It seems so short ago that Detroit was hoisting Lord Stanley’s Cup while the rest of us watched in disbelief. Here was betting that the Penguins would pull out another improbable comeback victory. Down 2 goals with 5 minutes left in the 3rd period, my brother in law texted me saying he still believed. I did to, until Marian Hossa’s backhand slid across the goal line with :00 reading on the clock.
Now however, the Mercenary has moved on to Detroit, apparently following the age old axiom, if you can’t beat them, join them, especially if they will pay you a truckload of money to do so.
So let’s take a moment to examine what is left on the Penguins roster for the upcoming season.
Sidney Crosby – The best in the world at his position. Was leading the league in points when he was injured last season, and tied for the playoff lead in points. Will be fully healed from his high ankle sprain and should be better than ever. Look for Crosby to begin shooting more as he will be lacking a top scoring winger to open the season.
Evgeni Malkin – When Sid the Kid went down with a high ankle sprain last season the naysayers were predicting the apocalypse for the Pens but Malkin established himself as one of the most dominant centers in the NHL by scoring 36 points in the 21 games Crosby was out from January 19. to March 2nd. Although he tailed off slightly in the postseason, he still managed to score 22 points, a very respectable number. His importance to the team is underscored by the 5 year $43.5 million given to him by management this past offseason.
Jordan Staal – After scoring 29 goals as a rookie, Staal slipped to 12 last season. With the departures of Hossa and Ryan Malone, he will be counted on to produce more and may play on Evegeni Malkin’s left wing this season. Also look for him to take Malone's role in front of the net on the power play. He also kills penalties. Staal is entering the last year of his entry level contract and will be eligible for restricted free agency next season. A big season would go a long way toward securing a lucrative long term deal.
Petr Sykora – Sykora is a solid winger who chipped in 28 goals in the regular season, but only managed 6 goals and 3 assists in the playoffs. More will be expected of him come playoff time this year. The Pens may benefit by giving him more power play time as he is a sniper with a wicked shot.
Max Talbot – Solid role player. May get a chance to be the 3rd line center this year if Staal plays alongside Malkin. Contributed 12 goals and 26 points last season as well the game tying goal in Game 5 against the Red Wings. Also is a top penalty killer on the Penguins.
Tyler Kennedy – Posted a solid rookie season with 10 goals in 55 games. Failed to score in the postseason but contributed as a good forechecker. Look for Kennedy to contribute on the third and fourth lines.
Miroslav Satan – Managed only 16 goals last season while playing for the hapless Islanders. Satan did score 62 goals in the previous 2 seasons before last and should benefit by playing on Crosby’s wing. Look for him to have 25-30 goals and 55-60 points this year.
Ruslan Fedotenko – Another Islander winger who scored 16 goals last year. 8 of those goals were scored on the power play and Fedotenko will most probably receive little power play time on the Pens. Look for him to fit in as a 3rd line winger.
Matt Cooke – Was signed to replace fan favorite Jarko Ruutu as the team pest. Scored 10 goals last season so he is not completely without talent. He fit on the 3rd or 4th lines nicely.
Pascal Dupuis – Acquired in the Marian Hossa deal from Atlanta last season and played admiringly and reliably on Crosby’s wing. He will probably begin the season there again, but he fits best on the 3rd line. He has great speed and good defensive awareness which makes him one of the Penguins better penalty killers.
Janne Pesonen – Signed by the Pens to a two way contract after posting 34 goals and 78 points in 56 games in becoming the MVP of the Finish Hockey League. Will need to adjust to the smaller rink size in the NHL and may spend some time in Wilkes-Barre if he doesn't adjust immeadiately. Has shown a spark early in training camp and could eventually develop into a winger capable of playing with Crosby or Malkin.
Eric Godard – Skill-less enforcer with 1 goal and 171 penalty minutes on his resume last year. Godard is replacing Georges Laraque who signed with the Canadians for more money. Had 17 fights last season, but won only 5 with 4 draws according to fan voting on Hockeyfights.com. Also lost a fight to Georges Laraque. Look for him to skate around aimlessly and to punch a few people in the face. Later he will get benched by Michel Therrien who will eventually tire of killing off the unnecessary penalties he will inevitably take.
