This season, the Penguins find themselves in what is arguably the most disheartening position on preseason power rankings.
They aren’t listed among the top 10 teams, where they would be viewed as a legitimate playoff threat; they can’t be found in the bottom 10, where a sense of being underestimated might spur the team on with a helpful chip on their shoulders; they’re in the middle, expected to be a fringe playoff team but not a playoff threat. Here’s a glimpse of the consensus from hockey writers’ published league rankings just before the regular season starts.
Consensus pros: Last regular season’s standings, last regular season’s Tristan Jarry
Consensus cons: Season start without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, last postseason’s Tristan Jarry
Quotes below: Name, source, place the writer ranked the Penguins among 32 NHL teams
While I’m not personally a big believer in Pittsburgh’s current construction and they haven’t won a playoff series since 2018, the fact is the Penguins had the fifth-most points in the league last season and the Hurricanes were the only team from the Metropolitan Division that finished with more points.
They’ve slipped in recent years with shoddy goaltending, but they’re one of those teams that always seem to find a way into big games and series.
The fate of the Penguins ... will be largely determined by goaltender Tristan Jarry’s ability to rebound from a poor playoff.
It seems their tactic of relying on Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang is going to serve them for another year but, as their core gets older, it leaves them middling in the NHL power rankings.
I’ll always be wary of picking against a Penguins team with Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin on the roster. With Malkin sidelined for at least two months and Crosby missing the first two weeks of the season, that mantra gets much harder to believe in. Still! It’s the Penguins, who are a very entertaining team even if they could very well implode right before our very eyes.
It may seem strange to say that the Penguins are trending in the wrong direction considering they won their division last season, but this has the stink of a team that’s a few bad breaks away from falling out of contention in a tough division.
It’s not hard to see why writers have qualms about this Penguins squad. Beginning the season Crosby- and Malkin-less, with a starting goaltender who folded in spectacular fashion in the 2021 playoffs, there aren’t many writers willing to pin their hopes on first-line center Jeff Carter and backup netminder Casey DeSmith. And although the Penguins claimed the top of the East Division last season, that was in a shortened campaign in which they only faced division opponents, a list from which threats like the Blue Jackets and Hurricanes were helpfully removed.
It will be interesting to see if a squad buoyed in large part by names the general NHL public might not recognize can exceed these expectations. It will be fascinating to see how this rookie-laden squad, while facing teams outside the division for the first time in a year, will handle opponents many of the newer players have never faced before— all without Malkin or Crosby.
Ron Hextall’s placid offseason hasn’t inspired any new excitement. If he had made a move for a goaltender, expectations for this team to weather a few superstar-less months before climbing back into contention would have risen— but Jarry, whose play contributed to an unceremonious early exit from the 2021 playoffs, will need to prove himself in emphatic fashion before NHL viewers raise their expectations of how much a threat this team will be. Who knows— maybe a season-opening triumph over the defending champions on Oct. 12 could win over some uncertain backers.
Do you agree with what NHL writers are predicting for Pittsburgh?