September 24, 2009
NHL season previews often sell you an impressive bill of goods before you realize, at the end of the season, you're holding an empty box. Which makes using advertisements and infomercials the appropriate template for Puck Daddy's 2009-10 NHL Season Previews, presented each day throughout September.
Last Season's Ad Copy: Fourth in the Eastern Conference and second in the Atlantic Division. (45-28-9, 99 points). The roller coaster year ended with a third Stanley Cup championship for the franchise after an epic seven-game series against the Detroit Red Wings. Mired in a dogged slump in February, General Manager Ray Shero dropped the hammer on head coach Michel Therrien after a Valentine's Day massacre against the Toronto Maple Leafs. Dan Bylsma stepped in and completely revived the team going 18-3-4 to finish the regular-season.
Minus a few departures, the Penguins roster is very much the same as last season. Shero filled a few holes while the Stanley Cup found itself in Mario Lemieux's swimming pool yet again. The proclaimed "City of Champions" finally has the Stanley Cup that was bestowed upon Sidney Crosby(notes) since he was drafted in 2005. Now, with Crosby, Evgeni Malkin(notes) and Marc-Andre Fleury(notes) locked up for years to come, the expectation of multiple championships is now in the minds of Penguins fans.
Barring something catastrophic occurring, Pittsburgh fans will find themselves watching playoff hockey for the next long while and in a year when the Penguins begin their transition from the Mellon Arena to the Consol Energy Center.
Latest Gadgets (Offseason Additions): Shero has been able to re-sign core players and add pieces here and there all while maintaining some freedom from the salary cap. With the ability to spend freely not an option, Shero went out and added depth at the forward and defense positions. Mike Rupp adds some grit while Jay McKee(notes) will quickly earn fan favorite status in Pittsburgh if he continues sacrificing his body while blocking shots. Taking over as Marc-Andre Fleury's backup is Brent Johnson(notes) (if healthy), who's been a serviceable goaltender during his 10-year NHL career.
To The Recycle Bin (Offseason Subtractions): Salary cap issues forced the departures of a number of Penguins in the off-season, but only one free agent was hoped to stay in Pittsburgh. After a phenomenal playoffs (and game-saving kick save), Rob Scuderi(notes), otherwise known as "The Piece", cashed in with a four-year, $13.6 million deal with the Los Angeles Kings. Joining Scuds out of Pittsburgh was fellow blue liner Hal Gill(notes) who took his massive stick to Montreal.
Petr Sykora(notes) and Miro Satan, who both performed disappearing acts at separate times last season and found themselves squeezed out of the lineup when Chris Kunitz(notes) and Bill Guerin(notes) were acquired, were not offered new contracts to stay with the team.
The Pitchman (Top Offensive Player): Crosby or Malkin? Pick one. Hard to do and while Malkin won the Art Ross Trophy and Conn Smythe, both he and Sid the Kid turned their games up a notch when the playoffs arrived. Crosby skated like a man on a mission and really evolved into a better all-around player than before. When Malkin wasn't busy playing smart, two-way hockey, he wad dominating defenses as the Carolina Hurricanes found out.
The NHL's sixth ranked offense last season (3.15 goals/game) will only get better as Crosby and Malkin continue their assault on opponent's nets. The two combined for 68 goals and 216 points in '08-09. The next highest total by a Penguin who played the entire season in Pittsburgh was Jordan Staal's(notes) 49 points.
Introducing .... (Potential Breakout Player): The one guy who could make some waves won't even start with the big club next week. Acquired along with Chris Kunitz from Anaheim in the Ryan Whitney(notes) deal, winger Eric Tangradi(notes) has the hands, shot, and size that could pave the way for the 20-year old to find himself on Sidney Crosby's wing. The 6-3, 214 lbs. power forward would make for a perfect replacement for Bill Guerin in front of the net. And while he's watching Crosby dance with the puck, Tangradi could keep busy Twittering.
Operators Are Standing By (The Defensemen): Death to the trap! When Therrien was fired, Bylsma installed a system where his blue line stands up the forecheck, which proved successful.
A full-season of Sergei Gonchar(notes) will ensure a dependable power-play quarterback and puck rusher. Brooks Orpik(notes) has no intentions of stopping his "free candy" deliveries. Another year of maturity under their belts should further along the developments of both Kris Letang(notes) and Alex Goligoski(notes). Jay McKee adds a shutdown defenseman to the group who specializes in shot blocking.
