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5 Penguins Predictions for 2022; Contracts, Health and Playoffs?



NHL trade, Pittsburgh Penguins, Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby

With COVID opposition and closed arenas in Canada, the Pittsburgh Penguins have played just 30 games this season. The last time they hit the ice was Dec. 17, when they beat the New Jersey Devils 3-2 for their seventh straight win. It almost seems like last season, doesn’t it?

The Penguins are working hard in practice, but they couldn’t do much 5v5 work after Tuesday because they were missing too many forwards. And two defensemen. And so begins 2022, in much the same way the Penguins lived for the past three seasons; a full injury list and the hope of what could be with a full roster.

Instead of looking back at the Penguins’ moments of 2021, let’s look ahead to 2022. In fairness, over the past few seasons, I’ve been right on the money in the regular season but took the bait in the playoffs as Barry Trotz devised schemes to limit the Penguins’ top players.

Though I maintain the Penguins outplayed the Islanders in 2021 and should have won the series, you know what happened there.

5 Pittsburgh Penguins Predictions for 2022

The predictions may be a little rosy, but the regular season has been the Penguins’ friend. Despite crippling injuries, the team continually finds a way to rise to the top of the Metro Division. No matter the drama, things seem to work for Sullivan and the Penguins–at least in the regular season.

5. Tristan Jarry Finishes Among Top Goalies

Fluke? Hot streak? Nah. This is a guy with a chip on his shoulder. Jarry has a little stride and little chest puff this season. Jarry has been the Pittsburgh Penguins’ backbone this season. He’s swiped more than a few points, even on nights when the Penguins deserved a big-fat-L. 

Jarry has a .932 save percentage and a 1.93 GAA. Set the end of season stats at .925 and 2.20.

4. Evgeni Malkin 

I’ll go out on a limb here. I’m willing to bet that Malkin’s knee is better than it was; it should be stronger and more durable…until it isn’t. Malkin’s reintegration into the Penguins lineup will create an adjustment period. Most players will be in different roles. The dynamics, chemistry, and on-ice product will reset. The Penguins will lose a few games. A few of you will say they were better off without Malkin.

Those few of you will be wrong.

After the situation settles, the Penguins will have a deep team. Head coach Mike Sullivan will be able to deploy Malkin in favorable situations to the team. Easier matchups, more offensive zone starts, and a stronger knee. Oh, a need for a new contract and just a bit of lost time to make up will make Malkin a dangerous player.

We expect Malkin to play about 48 games, and we’ll peg him for 60 points, including 20 goals.

3. Kasperi Kapanen Hot Streak

Kapanen is not a workhorse. He’s a show pony. The RW will have a hot streak, which could very well coincide with getting on the ice with Malkin. Head coach Mike Sullivan talked about Kapanen building better habits, such as stopping on pucks and being more aggressive in certain situations. Sullivan has plenty of experience with right wings who aren’t consistent regular-season performers but blossom in the playoffs.

As the goals come, they will arrive by the barrel. He has seven goals and 16 points in 30 games. We like a second-half explosion for Kapanen.

Prediction: Kapanen gets to 20 goals with Malkin’s help. It won’t always be pretty. There’s more criticism to come, but he’ll do enough to get 20.

2. Contracts

So much for the happy-happy regular season predictions. Now it’s time for the elephant in the room. We examined what an Evgeni Malkin contract could be. We know the Penguins org and Kris Letang disagree on contract length, if not money, too. So, here are the bold predictions for 2022.

Kris Letang: He’ll be faced with signing a short-term deal or finding a new team. The hedged bet is this will be his last Penguins season. PHN doesn’t see a replacement on the horizon and would apply the fourth year to a contract offer, but GM Ron Hextall is not one to overextend.

Bryan Rust: The Penguins will use Rust as a rental. Instead of acquiring outside help, they’ll simply keep Rust and let him chase big dollars on a long term in July (or whenever free agency begins).

Malkin: We’ve done a 180 in the last few weeks on the future of this specific situation. Our New Years’ prediction is a compromise against letting the entire championship core walk. Malkin will stick around on a three-year, $21-$24 million deal. It will be a pay cut but a healthy paycheck that affirms Malkin’s standing. The closer to $7 million, the bigger victory for the Penguins and the more cap room they have.

Bonus Prediction:

Evan Rodrigues: Signs for three years, $9 million.

1. Playoffs. 

That’s what it’s all about, right? The NHL’s second season. Assuming they happen or can happen, or what they might look like as Omicron rages and the U.S. and Canada have wildly differing views on the best course forward. Let’s assume the playoffs go off without much interruption.

Remember when I said the Penguins should have beaten the New York Islanders? They should have, and that sets up an all-important run this season.

The matchup is everything. The Penguins are most likely a wild card team. The Rangers, Capitals, and Hurricanes are three good teams. Finishing in the top wild-card spot will earn the lesser division winner, and that’s bad. Florida or Carolina will be able to skate with the Penguins.

A second or third-place finish probably draws the Washington Capitals. That would be much better–Tougher, but a better matchup.

I like the Penguins’ depth and constitution. I like the grittiness in the lineup, the penalty killing, the bottom-six contributions (though they’re prone to going cold), and the Penguins’ top line with Guentzel and Rust.

Most of all, I like the chances that Tristan Jarry will be outstanding in the playoffs. I won’t put them in the Stanley Cup contender category, but I like their chances to win a round, maybe, possibly two pending the matchup.

Prediction: The Pittsburgh Penguins will win Round One and give someone a drag-out fight in Round Two. Carolina/Florida/Tampa Bay would be the worst matchups. The Metro teams and other Atlantic teams would be fodder for the Penguins. A run to the ECF is not out of the question with a solid Tristan Jarry and the right path.

Happy New Year!