Bill Simmons, yes you may have heard his name in the news recently, once said in his "Rules for Being a True Fan" that when your team wins a championship they automatically receive a five-year grace period, where we shouldn't complain about anything that happens with your team.
Obviously none of us here at Pensburgh followed that advice at all. But it appears that the Penguins ownership was on a five-year plan of sorts following the 08-09 Cup win. After giving Dan Bylsma and Ray Shero a five-year window of opportunity to replicate their Cup win with a follow up win, the duo’s time in Steel City finally ran out.
Now, with an off-season of change behind us, we are looking at a Pens team whose nucleus remained intact, but the electrons that surround it have radically changed. With the Pens upper-management group's recent moves it has become apparent that there is a sense of accountability in the air that many of us felt was not present under the previous regime. With that in mind here are three players who I feel have the most to account for in this coming season.
1. Kristopher Letang
Is there a more polarizing Penguin right now? We are all aware of #58’s ability to change a game and break an opponent’s defensive schemes. But it is his propensity to have major defensive breakdowns and mental meltdowns that are the pigments that shade his appeal in many fans' eyes. He might be the poster child of the country club atmosphere that many felt was rampant during the Bylsma regime. No matter what your opinion is of Letang here is a stone-cold fact: He is now the third highest-paid Penguin.
Let that fact sink in for a minute. Fair or not, when you sign a massive contract like Letang did when he signed his eight-year, $58 million deal in the summer of 2013 expectations are heaped upon you by fans and the media alike. This season no one this side of MAF will be more scrutinized by Pens fans than Letang.
Hopefully with a new voice in the locker room he can be reached, otherwise the Pens are saddled with a very expensive albatross of a contract and a player who is all too often inclined to go off the rails.
2. Beau Bennett
One of the staple practices of the Ray Shero book on Be a GM mode was to draft skilled defenseman early in the draft, develop them and eventually deal from your strength to attain forwards who can help the pro club. One of the few times Shero actually broke from this formula was when he drafted Bennett #20 overall in the 2010 draft. While it is obvious that Bennett does have skill, all too often he is fragile, or worse, soft.
With a lack of depth at the wing positions the Penguins need Bennett to step up this season and find a way to be productive and stay on the ice, something he has struggled to do thus far in his short time in the NHL.
3. Marc-Andre Fleury
The answer to the question posed in the blurb on Kris Letang could be answered with the name MAF. There are points and counterpoints aplenty when discussing the Flower. Advanced stats versus wins. His 09 cup versus his multiple meltdowns. His salary hit compared to goalies of comparable skill. His ability to make sensational saves versus his ability to wilt like an old flower. With all of that said there are two distinct camps in the Penguins community right now. Those praying for a contract extension for Flower and those who are riding out the year waiting for a change in net at the start of next season. Either way there will be lots of attention heaped upon #29’s shoulders. Whether or not he can handle it is the immediate, and possibly career altering question.
Hockey, for all its intricate nuances and the amount of time we spend breaking it down, pouring our emotions into it along the way, is a game that can frustrate. That is why no team ever wants a series to get to game seven - you never know when an odd bounce or a funny careen is going to alter the course of a game.
Hopefully these three players listed above are able to answer the questions that abound about them and their careers. Hopefully the puck bounces favorably for them. Because if it does, and the Penguins avoid major injuries to the nucleus, this could be a great team and in turn a great year for us fans.