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Penguins have legitimate chance to three-peat as Stanley Cup champions

Fresh off second straight title, Pittsburgh is in position to win again next season

by Dan Rosen @drosennhl / NHL.com Senior Writer

NASHVILLE -- The repeat is complete. Now for the follow up question.

Can the Pittsburgh Penguins three-peat?

"Why not?" defenseman Ian Cole wrote in his Stanley Cup Final player blog.

Why not indeed.

The NHL hasn't had a team win the Stanley Cup in three consecutive seasons since the New York Islanders won four in a row from 1980-83. The Penguins might be the team to do it.

 

[RELATED: How Penguins won Stanley Cup | Complete Stanley Cup Final coverage]

 

Before we go there, though, let's remember there is always talk of a three-peat after a team wins two championships in a row.

There was after the Edmonton Oilers won in 1984 and 1985, but the Calgary Flames got in their way in 1986 before the Oilers won back-to-back again in 1987 and 1988. They traded Wayne Gretzky to the Los Angeles Kings after the 1988 run and the talk of a three-peat died immediately.

The Penguins, with Mario Lemieux, were poised to win their third straight in 1993. They won the Presidents' Trophy with 119 points, but the New York Islanders ruined their bid when David Volek scored the overtime winner in Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

Video: Can the Penguins win for a third straight year

And there was talk of it after the Detroit Red Wings repeated as Stanley Cup champions in 1998. Like the Penguins with Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Phil Kessel and Kris Letang returning next season, the Red Wings had Steve Yzerman, Sergei Fedorov, Brendan Shanahan and Nicklas Lidstrom coming back in 1998-99.

Detroit lost to the Colorado Avalanche in the Western Conference Semifinals.

Repeating is hard. Winning three in a row? Is there any real reason to go there?

Yes, with these Penguins there is a reason. Many reasons.

If the NHL salary cap remains at or close to $73 million for next season, a distinct possibility, the Penguins would have approximately $13 million to work with, according to CapFriendly.com. That doesn't count the additional $5.75 million they may save if goalie Marc-Andre Fleury gets picked by the Vegas Golden Knights or traded. Either way, it's unlikely Fleury will return.

But the key is in what they have coming back.

They have coach Mike Sullivan, who with the players he has might be the best coach in the NHL right now.

Video: The crew breaks down Sullivan's impact on the Pens

The Penguins still have Crosby, Malkin, Kessel and Letang. All four are still in their prime. Letang is expected to return healthy after missing the entire 2017 Stanley Cup Playoffs following neck surgery.

Goalie Matt Murray is 23 years old and has won the Stanley Cup twice already. He might get better if he stays healthy. Tristan Jarry would be slated to be Murray's backup if Fleury is gone, but the Penguins could sign a veteran to compete for that role with Jarry.

Left wing Jake Guentzel, who is still on his entry-level contract, will be ready for his first full NHL season after scoring 13 goals in the playoffs. He could be Crosby's linemate for years.

Right wing Bryan Rust is also signed for one more season with a $640,000 cap charge. He scored 15 goals in 57 games this season.

The Penguins have veteran forwards Patric Hornqvist, he of the Stanley Cup-clinching goal in Game 6 against the Nashville Predators, and Carl Hagelin each signed for one more season. Forwards Scott Wilson and Carter Rowney, as well as defensemen Olli Maatta and Cole, should also be back.

Pittsburgh has five restricted free agents it likely will sign, including forward Conor Sheary and defensemen Justin Schultz and Brian Dumoulin. Figure all three will receive a raise, so that will eat into the Penguins' available cap room. They're worth it.

Forwards Oskar Sundqvist and Josh Archibald are the other two restricted free agents.

Defensemen Trevor Daley, Ron Hainsey, Mark Streit and Chad Ruhwedel can become unrestricted free agents on July 1. It's possible the Penguins bring one or two back, but they could let them all go and restock their blue line in a different way.

They already have a top pair in Letang and Dumoulin and a solid second or third pair with Schultz and Cole. Maatta would ideally need a right-handed defenseman to play with.

The rest can be filled in with cheaper depth pieces, or maybe the Penguins are ready to give Derrick Pouliot, their first-round pick in 2012, a chance to crack the lineup. He is a lefty, though.

Forwards Chris Kunitz, Nick Bonino and Matt Cullen are also unrestricted free agents.

Video: PIT@NSH, Gm6: Kunitz on earning another Cup title

Cullen, 40, is likely going to retire, although he hasn't officially announced it yet.

Bonino is at the end of a three-year, $5.7 million contract. He's 29 and could hit a big payday in his next contract. He could potentially double his $1.9 million cap charge and that might be too rich for the Penguins, especially if Sundqvist is ready to be a full time NHL player.

Kunitz is an interesting one because he'll be 38 when next season starts and he's coming off a three-year contract that carried a $3.85 million cap charge. He isn't what he once was, but he can still be a regular in the lineup and he can still occasionally play with Crosby too.

Forwards Daniel Sprong, Dominik Simon and Jean-Sebastien Dea might be ready to push for roster spots too.

The Penguins have the stars, the coach, the goalie, the depth and the cap space to put together another championship team.

A three-peat? Yeah, why not.

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