Once Crosby returned, the Pittsburgh Penguins were whole again. They also racked up goals like a juggernaut, and became a near-consensus favorite to win the Stanley Cup for the second time in four seasons. As the regular season ended, their work at the defensive end of the rink eroded and the Philadelphia Flyers exposed Pittsburgh in a wild first-round playoff series.
2012-13 Penguins Fantasy Team Preview
Under-valued: Marc-Andre Fleury - Struggled in playoffs (4.63 GAA in six games), but was NHL.com's fourth rated fantasy goalie at season's end thanks to his 42 wins and 2.36 GAA -- expect more of the same on elite Pens' group.
Over-valued: Pascal Dupuis - Averaged just 23 seconds of PP time per game last season, but was a dominant even-strength player with career-highs in goals (25), assists (34), plus/minus (plus-18) and shots on goal (214). Not likely to repeat at the age of 33.
Sleeper: Tyler Kennedy - Regressed to just 11 goals and 33 points in 60 games last season after recording 21 goals and 45 points in 2010-11. If starting season on Crosby's line, Kennedy could be a nice bounce-back candidate.
General manager Ray Shero broke up Pittsburgh's "Big Three" this offseason, trading Jordan Staal to the Carolina Hurricanes, but netting solid No. 3 center Brandon Sutter and two nice defense prospects in return. Zbynek Michalek was also traded to clear salary-cap space. Shero took a home run cut at free agency, trying to lure Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to Western Pennsylvania before they ended up with the Minnesota Wild.
Shero did add goaltender Tomas Vokoun, but Michalek's replacement is expected to come from within. Pittsburgh can be a Cup contender again, but the Penguins need to prove their collapse against the rival Flyers was an anomaly and behind them.
NOTES: Like the other teams that missed out on Parise and Suter, the Penguins of early August may not look exactly like the team on opening night, or certainly the one in early March. Shero still has nearly $10 million of salary-cap space, according to Capgeek.com, so that extra frontline forward or defenseman could be forthcoming.
Kunitz, Malkin and Neal were one of the top lines in hockey last season, but don't be surprised if Kunitz returns to his previous post next to Crosby and Dupuis. The internal candidates for the final spot in the top six include Cooke, Kennedy, Tangradi and Jeffrey.
Adding Sutter and a full season from Crosby will make up for losing Staal, and Vokoun is an upgrade behind Fleury in net. The questions about the team's commitment to defense in front of the goaltenders will linger for a while, and it will be interesting to see if Simon Despres, or one of the other young rearguards in Pittsburgh's burgeoning stable, can replace or even be an upgrade from Michalek.
There will be heavy scrutiny of Fleury's early-season work. Ditto for Martin, and whoever ends up in the top six forwards.