Kevin Allen has seen a lot of hockey in more than two decades of covering the NHL.
So when he writes, you read.
Penguins fans will like what he wrote in the USA Today on Monday – the Penguins will win the Stanley Cup. Click HERE to read the article.
“My thought process is this: The Eastern Conference is really wide open, probably more so than it’s been in the history of the NHL,” Allen said. “If you look at what happened in the offseason, Buffalo was a good team and they got hit hard. New Jersey was a good team and they got hit hard by free agency as well. The two other playoff teams, the Rangers and Atlanta, both lost players and the bottom teams got better. I think the Penguins proved themselves as well. With it being wide open, I think there is a real shot for the Penguins to rise up and win that Eastern Conference. If you can win that Eastern Conference, I think you’ve got a shot. Anything can happen.”
Allen believes the leadership of Sidney Crosby, who became the youngest captain in the history of the NHL this summer, will play a key role in Pittsburgh’s drive to the top.
“I have a lot of faith in Sidney Crosby as a leader. I just think there hasn’t been too many, if any, players as young as him who really know what it takes to be a flag carrier for an NHL,” Allen said.
But, Crosby isn’t the only weapon in the Penguins’ arsenal.
“I said early that they really did remind me of the Edmonton Oilers of the 1980s and I still believe that. I was covering the league back then. In addition to Gretzky, they had Kurri, Messier, Glenn Anderson, Paul Coffey and Grant Fuhr,” Allen said. “When I look at the Penguins, everyone talks about Crosby, but they have Evgeni Malkin, Jordan Staal and now they have added a dangerous offensive player in Petr Sykora. They have Ryan Whitney, who has developed and I think exceeded expectations. They have Fleury, who, in my opinion, is at a young age better than a young Fuhr was. He still has a lot to prove that he can be a Grant Fuhr because Grant Fuhr was an unbelievable big-game player. But, I think the potential is there.”
The talent and experience of last season’s playoff push gave Allen the confidence to believe the Penguins will win it all this season.
“It didn’t take the Oilers all that long to get to the top. I think, because of that, the Penguins can do that. Even though it’s a different style of play in a different era, I think the salary cap era changes everything. I think, with all the turnover on the teams, there is an opportunity when you have talent to rise up. I think the Penguins have talent,” he said. “ Historically, you have to lose before you can win. You have to really go through the torturous process of knowing the feeling of losing in the playoffs. Maybe we are a year too early, you never know, but I do think, from what they’ve learned last year and the improvement the team had, this is going to be a breakthrough year.”
In addition, he believes another year of playing in head coach Michel Therrien’s system will benefit the Penguins.
“I think it’s been a long time since we used the word ‘system’ in connection with a Penguins team. It really did seem like shinny or pond hockey for years in Pittsburgh,” Allen said. “Now, suddenly we have structure to the defensive system. I thought it was evident last year with some of the moves that were made. I think people didn’t see Therrien as a good fit for this team, particularly with a new general manager coming in. But, I think he’s proven everyone was wrong. I think they’ve performed well under him and, for now, I’d say he’s the right coach for this team. He seems to have them playing pretty well defensively.
“I think they do have some structure and a defense that is capable of shutting other teams down.”
Allen believes the additions of veterans Petr Sykora and Darryl Sydor will pay dividends.
“I think Sykora is a dangerous player. I like that addition. You can’t be afraid of adding more talent to a talented team. I say that because I think there are people who say, ‘Well you have Staal, Malkin and Crosy, let’s strengthen the defense,’” he said. “I think you need to strengthen your strength and I think that’s what Ray Shero did. He brought in another guy who will fit in well with that grouping.
“He didn’t ignore the defense. I think Sydor is a veteran guy who has been around the block and been involved in championships and knows what needs to be done,” he continued. “We shouldn’t underestimate the impact Ray Shero has had. I think he has really brought a layer of professionalism to this organization. He has a very modern approach. He understands the need for a sophisticated scouting system and a lot of technical improvements the team has undergone in the last few years. I think the Penguins are now current with all those. I think he has done a great job identifying what the Penguins’ needs were.”
And, the future looks bright for the Penguins with young defenseman Kris Letang waiting in the wings as well as 2007 first-round draft choice Angelo Esposito in the system.
“I like Letang quite a bit. I think he could be a real x-factor for this team. When you have a puck mover that is coming on the horizon. I think he will fit pretty well,” Allen said. “Esposito, that is such a bonus find for this team – particularly with the salary cap era, where you don’t know if you can keep all your talent. I think there’s a misconception among fans that the salary cap is designed for teams to keep all their talent. That’s not really true. It’s really designed for a turnover of talent so there are a lot of players available to teams, who can get better quickly. Who knows if the Penguins can keep everyone together? Well, if you have a player like Esposito waiting in the wings, if you lost one of your premium players, you believe he can step up.”
All of those factors, and many more, are enough to convince Allen. However, he knows the Penguins need to catch a few breaks along the way to claim the Stanley Cup.
“I just like everything about the pick. Now, will they need some breaks and a little bit of luck to win? Absolutely. What NHL team hasn’t needed that to win the Cup?” he said. “If you look historically at the Cup winners, they have been the teams that have stayed injury free. I think that will be the same for the Penguins. They need a healthy Crosby, Malkin and Staal and Whitney. If those guys can’t stay healthy, it’ll make things difficult for this team.”
While Allen remains neutral when it comes to rooting for NHL teams, he looks forward to his Pittsburgh visits.
“Pittsburgh has always been one of my favorite places. I think writers don’t have favorite teams they root for, but they do have places they like to visit and they do like to go to arenas where they know it’s going to be exciting,” he said. “Having gone to Pittsburgh now for more than 20 years and watching games there, I know when I go to Pittsburgh, there will be a buzz about the team. I am very happy about that and I hope they succeed this season and they do well because you want to write about exciting teams.”
This year, Penguins fans hope Allen will be writing about a third Stanley Cup championship in Pittsburgh.(Click HERE for Allen's article on the Penguins in USA Today)