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Burke: Here’s Why ‘We’re Better’ Than Last Season

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Pittsburgh Penguins Evgeni Malkin celebrates with Kris Letang and Sidney Crosby

No one knows exactly what the Pittsburgh Penguins’ roster will look like when they open the regular season Oct. 13 against Arizona.

Part 1 of 2

After all, it’s always possible that someone will surprise by winning a job during training camp — remember what Brian Boyle did in 2021? — and the threat of a significant injury during drills or exhibition games certainly can’t be ruled out.

But with only about 2 1/2 weeks to go before this season’s first on-ice workout, which is scheduled for Sept. 22 at the UPMC Lemieux Sports Complex, president of hockey operations Brian Burke feels this team is better than the one that lost to the New York Rangers in seven games during Round 1 of the Stanley Cup playoffs.

And not only because Tristan Jarry, Brian Dumoulin, Rickard Rakell and Sidney Crosby, all of whom missed significant time in that series because of injuries, are believed to be fully healthy.

For that matter, adding defensemen Jeff Petry and Ty Smith via trades and Jan Rutta in free agency doesn’t appear to be the primary reason for his optimism, either.

Instead, Burke points to something that isn’t different as the main source of his assessment.

For when the Rangers series ended, it was far from certain that Kris Letang, Bryan Rust, Evgeni Malkin and Rickard Rakell — all of whom were eligible for unrestricted free agency — still would be on the Penguins’ payroll this fall.

Or even that any of them would be.

But management made keeping the team’s core intact the keystone of its approach to the offseason, and Ron Hextall was able to get all four under contract. Whether making long-term commitments to veterans like Letang and Malkin, who are in their mid-30s, was prudent might not be evident for a while, but Burke emphatically endorsed the concept.

“That was a critical part of the strategy, obviously, to bring back (Letang) and Malkin,” he said. “To me, bringing them back makes our team better than if they weren’t here, which was in doubt.”

Burke characterized Rakell, picked up from Anaheim at the trade deadline, as “a key addition,” and noted the importance of “getting (Rust) locked up.”

Although the signings and acquisitions have left the Pittsburgh Penguins a bit above the NHL’s salary-cap ceiling of $82.5 million for the coming season, Burke pointed out that they could get under it by assigning some waivers-exempt players who are expected to compete for major-league jobs to Wilkes-Barre. Drew O’Connor and Smith would be prominent on that list.

They also could deal a defenseman or two, since they currently have nine NHL-caliber ones scheduled to be at camp.

“We don’t have anything active (with trade discussions) right now,” Burke said. “But other teams have asked about our (defensemen), so it’s a possibility.”

He believes there are more clubs that would be amenable to making a trade than a cursory glance at their cap status might suggest, that “there’s a number of teams” able to become cap-compliant by making tactical demotions or placing personnel on the Long-Term Injured list.

Because potential trades can come together — or fall apart — with a single phone call, the Pittsburgh Penguins’ personnel situation figures to remain somewhat fluid in coming weeks.

Nonetheless, Burke does not appear to anticipate any moves of consequence before the preseason gets underway.

“I don’t know if we’re going to do anything else between now and camp,” he said. “It’s unlikely, but the phones are still ringing. This time of year, people are still calling around.”

And when they contact the Pittsburgh Penguins, they can expect to speak with a front office that seems fairly satisfied, at least for now, with the talent it has assembled.

“I think we’re a better team,” Burke said. “Now, we’re just waiting for camp to start.”

Part 2: Who do the Penguins need to up his game?

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Alan Smith
25 days ago

They are better and were very good before that! Best watch in the NHL! No one knows about the playoffs but the 82 games before that the Pens are exciting to watch play! Best 60 minute team in the NHL! Usually turn the game off before overtimes and shootouts!

Joe Cursi
Joe Cursi
25 days ago

Health is going to be the factor. Hiring that new personal trainer should help!

Bob
Bob
25 days ago

They may be better but they’re not any tougher. Actually less. Watch out for Philly taking advantage of this with Torts and his additions unfortunately..

Alan Smith
25 days ago
Reply to  Bob

Didn’t notice Tampa or Av’s going for dirty hits at any time in the Cup! Rangers were the worst at the cheap shots! Avoid Philly garbage and just play to win the games avoiding late and unnecessary shots! Wait for turnovers like Carolina does!

Irish Hammer
Irish Hammer
25 days ago
Reply to  Bob

Burke is a joke and disgrace. As long as Sid likes him, he’s got a job.

moe
moe
24 days ago
Reply to  Irish Hammer

Is there a reason for Burke hate?

Paul
Paul
24 days ago
Reply to  Irish Hammer

Can you say “blowhard”, girls and boys?

Last edited 24 days ago by Paul
Pens' Igloo
Pens' Igloo
24 days ago
Reply to  Bob

If you think the Pens are less tough with Petry and Ruuta taking the place of Matheson and Marino, then you don’t know anything about those guys. The Fs are the same outside of E-Rod (good player but considered a tough guy) and maybe Boyle (big player but not an overtly tough guy that would deter other teams from hits) being replaced by someone like O’Connor or Poehling (both young guys with size).

ric jefferies
ric jefferies
24 days ago

Burke can theorize all he wants but when the skates hit the ice performance (results) decides his actions. “Playing it safe” may add another year to his pay check but dig a deeper hole in the future to rebuild which is inevitable. One can only “kick the can down the street” for so long before you run out of street .

Natan
Natan
24 days ago

The Penguins had no goaltending for the Ranger series — and losing the series, along with Jarry’s bad showing the year before, made them seem more like a team in decline. They are better than that. But it is still Jarry and DeSmith. Can the Penguins win another SC with them?

Last edited 24 days ago by Natan
Paul
Paul
24 days ago
Reply to  Natan

No, but maybe Joel Blomqvist can . . .

Pepper
Pepper
22 days ago

So, they’re a better team because they’re the same team…and now have safe long term contracts…and so are not playing for a contract anymore…(and also a year older). Therefore their performance will improve. Makes sense to me 😂.

They will make the playoffs because half the league makes the playoffs. They will be fun to watch in the regular season. But they are not built for a long playoff run. IMO, etc.