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Monday, September 22, 2014

Pittsburgh Penguins Season Roundtable Part 2: Pens Initiative Version

Pittsburgh Penguins training camp is already underway and the Pens will play in their first preseason game on Monday night versus the Detroit Red Wings. With a new general manager and a new rookie head coach, there has been lots to talk about when it comes to the Penguins, who are coming off of another disappointing season. 

Last week, we rolled out our guest roundtable with Ryan Wilson, Ian Altenbaugh, Brian Metzer, and Josh Yohe. This week, we let the writers of Pens Initiative answer the same questions as well as a few different ones. 

Let's meet the panel: 

Mike Asti
Beth Myncin
Paul Clemente
Liz Thompson
Sean Griffin
Brian Keenan
Brian Bylstone
Jim Meinecke

(Editor's note: These questions and answers were presented last Monday)

Q: First off, Ray Shero and Dan Bylsma are both gone. mostly due to the constant disappointment in the playoffs. Jim Rutherford and Mike Johnston have replaced them. Are you optimistic about these changes and why should Pens fans think these changes will result in better results in the postseason?

Paul: I'm in the revisionist minority to where I didn't think either of them did a terrible job. There is/was no other GM as crafty as Shero and I would debate that with anyone. I think change was needed and this is the first complete culture change the new generation of fans have experienced. Yes, they have every right to be optimistic. When you have the best player on planet Earth and other one in the Top5 the fan's expectations, the organization's expectations, and the player's expectations should be the Stanley Cup ... always. I have always felt (and have been proven right most years) that the Stanley Cup playoffs are a whole different animal than the regular season. I'm glad that Rutherford didn't overly commit to anyone this summer and kept the line-up adaptable to changes. He has made it clear that he is building a team for the playoffs. When you have that mind-set and strategy it's tough to imagine that it won't translate into success. The Stanley Cup is THE hardest championship to win in sports and it's never easy.

BlystoneIt would be hard not to be optimistic about the changes were made by the Penguins’ front office. The organization, as a whole and despite Shero and Bylsma’s assumed popularity among players, needed a refreshing. Rutherford has made it clear that he’s a short-term guy but he brings all kinds of connections for heir-apparent Associate GM Jason Botterill to add to his Rolodex.

Mike Johnston’s hiring is, at worst, a low-risk one. If he doesn't pan out, the organization will not lose much by cutting him. The staff they've assembled appear to like each other and if what fans of other teams say in jest is true, all this team really needs is someone to babysit two of the best players in the world to succeed. That said, it’s completely fair to say that the way it was handled could have been a lot better.

Beth - I am optimistic. I believe that if something is not working, try and change it. We have two of the best players in the world, in their prime playing years. If we don't make a move now when will we? I think that teams are about building what works not what is the best on paper. The Penguins are building a team that will work well together and that is something to look forward to. Buckle up, baby. 

Liz: I respect the Pens’ management’s vision and realization that it was time for change in order to win the cup. I understand Rutherford as mentor for Botterill. It makes sense to give a young guy the opportunity to cut his teeth and any mistakes are on Rutherford. What I find puzzling is Johnston as coach. The complaint about Bylsma was that he couldn't make adjustments in the game and he couldn't get the Pens back to the finals.  Johnston was a good AHL coach but has zero NHL playoff experience.

That being said, I’m optimistic for the Pens’ success. I’m thrilled with the addition of Rick Tocchet to the coaching staff and think it’s brilliant to put Bill Guerin in a position between the team an management.

SeanDespite the initial circus that surrounded the changes, I am optimistic. The new regime has added depth and infused some coveted grit to the lineup while a significant upgrade to the bottom-six will ultimately make the Penguins more difficult to play against. What’s more, a new system will provide a breath of fresh air in the room, make life easier on the defensemen and (hopefully) play to the strengths of Pittsburgh’s skilled players. Yes, there are still some question marks but the Penguins seem to find themselves moving in the right direction.

Jim: I was not thrilled with the prospect of Jim Rutherford coming to the Penguins. Quite frankly, I thought he did a bad job in Carolina over the last few seasons with many of his moves being questionable at best. That being said, what he has done so far with the Pens has been pretty impressive. He has managed to cut payroll. He has cut some of the supposed locker room issues with Neal leaving, and he has completely revamped the putrid bottom 6 that we dealt with all of last year. For those reasons alone, fans should be optimistic about this upcoming season/postseason. Mike Johnston is just a completely separate topic for me. I thought the way the organization handled the coaching search this offseason was almost embarrassing, and it felt like because of that, we "ended up" with Mike Johnston. He may turn out to be fine or even very good, but I just don't think he has a proven track record of any sort that should give the Pens fan base a feeling of comfort.

Micheal: The dismissal of Shero and Bylsma represents more than a changing of the guard for the Penguins’ organization: Jim Rutherford and Mike Johnston’s hirings are a paradigm shift in how Mario Lemieux and Ron Burkle perceive the “new” NHL and the requirements of win.  Expect Pittsburgh to shed some of their “play the game the right way” identity to better match up against the chippier opponents that gave Sidney Crosby and the Pens fits.

Asti: Ray Shero and Dan Bylsma both had two very successful tenures in Pittsburgh overall. When you fire champions, whether it was right or wrong (it was right in this case), you immediately put pressure on their replacements. It's been made incredibly clear anything shy of a Stanley Cup will be considered a failure. Jim Rutherford, who many viewed as a washed up old man, with no idea what he's doing, actually has a resume that makes him a descent short term option to rebuild the Penguins roster. Based on the offseason, he's bringing a mindset of needing more grit and a "playoff hockey" style. This was evident in the Neal trade. Mike Johnston is more of a question mark. He's proved he can coach in the minors, but will it translate to a team with some of the best players in the world and an immense pressure, that could strangle even the widest neck. This team will contend, of course. Most likely, it's safer to bet on the field than the Pens lifting Lord Stanley's Cup again. Will the fans have the necessary patience and realistic expectations with new men in charge? Doubtful. 

ChrisI am not optimistic, but I am not pessimistic either. I understand replacing Bylsma given the post-season disappointment but I am incredibly concerned about how a rookie head coach will be able to manage the superstar heavy Pens lineup. The circus around the GM and Head Coaching search made the Pens organization look like a clown car. I am still confused why it went down like it did. I am also perplexed by bringing in Rutherford - a guy with one foot out the door - to replace Shero - one of the NHLs best executives. 

Keenan:  I think Ray Shero is a guy that could have, and probably should have, been retained after a long discussion with ownership on what they expected moving forward and what they viewed as unacceptable on his part. Making the push for the Stanley Cup coming out of the lockout it seemed understood that 2013-14 would be a step back for the team as they regrouped following the cap decrease. I like the moves Rutherford made at the beginning of free agency, but based on his track record I question exactly how well he can make the big moves to get this team back into title contention.

