Hello, folks. Griggsy back in the saddle again, with the NHL starting back up. The 2013-14 season for the Pittsburgh Penguins was very similar to previous seasons: A ton of regular season success, but a (too) quick exit in the playoffs. It cost the GM and coaching staff their jobs. It also cost a lot of players their comfortable spots with the team. This season feels like one of transition for the Pens, after much turnover. The last season that felt like that, though? 2008-09. Just saying.
Anyways, without further delay, the Pittsburgh Penguins in preview:
General Manager – Jim Rutherford
Rutherford definitely has distinguished himself from his predecessor, Ray Shero, by giving the Pens much more depth at forward. We shall see how that goes, and whether Rutherford trades away an established defenseman to strengthen the top 6 forwards. Regardless, Rutherford is a place-holder (by his own admission) until one of Jason Botterill, Tom Fitzgerald, and Bill Guerin is ready to take over the job. In the meantime, he just may give the Penguins what they need, in terms of personnel.
Head Coach – Mike Johnston
Johnston makes the huge leap from junior hockey to the NHL, and he takes over a talented but underachieving squad. Some question his ability to work with professional players. Some think he will be a fresh voice that is badly needed. I think he is going to be a positive for this team, but I don’t know how positive yet. If he makes in-game adjustments and maximizes the talent of his best players, he will have improved on the last administration, and that’s good enough for me.
Players (in numerical order):
#1 – Thomas Greiss – G
Best Case Scenario – Greiss comes in and does what he was brought in to do. He limits MAF’s starts by taking a fair share (20-25), and keeps the Pens in a majority of those games. It keeps Marc fresh, and allows him to thrive. It also gets the Pens a few more points to give them a better playoff seed.
Worst Case Scenario – Greiss fails in one of two ways: He doesn’t do well enough in the games he starts, and it causes Johnston to ride Fleury too hard; Or MAF gets hurt in the early going, and too much is asked of Greiss, which results in a bad playoff seed, if any seed at all.
My Prediction – Greiss isn’t quite as good as we all hope, but he does enough with his starts, and he fills the backup role admirably.
#3 – Olli Maatta – D
Best Case Scenario – Maatta is healthy to start the season, picks up right where he left off, and is a perfect second pair defenseman. His numbers stay the same, but his play visibly stays on an upswing. By the end of the year, he’s a shutdown defenseman that scores timely goals.
Worst Case Scenario – Maatta doesn’t start the season healthy, or suffers a re-aggravation in his shoulder early in the year. He is the poster child for a sophomore slump, and actually gets sent to Wilkes-Barre in December. The season is a wasted one for Maatta, and doubts spring up about his future in the NHL.
My Prediction – He’s a Finn, so I admit my biases. But I really feel like he makes a strong stride forward. He’s a top four D in this league, for many years to come.
#4 – Rob Scuderi – D
Best Case Scenario – Scuderi’s health makes all the difference, and fully recovered from his leg problems last season, he doesn’t quite live up to his contract, but he is pretty damn close. He earns his way to bigger ice time, and is a stalwart on the PK. That’s probably the best you can hope for.
Worst Case Scenario – Look at last season. Add another year of tread on his tires. Enough said.
My Prediction – I don’t know. Probably he stays in the third pair all year, and doesn’t do much, good or bad. I guess that’s a win.
#7 – Paul Martin – D
Best Case Scenario – Martin finds his way fairly well in Johnston’s structure, he puts up great point totals with regular PP time and jumping into plays. The talk of him being traded away is put to rest quickly, and he helps anchor the defense for 25 minutes a night.
Worst Case Scenario – Martin struggles in the new structure, having been the biggest beneficiary of the Bylsma system. He gets bogged down by trade rumors, and has a tough season until he is mercifully dealt, for 40 cents on the dollar.
My Prediction – I suspect Martin plays average or above average hockey early on in the year, and gets dealt before Christmas.
#9 – Pascal Dupuis – LW/RW
Best Case Scenario – Dupuis recovers fully from his brutal knee injury and thrives in a top six role. He doesn’t slow down at all. He plays at the level that is needed, and puts up 25 goals with a star center, whether that is Crosby or Malkin.
Worst Case Scenario – The injury causes Dupuis to lose a step. He can’t keep up with Crosby, and he doesn’t mesh with Malkin. He is forced into a bottom six role, which is not what is needed of a player making the money that he is. He struggles to score 10 goals, and is a liability on the PK.
My Prediction – The weaknesses are hidden enough for Dupuis to stay in his top six role. I don’t know if that means he produces enough, though.
#10 – Christian Ehrhoff – D
Best Case Scenario – The chemistry in the preseason shown with Kris Letang just rolls right along for Ehrhoff. He plays the point on the top power play unit, and puts up major points as he distributes to 58, 71, and 87. He plays 25+ minutes a night and is absolutely fantastic defensively. He is a perfect foil for Letang, and the pair puts up off-the-charts fancy stats.