Sergei Gonchar – A brilliant offensive defensemen and Malkin’s landlord. Gonchar had 12 goals and 65 points last season while improving his defensive play to make him a worthy candidate for the Norris Trophy, albeit he wasn’t nominated. More of the same can be expected this season.
Ryan Whitney – A slightly disappointing season last year with only 40 points may have been partially due to a foot deformity that was corrected this offseason and will probably keep him out until at least Thanksgiving or Christmas. He should be back at full strength in the second half of the season. The Pens have enough defensive depth to cover for his loss while he is on the mend.
Hal Gill – The “USS Gill” was acquired at the trade deadline last year to provide size and strength to the Pens blue line. Did that as well as chip in a goal and 4 points in 16 games following his acquisition.
Brooks Orpik – Was retained by management this offseason with a 6 year, $23 million deal after losing out in the Marian Hossa sweepstakes. Orpik provides solid defense and great hitting ability. Orpik played on the top defense pairing with Sergei Gonchar in the playoffs after being relegated to left wing at one point last season. His specialty is burying Detroit Red Wings in the corner board of the Mellon Arena.
Kris Letang – The 21 year old defenseman had a solid regular season posting 23 points in 63 games while only posting 2 points in 16 postseason contests. Should continue to progress this season and will be counted on to pick up some of the slack in Whitney’s absence.
Mark Eaton/Rod Scuderi – Defensive Defensemen who provide quality depth for the Pens but little offensive prowess. Both have proven to be more than adequate partners for Sergei Gonchar. Both are willing to sacrifice their bodies for the good of the team by blocking shots.
Darryl Sydor – At this point of his career Sydor is solid on defense while occasionally being able to chip in a point here or there. Could be moved at some point to clear salary as well lessen the glut of NHL caliber defensemen the Pens have.
Alex Goligoski – Could be ready for the jump to the NHL after just one season at Wilkes-Barre Scranton. Posted 38 points in 70 regular season contests for the Baby Pens but lit the scoreboard up for 28 points in only 23 playoff games. At 5-11 and 180 pounds he may have difficulty playing the body around the net. Will have trouble making the club out of camp owing to the 7 healthy NHL defenseman on the Pens roster.
Marc-Andre Fleury – Upon returning from a high ankle sprain last season, Fleury showed why he was made the #1 overall pick in the 2003 Entry Draft. Fleury was 12-2 in the Eastern Conference playoffs en route to a matchup with the Red Wings. Several soft goals, most notable the own goal in Game 6 which was the eventual game winner overshadowed an excellent post season of work capped off by his 55 save performance in the triple OT win in Game 5. Fleury was signed to a 7 year $35 million contract in the offseason and will be around for a long time.
Dany Sabourin – Decent backup goalie who did lost job to Ty Conklin last season. Was 10-9-1 with a 2.75 GAA. Something similar this year would be acceptable. The team is counting on Fleury to play 60 or so games and Sabourin to spell him when need be. Expect him to be reliable in short stints but would make for a very dicey situation if Fleury was injured for an extended period.
The Pens have been slow starters the past two years and I wouldn’t be surprised to see that trend continue this season. The return of Ryan Whitney to the lineup will provide a big boost and Thanksgiving is usually when the Pens start to make their run anyway. Look for them to duel with Philadelphia for the division title with the Pens pulling in the end owing to better goaltending and star talent.
Unless the team is underachieving, don’t look for management to make a huge splash at the trade deadline again this year as GM Ray Shero spent most of his trade bait last year. Don’t be surprised if they look to add a quality face off man as this is the Penguins biggest weakness.
Bottom line: The Pens have as much or more talent as any other team in the Eastern Conference and gained valuable experience during last year’s playoff run. Anything less than another run to the Stanley Cup by the Pens would be a disappointment.