Published on August 13th, 2012 | by James Conley0
Penguins 2013 Season Preview
The 2012 season didn’t end the way many Penguins fans expected. More than a few folks don’t expect the 2013 season to begin at all.
The next time the Pittsburgh Penguins take the ice—whenever that is—they’ll do so as a markedly different club than the one that skated, bruised, off the hostile ice of the Wells Fargo Center in April.
Roster upheaval has since ensued, as the usually-conservative Ray Shero shipped away a potential franchise center and proven shutdown defenseman in addition to using two first-round draft picks to add another pair of defensemen to a system bursting at the seams with top-four prospects.
The offseason did little else to address the immediate needs of the lineup. Pittsburgh remained content to sign mostly AHL products from a free agent pool that was low on talent and high on salary-floor inflation, and there are no clear candidates to fill the voids on the top line and at the blue line.
The coming NHL season is afloat in serious questions all its own, but the Penguins face greater uncertainties coming into their 2012-13 season than at any time since winning the 2009 Stanley Cup.
Chief among those concerns is how to address the defensive liabilities Philadelphia exposed in its 4-2 Eastern Conference Quarterfinals win. Pittsburgh was torched in that series, to the tune of 12 power play goals against in 23 opportunities and 30 goals against in just six contests (5.00 goals per game, up from 2.7 GA per game in the regular season).
That’s a problem that won’t be addressed by trading one of your best defensive defenseman in exchange for salary relief.
Defense isn’t the only glaring problem. Marc-Andre Fleury’s performance was due in no small part to the defense (specifically, the lack thereof) in front of him, but it was still enough to convince management it needed a two-year, $4 million insurance policy in veteran netminder Tomas Vokoun.
And if free agency wasn’t the preferred method of addressing the glaring lack of talent on Crosby’s wings, is a midseason trade that requires the movement of assets in favor of inflated offseason salaries a more likely route?
For all its organizational depth at defense, Pittsburgh’s forward prospects have proven to be decidedly less promising.
It also remains to be seen whether Sidney Crosby, who has missed more than 100 of his last 162 regular season games and has appeared in 75 or more games in just four of his eight NHL seasons, can make the final season of his current five-year contract a healthy one.
Pittsburgh has plenty to be optimistic about, not the least of which is having two of the league’s top-five scorers and the two most productive point-per-game centers in the NHL on the same power play. The team hasn’t posted a sub-100-point regular season since 2008 and save for Staal, the much-touted core of the team is in place for at least one more season.
Through August, Las Vegas odds place the Penguins as early favorites to capture the 2013 Stanley Cup.
Should they do so, it will be with a far different group than the one which exited the ice far, far too early in 2011-12.
Image tjshirey @ flickr