Possibly finding themselves having a cup of coffee with the Penguins this season could be Ben Lovejoy(notes), Nate Guenin(notes) and Alex Grant(notes). Pittsburgh has a solid top-six unit that works well together and the addition of McKee, with a sprinkling of some rookies, could continue improving a Penguins defense that has been known to lapse.
The Spokesmodel (The Goalies): Will a Stanley Cup ring and an out-of-this world performance in Game 7 of the finals quiet the Marc-Andre Fleury detractors? Despite puck-handling skills that give every Penguins fan heart palpitations, Fleury has developed into a solid No. 1 goaltender that is shedding the label of "inconsistent" rather quickly. If his solid play in the last season's Stanley Cup playoffs continues into this year, Fleury could play himself into Vezina Trophy consideration and maybe a spot on Canada's Olympic team.
And Now, a Short Message From Brooks Orpik:
The Inventor (The Coach): If he ran for mayor right now, Dan Bylsma would likely defeated incumbent Luke Ravenstahl in a landslide. Taking over a Penguins team in crisis in mid-February, Bylsma led a directionless them to an 18-3-4 record in the regular season and a Stanley Cup championship. Not bad for a guy new guy, eh?
Now comes the hard part: building on that success. No longer will opponents be taken by surprise playing against Bylsma's aggressive forecheck. Teams will game plan around what made Pittsburgh so successful under Bylsma.
Tony Ferrante from The Confluence says ...
"I think the fortunes of this season's Penguins will be largely determined by the ability of the defense to recover from the losses of Rob Scuderi and Hal Gill. Jay McKee is certainly in the same shot-blocking mold as Scuderi, but the concern for McKee, as always, will be his health. In addition, secondary scoring will have to continue to thrive as defenses attempt to shutdown Crosby and Malkin."
"The Pens know what they have to do and the fans know what's on the team's mind. Repeat."
"The Penguins have most of the same forwards that won them the Cup last year. Petr Sykora will be missed personally, but he didn't really gel with Dan Bylsma's system. Could the Pens use another top winger? Of course, but that likely won't happen and maybe it doesn't need to.
"The obvious loses are on defense. Hal Gill and - especially - Rob Scuderi were a stable defensive team that anchored the Pens blue line. How Jay McKee and Alex Goligoski perform could make or break the Pens season. I think they'll do just fine.
"Crosby and Malkin will likely put on a pair of performances unlike any we've seen in a very long while this year. You can tell the hunger in them hasn't died down since winning the Cup. In fact, it looks like it's grown."
"The Penguins enter the 2009-10 season as the defending Stanley Cup Champions for the first time since 1993. The situations are eerily similar in that each team was on the cusp of becoming the next great hockey dynasty. This group is young, experienced and built for the long haul, which has them in position to utilize this season to achieve what they could not 16 years ago."
ThePensBlog says ...
"We got nothin' to say. Pens won the Cup last year. Pens will be good this year, too. As Pens fans, we want them to win again. As NHL fans, we don't want the Wings or the Penguins to make it anywhere near the conference finals, even. Some new blood would be good for everyone. The Chief is a joke."
Don Draper says...
"You can't give it away for free, because your customers will never pay for it. Yet this guy on the Penguins gives away Free Candy, and everyone ends up paying for it. Does anyone else need a scotch?"
2009-10 Preseason Report Card:
Special Teams: A (Full season of Gonchar should improve League's 20th ranks PP)
Coaching: B+ (Now Bylsma's job is to prove his systems success wasn't a one time thing)
Results May Vary (Biggest Issue Facing the Team): The Penguins have played 208 games in the past two seasons with both campaigns ending in June. That's a lot of hockey. Can a Stanley Cup hangover be expected? Factor in the Winter Olympics this February in Vancouver and with several Penguins expected to represent their countries, how much of a toll will that take? Oh, and let's not forget about the fact that no team has won back-to-back Cups since Detroit did it over a decade ago.
Warranty Expires (Prediction): There's no reason to believe that Pittsburgh will take a step back coming off a championship season. Crosby and Malkin will do what they always do and having a healthy Sergei Gonchar for a full-season will boost the defense and power play. Like always, it's going to be a dogfight in the Atlantic Division for one of the top three spots in the East. Pittsburgh is definitely on the shortlist of Stanley Cup contenders and as with any defending champion, they'll have a rather large target on their backs.