As for Dan Bylsma, a coaching change was past due for this team. Mike Johnston has done a tremendous job in Portland coaching the Winterhawks and his coaching philosophy should hopefully transfer over well to Pittsburgh,

Q:The Penguins wanted to bring in more toughness. They signed Steve Downie, brought in Daniel Carcillo for a PTO, and brought in Rick Tocchet as assistant. How important was it for this team to bring in toughness, if at all? Do you like those additions? 

Sean: I think it was important.  In recent years, the Penguins represented a squad that other teams didn’t necessarily fear.  Sure, they could kill you with skill but teams could come into Pittsburgh and know they weren’t in for an overly physical battle.

Now, with Downie and (potentially) Carcillo, the Pens have addressed that. On top of the toughness, though, Downie has proven he can skate alongside stars, serving as more than just the “thug” some make him out to be.  For his part, Carcillo participated in three of the last five Cup Finals and, as a result, (potentially) brings valuable experience to a club looking to climb back to the top of the sport.  

And, if Tocchet can harness all of the energy the two bring, this trio could work together to provide the Pens with something they’ve lacked in recent years.

Keenan: I don't think toughness is really what the Pens need. I think it's good that they've added some players who will be a pain to play against, but I think the team as a whole needs to find a way to increase their compete level, and hopefully the regime change can help with that. When the Pens were making deep playoff runs into the SCF they were doing the little things, winning puck battles, sacrificing their body to block a shot or take a hit when needed, and leaving everything out on the ice. To continue with the cliches, if they can find a way to play hungrier it'll do much more than adding a guy who hits or lot or gets under the other team's skin.

Jim: I know this has been heavily debated recently. I like those signings in terms of those players having more skill than most of the bottom six all of last year, but I do think the notion of providing toughness is a bit overplayed. I also think you can provide toughness without costing your team. A player like Gary Roberts always brought toughness and an intimidating presence without crossing that line where it negatively affected the team. James Neal tried to do this, but he ALWAYS crossed the line and was a liability for much of the time he was on the ice. That is the only reason I questioned these moves. If management identified Neal as a problem based largely on these issues, I think players like Downie and Carcillo will provide at least the same amount of on-ice issues, if not more. If, however, they can be kept in check, their skill and grit will help the Penguins greatly...especially in the postseason. It is such a fine line.

Beth: Very important. As has been stated in articles by Mark Madden and our own Mad Chad, these are important components. We all watched Sidney Crosby get pushed around like a rag doll in the playoffs last year. I understand we are all sick of the "grit" argument but we need players to defend the stars. Otherwise, we might not have the stars for much longer.

Chris: I can't believe how much has been made of the signing of Downie and the decision to bring Carcillo in for a tryout. Jesus, talk about desperation for stuff for NHLers to talk about. The truth is the bottom 6 stunk last year. If Downie can be a contributor on the bottom 6, then I like it. We need NHL caliber players on the bottom 6, not knuckleheads, which is why I trust Carcillo won't be on the opening day roster.

Asti: While many laugh at bringing in guys solely for toughness, it was absolutely necessary. Look at the recent champions. Los Angeles and Chicago had star-power, sure. But they also had toughness. Darren McCarty made a career of being the "tough" guy on Red Wings teams filled with Hall Of Famers. The Pens were losing physical battle after physical battle consistently in the playoffs over the last few seasons. No, fighting for the sake of it isn't the same as "toughness." A role of a Matt Cooke or even Maxim Talbot, guys that play rough and can get in the opponents head, while protecting the skilled players, is something most Stanley Cup teams have and has been missed in Pittsburgh. Steve Downie serves more as the "tough" player this group could use. Carcillo, on the other hand, can't really play hockey (or so the YouTube videos say). To Carcillo's credit, he's always on winners. He's appeared in three Cup Finals, earning a ring in 2013 with Chicago. All the fans that hate him now will love him if he's doing his act wearing a Penguins sweater. 

Micheal: The insinuation that Mario Lemieux is a “hypocrite” for employing career goons in Downie and Carcillo is only partially correct.  Lemieux, similar to when he and the Penguins switched to a trap en route to winning the Stanley Cup during his playing days, has recognized that if the Penguins can’t “beat” the other NHL teams by playing their “right way,” then the organization has no choice but to “join them” in harassing opponents and representing a physical, edgy game that promises repercussions for any physical slights toward Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.  

If Downie and Carcillo are even marginally successful at freeing up the ice for Malkin and Crosby, then the very modest investments by Rutherford will have significant value.

Paul: I'm a fan of toughness, fighting, and redemption. Call it old school but it's always been a apart of hockey. Always.  After the blatant abuse Crosby took in the Rangers series from Marc Staal, I think the whole origination wanted to go in that direction but was stocked with players who do not have that mentality.

After Cooke's meeting with Le Magnifique he was not the same player afterwards mostly out of necessity and I think that warning carried throughout the locker room making people a little sheepish to play with that much needed edge. We all know Downie and Carcillo's history but I feel that was the specific reason why they hired Tocchet; to have players dance on the line but not lose control. If we can finally be the team initiating and dictating the play instead of ignoring it and "getting to our game" I find that to be a massive advantage.

Liz: I wrote earlier in the summer about the Downie/Tocchet connection. I feel like people tend to sell Downie short and dismiss him as a fighter. I think he has something to prove and Tocchet is just the man to coax it out of him.
Carcillo? I don’t feel the team needs him.

Blystone: The Pens obviously have needed something in the direction of toughness and the Downie signing certainly addressed that. Carcillo’s a great PTO addition as well and I wouldn’t necessarily mind if he got a contract in the end, given Downie’s concussion history. Any team that succeeds in this league will not do so by having only players with a high skill set. Successful teams will have players that will step up to protect those assets.

Q. Former first-round pick Beau Bennett has struggled with consistency and with injuries since being in the league. He's also a restricted free-agent after this season. Do you see Bennett having a future with this team, and how to you see him fitting in with the team going into the upcoming season?

Asti: Beau Bennett was pegged as the perfect Penguin. He was beloved by the fans before ever even touching the ice. This hyped hasn't been lived up to, mostly because of injuries. We've seen flashes of what we were expecting with Bennett. A player with his skill level and ceiling will not be given up on. However, his injury issues will give the organization all the leverage in negotiations. Odds are the Pens want Bennett back, but at their price. 

Paul: I do not. I do, however, think that THIS is the season to change everyone's mind. Bennett has good raw skill and injuries have hindered his process considerably but a team as deep as the Penguins and the organization's commitment to rebuilding the forward prospects, Bennett's job is far from safe. I think a reasonable expectation from him would be 20 goals if he plays top 6 minutes with Geno and (presumably Hornqvist) anything less than that I think he's crossing over into Tangradi territory.

Beth - I see him fitting in. He has a known chemistry with these players. If he can stay healthy, they will find the room wherever. That is a big "if" in terms of health though. He has struggled. As per lines I see him switching around depending on other injuries.

Blystone: Short answer: I like Beau Bennett but his future with the Pens is not looking good from my couch. At the same time – and from that same couch – I don’t know what the new front office thinks of the California Kid’s performace/injury issues. The angel on my left shoulder tells me his wrist will be fine, he just didn’t let it heal. The devil on my right says his knee or ankle is next.  He’s got potential Top 6 talent, should his body be able to afford him the opportunity to develop it.

