Pittsburgh Penguins 2020-21 NHL season preview


The 2020-21 NHL season is almost here so it’s time to preview all 31 teams. Over the next few weeks we’ll be looking at how the offseason affected each team, the most interesting people in the organization, and the best- and worst-case scenarios. Today, we look at the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Pittsburgh Penguins 2019-20 Rewind

Record: 40-23-6 (86 points); third place in Metropolitan Division; fifth place in Eastern Conference

Leading Scorers: Evgeni Malkin (74 points); Bryan Rust (27 goals)

For most of the 2019-20 season the Penguins looked like a team that had a shot to win the Stanley Cup. The defense was improved, the goaltending was strong, the star players were playing as expected, and they were even getting some unexpected performances from the bottom of the lineup.

Then they hit a wall late in the season.

The goaltending went away, the defense regressed, Jake Guentzel was injured, and they won just three out of 11 games to end the regular season. They followed that up by losing to the Canadiens in the Toronto Qualifying Round. Dating back to the 2018 postseason, they have now won just three of their past 14 playoff games. That produced another offseason of change in Pittsburgh.


Kasperi Kapanen (trade), Mike Matheson (trade), Colton Sceviour (trade), Mark Jankowski (free agency), Cody Ceci (free agency)


Matt Murray (trade), Patric Hornqvist (trade), Dominik Simon (free agency), Jack Johnson (buyout), Justin Schultz (free agency)

Tristan Jarry Pittsburgh Penguins
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3 Most Interesting Pittsburgh Penguins

Tristan JarryFor the first time in 15 years the Penguins are entering a season without one of Marc-Andre Fleury or Matt Murray as their starting goalie. That means for the first time in 15 years there is a ton of uncertainty with the position.

If you want to be optimistic, you can point to the fact that, yes, Jarry was an All-Star last season thanks to his great first half. That performance no doubt contributed to the three-year contract he signed this offseason. But the second half of his season was not quite as good as the All-Star first half, and he has still only played 63 NHL games with very mixed results. The potential is there, but there is still a very real question as to how good he actually is.

With Jarry and Casey DeSmith in place the Penguins have one of the league’s least experienced goaltending duos and that is something they are not quite used to. Their performance will play a big role in what this Penguins team is capable of doing this season.

[MORE: 2021 NHL schedule notes: Stats, oddities, fuel for nasty rivalries]

Jim RutherfordThe most active and aggressive general manager in hockey. There has never been a potential trade or roster move that he has not liked.

The roster turnover in Pittsburgh has been constant over the past three years, and usually involves players coming and going within the same year. It is never boring.

Consider this example that will melt your brain if you think about it for too long.

A year ago the Penguins traded Olli Maatta to the Blackhawks for Dominik Kahun.

Halfway through the season Kahun was traded to Buffalo for forwards Conor Sheary (who had been traded by the Penguins to Buffalo two years earlier) and Evan Rodrigues. Sheary played 12 games in stop No. 2 with the Penguins before leaving as an unrestricted free agent. Rodrigues was then traded to Toronto as part of the package for Kasperi Kapanen (a player the Penguins traded five years earlier for Phil Kessel) where he was ultimately not given a qualifying offer, allowing him to become an unrestricted free agent. He then signed … in Pittsburgh.

If he thinks his team has a weakness, he will try to fix it. Usually as soon as possible.

If there is a player he wants, no cost will be too significant, whether it be a trade (Derick Brassard) or free agency (Jack Johnson, Brandon Tanev).

[Related: ProHockeyTalk’s 2020 NHL Free Agent Tracker]

If that player does not fit, he will waste no time in cutting bait and moving on. Since the start of the 2017-18 season there have been 12 instances of the Penguins acquiring a player, and then either trading them again or waiving them within a calendar year (Ryan Reaves, Matt Hunwick, Antti Niemi, Riley Sheahan, Jamie Oleksiak, Brassard, Derek Grant, Tanner Pearson, Erik Gudbranson, Kahun, Alex Galchenyuk, Nick Bjugstad).

Advice for Kapanen, Ceci, Jankowski, and Matheson: Rent, don’t buy.

What is he going to do next? I have no idea. Neither do you. Frankly, he may not even know either. That makes things interesting.

Sidney CrosbyWell, of course he has to be one of the three most interesting players here. He is entering his age 33 season, which means he is at a point in his career where he can still be elite, but it may not be as constant or as high of a level as we are used to seeing. If healthy, you are going to get a top-15, maybe top-10 point season offensively and someone that can still control the pace of the game.

