Ryan Dadoun

Kris Letang

Pittsburgh Penguins ’15-16 Outlook


The Pittsburgh Penguins have two of the league’s best forwards in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but last season they lacked the offensive depth to sufficiently back them up. GM Jim Rutherford is hoping he addressed that issue this summer, but there is still a big X-factor with this team.

Starting with the positives, newcomer Phil Kessel is one of the league’s top goal scorers and pairing him up with a superb playmaker like Crosby should make for a great combination. Combined with Patric Hornqvist, Malkin, David Perron, and Chris Kunitz and the Penguins have the potential to feature two very effective lines. Summer additions Eric Fehr and Nick Bonino will also provide the Penguins with some all-important depth up the middle.

After that though, their bottom-six gets a little hazy.

Theoretically, Pascal Dupuis would be an ideal presence on their third line and wouldn’t look out of place if the Penguins opt to put him in their top-six, but he’s also played in just 55 games over the last two seasons due to a torn ACL and a blood clot. Even if we presume that his health issues are behind him, one has to wonder if the long layoffs have negatively impacted the 36-year-old forward. The Penguins might be penciling Beau Bennett for a third line role as well, but he’s had injury problems too and hasn’t developed as hoped.

Health issues have unfortunately been a running theme for the Penguins.

They’re counting on Kris Letang to anchor their defense, but the 69 games he played last season represented a personal best since 2010-2011. Even Malkin is a question mark at this point, as he’s only surpassed the 70-game mark once since 2008-2009.

Now to be fair, if the biggest knock is “they might get hurt,” then that’s arguably a sign that there are not a lot of issues to begin with.

After all, the Penguins core — when healthy — is among the most impressive in the league. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury can be firmly listed as part of that foundation as well as his performance over the last two campaigns has run contrary to the old narrative that he gets worse under the heightened pressure of the playoffs.

The jury is still out on the Penguins’ depth though and those aforementioned injury problems can’t be casually dismissed. This is a team that has been among the most prone to health problems from 2009-10 onward, according to Man Games Lost.

If that trend ends though, then this should be a very dangerous team.

It’s Pittsburgh Penguins Day at PHT

Sidney Crosby

Throughout the month of August, PHT will be dedicating a day to all 30 NHL clubs. Today’s team? The Pittsburgh Penguins.

After another disappointing finish in the playoffs, the Pittsburgh Penguins decided to change course by replacing GM Ray Shero and head coach Dan Bylsma with Jim Rutherford and Mike Johnston respectively prior to the start of the 2014-15 campaign. The results, at least as far as last season was concerned, were not desirable.

To be fair, Pittsburgh was strong for much of the campaign and was even in the running for the Presidents’ Trophy through March 12 with a 39-18-10 record. However, they went 4-9-2 for the remainder of the season and they just barely secured the second Wild Card seed. That set up a first round series against the New York Rangers that the Penguins lost in five games.

For a team that’s home to two of the best forwards in the league, the Penguins’ big weakness last season was actually their offense. Years of subpar drafting beyond first round picks and a top-heavy salary balance sheet seemed to finally catch up with the Penguins as they were thin on scoring threats outside of Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin.

Chris Kunitz, James Neal, and Jussi Jokinen provided the Penguins with at least 57 points each in 2013-14, but the 35-year-old Kunitz slid to 40 points, Neal had been dealt to Nashville in exchange for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling, and Jokinen left as an unrestricted free agent. Consequently, Malkin and Crosby were the only Penguins players to record more than 57 points last season.

Pittsburgh went from being tied for the fifth best offense in 2013-14 to finishing in a tie for 18th just one season later. Goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury had a strong campaign and that continued into the 2015 playoffs, but the Penguins provided him with just eight goals of support over five games against the Rangers.

Off-season recap

Rutherford has moved to bolster the Penguins’ offense over the summer. He brought Phil Kessel to Pittsburgh in a blockbuster trade with Toronto that also involved the Penguins conceding 2014 first round pick Kasperi Kapanen. Nearly a month later, Pittsburgh acquired Nick Bonino, Adam Clendening, and a 2016 second round pick from Vancouver in exchange for Brandon Sutter and a 2016 third round selection.

