Penguins general manager Ray Shero and head coach Dan Bylsma will have a lot of decisions to make in the coming days and beyond regarding the franchise.
Penguins superstar and reigning NHL MVP Evgeni Malkin has yet to join the team for training camp, although he will very soon.
Malkin has been playing in the Kontinental Hockey League for his hometown Magnitogorsk. He left the team last Sunday after the NHL and NHLPA came to an agreement on terms of a new collective bargaining agreement. Since then, Malkin has been all over the map, literally.
“He’s on his way, we anticipate him being in Pittsburgh (Sunday),” Shero said. “(Malkin’s) last game was last Sunday against Slovakia. He went back to Moscow and then back home, so he’s had quite a bit of traveling this week. I look forward to getting him back.”
Shero added that Malkin will be back with the team on Monday.
In the absence of Malkin, Dustin Jeffrey slid into the center spot on the second line for Sunday’s practice. Jeffrey’s wingmen were Eric Tangradi and James Neal.
Bylsma said those wingers will likely stay together upon Malkin’s reassertion.
“Evgeni will take Dustin Jeffrey’s spot as center on that line,” Bylsma said. “Eric Tangradi will be on the left and James Neal will be on the right.”
The Penguins have nine defensemen with them in training camp. One of the many factors in the team’s decision on which blueliners remain with the team to start the season is waivers.
Eight of the nine defensemen in camp would need to clear waivers if they were returned to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, the lone exception being Simon Despres.
While it may not be likely, both Shero and Bylsma said the team could possibly retain eight defensemen to start the season.
“They’ll have to sort themselves out. It’ll be up to the coaching staff on who they want to start with,” Shero said. “There is a possibility we could start with eight defensemen, but I’m pretty certain we’re not starting with nine.”
“I anticipate having to make some decisions based on the fact that we have guys that have to go through waivers when we do go down to eight or seven,” Bylsma said. “It certainly will play into it. Eight is a lot of defensemen to have at one time.”
With the shortened schedule, Bylsma said that Tomas Vokoun would see a pretty healthy amount of games, but Marc-Andre Fleury would get the bulk of the workload.
“In the last 48-game season (in 1994-95), the teams that had success their one goaltender played in the 35-range and the backup played in the 18-20 range,” he said. “That’s going to be key, managing the schedule and managing the playing time.”
RE-SIGNING MALKIN, LETANG
Shero said the team plans on re-signing Malkin and defenseman Kris Letang. But that order of business will be handled after the season is over.
“When it comes to our core players and trying to re-sign them, that’s something we’ll do at the end of the year,” he said. “Our focus is going to be on playing good hockey. Same goes for Kris and ‘Geno.’ They’re going to be focused on playing good hockey, getting a good playoff position and having a very successful playoff. The rest will take care of itself.”