2008-09: 45-28-9 (4th in the East – Won Stanley Cup)
TSN Pre-Season Power Ranking: 1st
General Manager: Ray Shero (4th Season)
Head Coach: Dan Byslma (2nd Season)
What They Did In The Off-season:
While the Penguins were celebrating their third Stanley Cup title in franchise history, they did find some time to fine tune their roster.
Alex Goligoski, Bill Guerin, Ruslan Fedotenko and Craig Adams all agreed to terms and stayed with the team. The Penguins also took a dip in the free agent pool, acquiring Brent Johnson to back up Marc-Andre Fleury, signing Mike Rupp away from the Devils and bringing in Jay McKee and Martin Skoula for defensive depth.
On the outs was Rob Scuderi, who cashed in on his impressive playoff performance by signing with the Kings. Hal Gill followed him out the door to a new two-year deal with the Habs, Petr Sykora was allowed to leave and was granted a tryout with the Minnesota Wild, while Miroslav Satan appears all out of options (on this side of the Atlantic, anyway).
Biggest Issue facing the team:
While winning the Stanley Cup is extremely difficult, recent history has shown that defending the title can be next to impossible. Only one team has repeated as champion in the past decade, with the Detroit Red Wings winning in 1996-97 and again in 1997-98. The Penguins will have a big target on their back every time they enter an opposing building, as every team in the league will be looking to upstage the champs.
Along the same lines, the Penguins are still a very young team that was able to capture the title seemingly ahead of schedule. And once you have reached the top, the motivation to climb the mountain isn't always there right away. There is always a Stanley Cup hangover of some sort and it wouldn't be terribly surprising to see the Penguins look a little sluggish out of the gate.
On the other side of the coin, the team features the most potent scoring combo in the league in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. The twin superstars can take turns carrying the team on their backs on any given night. They are also two very competitive and driven players who won't simply rest on their laurels because they own a single Cup ring.
More than perhaps any other player, Crosby understands his position not only in the modern game but in the history of the league. Sid the Kid does not want to simply be considered the best player of his generation - he wants to be thought of as one of the top players of all-time and realizes that the best way to do this is to lead his team to multiple championships.
Malkin also appears to be driven by his rivalry with fellow Russian superstar Alex Ovechkin. While the media may have over-hyped the feud between the two players, Malkin undoubtedly measures himself against Ovechkin. Ovie may have the Hart and the Rocket Richard Trophy, but Geno holds the Cup, the Art Ross and the Conn Smythe Trophy, something no other Russian player has ever accomplished.
Crosby and Malkin may snag most of the headlines, but the Penguins are far from a two-man team. Bill Guerin, Chris Kunitz and Maxime Talbot add secondary scoring, while defensive specialists Jordan Staal, Craig Adams and the newly-acquired Rupp will form a formidable shutdown combo with agitator Matt Cooke.
The defensive unit is a great mixture of bangers (McKee, Mark Eaton and Brooks Orpik) and puck movers (Sergei Gonchar, Kris Letang and Alex Goligoski). And they have a young goaltender in Marc-Andre Fleury who has overcome questions about his ability to win big games.
Another positive is that the team enters the season with Dan Byslma at the helm from the get go. The Penguins looked sluggish out of the gate last season and were in danger of missing the playoffs before Byslma replaced Michel Therrien behind the bench. The man they call Disco Dan quickly lightened the mood in the dressing room and allowed his creative players to do what they do best - play attractive hockey. The team rode that wave of positivity all the way to back to the Stanley Cup final, where they avenged their loss to the Red Wings just year before.
In short, the Penguins have everything a team needs to make a genuine Cup run once again. The only thing standing in their way may be their own complacency.
Player to watch:
Is this the year that Jordan Staal builds upon his impressive rookie campaign and seizes the mantle as the game's best two-way player? It's a question that both management and fans would love to know the answer to.
After leading the league in shorthanded goals in his freshman year, Staal appeared on the verge of greatness. He had everything that you look for in a player: the size, the speed, the intelligence and scoring touch along with some phenomenal hockey genes; but he took a step backwards in terms of his development in his sophomore campaign.
After scoring 29 times as a rookie, Staal found the back of the net only 12 times in his second season and saw his plus/minus rating fall from plus-16 to minus-5. Last season he returned to form, firing home 22 goals. But where he really excelled was in the playoffs, as he was asked to shadow the opposing team's top line every night. He was rewarded for his hard work by joining brothers Eric and Marc at Canadian Olympic orientation camp.
While Staal remains a long shot to represent his country at the Vancouver Games, the seed has been planted for the opportunity to become one of the game's elite two-way threats. The Penguins rewarded him for that potential by signing him to a four-year deal in January. And the time is now for Staal to reward the team for their loyalty.
Staal has shown in the past that he has a real nose for the net to go along with his strong defensive conscience. He bears all the markings of a perennial Selke trophy contender. This season should be the start of something big for him.
Scott Cullen's Fantasy Take:
The defending Stanley-Cup-champion Pittsburgh Penguins have some of the premier players when it comes to fantasy hockey, with supreme individual talents that also lift the production of those around them.
Last year's league-leading scorer, Evgeni Malkin, has gone over 100 points, with a double-digit plus rating in each of the last two seasons and recorded at least 40 power play points in each of his three years in the NHL. In virtually every league, Malkin will be one of the top three selections.