His line (presumably Guentzel and Kapanen) is going to help carry the offense. But when your franchise players start getting into their mid-30s (as is the case in Pittsburgh with Crosby, Malkin, and Kris Letang) you know you probably only have a few years left as a prime contender.

Does Pittsburgh’s big-three have enough magic left to lead another championship run?

Best-Case Scenario

This team can still be a Stanley Cup contender, and a good one. But there are several X-factors that will dictate whether or not that happens.

They need Crosby, Malkin, and Letang healthy. Jarry has to be the goalie they think he is. They need to get some kind of offense out of their third line (they need a big year from Jared McCann) to be a true contender. The Matheson-Ceci pairing has to be better than what they got out of Johnson and Schultz on the third pairing.

All of those are possible. Some are even likely. If they get them, this could still be a team you do not want to see come playoff time.

Worst-Case Scenario

This is where the goalie situation becomes a potential issue. It is not that Jarry and DeSmith can’t do it, or are unlikely to do it, we just do not know if they will do it. Nothing sinks a good team faster than sub-par goaltending.

That, combined with another year of brutal injury luck, could put the Penguins in a tough spot to even make the playoffs in a ridiculously tough division that has five of the top-11 teams (including three of the top-seven) from the league standings a year ago. Remember, only four of those teams can make the playoffs this season.

Pointsbet – Pittsburgh Penguins Stanley Cup odds

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Adam Gretz is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @AGretz.

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    Ducks hire former Leafs, Islanders assistant Greg Cronin as head coach

    Tom Szczerbowski-USA TODAY Sports

    ANAHEIM, Calif. — The Anaheim Ducks have hired veteran NHL assistant and AHL head coach Greg Cronin to be their new head coach.

    Ducks general manager Pat Verbeek announced the decision to hire the 60-year-old Cronin, who will be a first-time NHL head coach.

    Cronin has 12 years of experience as an NHL assistant with the Toronto Maple Leafs and in two stints with the New York Islanders. The Massachusetts native has been the head coach of the AHL’s Colorado Eagles since 2018, and he spent six years as a collegiate head coach at Northeastern.

    Verbeek called Cronin “the ideal fit” to take over a young, rebuilding team.

    “I felt we needed a teacher of the finer points of the game, and someone who has worked extensively over time with talented young players, helping them develop into successful NHL players,” Verbeek said. “Greg has done all that and more.”

    Cronin replaces Dallas Eakins, whose contract wasn’t renewed in April after the Ducks finished their fourth consecutive losing season of his tenure. Anaheim finished in last place in the overall NHL standings at 23-47-12.

    The Ducks never finished higher than sixth in the Pacific Division during Eakins’ four years in charge. They’ve missed the playoffs in a franchise-record five straight seasons, and Anaheim was the NHL’s worst defensive team of the 21st century by several measures during the just-completed season.

    Cronin takes over a struggling team that is still loaded with young talent, including the No. 2 overall pick in the upcoming draft and a wealth of farm prospects seemingly ready to break into the NHL. Anaheim has a solid long-term base with playmaking center Trevor Zegras, two-time All-Star Troy Terry and promising forward Mason McTavish.

    Cronin has never led an NHL bench, but he interviewed for the Boston Bruins’ vacancy a year ago.

    He becomes only the Ducks’ fourth permanent head coach since Henry and Susan Samueli bought the franchise from Disney in 2005, joining Randy Carlyle, Bruce Boudreau and Eakins.

    Canadiens sign Cole Caufield to 8-year, $62.8 million extension

    David Kirouac-USA TODAY Sports
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    MONTREAL — The Montreal Canadiens signed Cole Caufield to an eight-year, $62.8 million contract extension.

    The deal, which will pay the 22-year-old winger an average annual salary of $7.85 million, runs through the 2030-31 season.

    Caufield scored 26 goals and added 10 assists in 46 games in 2022-23 before he underwent season-ending surgery on his right shoulder in February.

    Despite missing nearly half the season, Caufield led the Canadiens in goals for the second consecutive season, tied with Nick Suzuki.

    Montreal selected Caufield in the first round (15th overall) of the 2019 draft.

    Since making his NHL debut in 2020-21, the forward has 84 points (53 goals, 31 assists) in 123 NHL games.

    Vegas Golden Knights come back to beat Florida Panthers in Game 1 of Stanley Cup Final

    Stephen R. Sylvanie-USA TODAY Sports

    LAS VEGAS – Back in the Stanley Cup Final for the first time in five years and trailing the Florida Panthers less than 10 minutes into Game 1, the Vegas Golden Knights sent a very clear message.