Liz: Beau Bennett has much to prove this season. Between his nagging wrist and that lower body injury he only played 21 games last season. He’s had 2 wrist surgeries since November 2013. It would be great if he could be the top six forward he was hyped to be.

Chris: If Bennett envisions himself as a top 6 winger on this team then its now or never. I love Beau a lot, but if he can't stay on the ice he this year the window of opportunity for him here in Pittsburgh will be closed. 

SeanFormer first-round pick Beau Bennett has struggled with consistency and with injuries since being in the league. He's also a restricted free-agent after this season. Do you see Bennett having a future with this team, and how to you see him fitting in with the team going into the upcoming season?

Sure, Bennett could absolutely have a future with this team.  Because, at times, he’s flashed the talent that had so many projecting him to eventually land a top-six role in Pittsburgh.  At some point, though, that potential needs to transform into consistent production.  

Luckily for the youngster, once he’s healthy, Bennett should receive every opportunity to prove himself capable.  If, however, he struggles to stay in the lineup or can’t build on the sporadic success he’s found, he might not reside in Pittsburgh for much longer.

Micheal: Beau Bennett’s value to the Penguins organization has always been that he offers an above-average offensive skill-set at a very cheap cost (Bennett is in the final year of his entry-level contract).  The only way Bennett retains a comparable value is to have yet another disappointing season with the big club, which would simultaneously diminish the Penguins’ interest in retaining his services.

Bennett’s contract year- regardless of whether or not he finally realizes his potential as a potential linemate of Crosby or Malkin- has all the makings of being his final year with the team.  That said, it wouldn’t shock me to see Bennett compile over 50 points, especially if he’s able to find consistent ice time on the second power-play unit.

JimI think Bennett's tenure with this team will end after the upcoming season. He has shown flashes of what he can do, but obviously the injuries have hampered him. Additionally, he just seems streaky and is not a very consistent player. I can see him getting one last shot this season as a top-six guy, but I have absolutely no confidence he will be a regular contributor and/or will be able to stay healthy throughout the season.

KeenanI think Bennett has a future with this team almost regardless of what he does this season if only because he is a restricted free agent and it'll be cheap and easy for the team to bring him back. What I think this season will do is define what his role will be moving forward. It's easy to forget how big of a project Bennett was projected to be when he was drafted, and his quick ascension from the University of Denver to Wilkes-Barre to Pittsburgh within a year of turning pro doesn't mesh with how far along his development has come. Bennett has a great skill set, but it's important to remember that he was pressed into duty due to an absolute need in 2013 and is really still learning the game. The injuries haven't helped as they've robbed him of valuable ice time he could have been using to improve his game. He'll start the year on the second line, but he'll need to establish himself there this season or it becomes less likely he'll ever be more than a third liner in Pittsburgh.

Q. Coming off a serious injury at an advanced age, what can the Pens truly expect out of Dupuis this year?

Micheal: As a fan, I want to root for Dupuis because he endeared himself through HBO’s “24/7” documentary and via his legendary “Thanks, Daaaan” interviews with ROOT Sports’ Dan Potash, but the grim reality is that Dupuis is in the twilight of his career and coming off of a major knee injury.  When coupled with the fact that his speed is what defined Dupuis and allowed him to play and contribute alongside Sidney Crosby, the outlook does not look particularly good.  He can still have a significant impact on both the penalty-kill and on the 3rd or 4th line, but the long term, significant money contract Shero signed Dupuis to hurts the Penguins more than it helps them.

Blystone: Speaking from experience, ACL tears suck. Use any analogy involving golf balls and garden hoses you’d like. They’re worse. Being what you could consider a world-class athlete definitely helps his long-term prognosis, but he’s going to be missing a few steps when he finally does return. The best thing for the Pens is that he’s a smart player and that doesn’t go away with an injury. I think we can realistically expect to see him as a third-line and penalty kill guy. Anything beyond that would be amazing.

Asti: Veterans like Pascal Dupuis can be a major factor to contenders on and off the ice. Realistically (I know the fans are rarely realistic), the Penguins can expect occasional production and locker room leadership from Dupuis. I'm talking another 20 point season. Don't discount the need for that leadership, especially with a rookie head coach and underachieving roster. 

Keenan:  I think a 15 goal, 20 assist type season would be a realistic goal for Dupuis, and if he can't make those numbers he likely shouldn't be finishing the season out on the first line anyways. If the ACL injury robs him of a step or two of his speed it could really push him more into third line winger territory, and even if he does manage to come back at 100% it's unlikely he can match his production from 2011-2013.

ChrisDupuis is Sid's safety blanket. All he has to do is stay on the ice and keep the Kid happy. Anything beyond that is gravy.

Beth - I think the Pens expect Duper to get back into his old form regardless of how long that takes. I read an article the other day that he is happy with his progress. The sooner he can get back to playing with Crosby, the better. As long as Duper continues to play the same way he did before his injury he will have a spot with 87. 

PaulIf it was any other player I would say "not much" but Dupuis has been a well documented fitness fanatic and gym rat. He will do everything in his power to come back at the same level or better. Even with a new coaching staff, if Crosby wants to play with Dupuis; its going to happen.

Jim: As much as everyone loves Pascal Dupuis, fans need to be realistic about his play this year. He had one amazing year with Sid and Kunitz before he signed his current deal. Last year, even before he was injured, he did not look like the same player as the previous year. I think fans should expect Dupuis to be a solid contributor on the third line this year with some possible time as a top-six just based on lack of scoring wingers. But, he is still not cleared for camp as of this past Friday. The knee injury he suffered is a long road to recovery for any player, much less a 35-year-old player. I fear the days of Dupuis scoring 20+ goals in a season are over.

There is no one I’m cheering harder than me for Pascal Dupuis. That knee injury was a huge setback at his age. He deserves the opportunity to compete to return to his former spot on the top line. Even if he drops back in the line-up, he’s vital to the Pen’s success.

Sean: It doesn't seem fair to expect a 35-year-old coming off major knee surgery to jump right back into predominately skating alongside Sidney Crosby and Chris Kunitz on the Penguins’ top line.  Still, with question marks hovering over Pittsburgh’s top-six, Dupuis may find himself presented with that very opportunity when he returns to game action.  And, with as hard as he works, he might just be up to the task.  Logic, however, would suggest that the veteran might be more suited for a third line role with spot duty riding shotgun on the top unit.

Q. Rob Scuderi is under contract for the next three seasons. He's making $3.25 million and is considered the worst defensman on the team by many. Should Pens' fans have reason to believe that Scuderi will be better this upcoming season, and if you were Jim Rutherford, what you would you do with that contract considering that Scuderi doesn't qualify for a compliance buyout? 

Liz: I think Scuderi succeeded Paul Martin as the fan's whipping boy. When Martin was still suffering the effects of his injuries, fans wanted him drawn and quartered. Scuderi was injured last season and, yes, he sucked. Call me crazy but he’s still Rob Scuderi. He didn’t forget how to be a defenseman. I give him a chance to prove himself.

