Checking in on the Pittsburgh PenguinsJuly 30, 2014, by
Last year: 51-24-7, first in the Metro Division. Eliminated by the Rangers in the second round.
Key additions: Patric Hornqvist, Christian Ehrhoff, Nick Spaling, Steve Downie, Blake Comeau, Thomas Greiss
Franchise direction: The Penguins roster has been retooled, but the major news of their offseason was the firing of coach Dan Bylsma and GM Ray Shero. In their place are Mike Johnston and Jim Rutherford, respectively, but while Pittsburgh has had higher expectations than Bylsma and Shero have been able to meet in recent years, it’s hard to view the changes behind the bench and in the front office as an upgrade. Pittsburgh did improve its depth up front and cleared dead weight that should allow some youngsters to make an impact. But why was playoff goat Marc-Andre Fleury retained while sweeping changes were made in every other facet of the organization?
Salary cap: Pittsburgh has over $6 million in cap space remaining to lock up RFAs Spaling and Brandon Sutter. The Penguins do have a couple key UFAs next summer including Ehrhoff and Paul Martin, but it shouldn’t be too difficult to re-sign them. Pittsburgh will also presumably be looking to replace pending Fleury after the season assuming he’s allowed to leave in free agency. The Penguins have a lot more flexibility after trading Neal’s contract and allowing so many free agents to leave. And since they have several cost-efficient prospects ready to assume full-time roles, Pittsburgh could again be a major player for big fish on the trade and free agent markets.
Prospect pipeline: The Penguins remain well-stocked with defensive prospects, and with Niskanen and Orpik out of the way, the path is beginning to open up for Derrick Pouliot and Brian Dumoulin to join Olli Maatta on a promising young blueline. D Scott Harrington could soon follow. 2014 first-round pick Kasperi Kapanen could push for a roster spot sooner than later, but Pittsburgh doesn’t have many other exciting players on the way up front. In goal, the Penguins possess two potential future starters in Tristan Jerry and Matt Murray.
Projection: Regardless of how Johnston and Rutherford fit in, as long as Crosby and Malkin are together, Pittsburgh will be the class of the division. Whether or not the Penguins are better built for playoff success remains to be seen.