Penguins training camp officially opens today, though they will be sequestered away behind closed doors at PPG Paints Arena. Other than Kasperi Kapanen, who as of last week was still in Finland due to immigration/visa issues, the team is all in place and ready to go.
The interesting part of this Pens’ team is they’re pretty much what you want to see. A fading power and imperfectly built team? Sure. An annual playoff team that finds ways to be there? Yes. Seventh best in the NHL last year in points percentage? True. 1-9 in the last 10 playoff games and without a playoff series win since April 2018? Also true.
Unsurprisingly, general manager Jim Rutherford subscribes to a theory that the Pens are on the higher end of team strength and ready to compete for a championship again in 2021. Rutherford made some media rounds with the Tribune Review and The Athletic last week. He sounded a little sassier in The Athletic, saying in part:
“Here’s what I know,” [Rutherford] said. “We have won the Stanley Cup twice in recent seasons. We’ve had a good run. And I really don’t think it’s over. We’ve had a lot of success and whatever happens, happens, moving forward. I just absolutely think we have a team that can still contend. And I think we will.”
A statistical outlook doesn’t quite agree, giving Pittsburgh just a 44% chance of making the playoffs, just fifth best in the eight team division where only the top four teams will make the postseason.
But that’s kinda the beauty of the Penguins right now at the dawn of the season — you can see what you see on the Rorschach test and not be wrong. Pittsburgh is a team that’s now younger and faster than their previous iterations. Yet they’re also arguably without a championship-caliber supporting cast.
The Penguins will be younger. As always after a year where they under-performed, they will be a lot different too with Patric Hornqvist, Matt Murray, Justin Schultz, Jack Johnson all gone, among others. Will they be different and live up to the hopes of their GM? The quest to do so starts today.