(The 2015-16 NHL season is nearly upon us! Why bother watching this team? What will make or break the season? Find out as we preview all 30 teams as camps begin!)
43-27-12, 98 points, second wild card in the Eastern Conference.
2014-15 Season, In One Tweet
Did They Get Better, Worse Or Are They About The Same?
GM Jim Rutherford had as good an off-season as you could get in the NHL. Not only did he acquire another scoring talent in Phil Kessel, he also shored up a big weakness on the roster the past couple of seasons: depth.
Kessel was acquired on July 1 for a package of not only Nick Spaling and prospects Kasperi Kapanen and Scott Harrington, but the Toronto Maple Leafs will also be picking up $1.2 million of his salary. Head coach Mike Johnston has said Kessel will start next Sidney Crosby, but, of course, with the Penguins’ abundance of offensive riches, the winger could also spend time alongside Evgeni Malkin. A team that finished 19th in scoring last season (2.65 goals per game) drastically improved in that area with one move.
Also potentially playing with Malkin is Sergei Plotnikov, the 25-year old Russian winger. The two played in last spring’s World Championships and Plotnikov was so eager to ply his trade in the NHL that he paid $500,000 to terminate his contract with Lokomotiv of the KHL.
Going back to filling depth, in the span of a few minutes, Rutherford signed long-time Washington Capital Eric Fehr (who’s out until the end of October after shoulder surgery) and traded Brandon Sutter for Nick Bonino, saving some cap space in the process.
Five Most Fascinating Players
1. Phil Kessel, F
Finally out of the fishbowl that is Toronto and onto a roster ready to contend, Kessel will welcome playing alongside an elite pivot in either Crosby of Malkin. Oh, and he’s also lost 13 lbs. working out with Gary Roberts, which has tended to result in really good things for the player.
2. Pascal Dupuis, F
A blood clot cut short his 2014-15 season and despite the severity of his situation Dupuis was determined to come back. He’ll be ready to go at the start of the season, but at age 36, will he be able to match the level he’s competed at since he joined the Penguins? He used to be Crosby’s running mate, but now could find himself between the second and third lines.
3. Kris Letang, D
A concussion ended what could have been a Norrs Trophy season for Letang in late March. If he’s past his recent rash of ailments, he’ll return to be another weapon for Johnston, this one coming from the blueline.
4. Evgeni Malkin, F
The second head of the Penguins’ two-headed monster found himself in the middle of trade rumors after questions about his happiness in Pittsburgh were raised. Rutherford squashed all that over the summer added Kessel and Plotnikov, which should help Malkin surpass the 71 points he’s averaged over the last two seasons.
5. Olli Maatta, D
It hasn’t been a kind of year for the Finnish blueliner. After being diagnosed with cancer in October, he then missed the rest of the season after shoulder surgery. Only 21, if his bad injury luck is behind him, there are bright days ahead for Maatta, who has logged 18:57 minutes per game in two seasons for the Penguins.
Potentially The Best Thing About This Team
Kessel’s presence make Pittsburgh’s top two lines even more potent, and with the depth improvement, they can challenge Tampa for the East crown.
Potentially The Worst Thing About This Team
The defense as a whole could be improved. Fleury is coming off a career season, but there are some question marks throughout the blueline. Can Letang and Maatta rebound from their injury issues? Will Derrick Pouliot start to blossom under Johnston, who coached him in junior? Will Ian Cole and Ben Lovejoy handle their responsibilities? How much longer until Rob Scuderi comes off the books?
Dream 3-on-3 OT Group
This might not be safe for opposing goalies to see: Crosby-Malkin-Kessel or Crosby-Malkin-Letang. There will be a lot of room for any three of the Penguins’ elite players to work with.
Coach Hot Seat Rating (1-10, 10 being scoring hot)
Six. Johnston enters his second year behind the bench with an improved roster, pressure to succeed in the spring and potentially new ownership coming on board should the sale of the franchise go through during the season.
Awkward Old School Video Break
Honestly, this commercial isn’t awkward enough…
Their Best Case Scenario Is …
Pittsburgh retains their top-five possession numbers; special teams are once again strong; their depth pickups provide production; and their young defensemen progress and earn confidence from the coaching staff. The air of expectation around the Penguins heading into this season is higher than its been for several years.
Their Nightmare Scenario Is …
They can’t shake the injury bug and it forces an already depth-challenged organization to rush young players up.
In the Eastern Conference it’s the Lightning and then everyone else. The door is open for the Penguins to return to prominence. Rutherford has given Johnston the tools to succeed, while Crosby and Malkin aren’t getting any younger. If all breaks right, Pittsburgh should be in contention for the East.