Paul: Rob Scuderi is under contract for the next three seasons. He's making $3.25 million and is considered the worst defensman on the team by many. Should Pens' fans have reason to believe that Scuderi will be better this upcoming season, and if you were Jim Rutherford, what you would you do with that contract considering that Scuderi doesn't qualify for a compliance buyout? 

I truly think Scuderi was suffering from Paul Martin-itis with what Ben Lovejoy called "a complicated system that takes years to learn" Johnston may take a different approach to team defense making it easier on everyone.  I am not ready to give up on Scuderi as quickly as the wild reactionists on Twitter but I have little patience for him beyond this season.

Sean: Scuderi never seemed to recover from an ankle injury that robbed him of two months early in the season last year.  Was it the sole reason for his poor play as the campaign went on?  Probably not.  But it sure didn't help.

After an offseason to recover and the implementation of a new system that should make life easier on defensemen, I believe Scuderi will improve this year. That being said, the veteran doesn't resemble anything close to “The Piece” that Ray Shero envisioned when he brought Scuderi back to town.  Consequently, if Rutherford can find a club looking to reach the cap floor and/or in need of a veteran presence along the blue line, a deal may eventually come to fruition.  Otherwise, the Pens aren't likely to find many takers for a diminishing asset along the blue line. 

Asti: Rob Scuderi's contract was one of those contracts Ray Shero haters were screaming about from every bridge in Pittsburgh calling for Shero's head. Scuderi was able to play a key role on Stanley Cup winners, both in Pittsburgh and with the Los Angeles Kings. He was overpaid for the team success he's had. New GM Jim Rutherford is pretty much screwed with Scuderi. There's no way he lives up to $3.25 million. There's no way $3.25 million can be traded fairly. It might take biting the bullet and finding a desperate contender with money to spend on the blue-line. Detroit, who's been in this situation since Lidstrom retired, San Jose, looking to retool and could have new found space, Columbus, a team that could use a veteran winner. 

Keenan:  I don't think Scuderi can be much worse, and it certainly seemed like he never got over the broken ankle he suffered last season. I'm not expecting much of anything from Rob Scuderi, but that being said I think that Mike Johnston and staff need to be watching some LA Kings game tape and how they used Scuderi while he was there. By pairing Scuderi with Drew Doughty and Slava Voynov the Kings were able to hide some of his deficiencies, and the Penguins have defensemen that could have a similar impact. I think the best case scenario is that they pair him with Paul Martin, who did a great job covering for Brooks Orpik, hope he rebounds a bit, then look to unload his contract on a team trying to get to the cap floor in the offseason.

Jim: The Pens' hands are a bit tied here. As much as we all want him gone, it really isn't that easy. As the question mentioned, he is not eligible for the compliance buyout. Also, at this point, he has little to no trade value. I think the Pens have to bite the bullet here and hope for the best this season. While it is highly unlikely, we have seen this situation recently with a happy outcome. When Paul Martin was brought in 2010, he had a pretty dreadful season defensively and many fans wanted to run him out of town. He acknowledged he played sub-par and put in a grueling offseason workout regime to get back to top shape. He has been a top defenseman for us ever since. This scenario seems highly unlikely given Scuderi's advanced age, but Scuderi did recognize this offseason that he played poorly last year. Let's see if he can have a bit of a rebound season before we completely write him off because, once again, we really have no choice!

Beth: This is a tough one. Scuds was "the piece" for years but he fell off. I think the Penguins will give him another chance given his prior history with the team. A lot of changes have been made so it's really hard to predict what will come out of this. Was it just an off year like Martin had a few years ago? Or has he really declined that much, that quickly? It has yet to be seen but I am not as quick to write him off or jump down his throat. I hope he makes his case. 

Micheal: The person that can salvage the season of Rob Scuderi is Rob Scuderi.  Scuderi will have to learn how to play #5 or #6 minutes and to expend all of his energy and skating in those limited minutes instead of pacing himself during his 20-25 minute days.

Scuderi can still be a serviceable defenseman, if not part of one of the NHL’s most reliable third pairings on the blue line.  The problem is that Scuderi and his facepalm-inducing contract provides the organization no value.  

The best case for Scuderi and the Penguins is to find a team attempting to add salary to reach the salary cap floor, thus providing cap relief for Pittsburgh in future seasons.

Chris: Scuderi is Shero's worst move. Will Scuds be better than last year? Probably, but hell man that's a low bar. I would deal Scuds for a 6 pack of Iron City.

Blystone: Scuderi is a big “what-if.” What if he follows the mold of Penguins players that we’ve made mistakes on, as observers, the past couple of years? Is it so far out of the realm of possibilities that last year was directly the result of a mental struggle borne of his foot injury, as the Post-Gazzette’s Shelly Anderson indicated? If that is the case, Pens fans will get the opportunity to add The Piece as the third straight defenseman on the “Players Who Everybody Thinks Should Be Traded At The Beginning Of The Season, Right Before They Blow It Up” list.

If he truly is a bust, I’m glad I don’t have to find the solution because I don’t know what can be done at this point. Outside of being grateful the salary cap will likely go up a great deal next season.

Q. Marc-Andre Fleury is in the last year of his contract and the Penguins have said they will wait until after the season to make a decision about his future with the franchise. What are your thoughts on this approach by the Penguin, how do you feel Fleury will respond to this? Do you see Fleury in a Penguins uniform after this season?

Beth: I wrote an article on this. I think this is a decision that might not turn out well for them. MAF held up well in the regular and post. Playoff wise he was one of the most consistent players on the ice. I don't think they will find someone that will fit in better with this team. He is an extremely athletic goalie and has a known chemistry with the players. Sometimes that means more than flashy stats.

Liz: Fleury wasn't the only problem with the Pens last season. People loved to blame him when the defense didn't do their job at times. I can’t fault management for taking a ‘wait and see’ attitude but I think it has the potential to blow up in their face if it proves to be too big of a distraction to MAF.

Keenan: I think there's absolutely no reason to discuss an extension with Marc-Andre Fleury before the season, and to be honest I'd be hesitant about resigning him unless he's willing to take less than the $5 million he's currently making. I was high on Thomas Greiss even before he signed in Pittsburgh, and I think this year will function as an audition of sorts for being the guy of the future in Pittsburgh. It's no coincidence that we've seen Jeff Zatkoff, buried on the organizational depth chart in LA, Eric Hartzell, the college free agent out of Quinnipiac who had the interest in half the league, and now Greiss, being overshadowed in both San Jose and Phoenix, all voluntarily decide to throw their hat in the mix. There's a perceived opportunity present in Pittsburgh and I think Greiss has a great chance of capitalizing.

Blystone: The mutual agreement to not pursue a new contract at this time was the best thing for all parties that could have happened. It doesn’t seem that anybody inside the organization or Camp MAF is bothered by it so, to me, it’s a non-issue. Nothing to see here.

