Training camp has officially begun for the Pittsburgh Penguins, who look to rebound from their playoff disappointment and take the next step toward winning the Stanley Cup.
Having endured a tumultuous offseason with the loss of longtime Pens Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy, the addition of new faces in Matt D'Agostini and Chuck Kobasew, and the return of Rob Scuderi, the Pens team that takes the ice this fall will be remarkably different from the one that left the ice in defeat last summer.
As we move towards the start of the regular season, let's look at the top storylines for the Pens in training camp.
While many saw that statement as an attempt by a desperate coach to keep his job by shifting the focus, the fact remains that Beau Bennett is a budding star and may very well be one of the best kept secrets in the NHL.
Blessed with good speed and quick hands, Bennett has the skill set to be a top-six forward. The question remains as to whether or not he can be a good fit with Evgeni Malkin, a talented but enigmatic player who doesn't always mesh well with talented players. Just ask Jarome Iginla.
A natural right winger, Bennett would have to switch to the left side, which could be problematic. If Bennett does not show chemistry with Malkin, he may start the season on the third line with Jussi Jokinen rounding out the top six.
As the Penguins open their training camp, they do so as a team more than $1 million over the salary cap, a situation which must be rectified prior to the start of the regular season.
With only one year left on his contract and making $2.3 million this season, Matt Niskanen has already been mentioned as a possible trade candidate.
Add to that the two-year deal that defenseman Robert Bortuzzo signed and it seems likely that the Pens are envisioning a Bortuzzo-Simon Despres tandem for the third defensive pairing.
With a system full of offensive defensemen waiting in the wings, Niskanen seems to be a luxury that the Pens can't afford. The question remains what will they get in return for Niskanen and whether the Pens believe Bortuzzo is ready to be an every-night player.
After being benched during the Penguins' first-round matchup against the New York Islanders, Marc-Andre Fleury had the downtrodden look of a player who felt that he might be on his way out the door, and a lot of fans and experts agreed that he would be.
However, after the shock and anger of the Pens' playoff flameout in the Eastern Conference Final subsided, Pens general manager Ray Shero decided against moving Fleury and instead expressed confidence that he would be able to bounce back next season.
With the help of the Pens' new goaltending coach Mike Bales and a sports psychologist, Fleury seems willing and able to do just that and is already expected to start the majority of the games this season.
Unfortunately, given his cycle of success during the regular season followed by playoff struggles, questions about Fleury will not be answered until the playoffs begin next April.
With a career regular-season winning percentage of .671 as an NHL head coach, few can argue that Dan Bylsma hasn't been one of the top coaches in the league since he took over the Pens in 2009.
However, Bylsma's detractors are quick to point out that, for all of the success he's had in the regular season, it has not always translated into success in the playoffs. Since leading the Pens to the Stanley Cup in 2009, the Pens are just 20-21 over their last four playoff appearances.
While some place the blame on the Pens' stars, I believe the reason for the Pens' annual playoff struggles is the lack of adjustments on the part of Dan Bylsma.
During the regular season, teams are content to stick to their system rather than make wholesale adjustments just for one opponent, knowing they will face a much different opponent in the next game. In this environment, the Pens' talent level allows them to excel without much tinkering.
In the playoffs, however, teams do adjust their system to face their opponent in a best-of-seven series and, in these situations, the Pens have struggled to adapt.
This was evident against the Bruins, who crowded the neutral zone to take away the Pens' signature stretch pass and make it difficult for them to carry the puck through the neutral zone.
Rather than adjust to a dump-and-chase style to counter this, the Pens simply stuck to Bylsma's game plan and consistently turned the puck over to the Bruins.
If the Pens are to take the next step toward the Stanley Cup, they must show a willingness and an ability to adapt their game to counter what their opponent is trying to do.
If Bylsma isn't able to recognize the need to adapt and get his players to adjust, the Pens may be looking at another short and disappointing playoff run next season.