Evgeni Malkin became the League's MVP, and linemate James Neal also earned First Team All-Star honors. Sidney Crosby came back from injury (twice), and piled up points.
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. But as the regular season ended, the Penguins' defense struggled and the Philadelphia Flyers topped Pittsburgh in six games in a wild first-round series.
General manager Ray Shero broke up Pittsburgh's "Big Three" this offseason, trading Jordan Staal to Carolina, but netting a solid No. 3 center in Brandon Sutter and two nice defense prospects in return. Zbynek Michalek was also traded to clear salary cap space. Shero also took a home run cut at free agency, trying to lure Zach Parise and Ryan Suter to Western Pennsylvania before they ended up in Minnesota.
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.
Chris Kunitz- Sidney Crosby - Pascal Dupuis
Matt Cooke - Evgeni Malkin - James Neal
Eric Tangradi - Brandon Sutter - Tyler Kennedy
Tanner Glass - Joe Vitale - Dustin Jeffrey
Brooks Orpik - Kris Letang
Paul Martin - Matt Niskanen
Simon Despres - Deryk Engelland
Ben Lovejoy - Brian Strait
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 still 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. 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.
Follow Corey Masisak on Twitter: @cmasisak22
Author: Corey Masisak | NHL.com Staff Writer