Eric Majeski's (aka Netwolf) Camp Reports for LetsGoPens.com
2013-2014 Camp Preview
September 11, 2013
2013-2014 Penguins Season Preview
The abbreviated 2013 Penguins season ended in conflicting fashion. On one hand, they avoided a third straight 1st round exit. Against the Isles, they looked shaky and reminiscent of the team that fell apart against the Flyers the year before. This time, they managed to get through it and moved on, courtesy of an unlikely Brooks Orpik goal (and an awesome celebratory kick). The next round, they dominated an outclassed Senators team. Then they seemingly forgot how to finish, managing just 2 goals in a 4 game sweep at the hands of Boston.
A run to the conference final would be a pretty good season for most NHL clubs, but the Pens are not most teams. Perhaps the perception would have been different if they had they not been swept, but regardless, this team has one goal and they fell short. Calls came for the coaches to be fired and the roster to be overhauled. GM Ray Shero is not a reactionary man however, and after evaluating things, he came to a similar conclusion as last summer: he likes the key people he has. Soon came extensions for the coaching staff, followed by extensions for Chris Kunitz, Pascal Dupuis, Evgeni Malkin, and Kris Letang. Rob Scuderi was brought back as an unrestricted free agent.
So how does the roster stand to shake out, and what spots are up for grabs? Let's start up front. Sidney Crosby will remain flanked by Kunitz and Dupuis, and give the success they've had, it's tough to argue against it. Oddly enough, the same could be said of putting Kunitz back with Malkin and James Neal, as that combo worked out fairly well too. Nevertheless, Kunitz will be with Crosby, so the left wing spot with Malkin and Neal is there for the taking. Beau Bennett and Jussi Jokinen will battle for it and whoever doesn't get it will wind up on the third line with Brandon Sutter. The other wing on that line is wide open. Matt D'Agostini, Tanner Glass, Dustin Jeffrey, and NHL vet and tryout, Chuck Kobasew, are all possibilities. Joe Vitale and Craig Adams figure to make up 2/3 of the fourth line, though it's worth noting the Vitale hasn't quite established himself as an every night player just yet. The same guys competing for the last third line spot are also in contention for the last spot on the fourth. Dark horse candidates for a fourth line spot are Adam Payerl, Jayson Megna, Zach Sill and Harry Zolnierczyk.
On defense, the top four spots are locked in. Brooks Orpik and Paul Martin were paired up last camp to everyone's surprise, and perhaps even surprising was how well they worked together. That leaves Letang and Scuderi to be paired up. I suppose there is a slight chance they reunite Orpik and Letang, leaving Martin and Scuderi to be the shutdown pairing. That leaves Matt Niskanen, Simon Despres, Robert Bortuzzo, and Deryk Engelland for the bottom pairing. Brian Dumoulin is coming off of his first year of pro hockey, and by all accounts, it was a very impressive one. He could push for time, but given the number of guys ahead of him, cracking the opening night roster would be a tough task. Even tougher for top prospects like Olli Maatta, Scott Harrington, and Derrick Pouliot.
That takes us to another pressing issue for Shero: the salary cap. The Pens are currently $1.1M over the cap and Shero typically likes to have another million of space in reserve. Given the defensive depth they have, Niskanen would seem to be the prime candidate. $2.3M is a decent price for what he can do, but that's pretty expensive for a 5th defenseman. He may be a luxury they can no longer afford. Jokinen is on the Pens' books for $2.1M, but given the Pens' lack of depth of front and that there wasn't a market for him last year, moving him doesn't seem to make sense. Shero is a master trader though, and I can't see him making a bad deal to get under the cap. If it came to it, he could send Bennett and Despres down to give him more time. Neither has to clear waivers. Demoting Bennett would be another blow to their lack of forward depth. Another option could be sending another guy on a one-way to the minors. You are no longer allowed to completely bury an NHL contract in the minors, but doing so will reduce that player's hit by $925K. For example, if Glass was demoted, his cap goes from $1.1M to $175K. These are all last resort kind of moves though.
There isn't really much to talk about as far as goaltending. The much-maligned Marc Andre Fleury will be the starter and Tomas Vokoun will back him up. There are valid questions about Fleury's future, but the regular season has never been an issue, so those answers will not be forthcoming until the playoffs roll around. In some ways, that is true of the entire team; players, coaches, and management. Time will tell, as it usually does.
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