    “We were ready,” Jonathan Marchessault said.

    Ready and dominant. Vegas rallied from an early deficit, got the go-ahead goal from Zach Whitecloud with just over 13 minutes left and arguably the best save of the playoffs from Adin Hill and beat Florida 5-2 Saturday night to take the lead in the best-of-seven series.

    “We kept out composure, and it was good,” said Marchessault, one of six original Knights players left from the start of the franchise in 2017 who scored the tying goal in the first period. “We just wanted to play the right way and be disciplined, and tonight we were able to be the better team.”

    Whitecloud put Vegas ahead, a crucial penalty kill followed and captain Mark Stone scored an insurance goal that was reviewed for a high stick and confirmed. Reilly Smith sealed it with an empty-netter to make the score look more lopsided than the game.

    The combination of that offense and Hill’s 33 saves put Vegas up after a feisty opener between Sun Belt teams who wasted little time getting acquainted with big hits during play and plenty of post-whistle pushing and shoving.

    “It’s exactly what we expected,” said Vegas defenseman Shea Theodore, who scored his first goal of the playoffs and ended a 27-game drought dating to March 7. “That’s how they wanted to play. We were just trying not to play into it.”

    That stuff is just beginning. Game 2 is Monday in Las Vegas.

    Before the Panthers even get a chance to respond, they ratcheted up the physical play late after falling behind by two. A handful of penalties resulting from a fracas with 4:24 remaining left the Florida bench well short.

    The outcome was determined long before that.

    After falling behind on a short-handed goal by Eric Staal that sucked the life out of the crowd of 18,432, the Golden Knights rallied for their ninth comeback win this playoffs. Marchessault – known since arriving in Las Vegas for scoring big goals – answered before the end of the first period.

    Early in the second, Hill made a desperation stick save to rob Nick Cousins of what would have been a sure goal. The save was reminiscent of the one Washington’s Braden Holtby made against Vegas – in the same crease – five years ago.

    “That’s an unreal save – it’s a game-changer,” coach Bruce Cassidy said. “You need those saves at key moments.”

    Giving up a tying goal to Anthony Duclair with 10.2 seconds left in the second did not slow the Golden Knights’ momentum much. Whitecloud’s goal, with two-time Vezina Trophy-winning goaltender Sergei Bobrovsky screened and unable to see, fired up fans once again.

    Bobrovsky, in the final for the first time, downplayed any reason for concern after stopping 29 of 34 shots and losing for just the second time in 12 games this postseason.

    “I played a good game,” Bobrovsky said. “I played a solid game. They created some good chances other than goals. They had lots of good scoring chances, and that was fun.”

    Part of the fun came when play was stopped.

    Less than 10 minutes in, Hill was none too happy about Nick Cousins crashing into his crease and gave the agitating Panthers winger a jab that incited a handful of scrums. During the second period, Matthew Tkachuk let Vegas’ Nic Hague know he wasn’t thrilled about a hit in the corner on Cousins and a collision with Brandon Montour after the whistle.

    “If guys are going to come in my crease and try to push me around, I’m going to stand my own ground,” Hill said. “I’m not going to do anything too crazy or get too wild, but, yeah, I’ve got to stand up for myself.”

    Florida coach Paul Maurice, back in the final for the first time since 2001, displayed a similarly calm demeanor as he did all the way back in the first round, when his team fell behind 1-0 then 3-1 to NHL-best Boston before winning in seven.

    “It’s going to be tight,” Maurice said. “Everybody breathe.”

    The Golden Knights are in the final for the second time in six years of existence, five years after making it in their inaugural season. Vegas won the opener in 2018 and lost the series to Washington in five games.

    The Panthers are back playing for the Cup for the first time since 1996. Florida got swept by Colorado in that final 27 years ago, 18 months before Tkachuk, the team’s leading scorer this playoffs, was born.

    It’s the 66th different matchup of teams in the Cup final in NHL history and the 46th since the expansion era began in 1967-68. This is the first time since Washington-Vegas and just the third time since the turn of the century in which the final features two teams who have never won the league’s championship.

    Penguins name former Maple Leafs GM Kyle Dubas as director of hockey operations

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    PITTSBURGH (AP) Kyle Dubas wanted to take a breath and take a break after being fired as the general manager of the Toronto Maple Leafs.

    Then the Pittsburgh Penguins called.

    The break ended shortly thereafter.

    Dubas joined the Penguins as the team’s president of hockey operations, less than two weeks after a somewhat ugly exit from Toronto following a second-round playoff loss to Florida.

