Was just sitting here trying to think of an idea for this spot and I kept drawing a blank. So I pulled up the Pittsburgh Penguins’ CapFriendly page to ponder the roster and see what, if anything, jumped out to me.
Maybe seeing a name, or a set of names, or a contract, or SOMETHING would give me an idea to tackle with this team. That is when it hit me. I am not really sure what exactly this team is or what it is going to be this season.
The trio of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang are still high level players that can take over games and carry the team for stretches. But we also have to accept the fact that they may not quite be what we have come to expect those three to be. At least not over a full season. They are 33, 34, and 33 respectively, and while they still have some good hockey left in them it is just common sense (and a lot of realism) to expect them to not be the players they were when they were in the mid-late 20s or younger.
But outside of that trio this is not really an old team that is entirely over the hill. There is some youth sprinkled throughout and some players still in what should be the prime of their careers (or at least the back end of the prime years).
It is also not by any means a young team. John Marino is the only player projected to be on the opening night roster that is under the age of 24 (and he will turn 24 during the season). There is not really a promising pipeline of prospects coming through the system and they do not have a first-round pick or third-round pick coming up to replenish that in any way (this is NOT a criticism — just stating facts).
While they have some really good forwards, I am not sure this is going to be a great offensive team. It reminds me in a lot of ways of the tail end of the Ray Shero-Dan Bylsma where they had two first lines and two fourth lines because there were so many questions in the bottom-six. The trouble with that is the top-two lines are centered by the mid-30s version of Crosby and Malkin and not the mid-20s version.
I do not think it is a bad defensive team, but I also wonder what its defensive ceiling is. When healthy, the top-four has the potential to be very good. I like Mike Matheson more than Jack Johnson, obviously, but are they able to piece together three strong defense pairings? And will the top players there stay healthy?
It has the POTENTIAL to be a strong team on special teams, and quite frankly it should be that sort of team, but that did not always play out this past season.
The goaltending is just a huge question mark.
It is not really my thing to talk about “identity” with teams, because too often it just oversimplifies things. Sports are weird. Hockey is chaotic. Sometimes you have to do whatever it takes to win and throw your identity out the window and figure out a new plan. But what IS this team? How will it play? What is the thing it does better than most other teams? Or the teams in its division? When I look at this roster I struggle to find that thing.
That does not necessarily mean that is a BAD team.
Quite the opposite.
This still has the potential to be a very good team, especially if some of those wild card things (like the goalies, like Kasperi Kapanen, like Jared McCcann, like Mike Matheson) go in the right direction. But if they do not, and in a tough division, it could be a tough year.
Basically when I look at this roster, it reflects the manner in which it has been constructed. Haphazardly and random without a clear focus. The roster turnover is constant. Players show up, then are shipped out six months later. It has become a revolving door of players constantly coming and going with different skillsets, different playing styles and the roster quite honestly reflects that. If you go back four or five years and looked at the roster and looked at the way the team played it was easy to see what they did well and how they were going to play night in and night out. They played fast, they were all over teams, they two goalies, they had balance throughout the lineup.
This team is still a mystery in that regard, and we will probably not really know until we see it on the ice.
There is still potential and there is still a chance to do something here. But we just need to see how they are going to play and what it will all look like.