Last year, the Pittsburgh Penguins finished first in the Metropolitan Division, and second in the Eastern Conference. They made it to the second round, only to lose to the Rangers in 7 games. The Penguins are always expected to make it further than the second round, but if it’s any consolation, the Rangers did make it to the Stanley Cup Final. Mario Lemieux and the rest of the Penguins ownership weren’t happy at all with the way things went last year, so they fired long-time General Manager Ray Shero, as well as head coach Dan Bylsma.
Those weren’t the only moves the Penguins made this offseason, as they also parted ways with long-time Penguin Brooks Orpik, as well as Matt Niskanen, who both signed with the Washington Capitals. They also lost Jussi Jokinen to free agency, as he signed with the Florida Panthers. The Penguins also traded former forty goal scorer James Neal to the Nashville Predators at the draft.
Like I said, the Penguins parted ways with many of their players, but they brought in some new talent as well. The Penguins traded James Neal to free up some cap space, but they also traded him to get more depth scoring. They accomplished this by trading him to Nashville for forwards Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling. Hornqvist was the main piece coming back for the Penguins, and he will most likely take Neal’s spot on the second line alongside Evgeni Malkin. The Penguins also signed defenseman Christian Ehrhoff, who was bought out by the Buffalo Sabres this summer. Ehrhoff is primarily an offensive defenseman, and his job will most likely be to replace the offense from the blueline that Niskanen provided before he signed with Washington. The Penguins also signed forward Steve Downie to a one-year deal, and his job will be to add grit and a little bit of offense to the bottom six.
The Penguins new GM Jim Rutheford was aggressive this offseason, and I believe that he will be a good fit in Pittsburgh for years to come. The Penguins first choice for a new head coach, Willie Desjardins, went to the Vancouver Canucks, and they had to get Mike Johnston as their backup plan. I believe that Pittsburgh will struggle under Johnston, and I think that his tenure with the Penguins will be brief.
I really like the moves that Rutheford made to add depth to the Penguins, but I think that the losses of Neal, Orpik, and Niskanen will hinder the team this year. I don’t think that Patric Hornqvist will be able to replace James Neal effectively, and while Christian Ehrhoff is a good player, he’s not good enough to compensate for the loss of Niskanen. Orpik is getting older and slower, but he was still a good shutdown defenseman for the Penguins last year, and they will definitely notice that he’s gone. I think that the Penguins will take a step back this year, and they will not finish first in the Metropolitan Division, but the Columbus Blue Jackets will. The Penguins will still make the playoffs, but I don’t see them making it past the second round.
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