The Pittsburgh Penguins will make their final roster cuts on Monday, and once that is done, it will be time to look forward to the start of the 2013-14 NHL regular season. The Pens get to open the new season at home on Thursday, Oct. 3 against the New Jersey Devils.
We all know Pittsburgh is coming off a disappointing loss to the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Final, so it's safe to say this team has high expectations. Many of its key players from 2012-13 are returning, but is that a sure road to a Stanley Cup championship?
Although the Pens have a lot of star power on their roster, they will face some challenges. They are in a new division and have a crowded team with young players looking to make their mark, whether they make the opening-day roster or get called up from the minors at some point.
What can we expect from the Penguins this year?
Read on for a complete preview of their 2013-14 season.
Matt D'Agostini, Right Wing
D'Agostini joins the Penguins after spending two full seasons with the St. Louis Blues. He had a career high of 46 points in 2011, but has dropped off ever since. He missed 27 games in 2011-12 and posted just 18 points.
Last season, he was traded to the Devils and played in 29 games between the two clubs, finishing with six points. He is signed to a one-year, $550,000 contract.
Rob Scuderi, Defenseman
Scuderi is a familiar face to Pens fans, as he was with the organization for six seasons before signing with the Los Angeles Kings after he helped the team to a Cup in 2009. He won another Cup with the Kings in 2012 and was a reliable member of the team. He has played in every regular-season game for the last three years, and last season, he was third with 21:47 of ice time per game and first with 3:13 on the penalty kill.
Pittsburgh general manager Ray Shero was eager to bring Scuderi back, as he regretted ever letting go of "The Piece," via Rob Rossi of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:
It was a mistake to let Rob Scuderi go on my part. To have a chance at a do-over was something I wanted to try and do.
Scuderi was hoping the Pens would accept him once again, adding:
I wanted to make sure they remembered who I was, how I played and if they expected anything else.
Matt Cooke, Left Wing
Cooke was one of the Pens' more controversial players in his five years with Pittsburgh. He was never afraid to lay a big hit on an opponent and served more than his fair share of suspensions, one of which ended his 2010-11 season.
However, after that year, he vowed to change his ways and was productive throughout his tenure. He had four straight 30-point seasons and scored five shorthanded goals between 2011 and 2012.
Cooke signed with the Minnesota Wild in July for three years and $7.5 million.
Jarome Iginla, Right Wing
Iginla was only a part of the Pens for a brief time, but had he decided to return, he could've made a greater contribution to the team's offense. He had 11 points in 13 games after coming over from Calgary Flames, the only place he had played his whole career. He also added 12 points in 15 playoff games.
He signed a one-year contract with the Bruins over the summer after initially rejecting a trade to Boston just before last season's deadline.
Tyler Kennedy, Right Wing
Kennedy was traded to the San Jose Sharks in June and was with the Penguins for six seasons. He scored at least 30 points three times, but fell off after scoring 45 points in 2010-11. He struggled with injuries, and although he played 46 games last season, his 11 points were enough to make him replaceable.
Brenden Morrow, Left Wing
Morrow was also a solid trade grab for the Pens, as he had 14 points in 15 games after coming to Pittsburgh from Dallas to finish with 25 points on the season. He also had four points in the postseason.
But with several key forwards re-signed or already locked up long-term, Morrow was one of the odd players out. The 34-year-old recently signed in St. Louis after not being able to find a team in the early days of free agency.
Projected Forward Lines
|Chris Kunitz||Sidney Crosby||Pascal Dupuis|
|Beau Bennett||Evgeni Malkin||James Neal|
|Matt D'Agostini||Brandon Sutter||Jussi Jokinen|
|Tanner Glass||Joe Vitale||Craig Adams|
Projected Defensive Pairs (adjusted due to injury to Kris Letang)
|Simon Despres||Rob Scuderi|
|Paul Martin||Brooks Orpik|
|Matt Niskanen||Robert Bortuzzo|
Marc Andre Fleury-Tomas Vokoun
*Fleury will be backed up by Jeff Zatkoff while Tomas Vokoun recovers from having a blood clot removed.
While the Penguins are certainly counting on lots of goals from their offense and good shot-blocking from their defense, a lot of eyes will be on Marc-Andre Fleury in the season's early going.
With Vokoun out of the lineup, Fleury will have a heavy workload early on. He is looking to bounce back from a disastrous playoff run that saw Vokoun replace him in the conference quarterfinals against the New York Islanders.
