(The 2014-15 NHL season is nearly upon us, and attempting to handicap the winners and losers can sometimes leave us speechless. So we decided to break down all 30 teams with the next best thing to words: Emojis!)
Last Season In Emojis
Last Season, In Summary
As had been the case for the past several seasons, the 2013-14 campaign for the Pittsburgh Penguins was another “Stanley Cup or bust” year. It ended with another bust. After having a scare put into them by the Columbus Blue Jackets in Round 1, the Penguins blew a 3-1 series lead on the New York Rangers and fell in seven games.
The disappointing ending led to a sea of change on and off the ice for the Penguins. First, just when we thought both head coach Dan Bylsma and general manager Ray Shero were getting canned, it turned out that Shero was the one who would be losing his job … at least first. The Penguins let Bylsma twist in the wind for three weeks before announcing Jim Rutherford as the new GM. His first move was relieving the head coach of his duties.
After missing out on a couple of prime candidates (like Willie Desjardins) Rutherford found his man in Portland Winterhawks head coach Mike Johnston. Days later, the new GM dealt away 27-goal scorer James Neal to the Nashville Predators as the start of a bit of a face-lift for the defending Metropolitan Division champions.
Last Season’s Definitive Highlight
Sidney Crosby being Sidney Crosby doing Sidney Crosby-type things.
Neal being traded to the Predators was the first of many decisions by Rutherford to reshape the Penguins’ locker room. Brooks Orpik,a long-time stalwart on the blue line, wasn’t brought back, and along with Matt Niskanen, signed a rich contract with the Washington Capitals. Also cashing in: Deryk Engelland, who signed a three-year, $8.7 million deal with the Flames, and Jussi Jokinen, who will make $16 million over the next four year with the Florida Panthers.
Other departures included Tanner Glass and Lee Stempniak (Rangers), Joe Vitale (Coyotes),
Christian Ehrhoff was bought out by the Buffalo Sabres in June and quickly snapped up by the Penguins on a one-year, $4 million deal. Hoping to protect the team’s stars, Steve Downie was reunited with his head coach in Tampa Bay, Rick Tocchet. Evgeni Malkin saw both of his linemates sign elsewhere and will try and form some chemistry with Patric Hornqvist.
In an effort to repair the bottom six, Rutherford acquired Nick Spaling in the Neal trade, signed Blake Comeau, and brought back Marcel Goc, Jason Megna and Brandon Sutter.
Adding to their goaltending depth, Thomas Greiss was brought in after spending last season in Phoenix.
The top two lines will see a bit of change compared to last season. First, Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz will get Pascal Dupuis back after he suffered a knee injury in December and missed the final four five months. Line no. 2 sees James Neal and Jussi Jokinen move on and Patric Hornqvist joining Evgeni Malkin. Who gets that coveted open spot on the wing? Will it be Beau Bennett or Steve Downie?
Rutherford wanted to revamp the bottom six and along with the signings of Downie and Comeau, and the acquisition of Spaling, he’s done just that. Add in Sutter, Goc and Craig Adams, it’s an improved group that should provide less headaches than what was assembled a year ago.
Matt Niskanen is gone after having a career year. In comes Ehrhoff who, when surrounded by better talent than in Buffalo, will see his offensive numbers (6 goals, 33 points) and possession stats thrive (46.29 and 50.22 Corsi the past two seasons).
Kris Letang (11 goals) is still a Penguin and despite suffering a stroke in January, returned to the lineup in April and played well. Paul Martin (24:34 TOI) was limited to 39 games last season and enters the final year of his contract. Another veteran, Rob Scuderi, wasn’t bought out and is looking to bounce back after a disasterous season began with a broken ankle in October.
Olli Maatta had a solid rookie season, but had times to forget in the second half. Can he rebound and avoid the sophomore slump? Another youngster figuring to get a shot to make the NHL club will be Derrick Pouliot, a 2012 first rounder who played for Johnston in Portland. Simon Despres could never get a regular run under Dan Bylsma. He’ll be looking to impress his new boss.
Marc-Andre Fleury enters the final year of his contract and while Rutherford isn’t in a hurry to extend him, it’s certainly a vital season for the Penguins’ long-time goaltender. Fleury has routinely won 35-plus games during the regular season, but it’s the postseason that’s given him fits. Last year versus Columbus and New York Fleury was fine, and maybe that’s a sign of the work new goaltending goach Mike Bales has put in.
Should Fleury falter, Johnston can fall back on the newly-signed Greiss or Jeff Zatkoff, who started 18 games last season.
Probable Text Conversation Within Organization
As you’d expect, the team featuring Crosby, Malkin, Neal, was tied for first in NHL with the extra man, scoring on 23.4-percent of their opportunities. Neal’s gone, but Christian Ehrhoff should help from the back.
The penalty kill finished fifth (85-percent) and only scored four shorthanded goals, three of which came from Brandon Sutter. Getting back a healthy Pascal Dupuis will strengthen an already tough unit.
GM and Coach
Jim Rutherford’s five-year plan for the Penguins includes leaving after two or three years and handing the GM reigns to one of Jason Botterill, Tom Fitzgerald or possibly Bill Guerin. In the meantime, he wants them to be like the Boston Bruins, rolling four lines and playing a consistent style. Rookie coach Johnston will emphasize puck possession with dumping and chasing as a “last option.”
And Now, A Blooper
The Buckle Up, Baby baby was a viral sensation last season.
The Potential Best Thing About This Team
A new voice in the room could bring the fun back and that could result in a postseason that doesn’t end in flames for once. It’s not that the Penguins have been losing in the postseason, but how. The pressure will still be there, but will they be able to handle it a bit better now?
The Potential Worst Thing About This Team
Any sort of long-term injury to Sidney Crosby or Evgeni Malkin. Is there enough scoring depth there for the Penguins to compete in the East should the worst happen?
Single Emoji Prediction
Prediction: The East, specifically the Metropolitan Divison, should see improvement, so the Penguins won’t have an easy time locking up another division crown. Despite the changes, they still have Crosby and Malkin and are good enough to challenge for the Prince of Wales Trophy. If Fleury can again play well in the postseason and the injury bug stays away from their key stars late in the season, Pittsburgh could get back over that playoff hump.