As always, the Pittsburgh Penguins enter another season with high expectations and championship hopes. There will be players to watch, whether they are superstars or prospects hoping to prove themselves, and developing storylines to follow.
These things often lead to experts and fans trying to predict how the Penguins' season will unfold. They try to answer questions about whether Pittsburgh will make the playoffs and how well it will perform once it gets there. They predict goals and points totals, candidates for NHL award races and more.
While some of these predictions are popular opinion, others are made to create online discussions and call-in radio shows.
Keeping the latter theme in mind, let's go over some bold predictions for the Penguins' 2013-14 season.
It seems as if ever since the Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers each participated in a Winter Classic, there has been clamor for the intrastate rivals to play each other in one of these special games.
The idea was to put the NHL showcase game between the two teams in Beaver Stadium, the home of Penn State's football team that seats over 100,000 people.
However, despite popular demand and both teams' willingness to have the event, a deal has not been reached, according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. There are some remaining obstacles in the way, as it is difficult to decide which club would want to give up a home game. Also, the outdoor game is an event for the league, not the participating teams.
Michael Rosenberg of the Detroit Free Press explains the revenue deal and appeal of outdoor games in detail:
The NHL holds the power here, because the Winter Classic is rare in the modern sports world. Normally, players and franchises want to avoid marketing-driven, league-run sporting events... But the Winter Classic is alluring for everybody...
The league essentially buys a home game from the host team. The NHL writes a check for the revenue from one home game (and rounds up, of course), then controls the event.
Even with all this in mind, the success of the Stadium Series, which Pittsburgh is participating in this season against the Chicago Blackhawks at Soldier Field on March 1, might sway the league to try and work out a deal between the Penguins and Flyers.
The NHL has already awarded the 2015 Winter Classic to the Washington Capitals, but as of now, no other outdoor games are planned for next season. Furthermore, the league will want to make a good impression coming off a potential future lockout, and what better way to do it than to start now by pitting two of its biggest rivals on the same stage in 2015 or beyond?
When Tomas Vokoun went down over the weekend after having a blood clot removed, attention turned to Jeff Zatkoff, a 26-year-old who has spent his entire career in the minor leagues.
Zatkoff was with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the AHL in 2012-13, where he had a record of 26-20 with a .920 save percentage and 1.93 GAA.
While this might be a situation where some would think the Pens would look to trade or pick up a free agent for a backup, it seems that Zatkoff will finally get his NHL shot.
Pittsburgh coach Dan Bylsma said that Zatkoff is the backup for the time being, via the Penguins' Twitter accout, and that he is an "exceptional goalie" who has "flat out outplayed other NHL backups."
Zatkoff knows he has a tall order in front of him, but he is confident, according to Dave Molinari of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
I wanted to come in and turn heads, try to stick around as long as I could knowing they had Fleury and [Vokoun] here.
If I get the opportunity to play, I want to make sure that I get in there, play well and leave a good impression.
Expect Zatkoff to rise to the occasion and be a capable backup. He has shown over time that he has the numbers and confidence to succeed.
Although he's not an NHL veteran like Vokoun or Marc-Andre Fleury, it says something that the coaching staff has confidence in Zatkoff after seeing a small sample of his play in training camp.
The Penguins are starting the 2013-14 season about $1.1 million over the salary cap, as noted by CapGeek. Their roster is also quite crowded, which can be a good thing and lead to intense battles for roster spots.
However, with several players under contract for more than two additional years, someone will have to go. There are currently not many specific names floating around in trade rumors, with the exception of defenseman Matt Niskanen.
It seems Niskanen's fate was sealed when Rob Scuderi came back to Pittsburgh this summer. Niskanen told Dave Molinari of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette:
I know the situation we're in, being over the cap. It's pretty evident that Ray [Shero, the general manager] has to make a decision. Someone who probably otherwise is a regular on our roster [will be traded].
This might not be a bold prediction, but the Pens made some moves last year before the trade deadline to bolster their roster. This year, expect more of the same, but with the team looking to make room for talented young players and keep key roster members around, especially on defense.
Over the summer, Tyler Kennedy was sent to the San Jose Sharks after being a physical part of the team who could put up points. Someone who has been on the roster for a while will be sent packing, regardless of their talent and past contributions.
It's no secret that Sidney Crosby has been dealing with injury issues for much of the past two seasons.
He has missed several games due to a concussion suffered in the 2011 Winter Classic, as well as post-concussion syndrome. In the 2012-13 lockout-shortened season, he broke his jaw and missed 12 regular-season games, as well as the first game of the playoffs against the Islanders.
But Crosby has never let injuries slow his production. In 2011-12, he had 37 points in 22 games for an average of 1.7 points per game. Last season, he still had 56 points in 36 contests, for 1.6 points per game.
He was still dominant the last time he played close to a full season, having averaged 1.3 points per game in 2009-10 when he had 109 points in 81 games. If he stays healthy in 2013-14 and matches that pace, he will finish with around 107 points. That would beat out Daniel Sedin, who won the Art Ross Trophy in 2011 with 104 points and provide competition with teammate Evgeni Malkin, who took the trophy in 2012 with 109 points.
Crosby will get back on track and take home the Art Ross Trophy this year. He has become more of a playmaker in recent years, so while Crosby becoming another Rocket Richard may not be quite in reach, he is still a good bet to have a 30-goal season.
The Penguins have consistently made the playoffs under head coach Dan Bylsma, but the Stanley Cup has eluded them since they last won it in 2009.
In three of the past four seasons, the Penguins have gotten no further than the second round and were embarrassed by the Boston Bruins in last year's Eastern Conference Final. The Pens were swept after scoring just two goals in the whole series.
This is the year that Pittsburgh will end its drought. Some key players from last year's run will be back for another season to work toward a championship goal.
Kris Letang led Penguins' defensemen in scoring last season with 38 points in the regular season and then tied for the playoff scoring lead with 16 points. He will be joined by Rob Scuderi, who was also on the 2009 Stanley Cup team and added another trophy as a member of the Kings in 2012. During Los Angeles' Cup season, "The Piece" was fourth on the team with 21:44 of ice time per game.
On offense, Pascal Dupuis returns after being re-signed for four years. He tied with Sidney Crosby with seven playoff goals last season to rank first on the team.
In addition, Tomas Vokoun could be healthy again by April and be ready for service if Marc-Andre Fleury is struggling.
Bylsma may also be aware that he is in trouble if the Pens do not soon bring another Cup to Pittsburgh. Look for him to make the necessary adjustments and keep his team in line to not only get the league title, but to keep his job as well.
Pittsburgh does not want to go down like this again. Look for the Penguins to still have last year's loss heavily on their minds as inspiration to avenge their disappointment of losing to Boston and make another Stanley Cup Final.