The Penguins fared well without Sidney Crosby for the majority of the regular season, finishing fourth in the Eastern Conference and just one point behind the Conference-topping Rangers.
Crosby returned for good (we hope) late in the regular season, but his presence in the lineup wasn't enough for the Penguins to survive a sloppy first-round series against the Flyers.
The off-season saw Pittsburgh trade talented but underutilized (playing behind Malkin and Crosby) centre Jordan Staal to Carolina after failing to re-sign him. Losing Staal will surely hurt, but the Penguins received a decent package in return (Brandon Sutter, Brian Dumoulin, and a first-round pick in Derrick Pouliot).
Two prominent first-round draft picks helped the Penguins replenish their prospect cupboard this summer.
Defenceman Derrick Pouliot, whom Pittsburgh nabbed eighth overall with the Hurricanes' pick, immediately jumps to the top of the prospect list, while Olli Maatta, taken 22nd overall, is high on the chart as well. Pouliot has been amongst the WHL's top defenceman scorers so far in 2012-13, while Maatta is a big factor behind the London Knights' complete dominance of the OHL so far this year.
There's also a lot of excitement around defencemen Joe Morrow and Simon Depres - two players who could be close to joining the big league club. Dumoulin, part of the Staal deal, is also high on Pittsburgh's prospect list.
Marc-Andre Fleury backstopped the Penguins to a Stanley Cup in 2009 and has generally been stellar for Pittsburgh in his eight years in the league. Last year, however, Fleury showed signs of struggle, especially in the playoffs. Team brass chalked it up to fatigue before making a move to fix the situation by signing veteran Tomas Vokoun. He's perhaps the best backup goalie in the league and will allow Fleury to rest without a noticeable drop-off in play, keeping him fresh for the playoffs.
Unfortunately, the Penguins – and hockey fans everywhere – will always be weary of the next big hit that forces Crosby to miss another extended period of time. That hit may never come, but the possibility could weigh on both Crosby and teammates throughout the season. For what it's worth, Pittsburgh gave Crosby a 12-year contract extension this summer, a sign they're confident he'll be healthy and resilient for the forseeable future.
A look at where Penguins players went during the lockout:
Simon Despres (Wiles-Barre/Scranton, AHL), Deryk Engelland (Rosenborg IHK Elite, Norway), Dustin Jeffrey (Medvescak Zagreb, Austria), Evgeni Malkin (Metallurg, KHL), Eric Tangradi (Wiles-Barre/Scranton, AHL), Tomas Vokoun (HC Karlovy Vary, Czech League)