Worst Case Scenario – Ehrhoff suffers brain lock when on the ice with 87 & 71. He tries to force the puck to them too much. He gets frustrated playing with a still-freelancing Letang, and his defense suffers. The pair gets separated before the New Year. Ehrhoff asks for a trade at the deadline.
My Prediction – Kris Letang is the Norris Trophy winner this season. Ehrhoff is the most overlooked reason as to why.
#13 – Nick Spaling – C/LW/RW
Best Case Scenario – Spaling uses his big frame to overpower small Eastern Conference defensemen on his way to 20+ goals. He looks so good in the early going that he gets a top six role, and fits perfectly with Malkin on the second line. It leads to a career year for Spaling, and a big year for his center.
Worst Case Scenario – Spaling never finds a comfort level on the bottom six, and doesn’t use his size to his advantage. He falls out of favor with Mike Johnston, and is a healthy scratch for several games. 20+ goals? Yeah, right. Try 3.
My Prediction – Spaling falls in between. Inconsistent at times, but he plays solid in the bottom six. 15 goals, and much improved Corsi numbers.
#14 – Chris Kunitz – LW
Best Case Scenario – Kunitz stays healthy, plays all season with Crosby, and finally maxes out statistically. 35 goals, 80 points. And he helps Crosby to another 100+ point year.
Worst Case Scenario – Kunitz’s body breaks down on him, and he never gets healthy this season. He leaves a massive hole on the top line that no one can fill adequately. Crosby scores well under 100 points, and the team struggles without that production.
My Prediction – He doesn’t get 20 goals disallowed this season. That is a victory in and of itself, folks.
#16 – Brandon Sutter – C
Best Case Scenario – Sutter forces his way into the top six more often than not. He piles up points, plays great two-way hockey, and moves Evgeni Malkin to the wing for a while. Malkin gets back to his shooting ways, and Sutter sets him up for a lot of those goals.
Worst Case Scenario – Sutter struggles on the 2nd line, and on the 3rd line. He ends up back where he was for too many games last season, the fourth line. And he stays there. And stays there. Ugh.
My Prediction – Sutter scores more points than expected. And keeps his dong off Root Sports. Thanks, Flat Stanley.
#17 – Blake Comeau – LW/RW
Best Case Scenario – Comeau is a solid contributer to the bottom six, plays solidly on the PK, and chips in big goals. About all you can ask for from the guy.
Worst Case Scenario – Comeau takes too many penalties, does nothing offensively, and disappears off the roster fairly quickly.
My Prediction – He sticks around all season, frustrates us at times, but comes up big in key moments.
#19 – Beau Bennett – LW/RW
Best Case Scenario – He gets back to full health faster than expected, grabs his top six role by the balls, and puts up 25 goals (or more).
Worst Case Scenario – He never can get past the injury bug. Another wasted year, full of such potential, with no results.
My Prediction – He only plays 40 games, but he is very productive in those games.
#23 – Steve Downie – LW/RW
Best Case Scenario – Downie thrives back under Rick Tocchet’s wing, he moves all over the lines, scores more goals than you expect, and just runs roughshod all over the league.
Worst Case Scenario – He is too amped up and can’t control his emotions. Too many penalties, one long suspension, no tangible positive impact.
My Prediction – If he gets time with Crosby, Downie will play the best hockey of his career.
#25 – Andrew Ebbett – C
Best Case Scenario – He sticks with the big club all season. That’s the best he can hope for, at least.
Worst Case Scenario – He is left in Wheeling for the season. It could happen.
My Prediction – He puts himself in position to score a momentum-changing goal for the Pens, and lets it roll off his stick.
#27 – Craig Adams – C/LW/RW
Best Case Scenario – He plays all 82 games, kills penalties, and scores 10 goals, including 4 shorties.
Worst Case Scenario – He sits in the press box 50+ games, does little when he is in the lineup, and is waived in February.
My Prediction – He plays more than you want, you whine about it, and I laugh the entire time. Alpha Male For Life, yo.
#29 – Marc Andre Fleury – G
Best Case Scenario – A good backup means he plays about 60 games, puts up great numbers, and gets a contract extension in January.
Worst Case Scenario – Greiss sucks out loud, Marc plays more than he should, and he struggles mightily. He gets run out of town in June.
My Prediction – MAF’s numbers aren’t great, but he wins games in May. Maybe even June.
#38 – Zach Sill – C/LW
Best Case Scenario – He establishes himself in the NHL, playing on the fourth line all season. He chips in a goal here and there, and just manages not to hurt the team.
Worst Case Scenario – He tries to do too much with little playing time, turns the puck over and makes bad decisions, and finds himself in Wilkes-Barre by November.
My Prediction – The kid sticks, but he doesn’t play consistently.
#41 – Robert Bortuzzo – D
Best Case Scenario – He comes back from his injury and provides the physical play the Pens desperately need on the blue line. It keeps him in the lineup for most of the games, and even leads to decent minutes in the playoffs.
