Up until about a week ago, the roster situation for the Pittsburgh Penguins looked pretty static as things were settling in as many expected. But two key injuries in the past week just go to show that in the NHL, roster builds are always very fluid.
Pens #1 defenseman, Norris candidate Kris Letang went down with an unknown but believed to be lower body injury late last week in practice. He'll be re-evaluated in Pittsburgh, once the team gets back from their bonding/team building excursion at West Point, and a lot is hanging in the air.
The team made forward cuts today, waiving veterans Chris Conner and Andrew Ebbett on the final day of preseason waivers, leaving 14 contracted forwards- plus tryout Chuck Kobasew still with the team, who has believed to be offered a contract over the weekend. Matt D'Agostini has been injured and not practicing recently, so his status on possibly going on the IR (and not counting against the 23 man limit) could be in question.
In goal, the #3 guy in the organization, Jeff Zatkoff, is believed to get a shot and being the NHL backup due to the injury with Vokoun. Vokoun has been cleared for light workouts starting next week from his blood clot condition, but his future return is yet unknown.
For a team without many roster questions entering camp, the Pens sure do have a lot to figure out in the final days of the preseason.
Defensively, a lot still has to shake out. The Pens still have talented under-agers Derrick Pouliot (who has been held out of recent weekend practices) and Olli Maatta in camp. Should Letang's injury be severe enough to keep him out ten games, the team could place Letang on long-term injured reserve and be able to deduct his salary to give one (or maybe both) young players a taste of the NHL regular season. Should Pittsburgh decide to send Maatta and/or Pouliot back to junior before the 10th game, their contracts would "slide" to next year and still have three years on their entry level deals. If the Pens keep them longer, they can still send them back, but will burn a year of the important and relatively cheap ELC.
For a team that had so few questions entering training camp, it's now a different story. There's probably never a good time for a team to lose their Norris trophy candidate defensemen, but timing wise, for the Penguins it was a good thing. They still have Maatta and Pouliot in camp, and could look to a promising young player to make an unexpected debut.