To those worried about his status with the team, I would say “Don’t worry.” I would speculate (see also “guess”) that MAF is happy in Pittsburgh and wants to stay here. Everything about his personality just tells me that he would do whatever he could to stay where he’s comfortable.

JimI honestly do not mind this approach from the Pens. As much as I love Fleury, he has been very inconsistent over the past few seasons, and he is a big reason why the team did not go further in the playoffs two of the last three years. He had a big bounce back year last season and seemed to be in a good place mentally. If he duplicates his 2013-14 campaign this season, and I think he will, I fully expect the Pens to offer him and we see him back next season. If he even remotely returns to 2012-13 Fleury, the team will move on and seek out a goalie option costing them much less than Fleury will make next season.

SeanI have no problem at all with the approach.  Sure, you run the risk of another club poaching Fleury in free agency next summer but the gamble provides a year to evaluate the club’s future in net, whether that be in the form of Fleury, Thomas Greiss, a prospect or someone from outside the organization.  In the end, though, I think Fleury responds with a successful season and remains in Pittsburgh.

Asti: When naming the most polarizing Pittsburgh athletes, Marc-Andre Fleury is right up there. Everyone has an opinion on MAF. No one is indifferent to their thoughts on the Penguins career wins leading goalie. There's no doubt MAF has been part of the core of the Crosby era. There's also no doubt MAF has collapsed in playoff games. Patrick Roy and Dominik Hasek had their bad moments too. The life of an NHL goalie is much like one of an NFL quarterback. Just ask people (yinzers) their opinion of Ben Roethlisberger, then scan his resume. You'll be quite confused. When you're playing well and the team is winning, you're loved and praised. When you're playing poorly and the team loses, you're considered the sole reason why and the scape-goat. MAF had one of his best seasons in 2013-2014. Unfortunately, the team did not reach their very high expectations. I fully expect Fleury to collect wins in the regular season, often because of the team he's on, and at times even because of his ability. In 20 years the hockey world is going to view Marc-Andre Fleury much like it does Chris Osgood now. "Wait that average goalie with titles thanks to super-stars has HOW MANY WINS?! Maybe he's a Hall Of Famer?" 

Paul: I do. I feel that Rutherford's approach to all his signings give him maximum flexibility. All one year non-committal deals that will allow him to further sculpt this team into championship form. Not committing to even his starting goal tender can give him (and his 99 assistants) and entire season to make an informed choice. I am not going to over react with this choice but I think it is the right one to make. Most of the current staff on hand don't know Fleury on that intricate level that working with him for almost 10 years like the previous regime gave them. I do think a deal gets done and it will be fair. 40 win goal tenders are not easy to come-by let alone an established franchise goal tender. Other team's in a constant state of flux with thier goaltending would love to have an athletic and consistent net minder like Flower between the pipes.

ChrisI think Fleury will be Fleury. He will be a top flight regular season goalie and a giant question mark in the playoffs. If the Pens make a deep Stanley Cup run - i.e. make it TO the Stanley Cup finals - then i think MAF will get a new deal from the Pens. If the Pens falter and MAF in particular falters then its dicier. The truth is that there aren't a TON of other options out there that are better than MAF.  

Michael: The decision to not extend Marc-Andre Fleury’s contract before the 2014-2015 season appears very calculated.  By all accounts, Fleury loves Pittsburgh and wants to stay with the only team he has ever known while Rutherford would love to milk Fleury’s previous post-season failures into a cap friendly deal that keeps a potential franchise goalie in town while not hampering the cap situation of the entire team (see: Blackhawks, Bruins).

Fleury has the potential to lead the Penguins back to the finals, and the posturing by the organization to not resign him is a business decision.  The Penguins’ top goaltending prospect, Tristan Jarry, is a virtual Fleury clone (for better and for worse), and it’s not inconceivable that Thomas Greiss was brought on to be the bridge netminder between Fleury and Jarry.

Q. The Pens lost both Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen to free-agency this summer. With both Paul Martin and Christian Erhroff being unrestricted free-agents after this season, the Pens have a potential to lose four veteran defensemen to free agency in two summers. Do you think the Pens need to move Paul Martin at some point this year? If so, would any (realistic) potential return coupled with young organizational depth along the blue line be enough to offset the immediate void created on the back end or would this be more of a long-term move? 

Paul:  I do not think they re-sign Martin. He has been the Penguins rock for at least the last two seasons and carries an infectious calm on the ice that makes everyone's job around him easier. As long as there are GM's like McCellan, Nonis, and Treliving a player like Martin will get WCW money to leave the Penguins behind. However, the Penguins have an incredible crop of blue-chip defenseman with the luxury of being developed and not rushed into an NHL level player. We can't keep them in the nest forever and I think we will see some of that this year with the new bosses. If we have them we should use them. Other teams would love to have 6 minor league guys under 20 ready to play an elite level in the NHL.

JimI think moving Paul Martin this season makes a lot of sense. In March, Martin will be 34 years old, and as we have seen, particularly with defenseman, their games tend to drop off of a cliff at some point in their mid-30s. Moving him would free up some cap space so the team could target Ehrhoff this offseason. I think this would be a move for the present and the future. The Pens should get a pretty nice return for Martin, and it would allow some of the young guys like Dumoulin, Ruopp, and Samuelsson to receive more playing time. Also, it would probably mean Despres would be in the top-six. The team needs to make a final determination about him before 2016.

ChrisNo, you don't deal Paul Martin. You re-sign Paul Mart and Erhoff. The Pens need some veteran stability on the blue line to go with their young talented D-men coming up.

Beth:  A lot has been said about moving Paul Martin but I don't see a realistic reason to move him. He works well, he has been with the team and he had a monster year. Don't fix what isn't broken especially since Nisky and Orpik are gone. I think they should keep him around versus being quick to move him. This is of course assuming something doesn't come up that can't be passed on but frankly I can't see that happening. 

Asti: Paul Martin went from hated by literally every Penguins fan, to cheered by literally every Penguins fan, and back again. Such is life as a professional athlete. One of the main issues this team had was defense. The cliche "defense win championships" is a fact in my book. Christian Erhroff was brought in as a veteran, who's been around the block and could be rejuvenated on a contender. Whether to move Martin is more of a wait and see process. If he turns back the clock some to a glimpse of the New Jersey Devil Paul Martin, you keep him. After all, this team does have the self-inflicted pressure of Stanley Cup or bust. Trading Martin is absolutely a longterm move. It can't be done if it disrupts the chances at a championship now, based on mindset this franchise has. That doesn't mean it might not be wise to consider. These are decisions that create drama and become insanely more difficult than usual, when putting a Yankee like stranglehold of pressure on yourself. It's not a negative to be have the MVP, but it can come with unreasonable expectations.

Micheal: Paul Martin is an elite defenseman.  The problems created by Ray Shero hinge on the contracts of Dupuis and Scuderi, and spiting Martin and his tremendous play because of a situation caused by two inferior players (including one at the same position) would be a fool’s errand.

Retaining Paul Martin on a 2-3 year deal should be an organizational priority, although the contracts of both Niskanen and Orpik are proof-positive for Martin’s agent that major money and extended length offers will likely abound from desperate teams.

