We already looked at the the Metropolitan Division as a whole and took a quick preview of every team in it (Part 1 here Part 2 here), but now it is time to focus in a little more on the Pittsburgh Penguins.
So let us take a look at some key storylines, interesting players to watch, and make some predictions as we gear up to watch the upcoming season.
Top Storylines To Watch
The goaltending. This is probably the storyline for the Penguins this season. It was the storyline in the playoffs, and the Penguins are bringing back the same duo of Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith. Will they be good enough?
It is crazy to think that Jarry will play as bad as he did in in the playoffs over a full 82-game season, but how good will he be? And how good is he? We still do not really know what he is right now as a player. Is he the player that was the All-Star a couple of years ago? Or the player that fell apart in the playoffs a year ago? Or more accurately, is he something in between? Seems like this season we are going to find out the answer to that question.
Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin. Well, obviously. They have been the building blocks for more than 15 years now and the Penguins are still trying to extend the window with them as long as possible. But the specific talking point right now is their health, especially early in the season. We know Malkin is going to be sidelined for at least a couple of months and Crosby potentially for a few games (though maybe only one or two games?). That is obviously going to complicate things early on the season and put some added pressure on Jeff Carter and Teddy Blueger to help carry the center depth.
When Crosby and Malkin are back in the lineup the Penguins’ center depth with a full season of Carter should be as good as any team in the league. But given their ages and current injury situation it is worth wondering how often we will see that.
The contract situations. Malkin, Kris Letang, and Bryan Rust are all entering the final year of their current contracts and that is going to create some big work for Ron Hextall and Brian Burke. Malkin and Letang are almost certain to get re-signed, unless one of them decides to retire. But what are those contracts going to look like, and how much money are they going to cost? How much should the Penguins be willing to comfortably commit to them?
Rust seems likely to be the odd man out, and that may not be the worst thing. He has been a great Penguin. A two-time Stanley Cup champion that has scored some massive goals and played a key role in those championships. But he strikes me as the type of player that signs a big deal near his 30th birthday and the team that hands out ends up regretting it.
When players like Malkin and Letang start to decline they are starting from a much higher point, so their decline remains productive. Players like Rust are starting at a lower point, obviously, so their decline is much more noticeable.
The bottom-six forwards
The 2020-21 Penguins had some of the best depth scoring of the Crosby-Malkin era. At least in terms of how badly they outscored teams when Crosby and Malkin were not on the ice. It was great, fantastic, and on par with what they did during Stanley Cup winning seasons. That is good.
Having Jeff Carter for a full season should be great news if he still has another decent year in him. Based on what we saw from him after the trade, he should. The problem is losing Brandon Tanev and Jared McCann is probably going to hurt. Will they be able to get enough from players like Brock McGinn and Danton Heinen to help replace them? Seems like a little bit of a downgrade.
Am confident the Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin pairing will be outstanding again. Will John Marino and Marcus Pettersson be able to take a step forward? Can Marino rebound from what is considered to be a down year? What about Mike Matheson? Will he continue to be a roller coaster of wild unpredictable play? Then there is the matter of replacing Cody Ceci. Is that where Mark Friedman comes in? Chad Ruhwedel? Does Pierre-Olivier Joseph find his way into the lineup at some point? Definitely something to consider.
Most interesting player: John Marino
When I did the Metropolitan Division preview I said Jeff Carter, just based on how important he is going to be this season, but am going to switch it here and look at Marino, just because he is also such a pivotal player.
His rookie year was sensational. His second year was a bit of a mixed bag that did not get great reviews but had better than expected underlying numbers. He was good. Not great. This could be a pivotal year in his development and go a long way toward determining if he is going to be a future top-pairing defender (as he appeared to be in his rookie season) or if he is just going to be a solid second-pairing defender (which is fine). Given his contract and the investment the Penguins have in him it would be helpful if he turned out to be the former.
Quick predictions for this season
- Jake Guentzel is going to score 40 goals this season and have an All-Star level season.
- The Pittsburgh Penguins starting goalie for the Stanley Cup Playoffs (and they will make the Stanley Cup Playoffs) is not currently on the roster.