Have offseason moves made the Pittsburgh Penguins a threat in the stacked Metropolitan Division?

After missing the Stanley Cup Playoffs for the first time since 2006, the Pittsburgh Penguins have made crucial moves this offseason to become a much stronger team.
Pittsburgh Penguins Sidney Crosby & Kris Letang
Pittsburgh Penguins Sidney Crosby & Kris Letang / Gregory Shamus/GettyImages

As the calendar inches closer to the return of hockey, NHL fans anticipate their favorite team returning to the ice. Fans of teams in the Metropolitan Division wonder if the Pittsburgh Penguins have done enough this offseason to become a threat in the division. After missing the playoffs last season, the Penguins are eager to get back in the race, and they’re now equipped with a stronger roster.

The Metropolitan Division is stacked with highly competitive teams. The Carolina Hurricanes and New Jersey Devils are considered legitimate Stanley Cup contenders for the 2023-24 season. The New York Rangers are possible contenders. 

According to the Bleacher Report’s early look at Stanley Cup Odds in August, there’s now another Metro team in the mix for contention — the Pittsburgh Penguins. The New York Islanders could be a playoff team but aren’t expected to make a deep run.

Will the Penguins be a top-3 team in the Metropolitan Division?

During the offseason, president of hockey operations and general manager Kyle Dubas made moves to strengthen the roster. These moves give the Penguins a chance to be a force in the Metro Division.

The Penguins' roster had the oldest average age in the NHL at the end of the 2022-23 season. Many of the offseason moves didn't bring down that average age, but the organization isn't ready for a full rebuild, so the hope is that this retooling will make them a more dynamic team for 2023-24.

Dubas strengthened the blueline, which already featured Kris Letang. Ryan Graves signed with the Penguins this summer as a free agent following two seasons with the Devils. One of the big trades of the summer was elite defenseman Erik Karlsson heading to the Penguins in a three-team trade with the San Jose Sharks and Montreal Canadiens.

Graves is a solid addition to the defense, while Karlsson will bring defense and offense. Karlsson is a three-time Norris Trophy winner, and he notched 101 points in 2022-23. The Karlsson trade is the type of move that transforms a team. He adds versatility to a team that needed it.

In order to compete with the top teams, the Penguins needed to add some speed, which they did. Karlsson has speed, and so do other players Dubas added this summer — forwards Noel Acciari, Vinnie Hinostroza and Matt Nieto.

Pittsburgh will be missing Jake Guentzel at the beginning of the season due to ankle surgery, which is a tough blow since he scored 36 goals last year. However, the team will still have plenty of goal-scoring from other top forwards. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Rickard Rakell, Jason Zucker, and Bryan Rust all scored 20 or more goals in 2022-23. All but Zucker, who signed with the Coyotes, are returning in 2023-24.

The Penguins traded a draft pick to the Vegas Golden Knights this offseason to acquire Reilly Smith, who scored 26 goals last season. They also signed Lars Eller, a solid two-way center capable of killing penalties. Additionally, the Penguins will continue to have excellent goaltending as they signed Tristan Jarry for five more years.

All in all, are the Penguins a threat in the Metropolitan Division? Yes and no. They will be better than last season. They will be better than the Islanders. Last season, they edged out the Penguins to take the last playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. It probably won’t happen that way again this season. 

As for the anticipated top teams in the division, the Penguins could be a threat to the Rangers, but it’s unlikely they’ll threaten the Devils or Hurricanes. The race for first place in the division is expected to be between the Devils and the Canes, with the Canes having the edge. The Pens have a chance to pass the Rangers in the regular season standings to avoid fighting for an Eastern Conference wild card spot, but if the Rangers play as well as they did last year, that's a tall order.

The Penguins aim to return to the playoffs this year, and they have a roster capable of getting there. How far will they go? The newly improved team has work to do before they can answer that question.

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