The challenge begins again as the party ends. Thursday night the Penguins raise a banner to close another glorious chapter in the story of the franchise. The biggest surprise of the summer? Finally coming to the realization that, yes, Phil Kessel is, in fact, a Stanley Cup Champion.
This summer has been different than those of the past several. No blockbuster trade. No big free agent signing. And you know what? That is perfectly fine. JR took care of business and brought back (almost) the entire Cup Champion team which is a rarity in the salary cap era.
The main question:
Is the team that won Lord Stanley’s Chalice last season still better than all of the teams that made moves in an attempt to dethrone them?
Injuries are the main concern early in the season.
– Rookie Bryan Rust was injured in the Playoffs and is still rehabbing some nagging injuries. He was a huge factor scoring some big goals.
– Goalie sensation Matt Murray was a World Cup casualty, breaking a finger and will miss a few weeks throwing a bit of wrinkle into an already complicated ‘tender situation.
– And of course the Concussion Kid is out again, but hopefully will get back to being the best in the world shortly.
The Penguins are the 2nd oldest team in the league and are looking at a few younger guys to infuse them with some youthful energy. Scott Wilson jumps directly into the lineup looking to pick up where he left off last season. Daniel Sprong will be waiting in the wings of Wilkes-Barre, hoping for a chance to make an impact at the NHL level. High draft pick Derrick Pouliot will be battling for the 6th D-man spot with Justin Schultz. Both play a similar style, with defense and size being their main downfalls.
The crowded crease was the main concern of most after Murray secured 15 wins in the playoffs. How would the Penguins deal with the veteran Fleury and youngster Murray? One fantastic goalie is the envy of several teams in the league. But two?! I expect a 60/40 split in games in Fleury’s favor, with Fleury helping to continue Murray’s development. Murray’s injury, however, gives Fleury the nod for the first couple weeks of play. The Pens nabbed Mike Condon (Carey Price’s replacement in 15-16) off of waivers to backup Fleury. This is when things get really interesting. There is a fully capable backup in Tristan Jarry, who does not have to go through waivers, that would suffice for a couple weeks and could also use some mentoring from Fleury. Yet the brass decides to send him to WBS.
Conspiracy theory time!
Murray gets healthy. Penguins have three starting goaltenders on the roster (please see 15-16 Calgary Flames). They can risk sending Condon to the minors and losing him on waivers. Now this doesn’t hurt the team since they didn’t give up anything to get him, but you are losing a young, starting goaltender. Sending Murray down to the minors makes no sense. He will only continue his development playing in the best league in the world. This leaves Fleury as the odd man out. Could the Penguins move him early in the season? I am not sure but it is something to keep an eye on. Especially if a team loses their starting goaltender to a longer term injury.
P.S. Auston Matthews….pass the damn puck!