Even though we're still celebrating the Stanley Cup that we seemingly won just the other day, training camps are almost back in session and everyone's chomping at the bit to get some hockey action. So every day this week, we'll look at a question that should worry us. Hey, the Pens might have won the Cup, but it's our job as fans to worry, right?
#2 How will the Penguins replace their best two shutdown defenders?
The Stanley Cup champs return 17 of the 20 players they dressed for most playoff games, incredibly low turnover for this salary cap age. Other than backup goalie Mathieu Garon, only defensemen Rob Scuderi and Hal Gill bolted for greener pastures. Those two formed a shut-down pairing who did great work shutting down or frustrating Jeff Carter, Alex Ovechkin and Eric Staal throughout the playoffs, none of whom were very productive at even strength when #2 and #4 matched up against them.
In their stead figures to come Jay McKee. McKee, a long-time Buffalo Sabre, had been in St. Louis the past couple years. McKee's had problems staying in the lineup the past couple seasons, but he swears he's just been snake-bitten with bad luck and is not brittle or injury ridden. Which is reminscient of Mark Eaton's situation from a couple of years ago.
When in the lineup, there's no doubt McKee is the defensive-defenseman in the Scuderi-Gill hybrid mold. McKee is a shot-blocking dynamo and has good size. While not a hugely physical player, he has the tendency to use his body to initiate contact. McKee can kill penalties well and on paper is the perfect replacement.
Alex Goligoski, the second man in the mix, is not in this mold. In fact, he probably couldn't be any more different at 5'10, 180 pounds. Goligoski is a great skater and moves the puck very well. In a half season apprentencship he led the Penguins powerplay relatively well, though the team certainly missed Sergei Gonchar. Those 46 games however were enough to earn Goligoski a three year contract with a cap hit of $1.83 million. Big time money, so it's time for him to jump right back into the lineup and start earning it.
The Pens leaned heavily on Gill and Scuderi on their penalty kill; this season McKee, Eaton, Gonchar and Brooks Orpik figure to be the key defensemen in the PK.
Will the Pens look to add a veteran 7th defenseman with what limited space they have under the salary cap? Rumors about the recently retired Philippe Boucher's return circulated and Pittsburgh interest in Francis Boullion has been floating around as well.
The Pittsburgh defense again figures to be a subject to watch. While they're usually a talking point for opponents to pick on, there's little doubt that they're all guys who can skate well and there's some very good puck movers in the bunch to advance the rubber up to the talented forwards, the core of the team. In a perfect world without injuries (ha!) the Pens defense shapes up to be adequate in their own end and very adept once they get the puck. It meshes well with head coach Dan Byslma's aggressive, puck control style.