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Penguins turning page, looking ahead to next season

Could face challenge of winning third straight Stanley Cup championship without key players

by Wes Crosby / NHL.com Correspondent

PITTSBURGH -- The Pittsburgh Penguins won't celebrate their second consecutive Stanley Cup championship for long.

The Penguins have enjoyed the past few days since winning the Cup with a 2-0 win against the Nashville Predators in Game 6 on Sunday. After they leave for the offseason, though, the players expect to turn their attention toward next season. 

"You have to be able to turn the page at some point and make sure that you're doing the right things to get ready," captain Sidney Crosby said. "I think everybody is competitive and they knew we had another opportunity. You have to enjoy it, for sure, but you have to be professional too and make sure you're ready for the next season.

"I think guys did a great job of balancing all that [last offseason], and you can see the result we get."

At the end of the Penguins' championship parade Wednesday, coach Mike Sullivan said he would like them to three-peat. None of the players, including Crosby, scoffed at that idea.

"I think that has to be your mindset," Crosby said. "You can't go in there expecting anything different. Our expectations are always high, so I think that for all the guys who are going to be back, that should be our goal."

Sullivan said he mentioned a three-peat as an opportunity to throw out a challenge to Pittsburgh's core players.

Video: Can the Penguins win for a third straight year?

"We're certainly enjoying it," Sullivan said." It's such a hard championship to win. We're so proud of this group of players that we have and we're enjoying the moment, for sure.

"[A three-peat] will be our goal and that will be our expectation. We're going to enjoy this championship for a little bit of time, but it won't be long before we turn the page and we start looking to next season."

That could be more difficult than it was a year ago, when the Penguins were able to return the 2016 championship roster nearly intact. This time, Pittsburgh is almost guaranteed to lose a few key pieces in the upcoming months.

The Penguins will lose one player to the Vegas Golden Knights at the NHL Expansion Draft on June 21. Forward Chris Kunitz and defenseman Trevor Daley each could leave if he becomes an unrestricted free agent July 1. Forward Matt Cullen, 40, could retire following his 20th NHL season. Defensemen Ron Hainsey and Mark Streit also could leave in free agency.

"I've played the game for a long time and I love the game of hockey," Cullen said. "At a certain point, you have to make the decision and I think there's more to it than just the hockey stuff. Obviously, you want to be able to be an important player to the team. I appreciate the opportunity to be that here.

"It's weighing the balance and figuring out what's the best for the family and what's the best for you."

Kunitz, 37, who has played the past nine seasons with the Penguins, said he has not considered retiring.

"Obviously, we love it here," Kunitz said. "We've obviously enjoyed our time, but I would never like to close the door on anything. You have to understand that what we do is a business. You go out there, you try to see what your interest is in other teams and how you fit in this team."

Video: Jason Mackey on the Penguins' Stanley Cup win

General manager Jim Rutherford said he hasn't ruled out keeping any player who could be unrestricted.

"All the unrestricted free agents, I met with them and told them we're not going to close the door on any of them," Rutherford said. "But with the cap the way it is, it's tight fitting guys in. We're not going to be able to fit everybody in, so what I suggested is they get their agent to go to market on July 1 and see what's out there, and then if they want to come back to the Penguins, come back and say 'This is what we got.'"

For the players who know they'll be back, their focus is solely on going on another lengthy run next season.

"We're going to try," forward Phil Kessel said.

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