It still feels like the season just ended, but with the draft and free agency already behind us, it's time to look forward to the 2016-17 season. We will preview every team in the NHL throughout August and take a look at what the new season may hold.
Team: Pittsburgh Penguins
How they did last season: 48-26-8 (104 points), 2nd in the Metropolitan, 2nd in the Eastern Conference. They went the distance beating the Rangers, Caps, Lightning and Sharks to win the Stanley Cup.
Notable acquisitions: D Stuart Percy
Notable departures: D Ben Lovejoy; G Jeff Zatkoff
When they will play the Caps: Oct. 13 in Pittsburgh; Nov. 16 in Washington; Jan. 11 in Washington; Jan. 16 in Pittsburgh
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Analysis: The Pittsburgh Penguins took a very different approach to the offseason than what we see from teams like the Chicago Blackhawks. The Blackhawks dismantle their roster every offseason to avoid cap trouble and keep the core intact. The Penguins, however, elected to keep the roster largely together after winning the Stanley Cup and will feature essentially the exact same lineup this season.
There’s no question this team has a roster capable of being among the top in the league because they did it just last year, but we should not automatically expect the Penguins to look like the same team they were in the playoffs through an 82-game season.
Head coach Mike Sullivan faces a different challenge as he will coach the team through an entire season, unlike last year in which he took over in December for the fired Mike Johnston. Those are two very different scenarios. Sullivan's success last year does not guarantee success as the new full-time coach, just ask Dan Bylsma who also led the Penguins to a Stanley Cup after taking over midseason.
The biggest question for the Penguins is in net. Despite how well the young Matt Murray played in the playoffs, Marc-Andre Fleury also returns. How will the team divide the starts? Who will be the team’s No. 1? With the expansion draft looming, the Penguins must get rid of Fleury before June 21 because of his no-movement clause, otherwise they would be obligated to protect him from the draft thus exposing the 22-year-old Murray. They won't do that. Sometime between
The question of whether Fleury will be traded is something that will hang over the team’s head throughout the entire season.
Season prediction: The Penguins have more questions than you would expect for a defending champ returning essentially the same roster. Can Sullivan find the same success through a full season? Will the situation in net become a distraction? Will the rest of the NHL figure the Penguins out?
There’s a reason no team has won the Stanley Cup twice in a row since 1997 and 1998. The stars have to align perfectly and every other team in the league is gunning for you. Plus, the playoffs are physically and mentally exhausting which makes this the wrong year for the World Cup of Hockey which will give Pittsburgh's top players even less time to recover.
Having said all of that, I don’t see this team taking a step back and if they do, it will be a small one. Few teams can come close to the scoring depth this team boasts and, even some members of the supporting cast are due for a dropoff in production (Matt Cullen), scoring goals won’t be a problem for Pittsburgh.
The Penguins don’t just have a roster tailored for success, they have a roster that multiple general managers have tried replicating this summer. If Pittsburgh does run out of gas, it will come in the postseason. Until then, the Penguins will find themselves among the top teams in the conference and poised for a title defense come April.
2016-2017 NHL TEAM PREVIEWS