Join TSN in a 30 teams in 30 days tour of the NHL in preparation for the upcoming season. Teams will be unveiled in reverse order of the pre-season TSN.ca Power Rankings, and the Pittsburgh Penguins are up next. Get the lowdown on their off-season and the issues they face this season. Use the Your Call feature to give us your take on the Penguins!
2009-10: 47-28-7 (4th in East, Eliminated in conference SF by Canadiens)
General Manager: Ray Shero (5th Season)
Head Coach: Dan Bylsma (3rd Season)
What they did in the off-season:
A disappointing early playoff exit meant that changes were on the way for the Pens. That proved true as the mass exodus in Steeltown got underway early with Sergei Gonchar, Alex Ponikarovsky, Bill Guerin, Ruslan Fedotenko, Jay McKee, Jordan Leopold and Mark Eaton all taking their talents elsewhere. Pittsburgh did do a decent job at upgrading their blueline with the signings of Paul Martin and the underrated Zbynek Michalek, however the team's most glaring weakness on the wings was never adequately addressed. After a solid playoff run with the Flyers, Arron Asham earned himself a one year deal with their cross-state rivals. When it was learned that Jordan Staal would miss all of training camp and a minimum of the first three weeks of the regular season, the Penguins brought in Mike Comrie on a one-year deal as an insurance policy. The most exciting addition however remains the move from the aging and decrepit Igloo in to a beautiful, modern new facility, the Consol Energy Center.
Biggest issue facing the team:
Their ranking will undoubtedly ruffle some feathers amongst hockey fans, however there is a reason why we are not so optimistic about the Pens' chances going in to this season. Although Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin remain one of the most dynamic duos in the NHL, beyond those two the offensive cupboard remains bare. With Staal nursing a foot injury and the departure of veterans Guerin, Ponikarovski and Fedotenko; Pascal Dupuis enters camp as the top returning offensive weapon outside the big two in the Penguins arsenal. That's not good. When the team is at full health, they are extremely strong down the middle; however they remain woefully short of talent on the wings. There has been a tremendous amount of talk about moving either Malkin or Staal out wide in an effort to create more offense. With Staal out indefinitely, the Pens may have to put those plans on hold as it now appears that the newly signed Comrie will likely shift portside and skate along with Crosby on the top line. The loss of the smooth skating Gonchar will also be felt on the power play as likely inheritor of the quarterback role, Alex Goligoski, struggled mightily in the second half after a quick start. The Penguins will once again rely almost entirely upon Malkin and Crosby to provide the scoring punch. If either misses any extensive time with injuries then Pittsburgh will very closely resemble the flightless birds that adorn the front of their sweaters.
Player to watch:
Hockey fans have been waiting for a breakout campaign from Jordan Staal since his phenomenal rookie season that nearly saw him reach the 30 goal plateau. While Staal may never become the offensive juggernaut that some hoped for, he has developed into one of the best two-way players in the game. His talents were recognized last season as he received his first ever nomination for the Selke Trophy. After playing primarily as a centre over the first four seasons of his career, Staal may well be moved to the wing this season thanks to the dearth of talent there for the Pens. Riding shotgun to either Crosby or Malkin could well mean a career season for Staal, however he must get healthy first. Staal has been unable to skate for much of the summer after severing tendons in his foot during the Pens playoff loss to the Canadiens. His latest setback further muddies his immediate future as the team is unsure when he will be ready to return to the lineup. Considering how shallow the Pens are on the wings if Staal misses significant time the ripple effect will be felt throughout the lineup. If the injury lingers throughout the season it may well be a blow that the Penguins are unable to recover from. He is that important to the team.