This group of Pittsburgh Penguins hadn’t won a playoff series, but last season they stormed through the Eastern Conference with little resistance and back to the Stanley Cup Finals for the first time in 16 years. But then the dynasty-in-waiting hit a couple of bumps in the road. First, the deeper and more experienced Red Wings handled them in the Finals. Then half the forwards decided to skip town. GM Ray Shero deserves credit for locking up the core players, but how the Penguins fill in the blanks around the young stars will determine if there isn’t more waiting than dynasty in the coming years in the Steel City.
2007-08: 47-27-8, 102 points (first in Atlantic)
PLAYOFFS: Lost to Detroit in Stanley Cup finals
WHAT WENT RIGHT: With Sidney Crosby out because of a high ankle sprain, Evgeni Malkin went on a scoring tear and finished second in the Hart trophy voting to burgeoning rival Alex Ovechkin. Malkin, Ryan Malone and Petr Sykora became one of top lines in the league. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury began to live up to expectations bestowed upon him as a No. 1 overall pick, while Ty Conklin revived his career when Fleury was absent. Young defenseman Kris Letang was a shootout whiz. The trade for Marian Hossa provided a glimpse of what could be with an elite winger skating alongside Crosby. With financing finally set for a new arena, ground was broken across the street from the Igloo.
WHAT WENT WRONG: Crosby, Fleury and Maxime Talbot all missed a chunk of the season with ankle injuries. All of the success led to an exodus out of town. Hossa passed on a long-term deal to play with Crosby for a one-year pact to try for a Cup with the Red Wings. Defenseman Ryan Whitney is going to miss the beginning of the season because of a foot injury.
DEPARTURES: RW Marian Hossa, LW Ryan Malone, RW Gary Roberts, LW Jarkko Ruutu, RW Georges Laraque, C Adam Hall, G Ty Conklin
IMPACT PROSPECTS: D Alex Goligoski, LW Janne Pesonen, C Ryan Stone
Who will Sid and Geno pass to?
When it is time for the power play, they will pass to each other, but Michel Therrien’s task in camp will be to figure out which four guys will skate with his superstar centers at even strength. Sykora, Satan and Fedotenko are likely to be three of them, while the fourth could be Pascal Dupuis, Talbot or Jordan Staal could move to a wing if necessary. The wild card is Pesonen, who is 26 but lit up the Finnish League last season.
How will the defense pairs shake out without Whitney?
While the offseason made the Penguins thin up front, the team still has plenty of depth on the blue line. If Mark Eaton is healthy again and Goligoski proves to be ready, Pittsburgh has eight defensemen even without Whitney. One of them could also be moved to add another forward.
PROGNOSIS: The Penguins are not as good as they were during the playoffs, and replacing guys like Hossa and Malone could be impossible. It is also going to be hard to replace the intangibles that guys like Roberts, Laraque and Ruutu provided. Still, the Penguins are better today than they were when last season started. Crosby and Malkin are two of the top five forwards in the league, and Fleury has become one of the league’s top goaltenders. They are going to need Staal to get back closer to the 29 goals he had as a rookie, and more than the 32 Satan and Fedotenko combined for with the Islanders, but they are still one of the favorites in the Atlantic and to represent the East again in the Finals.
|Pascal Dupuis||Sidney Crosby||Miroslav Satan|
|Ruslan Fedotenko||Evgeni Malkin||Petr Sykora|
|Matt Cooke||Jordan Staal||Tyler Kennedy|
|Janne Pesonen/Kris Beech||Maxime Talbot||Eric Godard/Jeff Taffe|
|Sergei Gonchar||Brooks Orpik|
|Ryan Whitney||Rob Scuderi|
|Kris Letang||Hall Gill|
|Alex Goligoski||Mark Eaton/Daryl Sydor|
*NOTE: This is not necessarily an attempt to guess line combinations