NHL.com asked 3 questions about the Penguins. Pensburgh gives you the answers
1. Will Kris Letang bounce back from neck surgery?
Before undergoing season-ending neck surgery to repair a herniated disc April 13, Letang said he was confident his teammates could win the Stanley Cup without him. He was eventually proven right, but it's unlikely the Penguins could go all the way this season without Letang healthy and at least near his peak.
Will he bounce back? Yeah. Letang’s been working out and all signs are showing he should be good to go to start the regular season in the lineup...Assuming he makes it through training camp unscathed.
The bigger question and what they get at is- can Letang stay back? That is much more unknown. Letang “only” missed 11 and 13 game in 2014-15 and 2015-16, but other years have had much more time missed to injury.
Letang’s health in April is a major key for the chances of a 3-peat. Considering he’s missed 2 of the 3 playoffs entirely, there’s good reason to be worried that he won’t be available when it matters.
2. How will they retool?
Unlike when they entered last season with their Stanley Cup-winning roster nearly intact, the Penguins lost several key members of their 2017 championship team in the offseason. In addition to Daley, Hainsey and Streit, forwards Nick Bonino, Chris Kunitz and Matt Cullen left in free agency, and their departures have not been fully addressed.
Retooling will be very interesting. Defensive losses will be stemmed with (hopefully) a healthy Letang and the addition of Matt Hunwick, who I think will add a lot to the defenders. Throw in Justin Schultz, Brian Dumoulin, Olli Maatta and Ian Cole and that position looks pretty solid, even if the Pens did lose vets like Daley and Hainsey.
Up front, different story. Still work to do, we all know it. The $3+ million in cap space though is an important weapon and one that Pittsburgh hasn’t had literally since the start of the 2007-08 season to have any cap wiggle room.
Also a tried and true method for retooling has been infusing new blood. Yes, it will sting to lose guys like Kunitz and Bonino. But by midseason could either (both?) of Daniel Sprong and Zach Aston-Reese get NHL chances? That would be exciting and add some speed, skill, energy and enthusiasm, much like a couple years ago with the additions of guys like Rust, Wilson and Kuhnhackl.
3. Will Matt Murray hold up?
Having won the Stanley Cup twice as a rookie, Murray unquestionably is one of the best young goalies in the NHL, but he never has played more than 49 games in the regular season.
On this one, I’d say there’s no reason Murray shouldn’t be a 60+ start guy this season. He’s suffered some bumps and injuries in his brief career, most of which have seemed related to getting run into or freak things that’s out of a player’s control.
Still, with no Marc-Andre Fleury as a safety net, this position is all Murray’s. Pittsburgh can’t afford him to collect multiple 4-6 week injuries this season. Now is the time for him to establish himself as a Vezina-caliber goalie and take a Vezina-type of workload. At this point, that should be fully expected.