First, let me be upfront in saying that I think the Metropolitan Division projects to again be the best in the NHL in 2019-20. So this first part of casting shade/doubt on the Canes divisional opponents is about seeking potential weaknesses in a generally good set of teams and to some degree just trying to find something fun to debate as we enter the dog days of the hockey summer.
Today’s Daily Cup of Joe casts shade on the New York Rangers and Pittsburgh Penguins.
New York Rangers
On February 28, 2016, the Rangers went all in on the 2015-16 season when they traded a batch of pretty good futures to the Carolina Hurricanes to obtain Eric Staal. The Rangers were then bounced from the playoffs in five games in a first-round match up against the Penguins. The Rangers tried again in 2016-17 but again were bounced from the playoffs early, this time in the second round courtesy of the Ottawa Senators. Next came a rough 2017-18 season that somewhere along the way saw the Rangers declare that they were rebuilding. The Blue Shirts proceeded to trade away key players at each of the next two trade deadlines. Then suddenly after a brief stint in rebuilding mode, Artemi Panarin seemed to single-handedly vault the team back into contention. The team did also add Jacob Trouba.
Both are good players and the type that make any team better. Yet I am still skeptical that the Rangers are back from the dead. Analysis just inches below the summer 2019 headlines suggest that the current iteration of the Rangers is incredibly shallow and still dragging many of the same players who prompted the need to rebuild to begin with. Gone are quality players like Mats Zuccarello, Derek Stepan, J.T. Miller, Rick Nash and Kevin Hayes. Still there are expensive components of an ‘iffy’ defensive core that includes Marc Staal, Kevin Shattenkirk and Brendan Smith. Past Trouba, are any of those players truly good top 4 defenders despite easily having the salary for it? And at forward, the group has been depleted by the sell off over the past couple years. If Kaapo Kakko hits the ground running as an 18-year old at the NHL level, the top line of Panarin/Zibanejad/Kakko could be a very good one. But past that, who even is the team’s second line center with the departures of Stepan, McDonough and Hayes over the past couple years? The team is also currently over the salary cap ceiling. If Chris Kreider is the casualty to fix that, the forward group is depleted even further.
When I look at the Rangers roster, I really like what I can build for a single set of 6 to take the ice for the opening face-off, but past that, I think the team will be shallow and playing at a deficit throughout the rest of the lineup. My opinion is that the Rangers are prematurely trying to exit their rebuild in hopes of leveraging the end of Henrik Lundqvist’s career when the team really needed another year or two to burn off a few more bad contracts and add more young talent.
By my estimation, it will take at least two full seasons with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin retired before any of the mainstream NHL media will significantly downgrade the Penguins. The Pens claimed their regular spot in the 2019 playoffs but were resoundingly ousted from the postseason when the Islanders trounced them four games to none. Crosby seems to defy age, quality of line mates or anything else that could possibly slow him and is still every bit of a high-end first line center, but perhaps the beginning of the end showed itself with Malkin having an up and down 2018-19 campaign. Past the big two, the bigger question is whether there is enough support there anymore. Jake Guentzel is a great complementary scorer on the wing, but past him, who else on the Penguins is a legitimate top six forward? Hornqvist has a unique skill set, but even at a younger age his offensive production was borderline for the top six. Newly-acquired Alex Galchenyuk brings talent but also baggage and a reputation for being clueless defensively at times. Nick Bjugstad is a useful player but looks more like a depth scorer in my opinion? Past Crosby and Malkin down the middle and Guentzel to fill one wing spot, is the rest of the Penguins top six more than hopes, wishes and probably overslotted depth players? On defense, Kris Letang still gets credit for being a top-end offensive defenseman, but at 32 years old and seemingly held together by duct tape at this point, he feels more like reputation than reality. Then, Brian Dumoulin, Justin Schultz, Erik Gudbranson and Jack Johnson fit the bill more as experienced depth than true difference-makers.
The paths to get there are different, but I actually view the Penguins about like the Rangers in that they do have some top-end talent that can win hockey games but that that the team is weak past the best they can put on the ice as a best set for the opening face-off.
What say you Canes fans?
1) What are your thoughts on the New York Rangers? Is there attempt at an abbreviated rebuild via $11.6 million for Artemi Panarin and $8 million more for Jacob Trouba too soon and doomed to fail?
2) What are your thoughts on the Pittsburgh Penguins? Are Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and a taped together Kris Letang still enough of a core to boost the rest? Or is that model starting to crumble?