2014 Pittsburgh Penguins Predictions and NHL Futures Odds
by Trevor Whenham - 10/6/2014
We know two things about the Pittsburgh Penguins heading into this season. First, they are the most talented team in the Eastern Conference - at least. With Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin headlining a deep and talented roster, that is all but a given. Second, we know that all the talent in the world doesn't matter anymore in Pittsburgh. They have been among the best teams in the conference for a long time but haven't won a Cup - or really threatened for one - since 2009. It hasn't been good enough, and until they prove that they are capable of doing much better it will only make sense to maintain a healthy skepticism towards this team.
The team certainly knows how much they have underperformed, and this year above all others they did something dramatic about it. Both general manager Ray Shero and coach Dan Bylsma were booted. Jim Rutherford, who was the only GM the Carolina Hurricanes had ever had before this year, has taken over the team. He brings a world of experience to the post. As long as he still has a spark for the game in this new challenge, he will be an upgrade. After all, he won a Stanley Cup in Carolina with far inferior talent to what he has here. One of his early moves was to bring in Mike Johnston as head coach. He had led Portland of the Western Hockey League to real success and was a popular coaching prospect. Success in junior hockey doesn't always translate - Dale Hunter didn't do well in Washington. On the other hand, Patrick Roy was an instant success in the NHL last year after learning the game in junior.
Pittsburgh Penguins Offseason Moves
Rutherford knew that the salary cap was a bit of a concern for the team, so he made a bold move to get some breathing room. He traded forward James Neal, who had 61 points in 59 games last year, to the Nashville Predators. In return he received Patric Hornqvist, a forward who had 53 points in 76 games and has a lot more offensive upside to realize, and Nick Spaling, another forward who had 26 points in 71 games last year as a 24 year old. Neal will be missed, but the value in return was solid.
Beyond that, the biggest addition was defenseman Christian Ehrhoff. He was bought out of his contract in Buffalo after a frustrating stay there. He is only 32, though, and is better than he showed. In camp he has shown strong chemistry with top Pittsburgh defenseman Kris Letang, and he could prove to be a bargain for $4 million over one year. Steve Downie and Blake Comeau were added to add depth up front, and Thomas Greiss will act as the new backup quarterback.
Kasperi Kapanen, the first round selection of the Penguins in the 2014 NHL Draft, has been playing against men in Finland, so the transition to the NHL is smoother for him than some other youngsters. He has looked strong in camp and will have a role on this team - at least at the start of the year.
Pittsburgh Penguins NHL Outlook
Can Malkin and Crosby stay healthy? Can Marc-Andre Fleury play up to his potential? Will this team be willing to do whatever it takes to win, or will they lapse into the old habits of relying on their skill advantage? Can Johnston make the leap to coaching in the NHL? There are a whole lot of questions here, but they are still the best team in the East. It is their conference to lose - and they certainly could lose it if they aren't a different team than we have become used to.
Pittsburgh Penguins Schedule
Starting on Nov. 4, the Penguins play eight of 10 games on the road. There are a few tough games - Minnesota, Montreal and Boston - but for the most part it is a manageable stretch of games. It is a chance for the team to really make an early-season statement - or to raise concerns if they aren't on their game.
Pittsburgh Penguins NHL Futures Odds (from Bovada)
The Penguins are tied with the St. Louis Blues as the fifth choice to win the Stanley Cup at 12/1. There is decent value in that price - at least compared to some teams above them. They are the second choice to win the Eastern Conference at 9/2 behind only Boston at 7/2, and they are the runaway favorite to win the Metropolitan Division at even money compared to 4/1 for the Rangers.
2014-15 Pittsburgh Penguins Predictions
I like this team a lot. They have no shortage of talent, but Bylsma had been unable to get the best out of them lately. I believe in Johnston, and the change was needed. Goaltending is a mild concern, but they have depth and talent enough to overcome that. They are going to win the Eastern Conference regular season title this year - and I like their chances of repeating the feat in the playoffs. I don't love the chances of any team in the East against the best of the West, though.
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