Pittsburgh Penguins Season Preview

Logo of the Pittsburgh Penguins; penguin on skates with a hockey stick

The Pittsburgh Penguins have the longest active streak of consecutive postseason appearances in professional sports; for the past 15 seasons, the Penguins have been a staple in the Stanley Cup Playoffs. However, a concerning pattern has taken hold; Pittsburgh has exited in the 1st round for the past three seasons. The team is also nearing the end of the run of an aging Sid the Kid. If the Pittsburgh Penguins are going to make another move for the Stanley Cup, it is necessary to do it now.

2020-2021 Pittsburgh Penguins: Season Recap

First of all, it must be noted that the 2020-2021 NHL Season was a bit strange. Once again, the season was understandably affected by the Covid-19 pandemic. The League did not begin regular season play until January of 2021, thus shortening the season.

There were also not the traditional divisions; Canada did not allow travel in and out of the country without time in quarantine, forcing a one-season divisional realignment. Instead of playing in their usual Metropolitan Division, the Penguins were a part of the Mass Mutual East Division.

Pittsburgh won their division, finishing the season with a record of 37-16-3. They faced the New York Islanders in the first round of the Stanley Cup Playoffs. However, the Penguins fell in six games to the Rangers, thus failing to advance.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Lines

Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang are the trio who have been at the core of the Pittsburgh Penguins’ roster for 15 years. However, this year the Penguins will be beginning the season without one of the Big Three. Malkin underwent successful surgery on his right knee in early June. There is not yet a timetable for his return, except that he will miss at least the beginning of training camp. Geno’s probable absence at the start of the season will cause a hole in the fourth line. Because of this notable change in the lines, I am outlining a possible scenario of how the lines may change while Malkin is recuperating.

Projected Lines, Offense (with Evgeni Malkin)

First LineJake GuentzelSidney CrosbyBryan Rust
Second LineJason ZuckerEvgeni MalkinKasperi Kapanan
Third LineDanton HeinenJeff CarterZach Aston-Reese
Fourth LineBrock McGinnTeddy BluegerEvan Rodrigues

Projected Lines, Offense (without Evgeni Malkin)

First LineJake GuentzelSidney CrosbyBryan Rust
Second LineJason ZuckerJeff CarterKasperi Kapanan
Third LineBrock McGinnEvan RodriguesDanton Heinen
Fourth LineZach Aston-ReeseTeddy BleugerSam Lafferty

Projected Lines, Defense

First LineBrian DoumelinKris Letang
Second LineMarcus PeterssonJohn Marino
Third LineMichael MathesonPierre-Olivier Joseph
GoaltenderTristan JarryCasey DeSmith

Pittsburgh Penguins: Offseason Moves

This offseason was a bit different. The Stanley Cup was again awarded at a strange time, July 7, 2021. The Seattle Kraken held their Expansion Draft on July 21, followed by the Entry Draft on July 23-24. Finally, the business of wheeling-and-dealing began July 28, with free agency opening. The compressed time-frame changed the usual way that offseason business took place.

Consequential Departures

Pittsburgh’s offseason moves began with the trade of forward Jared McCann to the Toronto Maple Leafs on July 17. They then failed to protect McCann for the expansion draft that took place a mere four days later. Seattle took McCann as their pick from Toronto, as well as choosing forward Brandon Tanev as their pick from the Penguins. In this way, it’s almost as if the Kraken snared two picks from Pittsburgh, with the Maple Leafs getting left out in the cold on the trade they made.

When free agency opened on July 28, the Penguins lost two more players. Defenseman Cody Ceci signed a 4-year deal with Edmonton, while forward Frederick Goudreau signed a 2-year deal with Minnesota.

The Penguins chose not to extend a qualifying offer to unrestricted free agent Mark Jankowski, a forward.

Noteworthy Arrivals

During the first day of free agency action, the Penguins acquired 27-year-old forward Brock McGinn from Carolina. McGinn was signed to a 4-year contract. This was a great acquisition, as a handful of forwards had departed from the Penguins for various reasons. McGinn’s speed and downline physicality will be a meaningful addition.

“I think everything is bright about this organization. There’s nothing bad you can say about it. I think every single year, they have a chance. And when it comes down to it, I didn’t want to go anywhere where I wasn’t going to have a chance to win the Stanley Cup. So when I looked at Pittsburgh, that was one of the top choices.”

Brock McGinn, Pittsburgh Penguins

Another free agent acquired by the Penguins is forward Danton Heinen. The 26-year-old was picked up from Anaheim and signed to a 1-year contract.

Pittsburgh Penguins: Needs

Pittsburgh’s top needs are with scoring. Of their current players, more production is needed from Zucker and Kapanan. They each need to raise their level of offensive play, which they have demonstrated in the past that they can do. Heinen also needs to return to the higher scoring output that he is capable of. The return to a semi-regular season should help.

Ron Hextall, Pittsburgh’s General Manager, had this to say concerning the acquisition of further help:

“We would like to tweak some things, and we’re going to continue to monitor the free-agent market to see what’s out there and see if we find any fits that are upgrades for us.”

Ron Hextall, Pittsburgh GM

Keep An Eye On…

Acquired in a trade with the Los Angeles Kings on April 12, forward Jeff Carter made an impressive impact on the Penguins last season. In 20 games at the end of the regular season and the playoffs, Carter netted 13 goals, which led the team in that time span. He is one to watch.

Parting Thoughts

Pittsburgh has the pieces that, if they can come together, could produce a true contender for the Stanley Cup this year. The biggest keys are getting Malkin back, and in top form, and to keeping the other players healthy. A step-up in scoring is also necessary. The Penguins need to leave some of their finesse play behind to become a little bit scrappy.

These elements combined have the potential to lift Pittsburgh from their first-round playoff exits to having the ability to hoist the Cup once more, and to add a sixth Stanley Cup Champions banner from the eaves.

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