The Pittsburgh Penguins have set up a competitive training camp with more players than available spots. NHL veterans have joined the fray to earn a spot with a team that could be a contender with a trio of three-time Stanley Cup winners, a reigning Norris Trophy winner, and a well-regarded head coach.
Of course, the team could also succumb to injuries, becoming more like the litter of broken cars with little white flags along the New Jersey highways.
Three of the four “big guns” in the Penguins lineup have missed significant time due to injury ti in several of the last five seasons, and Erik Karlsson, the off-season prize of president of hockey operations/GM Kyle Dubas, is the youngest at 33.
The coming Pittsburgh Penguins season will not be short on drama.
This summer has not been short on drama, either.
The biggest surprise is the Erik Karlsson trade. It could go down in Pittsburgh Penguins history, mentioned in the same breath as the great Penguins trades that seemed more like theft. The blockbuster trades that brought Ron Francis and Rick Tocchet come to mind, as does Trevor Daley for Rob Scuderi and Marian Hossa for Colby Armstrong, a first-rounder and prospect Angelo Esposito.
The poor Atlanta Thrashers received contributions from only Armstrong and nothing else in that deal.
And it seems the San Jose Sharks could find a similar fate, caged by their return of Karlsson, which was only a first-rounder, fading and expensive forward Mikael Granlund, and overpaid defenseman Jan Rutta.
Yeah, that was the surprise of the summer. Despite generally being against the acquisition of Karlsson, this writer could posit nothing negative about the trade. The trade cost made it a significant upgrade for the Penguins at all levels, present and future.
The Penguins seemed to miss on Morgan Geekie, a potential third-line center who signed a two-year, $4 million deal with the Boston Bruins on July 1. We don’t know the full story if Geekie was set on Boston to prove himself on a team missing its top two centers or if he had other motives for making a beeline for Beantown, but his youth, speed, and increasing production would have looked good in the Penguins lineup.
Not that Lars Eller is a consolation prize, but Geekie brings more offense and spark.
Dubas quickly delivered when assuming control of the Penguins front office. He said the Penguins would use their cap space to find talent that was a cap casualty elsewhere and did so by acquiring Reilly Smith from the Vegas Golden Knights.
Smith, 32, is a reliable, consistent .6 to .7 points-per-game scorer, and Dubas had Smith leaving Las Vegas for only a third-rounder.
Tomas Tatar. The wheeling and dealing of the summer left the Penguins without the necessary cap space to land the player who could fit perfectly.
Assuming the other acquisitions go well, the Penguins figure to be a stout team whose top-end talent will chip in plenty of offense, and the bottom-six will be hard to play against, if not downright frustrating, with a speedy forecheck and backcheck.
However, a few more goals in that bottom group do wonders. On paper, the group does not have a scorer. Tatar would have been the guy. Technically, this could still happen as Tatar hasn’t yet signed, but it’s hard to imagine how the Penguins could make it work without another trade to clear salary.
If Karlsson isn’t the biggest off-season surprise, then Dubas magically falling into the Penguins’ lap after they cleaned house certainly is. Despite some local chatter about the possibility, Dubas committed himself to the Toronto Maple Leafs. He wanted money and a bit more power befitting a GM who built a strong team, but it was a candid comment in his post-season press conference that he needed a moment to decompress and evaluate his career that rubbed Maple Leafs president Brendan Shanahan the wrong way. Shortly after holding meetings to begin off-season planning, Shanahan exiled Dubas from Toronto.
The view here is that Shanahan overreacted. He let his emotions get the better of him and lost a good GM.
I certainly would have bet against it, even as most of you were betting on it (and you can get the best Ohio sports betting promos)
It might have been possible, but not predictable, especially after the Toronto Maple Leafs ended a 20-year Round One curse and advanced to Round Two for the first time since 2003. Dubas surely didn’t expect it.
The goaltending situation will be the lightning rod for many fans this season. No offense, Yinz, but I know many of you are lying in wait to pounce on every bad game, every injury and will heap some blame where none is due on goalie Tristan Jarry.
I’ll keep a level ice surface as best I can on Jarry. However, it does not seem to be a good move essentially dealing Casey DeSmith for Alex Nedeljkovic, whom the Detroit Red Wings sent to the AHL last season. DeSmith was an adequate backup, but goaltending will be paramount to the season, and Nedeljkovic has a lot to prove.
There were several others on the market with better track records in recent seasons.
The 2023 first-round selection of Brayden Yager will be debated. He did not make the NHL Network’s top-50 prospects list, despite several players selected behind him making the list.
His projected ceiling is second-line center, but that’s the very top. More likely, he projects to be a responsible third-line center with some offense. That’s not bad, but is it worthy of a 14th overall pick in a very deep draft?
The darned Buffalo Sabres swiped the dynamic but small Zach Benson with the pick before, but speedy wingers such as Oliver Benson were still on the board. Projected top-six talent was still on the board into the 20s.
It marked the second consecutive draft that the Penguins took the lower-ceiling, perhaps safer choice in the first round. Passing on current Boston University star Lane Hutson for Owen Pickering the year prior probably will not help Ron Hextall’s or current Penguins director of amateur scouting Nick Pryor’s resume.