After the NHL Draft, free agency and other offseason moves, NHL.com is taking a look at where each team stands. Today, the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are set up for a run at a Stanley Cup repeat, looking to become the first back-to-back NHL champions since the Detroit Red Wings in 1997 and 1998.
Nobody is saying the Penguins will have it easy or that they are the runaway favorites to win again, but they do appear to have all the ingredients necessary to go for it.
The Penguins have most of the same players returning and, barring injuries, their roles should be set under coach Mike Sullivan.
Unlike in previous years, Pittsburgh won't be trying to work a handful of new players into the lineup at the start of the season. On opening night, it could have 18 of the 20 players who dressed for the Cup-clinching 3-1 win against the San Jose Sharks in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final on June 12. (The two players missing are defenseman Ben Lovejoy, who signed with the New Jersey Devils, and center Matt Cullen, who is an unrestricted free agent.)
The blow of losing Lovejoy shouldn't be felt because the Penguins will welcome back defenseman Trevor Daley, who didn't play after Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Final because of a fractured left ankle.
If Cullen, who turns 40 on Nov. 2, signs elsewhere or retires, he could be replaced by Oskar Sundqvist, a third-round pick (No. 81) in the 2012 NHL Draft who got an apprenticeship on the Penguins roster during the Cup run, playing in two postseason games.
The Penguins could have some more young players ready to make the jump to the NHL at some point, like forwards Conor Sheary, Bryan Rust and Tom Kuhnhackl did last season.
The only real question is, who will be the starting goalie when they open the season against the Washington Capitals at Consol Energy Center on Oct. 13? Matt Murray and Marc-Andre Fleury are on target to split time this season, but it's fair to wonder if that can last.
Even if it doesn't, the goaltending should be a strength, putting the Penguins in position to make a run at the repeat.
Video: SJS@PIT, Gm5: Murray denies a pair of shots
Here is what the Penguins look like today:
KEY ARRIVALS: David Warsofsky, D: That the 26-year-old, who probably will start the season with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton of the American Hockey League, leads off the key arrivals is telling of how little turnover there has been from the championship roster. Warsofsky, who signed a one-year, two-way contract, will be hard-pressed to make the team out of training camp if everyone stays healthy. He has five points in 32 career NHL games and ended last season with the Devils. … Cameron Gaunce, D: Another candidate to be on the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton blue line, he's 26 and signed a one-year, two-way contract. He had 35 assists and 37 points in 75 games last season with Portland of the AHL, the Florida Panthers' affiliate. … Garrett Wilson, F: After signing a one-year, two-way contract on July 7, he's also likely targeted for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. He did not score a point in 29 games with the Panthers last season.
KEY DEPARTURES: Ben Lovejoy, D: He signed a three-year, $8 million contract with the Devils on July 1. Lovejoy was a consistent and key member of the Penguins defense, playing on the right side of the second pair with Olli Maatta in the Cup Final and on the third pair with Ian Cole prior to Daley's injury. Lovejoy was expendable because the Penguins are deep on defense, especially with the return of Daley. Instead of signing Lovejoy, the Penguins re-signed defenseman Justin Schultz to a one-year, $1.4 million contract. … Matt Cullen, F: That Cullen made an impact last season was not surprising. That he did so by scoring 16 goals with 16 assists in 82 games was something the Penguins did not see coming when they signed him to a one-year contract in August. Cullen was an excellent fourth-line center for Pittsburgh, especially because he won a lot of key faceoffs in the defensive zone. The possibility remains that he could return. … Beau Bennett, F: The Penguins traded Bennett to the Devils for a third-round pick in the 2016 draft. Bennett was selected in the first round (No. 20) by the Penguins in the 2010 draft, but his time was marked by injuries that limited him to 129 NHL games in four seasons. He appeared in one playoff game last season. … Jeff Zatkoff, G: The backup signed a two-year contract with the Los Angeles Kings, who drafted him in 2006. The emergence of Murray allowed the Penguins to part with Zatkoff.
ON THE CUSP: Oskar Sundqvist, F: The 22-year-old is entering his second professional season in North America. He had four points in 18 games with the Penguins and 17 points in 45 games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. … Daniel Sprong, F: The 46th pick in the 2015 draft made the opening-night lineup but didn't last. He had two goals in 18 games before he got sent back to his junior team, Charlottetown in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He played for Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in the Calder Cup Playoffs and had five goals in 10 games. … Jake Guentzel, F: The 77th pick in the 2013 draft signed his three-year, entry-level contract May 23 after scoring a team-high 14 points in 10 playoff games for Wilkes/Barre-Scranton. He had six points in 11 regular-season games after signing an AHL tryout contract following his junior season at the University of Nebraska-Omaha, where he had 119 points in 108 games over three seasons. The 21-year-old is 5-foot-10, 167 pounds.
Video: OTT@PIT: Sprong goes top-shelf for first NHL goal
WHAT THEY STILL NEED: The Penguins need to figure out their goaltending situation. The plan is for Murray and Fleury to split time, but eventually this situation has to be resolved because Fleury's no-movement clause in his contract prevents him from being exposed in the expansion draft after this season. That means if the Penguins have both goalies on their roster they would have to leave Murray exposed for potential selection by Las Vegas unless Fleury waives the clause. General manager Jim Rutherford said at no point this offseason has he actively sought a trade for Fleury, but he knows the status quo can't last. It's possible the situation resolves itself either through injury or performance. The other thing to consider is the impact on the goalies if they have to split time. Neither is accustomed to that, which could make it difficult to keep each happy and at his peak performance level.
PETE JENSEN'S FANTASY FOCUS: Rarely do you see such an unclear goalie situation from the defending Stanley Cup champions, but that's where we stand with Murray and Fleury. You know the script by now: Murray won the starting job with Fleury injured down the stretch of the regular season and was responsible for 15 of their 16 postseason wins with a .931 even-strength save percentage, shades of Cam Ward's rookie season with the Carolina Hurricanes in 2006. That said, fantasy owners must temper expectations for Murray, a fringe top 10 fantasy goalie, as long as Fleury, one of the best regular-season goalies of the past decade, is on the roster. Here's a solution: Draft Murray and Fleury; the Penguins and Tampa Bay Lightning have the best goalie tandems in the NHL right now.
Conor Sheary - Sidney Crosby - Patric Hornqvist
Chris Kunitz - Evgeni Malkin - Bryan Rust
Carl Hagelin - Nick Bonino - Phil Kessel
Tom Kuhnhackl - Oskar Sundqvist - Eric Fehr
Brian Dumoulin - Kris Letang
Olli Maatta - Trevor Daley
Ian Cole - Justin Schultz