Not going to lie, I was struggling to think of an idea this week to fill this spot. Not because I do not necessarily have an idea, but because I have several thoughts kicking around in my head and wanted to address all of them. So consider this a random Penguins grab bag for a Wednesday morning as NHL training camps approach.
A glimpse of the future to start the season
By “the future” I mean what this team will someday look like in the not too distant future without Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.
The Penguins’ two-headed monster will be sidelined to open the season as both continue to recover from offseason surgeries. We have some idea when Crosby will return, but Malkin’s timeline remains a mystery.
So what does that mean for the start of the season?
The Penguins just need to find a way to scratch out a few ugly wins. If Crosby’s timeframe stays consistent to what we were originally told, he should miss around the first five games of the season.
Those five games: Tampa Bay, Florida, Chicago, Dallas, Toronto.
That is not an ideal stretch, but they do not really need to do anything except avoid going 1-4 or 0-5. And they should not go 0-5. As difficult as they schedule looks to start, especially without your two superstars, this team should still have enough to scratch out a couple of wins there.
It also makes retaining Jeff Carter and Teddy Blueger all the more important because they at least have some sort of capable duo to center the top two lines for a stretch.
It is also turning back the clock
While the absence of Crosby and Malkin is a glimpse of what the future will look like, it also takes me back to what might be the most impressive coaching job of Dan Bylsma’s Penguins career.
The Penguins being without Crosby and Malkin at the same time is not totally unfamiliar territory, and they once went literally half of a season without them during the 2010-11 campaign.
That was the year Crosby initially suffered his concussion and neck injury, and then Malkin was sidelined shortly after with his knee injury.
Somehow, without those two in the lineup, the Penguins still won 49 games, the third highest total of the Crosby-Malkin era, and went 21-10-4 in the 36 games without them to end the season. It was probably the most boring style of the past 16 years, and there were a lot of shootout wins in there, but they still found a way to win.
That was such an interesting season, too.
That was the year the Penguins traded Alex Goligoski for James Neal and Matt Niskanen. But Neal did next to nothing that season after the trade and did not really breakout until the following season. There was some initial concern that the trade was a bust. It eventually turned out to be one of the best trades of the Ray Shero era.
They also acquired Alexei Kovalev that season to try and bring some sort of offensive spark to the roster for the playoffs. It did not really work, and it never seemed to be a move that Bylsma was fully on board with. The tip off to that came in Game 7 of the First Round loss to the Tampa Bay Lightning when Kovalev remained stapled to the bench in the closing minute of a 1-0 loss, with the season on the line, and Mark Letestu skating as the extra attacker.
Tristan Jarry is the most important player on the roster
At least in the sense that his play will make or break the success or failure of the team more than any other individual player.
Part of that is the nature of the goalie position.
Part of it is that we still do not fully know what he is as a player.
He has shown flashes of being a capable starting goalie. He also shown stretches were he can single handedly sabotage the team and a season. It is still surprising that the Penguins were willing to come back this season with the exact same goalie duo as last season, especially in an offseason where there was a ton of goalie movement around the league and plenty of options available, either as a starter or an insurance policy.
Relying on a lot of wild cards for improvement
If there is improvement.
Looking at the roster today vs. the roster in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and it is really difficult to see improvement, and that is even before you get into the Crosby and Malkin injury situations.
Going from Jared McCann and Brandon Tanev to Brock McGinn and Danton Heinen is a downgrade.
Carter should be really good, but he is not going to score goals at the same pace he did immediately after the trade and through the playoffs.
The goalie situation is what it is.
If the Penguins are going to repeat their regular season performance or find a way to improve (including in the playoffs) they are going to need some wild card performances to come through. Jason Zucker needs to bounce back. Maybe a young player like Nathan Legare comes through and emerges. Can Radim Zohorna be a player? Jarry has to not only play well, but probably excel.
Not impossible things. But a lot needs to go right.