    The 37-year-old Dubas goes from one type of hockey crucible to another. In Toronto, he was tasked with helping the Maple Leafs emerge from two decades of postseason futility. In Pittsburgh, his mission will be to prop open the Stanley Cup window for Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang a little longer.

    All three are 35 or older and haven’t won a playoff series since 2018. Yet Dubas believes strongly the issue isn’t the age of the franchise’s core but deficiencies elsewhere on the roster. Dubas replaces Brian Burke, who was fired along with general manager Ron Hextall in April after the Penguins failed to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2006.

    “I heard a lot of people that were highly skeptical of the team’s ability to contend here and the way I view it, if the people want to bet against (Crosby, Letang and Malkin) they can go ahead and do so,” Dubas said. “But I’m going to bet on them and go with them here. I think it is a group that’s capable of contending to win a championship.”

    Crosby and Malkin were excellent for much of last season and Letang showed remarkable resiliency while dealing with multiple setbacks, including a stroke and the death of his father. Yet save for a 14-2-2 stretch in November and December, the Penguins struggled to find consistency and ultimately stumbled down the stretch to snap the longest active playoff streak in major North American Sports.

    While the Penguins do have $20 million in cap space and the 14th overall pick in this month’s NHL draft, significant changes or upgrades could be difficult in the short term.

    Dubas inherits a team that was the oldest in the NHL last season and is littered with question marks, particularly in goal and the forward group outside of Crosby, Malkin and Jake Guentzel.

    Two-time All-Star goaltender Tristan Jarry will become a free agent this summer and was beset by injuries over the second half of the season. Forward Jason Zucker, who served as the emotional sparkplug for long stretches, is also scheduled to hit the open market and may have priced himself out of town.

    Pittsburgh also has several aging players with full or partial no-movement clauses, including 38-year-old forward Jeff Carter, 30-year-old Bryan Rust and 35-year-old defenseman Jeff Petry.

    “I think that those are obviously very real situations, everyone knows that they exist,” Dubas said. “To me the effect on it … is what we can add in terms of depth pieces? What we can add in terms of younger players? That’ll be the real key.”

    Dubas does plan to hire a general manager to fill the vacancy created when Hextall was let go after a short but largely unfruitful tenure. Dubas will serve as the GM on an interim basis until early July.

    Dubas comes to Pittsburgh after nine seasons with the Maple Leafs, including the last five as general manager. Toronto won a postseason series for the first time since 2004 this spring before falling to the Florida Panthers in the Eastern Conference semifinals in five games.

    Shortly after the Maple Leafs’ playoff exit, Dubas said that he wasn’t sure if he wanted to remain in Toronto. His contract was set to expire on June 30, but team president Kyle Shanahan opted to pre-emptively fire Dubas instead. Toronto hired former Calgary Flames general manager Brad Treliving as Dubas’ replacement.

    Dubas helped build the Maple Leafs into a regular-season power during his tenure. Toronto set single-season records for wins and points, and went 221-109-42 in his tenure. Dubas also didn’t shy away from big moves – he fired Stanley Cup-winning coach Mike Babcock in November 2019 and replaced him with Sheldon Keefe – but struggled to find the right mix in the playoffs until this spring.

    In the end, advancing beyond the first round for the first time since 2004 wasn’t enough for Dubas to remain in Toronto.

    He joked he was maybe a little “too honest” during his season-ending press conference with the Maple Leafs when he expressed reservations about returning. Shanahan’s abrupt decision to move on came as a bit of a surprise, and Dubas planned to take some time to hit the reset button before looking for another job.

    Yet the Penguins – who’d already been given clearance by the Maple Leafs to interview Dubas – provided a compelling reason to speed up the timetable. Dubas’ due diligence included speaking to Crosby and longtime coach Mike Sullivan to take the pulse of a leadership group that remains firmly in place.

    Dubas called them “some of the best competitors” in hockey. Competitors that have – for one reason or another – been unable to recapture the magic of their runs to back-to-back Cups in 2016 and 2017.

    Time is running out for Crosby to put his name on the Cup for a fourth time in a career that will almost certainly end in the Hall of Fame. Dubas knows he’ll be judged in part on whether he can make that happen. After taking more than six weeks of searching before landing on Dubas, Fenway Sports Group Chairman Tom Werner believes Dubas is up to the challenge.

    “Our philosophy is giving Kyle and his associates the best possible resources to win,” Werner said. “Kyle’s been very articulate today about his path to success … we’re very confident that Kyle will execute the plan he’s articulated to us.”