Pittsburgh further addressed its forward depth with the signings of Eric Fehr (three years, $6 million) and Matt Cullen (one-year, $800K).

Combine that with the return of Pascal Dupuis (blood clots) and Pittsburgh’s group of forwards should look significantly different this season.

PHT Morning Skate: Hockey fans celebrate National Dog Day

Los Angeles Kings v Colorado Avalanche

PHT’s Morning Skate takes a look around the world of hockey to see what’s happening and what we’ll be talking about around the NHL world and beyond.

It’s looking more and more like Eric Staal and Cam Ward will enter the Carolina Hurricanes’ training camp without new contracts. (News & Observer)

Armed with a tryout contract, Tom Sestito hopes to earn a job with the Pittsburgh Penguins out of training camp so that he can “deter a guy from taking a run at the 90,000 stars on the team.” (Penguins.nhl.com)

The ECHL’s Greenville Road Warriors have changed their name to the Greenville Swamp Rabbits. Their new logo features a rabbit who is wielding a mix between a hockey stick and carrot. (Greenville Online)

The Edmonton Oilers might be a significantly different team with a new bench boss, substantially changed front office, and a new hope in Connor McDavid, but one thing Andrew Ference doesn’t expect to change is his position as the team’s captain. (Edmonton Journal)

Ryan Johansen threw out the first pitch for Cincinnati on Monday and that event gave him a chance to talk with the Reds players about the differences and similarities between the two sports. (Bluejackets.nhl.com)

Finally, it was National Dog Day on Wednesday and that involved a lot of hockey-themed pictures. Here are some of the highlights:

Devils’ continue summer of change with more personnel moves

Patrick Rissmiller

New Jersey GM Ray Shero hasn’t been shy about putting his mark on the Devils and that continued with a fresh series of moves Wednesday.

The team announced that Patrick Rissmiller has been hired to serve as a development coach. The retired forward had a lengthy playing career that included 192 NHL games.

“Patrick Rissmiller has played at just about every level – high school, college, ECHL, AHL, NHL and Europe, and with multiple organizations,” said Shero. “He will work with all of the players in our organization, as well as our prospects. We feel that he is the ideal individual with the necessary experience and background for this position.”

He’ll work alongside Pertti Hasanen and Scott Clemmensen as part of the team’s development staff.

Shero also named Andy Schneider as the team’s newest amateur scout. Schneider is coming over from the Columbus Blue Jackets, where he spent the previous three campaigns serving in the same capacity.

Schneider’s playing career involved a lot of traveling as he had stints in Germany, Austria, and Sweden. He also played in 10 games with the Ottawa Senators back in 1993-94.

Meanwhile, Barry Fisher, who has been New Jersey’s orthopedist since the franchise moved from Colorado in 1982, will not be returning for the 2015-16 campaign, per NJ Advance Media. Michael K. Shindle is taking over as the team’s orthopedist.

Related: Devils won’t offer tryouts to Bernier, Gomez

Sabres reach their season tickets cap with 96 percent renewal rate

Jack Eichel

The Buffalo Sabres’ last two seasons have been among the worst in franchise history, but with optimism about their future high, it hasn’t been difficult to convince fans to come back for more.

In total 16,000 season tickets for the 2015-16 campaign have been sold by the Sabres, which is where they’ve set the limit so that there will still be seats available for individual games as well as mini-packs. Of those season ticket holders, 96 percent of them are fans that decided to renew their commitment following Buffalo’s 23-51-8 campaign. Not that the Sabres necessarily needed the renewal rate to be that high as they still have 2,000 people on their waiting list.

“The fact that we had such a high rate of renewal from our season ticket holders is really a testament to the direction our organization is headed,” Sabres president Russ Brandon said, per the team’s website. “There’s a tremendous amount of excitement surrounding our team and we can’t wait to get on the ice.”

Of course, selecting Jack Eichel with the second overall pick in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft is one of the main reasons fans are encouraged about Buffalo’s future. He is seen as a potential generational talent that should be the centerpiece of the Sabres for years to come.

Related: What does Jack Eichel mean to the Buffalo Sabres?