In what has been an year unlike any other, the calendar has finally flipped to December and the Christmas season is in full swing. Even with all the chaos going on in the world, this still remains the most wonderful time of the year.
For kids around the world, they have spent countless hours crafting the perfect Christmas list to Santa in hopes of finding plenty of gifts under the tree. This practice need not be limited to just the children though as the Penguins have plenty of wants and needs they could easily include on their own Christmas list.
From simply having a season to lifting a sixth Stanley Cup, here are just a few items the Penguins should be asking from Santa this Christmas.
Actual Hockey Games
Without any games to play, most everything else on this list is moot. At the moment, all signs point to the NHL returning in mid-January with a shortened season and little, if any, fans in the stands. In fact, if everything goes according to plan, this is a gift we could be unwrapping before Christmas ever arrives.
NHL/NHLPA went non-stop all weekend and continue Monday going back and forth on season protocols, transition rules, critical dates. The hope is to have it wrapped up over the next few days to set up a vote on each side by end of week. But as we saw in June, these things can drag— Pierre LeBrun (@PierreVLeBrun) December 14, 2020
Fingers crossed this comes to fruition sooner rather than later and we have something to look forward to once 2021 arrives.
It’s no secret how awful the 2019-20 season was in terms of injuries for the Penguins. Besides the Blue Jackets, the Penguins lost more man games to injury than any other NHL team and it began to take its toll as the season went along. Early in the season, the Penguins excelled despite the bodies in the press box, but eventually those injuries caught up to them in February and March.
Now as a new season approaches, one key to the Penguins success in 2021, especially in a short season, will be the ability to keep their best players on the ice and out of the press box. Injuries are always a given for any team, but limiting the man games lost and icing the best lineup night in and night out will do wonders when facing down what is shaping up to be an incredibly difficult schedule.
Kasperi Kapanen Proves His Worth
After trading him away for Phil Kessel five years ago, the Penguins reacquired Kasperi Kapanen this offseason and he did not come cheap. Mike Sullivan is already on record stating Kapanen will play on the top line with Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel to start the season, only compounding the pressure on Kapanen to perform.
Kapanen had top six opportunities during his time with the Maple Leafs but was never able to cement his spot alongside guys like Auston Matthews and Mitch Marner. Now back in Pittsburgh, the Penguins will throw him right into the fire and put it on him to prove he can produce like a top line player. How this experiment works out could well determine the Penguins fate in 2021.
An Actual Third Pairing
Simply dumping Jack Johnson and letting Justin Schultz walk in free agency goes a long way to making this a reality. Acquiring Mike Matheson from the Florida Panthers fills at least one of those slots and presents itself as an immediate upgrade. That leaves Juuso Riikola, Chad Ruhwedel, and Cody Ceci to lay claim to a spot alongside Matheson.
If Mike Sullivan is dead set on making sure there is a righty and lefty on every pairing, then it could come down to Ruhwedel or Ceci. The former gives me much more confidence if those are the two choices. Either way, any upgrade from what the third pairing was last season will be a huge bonus.
Tristan Jarry Becomes “The Guy”
There will be no questions about who the Penguins man in net will be coming into next season. With trade of Matt Murray this offseason, the Penguins are pinning their hopes on Tristan Jarry. If he plays like he did in the early parts of last season, the Penguins will have nothing to worry about. If he continues to regress like he did down the stretch, then it could become a real issue.
When the Penguins drafted Jarry back in 2013, many believed they viewed him as the future in net. Those plans seemed to change with the emergence of Murray and his immediate success, but now all eyes are once again on Jarry as he enters his first full season as the Penguins top netminder.
All 31 teams that will have the Stanley Cup on their Christmas list this year, but in the end, only one can find it under their tree. Five times the Penguins have lifted hockey’s holiest grail and it sure would be nice to see them do it one more time before this era comes to an end.