Trading Martin for any other pieces likely means that the Penguins will emerge as a weaker team as the defensive pairings trickle up to replace his skill and minutes.  Moving Martin should only be considered if the team flounders and post-season success appears highly unlikely.

Keenan: If it wasn't for injuries to Olli Maatta and Derrick Pouliot I think Paul Martin could have potentially been dealt this offseason for a winger capable of contributing. It sounds like a good bet that Ehrhoff will end up signing an extension in January when he's eligible, as I think Rutherford was able to sell him on essentially taking a bridge contract coupled with his buyout from Buffalo so that he wouldn't put the team in a cap crunch this year. I think the decision on Martin this year is going to depend completely on how the season play out, but I think it's more important to let the young guys come up and provide cheap options in the lineup instead of potentially paying to lock up Martin's 35 and 36 year old seasons at the cost of locking up his 37 and possibly 38 year old and beyond seasons as well.

Sean: With Martin likely testing the market next summer, it certainly makes sense.  Replacing the minutes the veteran eats up will prove difficult but the Pens simply can’t afford to watch Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen and Martin walk away over the course of two years without receiving some kind of compensation.  Unless Rutherford et al feel the team is strongly positioned to contend for the Cup without such a move, it almost seems necessary at some point this year.

I guess the potential return will determine whether or not this would represent more of a long-term move or not.  With regards to this season, it won’t be easy to replace what Martin brings to the table.  But, if Rutherford can address the need for another scoring winger with such a move, it may prove worth that loss given the organization’s depth on the blue line.  To me, it ultimately addresses the long-term future, serving as a way to minimize the sting of losing a valuable asset by addressing one of the club’s greatest weaknesses.

BylstoneTheoretically, the Penguins defensive corps was built for exactly what happened this summer. Young defenseman were drafted to be groomed to either step up and play for the NHL squad or bring a premium at the trade deadline. Losing veterans like Orpik and Niskanen was tough, but losing Paul Martin would be devastating to the organization. The only way the team should move Martin is if there seems to be absolutely no hope of re-signing him. At that point, the team will need to switch gears to find a bonafide leader to fill his shoes along the blueline at whatever cost is necessary.

Q. Last year, Olli Maatta came out of nowhere to be one of the top rookie defensemen in the entire NHL. Who do you see having a breakout year for the Penguins this year, if anyone?

Jim: I don't think anyone will have the breakout season Olli Maatta did last year. It certainly doesn't happen very often. I do think Jayson Megna will build on what he was able to do last season. He is a player with good size 6' 1" and close to 200 pounds. He had a knack for going to the net early and often to setup screens and get garbage goals. He also utilized his speed very well to get in on the forecheck. My bold prediction is that by the end of the season, he has found a spot in the top-six for the Penguins. If I had to throw another name out there, I would not be shocked to see Zach Sill be a consistent contributor at the NHL level this season.

I think Kapanen has a great shot at making the team this year. Management went banana sandwich over him at rookie camp and I think they will give him a serious look for a roster spot. Besides that I can't really see anyone else making a huge push to make the squad this year. I made a great case for Zach Sill in a previous article but with the addition of Carcillo I think it makes it that much harder for him to crack the line-up.

Beth: A lot has been said about moving Paul Martin but I don't see a realistic reason to move him. He works well, he has been with the team and he had a monster year. Don't fix what isn't broken especially since Nisky and Orpik are gone. I think they should keep him around versus being quick to move him. This is of course assuming something doesn't come up that can't be passed on but frankly I can't see that happening.

Asti: 2013-2014 saw Olli Maatta be that breakout star, not only for the Penguins, but among the top rookies in the entire NHL. I dare anyone to find a Stanley Cup champion in the last 20+ years that did not have an elite defenseman. Lidstrom, Stevens, Pronger, Blake, Chara, Doughty were arguably the most important names on Stanley Cup winners. Maatta has all the makings of the being that type of blue-line general. 

For a 2014-2015 Penguins prediction, some will say Robert Bortuzzo. If healthy, I'm riding the Bortuzzo train. I wouldn't be surprised if Patric Hornqvist turns it on in his first season in Pittsburgh. Granted, how much can you really "breakout" coming off a 53 point season? 

Micheal: The old regime of Shero and Bylsma hated him, but Simon Despres has the opportunity to match his talent this coming season.  Despres has shown flashes of brilliance in his limited NHL opportunities, and if he could learn to channel that for an entire season, he has the makings of a Top 4 blue liner.

ChrisSimon Despres never really got a shot under Bylsma. I expect the Big Horse will get a big time shot this year. I love Despres size and I think he has matured a lot over the last few seasons. I expect big things out of #47.

Blystone:  What if I told you that Kasperi Kapanen (who I’m assuming everybody who answers the question immediately answers with) isn’t the player that will have a breakout year? Nor will it be Brian Dumoulin. Would you disown me? Instead, the player that will have a breakout year will be a player that has already had a breakout year: Olli Maatta.

Olli had a great year as a rookie but really hit a plateau about three-quarters through the season. That was to be expected given the longer-than-he’s-used-to NHL season coupled with his Bronze medal-winning stint with the Finnish Olympic squad. By all accounts, Olli is one of the smartest, most talented youngsters on the team’s roster. He showed a knack for knowing when to jump in on the play and, given Coach Mike Johnston’s puck possession system, that will allow Maatta to continue his growth.

Sean: First off, I don’t see anyone breaking out the way Maatta did last year.  I mean, the kid wasn’t even supposed to stick in Pittsburgh and he ultimately helped hold a depleted blue line together while garnering some Calder consideration.  I just don’t see lightning striking like that twice.

So, instead of picking another young blue liner to burst out of the stable and onto the NHL scene, I’ll go with Brandon Sutter.  Fresh off of signing a two-year contract extension and a solid playoff performance, the 25-year-old should finally enjoy an opportunity to skate alongside some more talented wingers thanks to a significant upgrade to the bottom-six.  As a result, I wouldn't be surprised to see Sutter build on the 13 goals and 26 points he registered last year. 

Keenan: I think Simon Despres is really going to benefit from the coaching regime and, more importantly, a staff that will hopefully actually display some trust in him. Despres has flashed some offensive skills and a surprising level of physicality. I think as he feels more confident of his space in the lineup he'll feel more comfortable to display his creativity, which I think was stifled a bit in Pittsburgh under Bylsma. I don't think he's going to light the world on fire but I believe he'll do enough to keep himself in the lineup over some of the other defensive prospects.

QThe Penguins traded James Neal to the Nashville Predators for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling. In the end, who do you think will come out as the true winner of this this trade? How do you see Hornqvist and Spaling impacting this team?

Blystone: Both teams won on this deal. Nashville is getting a proven scorer that should compliment new head coach Peter Laviolette’s proposed focus on offense in Music City. James Neal, as we saw, can be his own worst enemy sometimes, but in terms of offensive capabilities, his acquisition alone changes the complexion of the Predators.