The 28-year-old, who is widely considered the team's franchise goalie, is seeking his fifth 30-win season in six years. But in order to do that, he will have to stop letting goals in at bad times and have more confidence in his game.
For Marc, it's about taking the necessary steps to improve his game. He is coming to an important part of his career. There's no doubt about it. In terms of trying to help and make him as good as he can be, there are still some parts of his game that he can improve upon and focus on. Those are things that we're going to continue to work on with him. He's serious about trying to improve his game, and he's got to do that.
Penguins coach Dan Bylsma agrees with Shero:
He's going to win 38, 39, 40, 41 games for us this year. There is no question about that. That is what I believe. That's what we expect him to be able to do for us...
I know what is going to happen during the regular season. That is something Marc-Andre is addressing this summer, addressing right now in his game, and going into this season that is not just something we're going to talk about and address in April. We're going through that right now with Marc and that's going to start -- it has already started -- and will continue into training camp and throughout the year.
Fleury clearly is not going to get many more chances to be the Penguins' most trustworthy option in goal. Shero and Bylsma believe in him, but make no mistake, the bar has been set. It will be on Fleury to work toward matching it early on.
The best thing that could happen to the Penguins is that they repeat as regular-season Eastern Conference champions. They should be getting full productivity from captain Sidney Crosby as he looks to fully put his injury issues behind him, as well as Evgeni Malkin, who wants to be better after feeling like he let the team down in the postseason.
Furthermore, the older players on the team are showing no signs of slowing down. Pascal Dupuis, who is 34 years old and received a new four-year deal this summer, had three straight 20-goal seasons from 2010 to 2012. He was also first in the NHL with a plus-31 rating and had 38 points in last year's lockout-shortened season.
Meanwhile, Chris Kunitz, who is also 34, received a three-year extension. He was seventh in the league and second on the Pens with 52 points in 2012-13 and was third in 2011-12 with 61 points.
The team also looks to have a promising future, especially with prospects Beau Bennett on offense and Simon Despres and Robert Bortuzzo on defense. There is a chance that Bennett could be one of the more productive prospects this season, as he was widely praised in an article by Josh Yohe in the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review:
He's got all the skills he needs, (assistant coach Tony) Granato said. Top-six forward.
He can do it all. Right wing, left wing, any line, either power-play unit. He might be a good penalty killer someday, too, but he's got enough on his plate right now.
Furthermore, with various injuries piling up on defense, Bortuzzo and Despres could get their chance on top defensive pairings, which will allow them to play alongside veterans such as Paul Martin and Deryk Engelland.
With all the talent the Pens have, it is hard to imagine them being on the outside of the postseason picture. However, there are hurdles that could hinder their ascent to the top of the Eastern Conference and Metropolitan Division.
Injuries are piling up before the regular season has even started. Aside from Vokoun, the Pens have lost Kris Letang and Brooks Orpik. It would be a nightmare if the injury bug follows the team all year. Older players may also slow down and not be as productive as they once were, and Shero could find himself regretting some of the longer-term deals he handed out.
Dan Bylsma, who received a contract extension despite the playoff loss to the Bruins, could also be on the hot seat. He has high expectations for his team and is also hoping he can save his own job. The worst case would be for the Pens to be struggling near the Olympic break, which would lead to him being fired and a replacement coming in to save the season.
Even with these things in mind, the worst thing that could happen is that the Pens finish outside of the top three in the East.
The Penguins did not suffer any significant roster losses in the offseason and will get a boost from Scuderi's return. A team returning almost all of its key players is a sure bet to have a successful regular season and lock up a playoff spot.
However, the Penguins' biggest challenge will be their new divisional opponents. The Metropolitan Division has several other teams, and the competition is fierce.
The New York Islanders are a young team on the rise and gave the Penguins fits in the playoffs, never laying down even though they lost in six games in the first round. The Columbus Blue Jackets got hot near the end of the season last year and just missed the playoffs.
This doesn't even count out the Pens' usual rivals in the Philadelphia Flyers and the Washington Capitals. The Flyers did not make the playoffs last year, while the Capitals have not been beyond the conference semifinals in the Alexander Ovechkin era.
In the rest of the Eastern Conference, the Pens will have to worry about the Bruins, who are playing in the Atlantic Division. Boston is fresh off a Cup final run and now has a dominant goaltender in Tuukka Rask. It is sure to give Pittsburgh trouble when the two teams rematch.
Look for the Penguins to be in the thick of the playoff race, but they won't be raising any regular-season banners this year.
Prediction: Fourth in Eastern Conference, second in Metropolitan Division