Gone: Malone, Hossa, Laraque, Roberts
In: Miroslav Satan, (40) Ruslan Fedotenko
Can a team reasonably be anticipated to improve after losing one of the league’s marquee scorers in the off-season and getting nothing in return? To steal from Barack Obama’s campaign slogan, when we’re talking about the status of the 2008 Pittsburgh Penguins, the answer is clearly this: Yes They Can.
The Detroit Red Wings rubbed the proverbial salt in the wound that was the Stanley Cup Finals thrashing of the Pens when Mike Ilitch and Co. went out and signed Pittsburgh sniper Marian Hossa to a one year contract. The absence of Hossa would fill a void in even the most stacked of NHL lineups. However, if one considers a number of factors surrounding the Penguins, it becomes apparent that the club should not be expected to be any less competitive this year than they were last year with Hossa around.
We all saw how well this team can overcome the loss of a key player when Sidney Crosby missed nearly 30 games to injury last season. The club’s forwards, particularly Evgeni “Playoffs?!??! I don’t want to talk about Plaaaayoffss!!” Malkin, stepped up immensely and the Pens continued to pile up the wins. With a healthy Crosby, and a more mature and experienced group of young and talented players, look for the Pens to thrive even without number 18 in the lineup. The issue for this team isn’t ‘Will they make the playoffs?’, but rather “Can they win it all this time?” And once again, a certain Motor City team will have lots to say about the answer to that question…and no, we aren’t talking about the WNBA’s Detroit Mercury.
In Malkin and Crosby, the Penguins have the best one-two punch down the middle of any team in the league. Petr Sykora provides a steady hand along the wing, while the addition of Miro Satan, and to a lesser extent Ruslan Fedotenko, should provide some secondary scoring to partially fill the void left by the departure of Hossa and Ryan Malone. Pascal Dupuis and Maxime Talbot need to keep improving, and will look to build on their solid post-season performances. That said, Dupuis is by no means a first line player (except perhaps in Toronto), and look for Michel Therrien to find someone else to play on the wing alongside Sid the Kid. On the defensive side, Jordin Staal is one of the league’s best penalty killing forwards, and word has it his wingspan increased by 10 inches this summer while he was working out with his new personal trainer Brian McNamee. Jokes aside, Staal will probably be the forward the team depends on most to make up for the losses of Hossa and Malone and in this writer’s mind, he is certainly capable.
Sergei Gonchar provides the offensive firepower from the point that that helps round out a preposterously potent power play unit that often features four forwards. But the real question on the point of the tongues of Pens fans is this: Will the real Ryan Whitney please stand up? Seriously…Whitney looked solid during a regular season that saw him rack up a respectable albeit not spectacular 40 points, but he was downright disappointing in the postseason. I should know – he lost me my playoff draft…since 6 points in 20 games doesn’t exactly merit an early round pick. Beyond the top two, the Pens D are respectably solid. Hal Gill and Brooks Orpik are reliable, and Kris Letang is young with a ton of potential. All in all, these guys won’t let you down, even if they don’t stack up to the guys on the Detroit blueline.
Marc-Andre Fleury put any doubts about his ability to rest with his Cup Finals performance. His Goals-against average of 2.33 in the regular season is a further testament to his skills. And like the rest of the Pens young core of players, he should only get better this year.
Ceiling: 1st in the East and an incarnation of the mid-80’s Edmonton Oilers
Floor: 4rd in the East, if the Rangers or Flyers get things together and take the division.