Meanwhile, the Pens land a physical forward that’s not afraid to get in the dirty areas in Patric Hornqvist. That’s a player type that this team has been sorely lacking for some time. The Pens also received the Wild Card Nick Spaling in the deal who I find myself highly optimistic about. My guess is that we’ll see Spaling do very well in the bottom six adding very capable offense to those bottom lines.

Sean: Can they both win?  Because, honestly, both teams addressed specific needs with the move.  And, as a result, I’m not sure I necessarily see a clear-cut “winner” and “loser”.

In Neal, Nashville welcomes a pure sniper, a winger with one of the most lethal shots in the NHL.  And, while he’ll no longer benefit from skating alongside Evgeni Malkin, “The Real Deal” will provide the Preds with the kind of goal scorer they’ve been sorely missing for years.

Meanwhile, Hornqvist won’t provide the Pens with the elite shot that Neal brought to the table but he will bring a net-front presence and solid two-way game.  And, while Spaling has taken more than his share of criticism since the trade, he offers a versatile option for the Pens, someone capable of playing literally any position in the bottom-six.

I think Nashville ends up winning that trade and I hope that the Penguins can make it a win-win. For all the bad things about James Neal, he has an elite shot and elite hockey sense in the offensive zone. His ability to work himself open off the puck is under-appreciated, and it seems like his production has been written off as a byproduct of Evgeni Malkin much more than it should be. I think Hornqvist will be a productive player in Pittsburgh, but I question the mindset that he'll see an automatic bump playing on Malkin's wing and his lack of speed worries me a bit as to how he'll fit in with Malkin or Crosby. As for Spaling, he really is a juxtaposition between old school and new school thought, and unfortunately I think there are serious underlying concerns with his possession, usage, and how much of his production is actually sustainable that make it an uphill battle for him to find success in Pittsburgh.

Chris: I don't think either team will win or lose this trade. James Neal isn't a 40 goal scorer without a playmaker like Malkin setting him up. Hornqvist and Spaling are serviceable and provide depth but neither is the sniper that Neal was and is.

Asti: Based on production and numbers, the James Neal trade actually either evens out or favors the Penguins. Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling combined for more scoring than James Neal and his name recognition did alone. It was obvious if Rutherford was going to improve the depth and make the third and fourth lines better, trading Neal was the tool to do it. James Neal still had incredible value as a former 40 goal scorer. He had a greater value to the Nashville Predators than he did to the Pittsburgh Penguins. His attitude and suspensions wore thin with Penguins management. Immediately upon being eliminated by the New York Rangers, a team most felt had a lesser roster than the Penguins, fans said the lack of depth had a lot to do with the outcome and too much is put on Crosby and Malkin. "If Crosby and Malkin don't score the Pens can't win." I'm sure you've heard that sentence uttered many times. Well it was kinda true. Neal may return to form. But Hornqvist and Spaling will produce and the Penguins will be a better overall team with them, so Pittsburgh will win this two for one deal. 

Beth: I strongly feel that there is more to the James Neal situation than we understand or will ever know. Why else would you trade a consistent goal scorer with a mean shot and a chemistry with one of the best players in the world? We all know Malkin and Crosby are capable of elevating the game of the players around them. This will be no exception and the Pens will be the likely winners of this deal assuming there is an underlying reason Neal is gone.

Jim:  I think the Pens will be the big winners in this trade. James Neal had a great release and was a consistent contributor...in the regular season. He, like many others, came up small when it mattered the most. I think  the Pens received two players that are gritty and are not afraid to go to the dirty areas for goals. They play the kind of game that translates well into postseason success. While we won't know for sure until Hornqvist and Spaling take the stage in May, I think fans will be extremely happy with their production when it is all said and done. I also look for Neal to have a severe drop off in Nashville without Geno at the helm. I think his numbers are closer to what he did in Dallas as opposed to here. 

Liz: I would love for Hornqvist to have a 30 goal season but I think Neal will want to prove the Pens were wrong to trade him. I think he’ll have a career year.

MichaelThe Penguins will appear to “win” the trade of Neal for Hornqvist and Spaling, but the truth of the matter is that Hornqvist will now reap the benefits of playing alongside Evgeni Malkin; or, the very reason that James Neal turned into a goal-scoring superstar in the first place.

Again: the lack of an elite center in Nashville will hamper Neal’s production while Hornqvist playing alongside two elite centers will increase his point totals. 

Q. What is this team's biggest strength and biggest weakness going into the 2014-2015 season.

Asti: The Pittsburgh Penguins biggest strength has been, and will continue to be, until his retirement, Sidney Crosby. Having the best player in the world obviously gives your team an added advantage. We've seen Crosby single handily take over games and be that presence the opponent simply doesn't have an answer for. Sidney Crosby, much like Mario Lemieux, opens ice space and increases production for anyone he's playing with. Not only just Crosby, but having another elite exceptional talent, Evgeni Malkin, can have this same effect. If Malkin has his mental game in order, he has a blend of size and skill that goes unmatched.

So much for being positive, yes, the Penguins have star-power to coast to wins in the regular season. That star-power won't win Stanley Cups by itself. There is a such thing as "playoff hockey" and it is the recipe to championships. "Playoff hockey" requires grinding and defense. Los Angeles was able to cripple their opponents, even if Anze Kopitar was not scoring. It's great to use speed and create break-a-ways. It's greater to stop those from happening for your opponent. You know you will get goals with Crosby and Malkin in the lineup. That's not enough for another ring. Being able to roll four legit lines, defending leads, and causing your opponents to adjust themselves to your style is the path to lifting the oldest trophy in sports. 

Liz: The team’s biggest weakness will be the almost overwhelming change since exiting the playoffs. Change is easier for some than others. The biggest strength will be the overwhelming change. Players hoping to hold on to their position or gain a new one will have to bring their ‘A’ game or be left behind.

Jim: As long as Geno and Sid are on the Pens, the biggest strength for this team will continue to be prolific goal-scoring. The pieces can be changed around them, but as long as they remain together, the offense will be top-5 in the NHL. Over the past two seasons, they rank 1 and 2 in terms of points per game. That is crazy. That means the biggest weakness has to be the defense. Rob Scuderi, until he proves otherwise, is a liability. Kris Letang is inconsistent in his own end and hasn't played a full season since 2010-11. Paul Martin has been injury prone 

Blystone: The Penguins’ greatest strength leading into this season would appear to be down the middle. They’ve got two of the greatest players in the sport back-to-back with Brandon Sutter and Marcel Goc both returning to round out the Center corps. Goc was not thought of too highly by fans, but he is a proven center who fits right at home in a number of situations.

If I had to single out a “biggest” weakness, I’d look no further than offensive depth. The Pens will have a stronger group of forwards than they did last year. And they’ll be running a different system. But if they battle the same number of injuries as they did last year, they’re toast. So much emphasis was placed on improving this team at the trade deadline, that the forward positions were essentially ignored for several years. And, as they say, it’s time to pay the piper.

