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2019-20 NHL Season: Are the Pens more likely to win the division, or miss the playoffs?

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It’s an interesting question

NHL: MAR 12 Capitals at Penguins Photo by Jeanine Leech/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

It’s always interesting to see the perspective of opposing writers. They follow along well enough to form educated opinions and don’t have the same biases that close Penguins observers do.

All About the Jersey had a really great and comprehensive list of all the changes in the division this offseason (if you’re fiending for summer content it’s worth rehashing), but this part really stood out:

Trending: Down. This offseason can be seen as a real sign of the downfall of the Penguins in a few years. Trading Kessel and signing Brandon Tanev will do that. Betting against Crosby, Malkin, and Letang tends to be a bad idea. But this is a team that has invested a lot of money in players who are unlikely to justify their contracts. Whereas Washington’s core is about the same age, their depth is far more desirable and the team has more wiggle-room to make adjustments as needed. The Penguins are up against it and they have no one to blame but themselves. Their window isn’t closed but it is not so open.

It’s Early, But Is This a Playoff Team?: I think they’re competing for a wild card spot. If Matt Murray is great and the guys with/behind Crosby and Malkin step up and produce, then they’ll be fine for this season. But do not be shocked if they’re bouncing up and down between third and sixth place throughout 2019-20. And if they ended up on the outside looking in after all that bouncing around.

“This offseason can be seen as a real sign of the downfall of the Penguins” sounds very dramatic, but it’s not necessarily untrue. It should be pretty sobering. Pittsburgh has made the playoffs a league-high 13 straight times, and with the primes of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, have felt pretty automatic going into the season.

Can you say the same now?

I don’t think I can. The division has gotten a lot better; Carolina looks like they’ve graduated into what should be a yearly playoff team for a while now given their young talent. Washington has won the division four straight years, and while like the Pens they’re not getting any younger, they seem a bit more balanced with their contract situations and depth.

The Islanders are a huge wildcard, but we saw first-hand they’re well-coached and compete. The Flyers, Rangers and Devils are all big market clubs that made big market moves (Kevin Hayes, Matt Niskanen / Artemi Panarin, Jacob Trouba, Kaapo Kakko / Jack Hughes, P.K. Subban) and all will be looking to compete right now.

Where does that leave the Pens? Are they still a top three or four team in the division? Are they really now closer to sixth place than first? It’s an interesting topic to consider, and frankly a scary one.

What if Crosby doesn’t score 2.92 points/60 again next year and Jake Guentzel doesn’t net 40 goals? We saw Sid have a shooting percentage drought in 2017-18, if that comes back times could be lean indeed. The defense has, of yet, made no appreciable changes from the playoff lineup which was a mess, and still boasts the “talents” of two of the league’s worst active defensemen in Jack Johnson and Erik Gudbranson. Matt Murray has been injury prone.

Then again, the Pens will be a bit refreshed this year. They’ve added some young legs in recent months (Jared McCann, Dominik Kahun, Alex Galchenyuk, Brandon Tanev) that should provide a bit more spark. The team’s top-nine forward group is still talented. Malkin could have a bounce-back year. With (presumably) Justin Schultz playing more in 2019-20 than 2018-19, the defense could be improved personnel-wise there. Murray was one of the league’s best goalies in calendar 2019 and had no real health issues.

At this point, I can see both cases. There’s reason for real optimism, and naturally some fans are just always going to believe whatever the team does is smart/will work beyond reasonable expectation.

But now, for the first time in a long time, it doesn’t really feel automatic to me. Maybe it’s the way the season ended. Maybe it’s realizing the Pens’ best players are a year older and rivals are welcoming in star young players.

So it will be interesting to see the temperature of the room at this point on the question below. Which, to be fair, I’d say the majority of the probability and smart money is the Pens should finish somewhere in between first and sixth. But say today on this hot summer day you’re told by next April it will be one or the other. What does your gut tell you at this point?

Poll

Which one of these finishes is more likely for the Pens in 2019-20?

This poll is closed

  • 40%
    Win the Metropolitan Division
    (676 votes)
  • 59%
    Finish 6th place in the division
    (994 votes)
1670 votes total Vote Now