The Pittsburgh Penguins 2022-23 regular season will begin, but many questions will not be answered for months. Will a trade solve the Penguins’ perilous salary cap crunch? Their division rivals are in transition, both better and worse, and will the Penguins win a playoff series for the first time since 2018?
PHN asked its resident hockey writers–the most experienced crew in Pittsburgh and one of the most experienced in the league–about the Penguins’ season outlook. With “only” 21 years covering hockey, Dan Kingerski is the least inexperienced of the group.
From Evgeni Malkin to the first Penguins trade, the PHN Pittsburgh Penguins Roundtable:
The Penguins will Finish _____ in the Metro?
Dave: The Penguins will finish third in the Metro. I expect the order of finish at the top of the division to be similar, if not identical, to last season. The Penguins will challenge Carolina and the Rangers for first place but will come up a few points shy (possibly because of injuries to key players over the course of the season).
Shelly: Second. The Metropolitan Division doesn’t look terribly strong from top to bottom, and the Penguins look to finish anywhere in the top three, so second place seems like a good guess.
Dan: The Penguins will finish third. The youthful New York Rangers are young enough to care more about a division crown, and the Carolina Hurricanes seem to enjoy the regular season, too. The Penguins are better than the already injury-ravaged Washington Capitals. Unless the New York Islanders rise from the dead, the Penguins should comfortably finish in third.
True or False: The Penguins will win a playoff series
Dave: True. Obviously, we don’t know whether their first-round matchup will be favorable — or even who will qualify for the playoffs — but the Penguins should have made it to Round 2 in each of the past two springs. This time, they will.
Shelly: True. The quirks that led to four first-round losses can’t continue, can they?
Dan: True. They should have won their last two series. They’re a better team this season with Jeff Petry and Jan Rutta. Goalie Tristan Jarry looks like he’s about to hit the prime of his career. Don’t underestimate his attempt to play on one foot in Game 7. He earned respect, and his stature grew with that move. Things didn’t work out, but if not for a lost helmet, the Penguins would have won Game 7.
Evgeni Malkin will score _____ points.
Dave: Evgeni Malkin will score 85 points. A better way to put it is that he will average slightly more than a point per game when he is in the lineup. His recent history suggests he’s unlikely to be healthy enough to appear in all 82.
Shelly: He was at about a point-per-game pace last season, but that was over just 41 games. He could tail off a little bit from that and could miss a few games here and there, thus 71 for No. 71 — with room for a higher number.
Dan: Malkin will play about 65 games, which is plenty. He’ll grab power play points like candy at a parade. It’s 5v5 play that will define his season. Let’s say 75 points in 65 games, with 25 goals.
The Penguins have just over $83,000 in salary cap space. Who will be the first Penguins
Dave: The logical candidate is P.O Joseph, and it could be that he will be showcased in the early days and weeks of the season in hopes that he will play well and attract interest from teams that need blue-line help. But my hunch is that the guy to go will be Teddy Blueger because he could have real value to a team seeking a blue-collar center and penalty-killer, and with Ryan Poehling and Sam Poulin on the depth chart, the Penguins have capable replacements for him.
Shelly: I might be in the minority, but I do not sense an imminent trade. So moving Joseph and bringing up Ty Smith is as good a guess as any.
Dan: Dave probably has it right. Poehling looked pretty good by the end of the preseason. Sam Poulin got an extra look and was not overwhelmed. Drew O’Connor can also play in the middle. Blueger’s pending UFA status and the players behind him make his $2 million salary expendable. The rest of the crew would be impossible, difficult, or silly to trade.
The Biggest Penguins’ Surprise?
Dave: If I knew who/what would be a surprise, he/it wouldn’t be a surprise. But I think Jason Zucker, if he can manage to stay reasonably healthy for a change, will finally produce offensively the way the Penguins expected when he was acquired from Minnesota in 2020.
Shelly: Rickard Rakell. Not that expectations for him are low, but Rakell could be eye-popping on the top line.
Dan: Dave continually cracks me up. Zucker is on my list, but P.O Joseph claiming a full-time role and keeping it would qualify as a surprise. If he plays well enough in his early auditions, Sullivan will provide more leeway, and Joseph will be better for it.