Sean:Without question, Pittsburgh’s greatest strength comes courtesy of the squad’s depth down the middle. In Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the Penguins employ two of the most talented and dominating centers of this generation. Throw in Brandon Sutter, who will look to expand his role beyond a defensive prowess often on display, and Marcel Goc, who will provide an immense upgrade to the fourth line (especially now that he’s healthy).
On the other hand, the club’s greatest weakness exists thanks to a potential lack of scoring wingers. Ultimately, the departures of James Neal and Jussi Jokinen coupled with injuries to Pascal Dupuis and Beau Bennett leave more questions than answers heading into the 2014-’15 season.


Rutherford has quietly made a series of low-risk, low-investment moves that addressed the Penguins’ glaring weakness last season: forward depth.

Downie and Carcillo can both play valuable minutes and play important roles that extend beyond their established pugilistic responsibilities.  The two-for-one trade of Neal also gives the Penguins yet another forward to skate with, and the drafting of Kapanen means that the Penguins will skate out a full roster of legit NHL talent for the first time since the 2012 playoff

ChrisBiggest strength: Up the middle. Obviously. Sid and Geno are 2 of the 5 best players on the planet. That's a damn good start.

Biggest weakness: I think the bottom 6 continues to be the biggest weakness for this team. How good would TK-Staal-Cooke look right now on the 3rd line?

Beth:  Strength? A healthy (and arrest free) Crosby and Malkin. Weakness will be working with a bunch of new players and coaches. Chemistry takes time to build. 

Paul: The team is deep, tough, and skilled. They have 2 of the most skilled forwards in the world and a core of defensemen that can rival any contender this year. The goaltending is solid and even our backup situation improved over last year. The biggest thing that can sink the Penguins is the ability to adapt to change. They have a new staff almost from top to bottom and they need to buy into Johnston's system and the staff has to be ready to manage the stars properly. Just like with any new job, I think there will be growing pains. I just hope the Penguins skill overcomes any periods of adjustment  both have to deal with.

Keenan: Biggest strength, when healthy, I believe will be the defense with a hat tip to the powerplay. Being able to ice Paul Martin, Kris Letang, Christian Ehrhoff, Olii Maatta, Simon Despres, and Bortuzzo/Scuderi as a 6th defenseman will give the team a lot of strength along the blueline, and that's not considering any of the other young players stepping up and standing out like Maatta did last year. I think adding Ehrhoff to a power play that includes Crosby and Malkin will take what's already a very good PP to another level.

As for the biggest weakness, I think it'll be the secondary scoring in the top six outside Crosby and Malkin. Hornqvist isn't likely to score at the same rate as James Neal and at the very least won't be the same threat, Kunitz has strung together a couple of incredible years, but it'll be a lot for him to keep scoring at that rate, and both Dupuis and Bennett are big question marks heading into the regular season.

Q. Looking at the roster right now, give a quick prediction for this team in both the regular season and where you see them finishing in the very end.

Paul: I see them with just under 100 points this year. Malkin and Crosby have stellar years and Hornqvist puts up 30. The team is still trying to find secondary scoring but is alot more responsible on defense. Flower will put up another 40 win season earning us a second Metropolitan Championship. The trade deadeline will be boring for Rutherford and crew not wanting to tie any money into large contracts. The Penguins will fall short of a Stanley Cup and I only say that as a superstitious person. The Penguins, on paper, have just as much chance of anyone winning the Cup the only thing they have to beat is themselves.

Beth:  I once again see them fighting for the top of the East and frankly (depending on trades of course) I once again see them fighting for a trip to the Stanley Cup Finals. Any team that consists of the two best players in the world has a fighting chance and I am not even including a supporting cast of players like Kris Letang and Olli Maatta. 

ChrisI think they win the Metropolitan in the regular season, which means nothing really. In the very end, I believe this team has the talent to make it to the Stanley Cup finals and are helped by playing in the East. If the Pens played in the West they could lose in the first round - easy. I can see a Pens-Bruins series to determine who represents the East in the SC. Just not sure I can see the Pens getting over the hump and actually dispatching the Bruins.

Keenan: This team ran away with the division last year even with the injuries and ineffective play in the bottom six, and I see no reason to predict anything other than a division title considering the players added to shore up the third and fourth lines. They'll likely compete for the top seed in the East and the President's Trophy, and they have the potential to work their way into the title contender discussion.

BlystoneThis is a tough one. This season will not be the cakewalk that it was last year, obviously. The Rangers are better. The Flyers will play better. But given all that has changed within the Penguins’ organization, it’s really hard to predict what they do. But in the spirit of making a prediction:

The Pens will likely come in second place in the Metropolitan division behind the Rangers and barely in front of the Flyers, setting up a fun first round series. I picture the Pens making a go of it, possibly reaching the Conference Finals but not beyond that, given their depth issues.

And fans will largely under-appreciate what a great rebuild took place to get them there.

Jim: I think the Pens run away with the Metropolitan division once again. The Rangers, Blue Jackets, and Capitals will give the Penguins a bit of a run, but they will pull away after the All-Star break. My final prediction, drum roll...I see the Penguins making the Stanley Cup Finals this season. I unfortunately see them falling in seven games to the Colorado Avalanche. Boy, I hope I am wrong, because I don't think this fan base could take it if this prediction comes true!

Asti: Broken record alert! This team did what it had to do in the off-season. This team should be healthier (it be hard to not have more injury luck). Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and even regular season Marc-Andre Fleury get you a division title. Crosby will be the favorite for yet another Hart Trophy (league MVP). As far as will this team win the Stanley Cup goes? No. I just don't see it. Sorry. It doesn't mean the sky is falling. It does mean there is so much parody, at least from a competitive stand point. There's no reason to believe Boston is going anywhere. While the East is clearly the weaker conference and the door is open for the Penguins, the West has the betting odds to hoist Lord Stanley's Cup again. Chicago and Los Angeles could pull off dynasties. The Stanley Cup Playoffs are truly a gauntlet and the most grueling post-season in the major professional sports. If Boston gets upset again and Pittsburgh takes care of business, maybe an Eastern Conference crown and Stanley Cup are possible. I'm just not putting my money on it.

SeanWith all the new faces, this team will likely experience some growing pains this season.  And, while they aren’t likely to enjoy a double-digit lead in the division standings throughout the year, I wouldn’t be surprised to see them fighting next April for another Metropolitan title.  They might not produce another 109-point campaign but that may not be necessary in this division.

To truly challenge for the club’s fourth Cup, though, I think they need to find a way to add a piece or two that will serve to flank Sid and/or Geno.  As currently constructed, I could see them winning a round or two but I think it’ll ultimately prove tough to get out of the East without a little more help up front.

MichealGiven the relatively weak status of the Eastern Conference, the Penguins will invariably make the playoffs and have the opportunity to progress to at least the Conference Finals.

Expect the Penguins’ biggest rival in 2014-2015 to be the New York Islanders: the Pens and Isles should easily be the Metropolitan Division’s best two teams and should battle it out for the divisional crown.

Liz: I’m really bad at prediction. I've never really concentrated on some of the new guy’s play. Any prediction would be pure emotion. Go Pens! 

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