A Recap, and Welcome, Back to Hockey

No more Ray Shero and his masterful trades, or his inability to draft anyone other than defensemen. Dan Bylsma - Ray Shero

No more Dan Bylsma and his wide open style of play that lead to tremendous regular season results, but ended with bitter postseason flame-outs.

No more excuses.

In as Shero’s replacement is the man whom Shero took almost-criminal advantage of during the 2012 draft that saw Jordan Staal shipped off to the Carolina Hurricanes in exchange for Brandon Sutter, Brian Dumoulin, and the ‘Canes’ first round draft pick that turned in to Derrick Pouliot:

Jim Rutherford.

In as Bylsma’s replacement is a man with little in the way of NHL coaching experience, and zero head-coaching experience at the professional level; AHL or NHL.

Mike Johnston.

Are you excited? Me neither.

Alas, the curtain has all but officially risen on the 2014-2015 version of the clean-slate, fresh-start Pittsburgh Penguins. Forgotten will be the lack of forward depth to which Shero contributed. Gone is Bylsma’s ego and inability to adapt in the playoffs and adjust his system.

In are new faces, presumably a new system, and a new attitude that should serve these Penguins well (also a new alternate jersey that harkens back to the glory days of the Cup years of ’91 and ’92; of which I am a fan).

I don’t want to beat the proverbial “out with the old, in with the new” already-dead horse any further. So let’s have a look-see at what we can reasonably expect from this incarnation of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

The Forwards

Beau Bennett isn't expected to return from a wrist injury for another 4-5 weeks.(Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)
Beau Bennett isn’t expected to return from a wrist injury for another 4-5 weeks.(Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports)

The Pens did not take many strides to become a more gifted team in terms of scoring. I can assure you however, that they will be a much more difficult team to play this season with the additions of Nick Spaling and Steve Downie.

If Daniel Carcillo; in camp on a professional tryout, makes the team, yikes.

James Neal is now in Nashville, and in return is the aforementioned Spaling, and Patric Hornqvist. Hornqvist likely figures to replace Neal on Malkin’s right wing, but at the moment that is the farthest thing from a guarantee.

The bottom six forward group is markedly better with the additions of Spaling, Downie, Blake Comeau, and Rutherford’s ability to retain Marcel Goc.

The biggest question mark of all the forwards will be former first-round pick Beau Bennett; specifically his health. He has dealt with bad wrists since his days at Denver University. Last season he only saw 21 games of action due to a third wrist surgery. I said at the beginning of last season that I felt he would have a breakout year playing on Malkin’s left wing. I still feel that Bennett is best suited to play alongside Malkin. Their respective skill sets compliment each other nicely in my opinion.

The Blue Line

This is the group that should be better, if for no other reason than there are just so many options on a given night.

For what its worth, watching Rob Scuderi in last night’s first preseason game against Detroit has led me to the conclusion that he should not play one minute of meaningful action this season. If he does (and he will), he should never skate past his own blue line. He has clearly lost the one and only step he ever had, as he was never accused of being fleet afoot to begin with. If he appeared to be skating in quicksand last season, then he was trying to skate in solidified concrete last night. This is a situation where a guy is hanging on when he needs to hang it up. Ray Shero did this organization no favors by signing Scuderi to a four-year contract at the beginning of last summer.

That said, there are more than enough young guys capable of coming up and taking Scuderi’s roster spot; most of whom should see action in tonight’s tilt in Columbus.

Those names include Brian Dumoulin, Scott Harrington, Derrick Pouliot (when healthy), and potentially Philip Samuelsson and Harrison Ruopp. Ruopp, according to a few in the Pens organization, could be the next Brooks Orpik, circa 2008-2009.

That group doesn’t include the likes of newly signed Christian Ehrhoff (presumably Paul Martin’s replacement for next season), Simon Despres (he of a nice new two-year, one-way contract) and Robert Bortuzzo. Despres is a guy who is firmly on the bubble I believe. There is potential in there somewhere, I’m just not sure if he will ever realize it with the Penguins. Bortuzzo meanwhile, figures to have a roster sewn up with his ability to join the rush, and level opposing players.

In an upcoming article, I’ll lay out my plan for how the Pens should handle their abundance of defensemen. For my taste, they simply have too many with too much potential to NOT trade one for a top-6 winger.

Between the Pipes

(Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports)
Could this be Marc-Andre Fleury’s last season in Pittsburgh?(Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports)

Marc-Andre Fleury is playing for his next contract, whether it be with the Penguins or not.

