2010-11 NHL Previews: Pittsburgh Penguins

| by Sports Nickel

2009-10 RECORD:
47-28-7/101 pts
2nd in Atlantic Division
4th in Eastern Conference
GM: Ray Shero
COACH: Dan Bylsma
2010-11 PAYROLL:
$58,063,145 ($1.4M below cap)

Whether you are a Penguins fan or not you have got to respect the sense of urgency exhibited by General Manager Ray Shero. Though the Pens are only a season removed from claiming hockey’s Holy Grail, and it wouldn’t kill the Consol Energy Center gate totals if the Pens came up a bit short in the postseason again, Shero is not satisfied. Quite frankly, he made some brilliant offseason moves to erase the memory of his squad’s malnourished 2nd round exit to Montreal last spring.

His first line of business was addressing the team’s weak link: their blueline. Out is aging offensive blueliner Sergei Gonchar, 36, who was asking for way too much (his agent ultimately duped the Ottawa Senators into picking up Gonchar for 3 years at $16.5 million) and in are Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek. Both are under 30 and both are effective on both ends of the rink. This 2-for-1 move on the blueline gives the Pens a D-corps that resembles the 2009 unit that was so imperative in their Cup conquest. Shero also committed a little inner-Atlantic Division piracy by swooping up former Philadelphia Flyer free agent forward Arron Asham. The Orange and Black faithful expressed great sorrow in losing this Broad Street throwback who plays every shift with an excellent vivacity that every player should strive to play with. Shero seems to be content with what he has produced over the off-season and he has put the Penguins in a position for another dazzling run at the Cup.

# POS Name Height Weight Age
27 F Craig Adams 6′ 0″ 197 33
45 F Arron Asham 5′ 11″ 205 32
24 F Matt Cooke 5′ 11″ 205 31
87 F Sidney Crosby 5′ 11″ 200 23
9 F Pascal Dupuis 6′ 1″ 205 31
28 F Eric Godard 6′ 4″ 214 30
48 F Tyler Kennedy 5′ 11″ 183 24
14 F Chris Kunitz 6′ 0″ 193 30
71 F Evgeni Malkin 6′ 3″ 195 24
17 F Michael Rupp 6′ 5″ 230 30
11 F Jordan Staal 6′ 4″ 220 21
25 F Maxime Talbot 5′ 11″ 190 26
42 F Eric Tangradi 6′ 4″ 221 21
3 D Alex Goligoski 5′ 11″ 180 25
58 D Kris Letang 6′ 0″ 201 23
6 D Ben Lovejoy 6′ 2″ 215 26
7 D Paul Martin 6′ 1″ 200 29
4 D Zbynek Michalek 6′ 2″ 210 27
44 D Brooks Orpik 6′ 2″ 219 29
36 G John Curry 5′ 11″ 185 26
29 G Marc-Andre Fleury 6′ 2″ 180 25
1 G Brent Johnson 6′ 3″ 199 33

MOST IMPORTANT COG IN 2010: Evgeni Malkin (forward) — There have been heavy rumblings about moving Malkin from his natural center position to the wing. The rumblings may become minor whispers for now or at least until 3rd line center, Jordan Staal, returns from off-season ankle surgery to repair a severed tendon. Of course, this type of movement concerning Malkin begs the all important question, why move a player from the spot that enabled him to win the Calder trophy as the 2007 NHL Rookie of the year, the Ross Trophy as the league’s leading scorer in 2008-09 and the biggest award of them all, the Conn Smythe Trophy as the 2009 playoff MVP? Well, we know that a lack of depth on the wing caused problems for the Pens last year against the Habs in the playoffs and we know that Shero was not impressed with any available wings over the past summer, whether through free agency or via trade.

We also know that Staal, 21, has displayed shades of tremendous upside in the offensive zone and penciling him in the top-six forward rotation will give him a chance to log bigger minutes and tap into some of that potential we all think he has.

Thus the in-house alterations with Malkin. Whether Malkin will play on Sidney Crosby’s line or Staal’s line remains to be seen. The chemistry between Malkin and Crosby when they have been paired together over the years was unsatisfactory and a Malkin-Staal pairing is more likely to occur. The bigger question, however, is whether Malkin will be able to make a full functional transition to the wing spot. He has never been very effective jousting for pucks along the wall and this inadequacy in turn limits his time to make plays. When Shero asked Malkin whether he is up for the move he asked, “What does Coach think?” — a sign, according to Shero, that shows Malkin is willing to change his game and make the move.

Now, if Malkin is serious about adopting a grimy “dark side” that he will need to be successful grinding in the corners this new element will make him more dangerous than ever and could really get his name back in that best player on the planet debate.

KEY ACQUISITION: Paul Martin (D – FA from New Jersey) — While Martin is not the sound power play quarterback that Sergei Gonchar was Martin is responsible in the offensive zone, makes few mistakes and unlike Gonchar he is not a liability in his own zone. Martin is also seven years younger than Gonchar and Coach Dan Bylsma will not have to worry about throwing Martin on the ice for 20 plus minutes a game with the word INJURY blaring in the back of his head as it did with Gonchar for each and every shift. Overall, Martin is a definite upgrade from the eroding Gonchar and the Pens blue line unit is better off.

KEY DEPARTURE: Sergei Gonchar (D – FA to Ottawa) — I know, I know. I just wrote Old Man River off as a pure geriatric pylon but the fact of the matter is there are few blue liners in the league who can dictate the man advantage as masterfully as he does. He also is still a very fluid skater and does present that old Paul Coffey advantage of acting as that fourth attacking forward that gives the opposition headaches. The offensive output that he is capable of is a bonus to any team and the Penguins know this more than anyone.

KEY YOUNGSTER: Eric Tangradi (LW/21 years old) — Pens brass love this kid. At 6’3″, 214 pounds Tangardi enters training camp as the potential elite franchise power forward and he has all the tools. He can bang along the walls and loves playing with his back to the goaltender looking for deflections. Tangardi also skates well for his size and has displayed, for his age, surprisingly intuitive playmaking abilities. If he does pan out and sticks with the big club than it could keeping Malkin at the center of the ice and giving the Penguins the deepest center rotation in the league.

OUTLOOK: The early exit in the Eastern bracket this past spring was really based on their anemic blue line and the fact that they ran into a red hot Habs squad. Sure some depth at the wing would have helped but the blue line would have gotten them in trouble later in the tournament. With Shero’s work the blue line will not be a problem this year. Though the forward group is not as perfect as Shero would like, they are still better than most and can go four lines as strong as anyone. Anytime you got a guy like Sidney Crosby, one of the top three players in the world, leading the way you got a chance at notching two points in the standings every night.  Another huge advantage that the Pens can look forward to this year is the progression of Marc-Andre Fleury. The guy is only 25 years old and has yet to reach the apex of his abilities. Though he has already played Stanley Cup winning caliber net minding the consensus is that he will get better. If this is the year that he makes that leap from great goalie to elite goalie the Pens have all the tools to make a run at the President’s trophy and their second Stanley Cup parade in three seasons.

As it stands now, I feel comfortable calling the Penguins the favorites to represent the Eastern side of the equation in the Stanley Cup Finals next spring.


  • 53 wins
  • 114 points
  • 1st in the Atlantic/ 1st in the Eastern Conference
  • Eastern Conference representatives in the Stanley Cup Final

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