like that. So obviously, you've got to earn everything you get, and then that's how it is at every level.”

The speedy forward played in five games for Washington, three in the regular season and two in the playoffs during the Stanley Cup run. His speed was evident and has led many fans to wonder if the future is now for the young forward. His first year in Hershey showed, however, he still has a lot to learn before he reaches the NHL.

Gersich is still very much learning the game at the professional level. There was a little too much reaction in his game as opposed to action, which mitigated his speed. That is something he knows he needs to refine.

“I think just always being aware out there,” he said when talking about aspects of his game he wants to improve on. “Keeping my head on a swivel and making little plays. Just using my strengths too, I think. I've got to realize that I can use my speed out there a lot.”

The Caps will have a few roster spots open next season and not much money under the cap to fill those spots. Using young prospects is always an intriguing option. Gersich’s new contract, however, seems to indicate the Caps anticipate him spending the season in the AHL.

Gersich’s new contract carries an NHL salary of $700,000, which is actually lower than his first contract with a $925,000 salary. His minor-league salary, however, went up from $70,000 to $115,000. It may look like Gerisch is getting a pay cut based on the NHL numbers, but he actually is getting a raise because, barring a dazzling training camp, he will be spending most if not all of next season in Hershey. And if he does surprise, well now he has a lower NHL cap hit which is very important for a Washington team that will likely be very close to the salary cap.

While the implications of the contract seem clear, Gersich is excited for the opportunity to show he belongs in the NHL at training camp in the fall.

“Obviously, I want to play in the NHL,” he said. “It's been my goal my whole life, and that's the reason I left North Dakota. I think I'm ready for it, but you've got to wait and see until the time comes.”

The Caps also announced Monday the re-signing of forward Brian Pinho to a one-year, two-way contract. His contract carries a $700,000 NHL salary and a $100,000 AHL salary.

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In an offseason full of questions, Jonas Siegenthaler isn’t one of them

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In an offseason full of questions, Jonas Siegenthaler isn’t one of them

The Capitals will have a lot of roster spots open and not much money to fill them with this offseason. Adding a young, cheap defensive prospect to the NHL roster will certainly help and that appears to be the plan for Jonas Siegenthaler.

Siegenthaler’s first NHL season began with him in the AHL, but it finished with him playing on the top defensive pairing of the defending Stanley Cup champions in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.

The season did not get off to a great start for Siegenthaler as he became a cap casualty despite a strong training camp. Heading into the start of the NHL season, he looked poised to make the Caps roster.

“I came to camp here with the mindset to make the team and come to camp in good shape and everything,” Siegenthaler said at the team’s breakdown day.

The suspension to Tom Wilson and subsequent acquisition of Dmitrij Jaskin off waivers forced Washington to shuffle money to get under the salary cap. Siegenthaler, who was waiver exempt, was sent to the Hershey Bears as a result.

Siegenthaler would have to wait until Nov. 9 to finally make his NHL debut. He would go on to play 26 games his rookie season.

“I think a guy like Siegenthaler came up and played really well,” Lars Eller said.

““I tried to play my best game,” Siegenthaler said. “Of course it wasn’t always easy but I think like I did my best and tried to help the team.”

With a deep blue line, Siegenthaler was sent back to Hershey in February, but was recalled late in the season after Michal Kempny suffered a season-ending injury. The call-up, however, was just to have an extra body. As Todd Reirden experimented with the defensive pairs heading into the playoffs, it did not appear he viewed the rookie defenseman as a real option for the playoffs. Despite all the shuffling, Siegenthaler did not get into the lineup until the season finale after Washington had already wrapped up the division crown.

The Caps struggled in the first round against the Carolina Hurricanes, however, prompting changes to the lineup. The defense still struggled with the constant in-game adjustments and a change was clearly needed. Siegenthaler got into the lineup for Game 4. By Game 5, he was playing in Kempny’s spot on the top pair alongside John Carlson.

“He really just seemed very poised,” Eller said. “There wasn't any panic in his game. It's hard to be thrown into a series like that where the stakes are high and I thought he did that really well.”

Still just 22 years old and with a contract that remains waiver exempt for another year, Siegenthaler could enter the 2019-20 season in a position to again have to compete just to make the NHL roster. The possible retirement of Brooks Orpik and speculation over whether Matt Niskanen could be traded, however, leaves the team with spots open on the blue line.

The fact that Siegenthaler was able to go from the AHL to the top pair of the Caps during the playoffs reflects his growth as a player over the course of the year. To expect him to come into next season in a top-pair role would be unfair. Even a top-four role seems unlikely with Kempny likely returning and Nick Jensen taking Niskanen’s spot if he does in fact get traded.

But if the coaches trusted Siegenthaler as a rookie when it mattered most and with him still on an entry-level deal at a time when the team will need to pinch every penny, Siegenthaler will almost certainly be in Washington and not in Hershey for the 2019-20 campaign.

“Next season’s going to be huge,” he said. “I’ll do my best in the summer to keep myself in shape, in even better shape. My goal is to be here a long time and for rest of my career and yeah, just got to work for it.”

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