PITTSBURGH PA - DECEMBER 20: Chris Kunitz #14 Evgeni Malkin #71 and Sidney Crosby #87 all of the Pittsburgh Penguins share a celebration after Malkin's second goal of the game against the Phoenix Coyotes in the second period on December 20 2010 at CONSOL Energy Center in Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/Getty Images)
Pittsburgh Penguins fans all summer have been wringing their hands and anxiously awaiting to see how general manager Ray Shero will fill out the roster. And we here have been every bit as guilty as everyone else. But even though we look at the proposed lineup and see a huge hole for a Top 6 forward and wonder who will fill out the defensive depth chart, what sometimes gets lost in the shuffle is that the Pens are a pretty damn good team.
The Hockey News has been unveiling their pre-season picks, which granted, aren't worth too much in August, but hey, it's literally the only thing going on in the hockey world that isn't labor related. And they listed Pittsburgh as the #1 team in the East, edging out Boston, Washington, the NY Rangers and Philadelphia in the Top 5.
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Why: Critics take note: the Pens finished one point out of first overall…and Sidney Crosby played all of 22 games. Yes, we know Jordan Staal is gone, but Brandon Sutter slots in beautifully on the third line. Keep in mind, too, that GM Ray Shero has almost $10 million in cap space to play with to upgrade the flanks and the ‘D.’ The Flyers may be in their heads, but the rest of the league is in their wake in terms of talent
Most expect, once the collective bargaining agreement is settled, the Pens will use some of that cap room to try and make a trade for a top 6 winger. Yes, believe it or not, management and professional talent evaluators know that Tyler Kennedy and Eric Tangradi are not viable options to fill that position. And while it won't be Bobby Ryan coming to town, there's every bit the reason to think that Shero can find a decent, reasonably skilled winger. Like maybe Chris Stewart, Devin Setoguchi or Joffrey Lupul, who all could probably be in play, if the price was right for both teams. There's also the possibility of another name that no one's even thought about yet- not many saw the Ryan Whitney for Chris Kunitz trade on the horizion and that proved to be a very beneficial one for Pittsburgh.
Either way, on paper in a salary cap world every team is going to have some holes and weaknesses- resources are limited. It's important to step back and imagine that big picture if the Penguins key players like Crosby, Kris Letang, James Neal and Evgeni Malkin can stay healthy, Pittsburgh has a collection of skill and talent that's at or near the top of any team in the league.