2008-09 Pittsburgh Penguins: Better or Worse?
August is here and Penguins news has slowed to the pace of Martin Biron's glove hand. So what does that leave us to talk about?
Here's a look at what the Penguins have gained and lost so far this offseason, and whether the changes will make them a better, worse, or even team this coming season.
All too often it is said that experience is just as vital for goaltenders as raw talent. Despite a high ankle sprain that sidelined him for about a quarter of last season, Marc-Andre Fleury finally got this much-needed experience in the 2008 playoffs.
Fleury proved that he is No. 1 goaltender material, and likely will continue to blossom into one of the elite goaltenders in the NHL over the next few years.
The Pens did lose backup goaltender Ty Conklin to the Detroit Red Wings this offseason. Though Conklin (with help from his defensive corps) did carry the Penguins on his back during Fleury's absence last year, Dany Sabourin has also proved himself as a reliable backup.
While we all saw how Sabou faltered as a starter, his consistency in a backup role and prowess in the shootout should be enough to keep the Penguins on track when the Flower needs a night off.
Diagnosis: Better. Fleury gained more experience and Sabourin should fare just as well as Conklin would have in a backup position.
The Penguins' defensive corps is the least-changed aspect of the team heading into next season. Last season, Sergei Gonchar proved that he can be effective at both ends of the rink, not just the offensive end.
Adding Hal Gill at the trade deadline was a big boost for the Penguins, who had struggled on the penalty kill early in the year.
Brooks Orpik and Rob Scuderi each enjoyed vast improvement last season, as Orpik finally became the physical blue-liner that he is meant to be and Scuderi blocked more shots than Wilt Chamberlain in his prime.
A full healthy season for Mark Eaton, who, like Scuderi, specializes in shot-blocking, will be a huge benefit to the Penguins on the defensive side of the ice.
There is still some uncertainty about the future of veteran defenseman Darryl Sydor. Sydor was the odd man out among the Penguins' seven healthy defensemen for much of last season, due in large part to the unexpected play of youngster Kris Letang.
Diagnosis: Even. The Pens haven't lost or gained any defensemen this summer, but Mark Eaton's health will play a big role in just how good this defensive corps can be next year.
Gonchar is still in his prime, and Whitney and Letang are rising stars. Combine that with the physicality of Gill and Orpik, and defensive-minded shot-blockers Eaton and Scuderi, and this is definitely one of the best defenses in the Eastern Conference.
The loss of Benedict Arnold Hossa has been analyzed to death.
Will Satan serve as an adequate replacement for Hossa? I believe he will, and here's why. Hossa only played on a line with Crosby for the final three games of the regular season, and throughout the playoffs.
Satan will have the luxury of playing an entire season (barring an injury to either player) on Crosby's wing. Satan has the quickness to keep up with Sid, the puck-handling ability to draw defenders toward him, and a knack for scoring that hasn't been seen in full since his days with the Buffalo Sabres.
Ryan Malone was the Penguins' other big-name loss this offseason. Satan's fellow former-Islander Ruslan Fedotenko has been brought in to replace Malone. While Fedotenko plays a slightly less physical style of hockey than Malone, at 29 years of age, he is still in his prime.
I think that Fedotenko will benefit from playing on a line with Malkin and Sykora (I mean really, who wouldn't?) and if he can learn to play bigger than his 6'2", 195 pound frame, he could become a regular presence in front of the net while Gino and Sykie work their magic.
Diagnosis: Worse, but not by much. It's always hard to predict how players will mesh on the ice. If Satan and Crosby can play together effectively and Fedotenko elevates the physical aspect of his game, the Penguins' top two lines won't lose a step...but only time will tell.
The Penguins lost one of the most respected veterans in the game in Gary Roberts. They also lost agitator extraordinaire, Jarkko Ruutu. Adam Hall and Georges Laraque round out the list of role-playing forwards that have moved on to other teams this summer.
So what about the players the Penguins have brought in?
Matt Cooke packs a little more of a scoring punch than Ruutu, while still being very capable of agitation and never too hesitant to drop the gloves.
Eric Godard is quicker on his feet than Georges Laraque, and is considered a heavyweight among fighters in the NHL.
Tyler Kennedy proved that he belongs in the NHL last season with the Penguins, both by scoring goals and by dropping the gloves on occasion. Kennedy is the type of player that will do anything to give his team a momentum boost when needed.
Max Talbot is one of the best third/fourth line centers in the league. He plays a kamikaze style of hockey, can kill penalties with the best of them, and occasionally displays the scoring touch that made him a legend in the QMJHL.
Diagnosis: Better. Cooke will provide more offense than Ruutu, Godard will serve the purpose of enforcer while supplying more speed and agility than Laraque, and Kennedy and Talbot are more than enough to make up for the lost aggression of Gary Roberts.
Overall, I feel that the Penguins have improved upon the roster that watched the Red Wings hoist the Stanley Cup on Mellon Arena ice at the conclusion of last season.
The wild card in the mix is Jordan Staal. After posting 29 goals in his rookie campaign, Staal experienced an offensive "sophomore slump" last season. However, his defensive game improved tenfold from his rookie season.
If Staal can get back on track, whether it's on Malkin's wing or centering the third line, the Penguins will boast one of the deepest benches in the league.
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