It's not time to panic yet in Pittsburgh by any means, but things are getting a little more desperate for the squad. Crosby and Malkin are inching towards 30, and the team has made a science lately of two things -- bad luck with injuries and wasting potential in the playoffs. With two of the four or five best offensive players in the world on the same team, they really should have more to show for it than they have. They have struggled to figure out how all the parts fit together, though, and yet again this year they have made some changes to try to make it work and put together a run. But have they done enough? Will this year be any different than what has come before?
Pittsburgh Penguins Offseason Moves
This was the most aggressively they have moved to try to find a playing partner for Sidney Crosby. He's the best player in the world, but he is far from easy to play with. Former Maple Leaf Phil Kessel is the latest guy to get a shot at pulling it off. You can't argue about the price -- the Leafs are paying $1.2 million of his salary per year, and the Penguins didn't have to give up one of their top two prospects to land him. He's a very talented offensive player, but he also has a reputation for being lazy, far from traditionally fit and not great in the dressing room. If he can fit in and find chemistry then he could be truly dangerous. It didn't work in Toronto very well, though, so it remains to be seen how good this deal is.
The team also shifted around the defense, getting rid of Christian Ehrhoff and Paul Martin and getting younger by adding Adam Clendening and Tim Erixon as
depth. The biggest change, though, is that likely top pairing Kris Letang and Olli Maatta are healthy unlike last year. That's essentially like an
acquisition, and it improves the defensive outlook. The last area of significant shuffling for the team was with the bottom six forwards. Out are Brandon
Sutter, Steve Downie, Blake Comeau and Nick Spaling. In their place come guys like Nick Bonino, Matt Cullen, Eric Fehr and Sergei Plotnikov. Plotnikov is
an interesting piece -- a 25-year-old Russian making his NHL debut after a decent KHL career. If he could find chemistry with countryman Evgeni Malkin he
could be very useful. Add it all up and, aside from Kessel, the moves are solid but nothing to get too excited about at this point.
Pittsburgh Penguins NHL Outlook
The defense isn't an elite unit -- though it should be better with Letang back and youngster Derrick Pouliot maturing. It doesn't need to be, though, if two other things can be accomplished. If the team can figure out their top six forwards, and find chemistry with the top two centers, then they will be able to score plenty and the defense will bear less of a burden. Also, we can't help but look, yet again, at Marc-Andre Fleury. We know the goalie is likely to be solid in the regular season -- he always is. He has consistently disappointed in crunch time, though, and so we almost have to expect another postseason misstep or three from him. The team remains all-in on Fleury -- the backups are underwhelming. He needs to be the best he has been, though, for this team to reach their best.
Pittsburgh Penguins Schedule
The Pens have a real chance to make a statement out of the gate this year. They open with two potentially easier games -- at Dallas and Arizona. Then they settle in for a nice five-game homestand -- their longest of the year. This team has a chance to build an early lead. They won't want to be coming from behind late -- four of their final five games of the season are away from home, and none are likely easy.
Pittsburgh Penguins NHL Futures Odds (from Bovada)
At +1400, the Penguins are tied with the Blues as the sixth choice to win the Stanley Cup. They are the third choice at +700 to win the Eastern Conference and the second choice to win the Metropolitan Division at +325 behind only the Rangers.
2015-16 Pittsburgh Penguins Predictions
Maybe it's because I have been burned too many times by this team when it matters, but I am not a believer. Don't get me wrong, they will be pretty good and they will score -- Crosby has a good shot at leading the league in scoring. I don't trust Kessel to be a part of a winner, though, I don't think the defense measures up to the best of the division -- never mind the conference -- and ultimately I don't trust Fleury. This will be a playoff team, and they could win a series or even two, but they are not going to win the East. Another frustrating season for the Penguins ultimately.
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Read more articles by Trevor Whenham
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