New GM Jim Rutherford elected not to extend Fleury this summer, which on the surface at least, does not bode well for the former first-overall draft pick.

While I understand the decision completely (Fleury is still considered to be somewhat of a head case), what troubles me is the lack of potential talent in next summer’s UFA goalie pool.

Rutherford brought in former Arizona Coyotes backup Thomas Greiss to compete with incumbent backup Jeff Zatkoff. Griess is by far the better of the two goalies and he should make the final regular season roster. If Greiss sees any type of successful regular duty this season, then we could be witnessing the end of the MAF era in Pittsburgh.

My Five Bold Predictions

You can check out last season’s five bold predictions and feel free to throw me under the bus on a few of them. I missed on three (and one was really off), and was spot on the other two. So bookmark this article in your browser and feel free to check back at the end of the season to see how I did.

Bold Prediction #1: The Penguins will win the Metropolitan Division This is more about the lack of talent within the division than the Penguins’ ability to win it going away.

Bold Prediction #2: Jim Rutherford will continue his joke of a tenure as Penguins’ GM by firing new head coach Mike Johnston before Christmas The Penguins will struggle out of the gate with a new system and so many new faces on the roster. That coupled with the inability of anyone in the organization to step up and do what needs to be done with Simon Despres and Rob Scuderi will spell the ultimate doom for a guy who is in a bad situation to begin with.

Bold Prediction #3: Crosby and Malkin will be uncommonly and disappointingly lackluster While it should make no difference what the players think or feel towards management or the coaching staff (respect is the word that immediately comes to mind), it will play a role in how the two superstars of this team perform. The rumor from Russia earlier in the summer is that Malkin was rather upset at the trade of James Neal, and was not impressed with new head coach Mike Johnston. Again, this shouldn’t be an issue, but for some reason it is. Crosby meanwhile will continue to disappoint in the leadership department (I’ll have more on this in a later column).

Bold Prediction #4: Multiple Penguins’ players will face multiple suspensions As I stated above, this is going to be a very nasty team to play against with Steve Downie and Nick Spaling. Don’t forget to factor in Dan Carcillo.

Bold Prediction #5: The Penguins will bow out of the Stanley Cup Playoffs prior to the Conference Final (again) Too much turmoil over the summer, and just not enough in the way of leadership on this team. This is all based on past events. I could be dead wrong (and I hope I am) and this team really does exorcise its Dan Byslam demons.

The first edition of this season’s THW-Penguins mailbag will be published on October 8th, the night before the Pens open the season at home against Anaheim. Get your questions in now to TDTorraoTHW@Gmail.com to be a part of some of the best hockey talk going. 



6 thoughts on “A Recap, and Welcome, Back to Hockey”

  1. Well, yes the Penguins will win the Metropolitan. That should almost be a given. The Pens may well struggle out of the gate with both new coaches and many new players learning a new system; however coach Johnston will not get fired. What you failed to mention is how much success he has had in his career & the fact that he has successfully coached young players and some of the Penguins prospects, which will be important. Already in this pre-season, you are seeing a better team approach, with shorter passes (not many of the Bylsma long stretch passes, which often caused highlight plays; but also created awful turn-overs for the D-men).
    I love the way that the Pens D have been carrying the puck more & getting more involved in the play in the offensive zone. Despres, Letang and Ehrhoff have looked very effective & fluid out there so far. I am excited about eventually seeing the fleet footed, talented puck handling Pouliot in this system.
    I agree that there are too many D-men now; but give Shero a lot of credit. Because the Pens always finished near the top of the league, he was left with late picks, so he took the best D-men available, as they are typically picked later than forwards. This has left the Pens in a very strong position and yes, they can now trade some D to strengthen the forward position. Most likely Skuderi and eventually Martin will be traded, along with some of the prospects like Dumoulin, Ruopp & McNeil, hopefully for a top scoring forward to join Crosby’s line on right-wing, sending Dupuis to strengthen the 3rd line.
    Rutherford could also decide to pull the trigger on a much bigger trade. Consider the fact that both Kunitz & Dupuis are 35 years old. Wouldn’t it make sense to move them while their value is still very high? Remember that Dupuis scored mostly in the mid-teens until he played with Crosby & he was on pace for 33 goals for a full season in the shorter 2012 season before his injury. Kunitz was usually around 20 goals per season and 25 once. He has scored well over 30 while playing with Sid. Both of these players, who are in the waning years of their careers, have far exceeded their goal output from what they had achieved during their prime years. Logically, you would have to think that if the Pens could trade both of these players, plus the afformentioned trade of D-men, that the Penguins could land 2 excellent power forwards in their prime. Imagine how strong the first line could be!
    I am very optimistic about the Penguins chances in the long-run. I expect that they will gradually improve as this year goes on; but they should make it to the Eastern finals in the play-offs.
    If Fleury plays well (they’ll have Jarry & Murray join them in a few years), they have a bright future with the strongest set of young centers in the league, who have just entered their prime and soon to be one of the best skating and puck-handling defensive corps too. They appear to have strengthened the depth on the 3rd & 4th lines and they have gotten tougher. If they can remain disciplined, they could go far.
    Go Pens!

