Welcome to the NHL team preview series, a brand new series that will breakdown every NHL team this offseason. You can expect to see new posts all summer from the 30th place team to the Stanley Cup champions. With so many changes coming in the offseason, some teams will be improving dramatically, while others will be forced to make some tough decisions for the future. It’s going to be a fun summer of hockey talk, so sit down, hold on tight and enjoy the ride.
Year in Review
- Record: 43-27-12 (98 points)
- Goals per game: 2.61 (19th)
- Goals against per game: 2.49 (10th)
- Power play: 19.3% (10th)
- Penalty kill: 84.8% (3rd)
- Shots per game: 31.6(4th)
- Shots against per game: 29.3(13th)
The Pittsburgh Penguins are one of the league’s best teams every year, but you wouldn’t know it based on their playoff performances. A perennial playoff team, Pittsburgh hasn’t made it to the Stanley Cup finals since winning the cup in 2008-09 and have made it past the first round only twice in the last five seasons. For the Penguins, making the playoffs isn’t enough. This team is expected to compete for Lord Stanley every season, but that hasn’t been the case.
For a team that is loaded with offensively gifted players, the Penguins finished 20th in goals per game (2.65), right ahead of the Montreal Canadiens. When you compare those two rosters, Pittsburgh should be among the league’s best teams offensively, yet last season, they just weren’t that good.
Pittsburgh’s goal totals over the last four seasons:
(Courtesy of NHL.com)
In order for the Penguins to be successful, their offence needs to lead the way. Their defense isn’t all that bad, finishing fifth in CorsiFor (52.8%), but they can’t rely on their defense to bail them out when the scoring starts to dry up. They under-performed last season, and if they do it again next season, they may not be in a playoff spot come April.
Offseason Game Plan
According to CapFriendly, the Penguins have $38.25M locked up amongst five players for at least the next four seasons. That’s 54% of their budget. Great players always cost a lot of money to retain, but to spend that much money on so few players might explain why the Penguins aren’t getting the results they want.
Their big offseason move came when the team acquired Phil Kessel from the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for forwards Nick Spaling, Kasperi Kapanen, defenseman Scott Harington two draft picks in 2016—one being a first rounder. Kessel is coming off a down season with Toronto, but the Penguins are hoping the right winger can regain his top-10 scoring touch and help provide some much needed offence. He’s one of the most dangerous snipers in the game, and I expect him maintain a point-per-game pace for the entire season.
On defense, it’s a completely different story. Outside of Kris Letang, the Pittsburgh defense is quite thin. Letang hasn’t been able to stay healthy in the last few seasons, and with very little money left to spend, some of their younger defensemen will be asked to take up bigger roles next season.
One of those young defensemen will be Olli Maatta.
A first round pick in 2012, Maatta played only 20 games due to multiple injuries—including season-ending shoulder surgery. The 20-year-old will be healthy entering training camp and will be expected to log some big minutes in his third NHL season. He’s got the potential to score anywhere from 40-45 points, but his strongest asset is his ability to play both ends of the ice. If he can stay healthy for the majority of the season, the Penguins should be a better team defensively despite losing some key players to free agency.
The one area the Penguins won’t have to worry about is goaltending. Now entering his 12th season in the NHL, Marc Andre Fleury will be counted on more than ever to help get his team back to the playoffs. He’s coming off his seventh 30-plus-win season and he led the league in shutouts with ten, a career high. His playoff performances over the last few seasons haven’t been stellar, but in the regular season, no goalie is as consistent as Fleury. He’s an elite goalie that can steal a game for his team on any given night. Despite the Pittsburgh blue line being so thin, I expect the 30-year-old to have an even better year than he did last season.
If I had to put money down on whether or not the Penguins make the playoffs next year, I’d probably say no. I might be wrong, but this team right now has a lot of holes that they won’t be able to fill. They have the scoring, there’s no question about that, but scoring goals alone sometimes isn’t enough (ask the Dallas Stars). Their defense got worse over the offseason and every team in their division got better in some capacity. Assuming this team can stay healthy—and that’s a really big if—they have a chance to lock up the final playoff spot and squeak into the playoffs, but it will most likely end with another early April exit. Many things can happen from now until the end of next season, but right now, this is a team that looks better on paper than on the ice.