Worst Case Scenario – It takes him far too long to recover from his injury, he lumbers around the ice when he returns, Johnston doesn’t feel that he can trust Borts, and he gets scratched far too often.
My Prediction – Other players’ injuries force him to play a more prominent role at times this season. And Bortuzzo manages to thrive in that role.
#42 – Kasperi Kapanen – LW/RW
Best Case Scenario – He stays in Finland and plays well.
Worst Case Scenario – He stays in Finland and plays well.
My Prediction – He stays in Finland. He plays well. We see him next season in black and gold.
#44 – Taylor Chorney – D
Best Case Scenario – He enjoys the CEC press box nachos.
Worst Case Scenario – He enjoys the Wilkes-Barre press box nachos.
My Prediction – Why is he a thing?
#47 – Simon Despres – D
Best Case Scenario – He plays regularly, does well given that opportunity, and makes Paul Martin expendable quickly. His role keeps expanding, and he gets PP and PK time. In the playoffs, he sets up some big goals.
Worst Case Scenario – He struggles early with Scuderi as his partner, he gets buried on the D depth chart, and is moved out of town by the deadline for a bag of pucks.
My Prediction – He wears the biggest smile all year, just because he no longer has to deal with Dan Bylsma.
#57 – Marcel Goc – C
Best Case Scenario – As Brandon Sutter breaks out on the 2nd line, Goc does very well in his expanded role. He shows defensive responsibility, faceoff wins, and penalty killing that will make the coaches very happy.
Worst Case Scenario – Goc plays a limited role on the fourth line, and does very little with the little time he is given. He still wins faceoffs, but that is about it. 2 goals in 80 games just isn’t enough production.
My Prediction – Goc leads the team in faceoff win percentage and in shorthanded goals. With German efficiency.
#58 – Kris Letang – D
Best Case Scenario – Letang does everything you’d expect him to do in the new system. Huge goal and assist totals, nearly 30 minutes a night, consistent strong defensive play, tons of time possessing the puck, and yes, a Norris Trophy.
Worst Case Scenario – His health problems aren’t fully behind him, and he has to miss much more time. That would be the worst of all scenarios, because that guy deserves to not worry about his health.
My Prediction – I said it above with Ehrhoff. Letang wins the Norris. And I mean it.
#71 – Evgeni Malkin – C/RW
Best Case Scenario – Malkin shows up motivated, and takes the hint that he needs to shoot more (shoot everybody). 50 goals, 100+ points, team scoring lead, and finishes ahead of Crosby for not only the Art Ross, but also the Hart Trophy.
Worst Case Scenario – Malkin is injured, or inconsistent, or both. He ends up a massive disappointment, and becomes constant talk show fodder. He asks for a trade, or worse, he goes home to Magnitogorsk.
My Prediction – Get that dumb shit out of your head. Malkin is going to have an amazing year. It’s only up to the captain as to whether Malkin has the best year of any player on the Pens.
#72 – Patric Hornqvist – RW
Best Case Scenario – Career numbers while playing with one of the best two centers in the league. Yep, just that simple.
Worst Case Scenario – Bad chemistry with the best two centers in the league, and he gets hurt playing his style of hockey. Ugh.
My Prediction – He probably doesn’t quite score as many goals as he’s capable of scoring. But he definitely fits in well with Crosby, and it helps the captain’s play all season.
#87 – Sidney Crosby – C
Best Case Scenario – Speaking of the captain, he puts up the best numbers of his career, with great linemates, a properly defined PP position (down low, please), and much more protection from the Marc Staals of the world. Art Ross? Check. Hart? Check. Conn Smythe? Finally.
Worst Case Scenario – He is bothered by nagging injuries, fails to play 70 games even, and fails to lead his team to the playoffs for only the second time in his career. I think I just threw up in my mouth imagining it.
My Prediction – Crosby tries to play “Can you top this?” with Malkin. The result: lots of points, and lots of wins.
Pittsburgh Penguins – Team
Best Case Scenario – Johnston’s philosophy catches on quickly, things go right from the start, and they cruise to the Metro division title. From there, they win a couple of hard-fought series, culminating with gaining their revenge over the Bruins in the Conference Finals. In the Cup Final, they take on a battered Los Angeles Kings squad that is running on fumes, and the Pens get it done, regaining the Cup in six games, marking their first Cup win on home ice. Mike Johnston is nominated for sainthood. David Morehouse is politely applauded at the parade.
Worst Case Scenario – The team struggles mightily to adapt to Johnston’s philosophy, Fleury falls apart with the pressure of a contract year weighing on him, Malkin sulks, Crosby gets injured, Downie gets suspended, Scuderi and Adams suck, etc. They never get it together fully during the long season. They nearly miss the playoffs, and as the Wild Card team, are quickly dispatched by the Bruins in round one. Johnston is run back to Portland, Rutherford decides to go home, Mike Babcock decides to stay in Detroit, and David Morehouse names himself GM and Head Coach.
My Prediction – The Pens win their division, despite some early season struggles. As for how far they go in the playoffs, you’ll have to come back this weekend and find out…