  2. The team that gets the best player wins the trade. Period. It doesn’t matter if Carolina hasn’t been any better with Staal because neither have the Pens. Not only did Carolina get the best player, but the Pens tenure as a puck possession team ended when Staal left. Even worse, in his last two seasons with the Pens, he averaged 0.77 points per game. So this nonsense about Shero “winning” that trade has to stop. Everything Shero touched turned into gold, and then crap. Like the notorious Dallas trade. Where are Neal and Niskanen now?

    Also, has Spaling EVER served a suspension? You need to get off your meds.

  3. pens will undoubtedly win the division unless the top six forwards contract ebola. nyr are so desperate to replace pouliot and boyle they are seriously test driving ryan malone for crying out loud. lundquist cant do it all, they will miss richards now that they just lost another center in stepan for a while. washington is a joke all around, they’ll never win with ovechkin on the roster, plus no scoring depth and slow defenders and no goalie. without horton or johansen, columbus is still not a threat. philly needs help on the blueline, carolina hasnt been a threat and still isnt without j staal for a while – they will compete with nyi for the 8th spot. rutherford has made all the right moves so far, dont know what joke you’re referring to. crosby is and will be the runaway favorite for mvp no matter who he plays with and malkin will wow everyone with highlight goals 2-3 times a year and though he may not put up 100 pts… he will score timely goals as usual. downie hasnt been suspended since what 2010? carcillo wont play much and spaling will be competing for minutes on line 2 so i doubt he would jeopardize a chance to play with malkin, plus when has he been suspended before? not to mention he will be counted on to kill penalties, cant do that if youre suspended or in the box…he’s gonna be a great role player, no need to assume its a dirty role though. anyone would safely predict a playoff exit, its a toss up every year in both conferences, nothing bold about that. piling on scuderi, regurgitating the same crap as the rest of the driveby fans who know nothing about the position…just shows your hockey ignorance. i’d take an experienced stay at home, passing lane clogging, loose puck clearing, shot blocking, specialist like scuderi paired with a puck mover like letang, maatta, or martin over just about any other combo you could come up with that includes doumolin, harrington, samuellson, roupp or pouliot as they stand right now (though i agree on roupp, he’s gonna be good). you dog shero for drafting defensemen in your opening statement then admire their value…as if shero didnt realize their future trade potential himself. they give anyone a blog now?…really. who likes the red sox and the penguins? makes no sense

  4. Wait…multiple suspensions? Wasn’t that what got Neal kicked out in spite of his production? Granted, if Carcillo is suspended, you lose a great deal less than you would if it were Neal, but…how is this an improvement?! Not that you claimed it was; this isn’t really a comment on your statement as Downie and Carcillo have been down that road before. And it would be nice if they were nastier. Just, maybe, within the legal limits.

  5. I would take your opinion more seriously if you didn’t predict Bennett to lead the team in assists last year- which is an inane prediction given Bennett is much more of gifted as a sniper than the playmaker you think he is.
    I agree 100% on #1. I expect Washington and NYD to be better this year. Maybe CBJ as well but either a downgrade or status quo from the rest of the division.
    On #2, I didn’t like the Rutherford hiring on the premise of his poor handling of Carolina’s roster recently. So far though, I am happy with his roster decisions. It isn’t like Shero was flawless. I also don’t think Johnston is going to lose his job as the Pens will probably put up over 100 pts in the reg. season. I also don’t think it likely that both your predictions #1 and #2 or #1 and #3 are consistent. If the Pens are to win the division (#1), it will require a solid first half that would prevent Johnston from being fired (#2) as well as a production from Malkin and Crosby (#3). I look at his as being like your prediction that Crosby will lead the league in points but Bennet will lead the team in assists, while playing on a different line. It is not logically consistent.
    For #4 I agree. But I think that is common to many teams every year.
    #5 I also agree with. I foresee another Fleury postseason meltdown and this year I’m not sure there is a viable backup like Vokoun to come in and win.

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