Penguins Closer Look (Offense)
Pittsburgh is fortunate to have two of the top 5 players in the world on their team in Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby, yet even with those two stellar players there are many things the Penguins offense is lacking. In this article I want to go over the Pens offense, where they exceed and where they fall short, much like my previous article (Penguins Closer Look (Defense) ) I will go over the names being rumored to come to the Burgh as well as some names I think could bring a little something to the team.
The Penguins currently sit roughly at $61-million in salary this season, technically the teams can spend up to $70 million leaving around $9 million (Tough Math, I Know) to play with if they so choose. During the off season, many speculated that a good portion of that would go to a Winger and another portion would go for a Defender. With that said lets take a look at who the Penguins have and who could be available around the league to fill the gaps throughout the Offense.
Penguins Current Forwards (NHL)
Crosby – Malkin – Neal – Kunitz
Dupuis – Kennedy – Sutter – Cooke
Adams – Glass – Jeffery – Vitale
Possible NHL Ready Players
Bennett – Tangradi
Last season the Penguins ranked #1 in goals scored with Crosby sidelined for all but 22 games and Malkin winning the NHL scoring title, racking up 50 goals and 109 points. The difference between then and now is very slim, but there are some concerns that many fans and analysts have. First and foremost the absence of Staal, Staal was a force whether he was on the Penalty Kill 5 on 5 of Power Play, he had 25 goals and 50 points last season all while centering the 2nd line and top Penalty Kill unit. To replace him we have Brandon Sutter, a similar player but lacks the size and tenacity seen from Staal over the 6 seasons he was with the Penguins. Sutter will be a solid Penalty Killer and is the ideal 3rd line center, he will put up roughly 20 goals and is very strong in the face off circle, just don’t expect him to take over games like Staal had done many times. (remember the Detroit game in November of 08?)
Let’s look at the top 2 lines.
After Neal put up career high numbers with 40 goals and 81 points with Malkin as his center, it is unlikely we will see those two split up throughout this season, especially early on. Kunitz has always played well with Crosby and despite how well Kunitz played on the Neal Malkin line you can be sure we will see him on Sid’s line early on. That leaves two spots, a Left Wing spot on Malkin’s line and a Right Wing on Crosby’s. It is uncertain who will fill these positions but it is obvious that certain players will get their shot. Bennett, Dupuis, Kennedy,Tangradi, and Cooke will all be fighting for those two spots and It should be interesting to see what happens because of this.
Dupuis is coming off of a stellar season where he had a career year scoring 25 goals and 51 points, I think it is apparent that he has the best chance of playing along Crosby but we know anything can happen. Kennedy is on his final year of his contract and if he continues like he did last year than we can assume it will be his final in a Penguins sweater. Cooke is another player that will get a good shot at making it on one of the top lines like Dupuis he had an amazing season as he made tweaks to his game and become more of a scoring threat with 19 goals and 38 points. I hate to say it but this could be Tangradi’s final shot at making this team on a permanent basis, the past couple seasons he has been back and forth between the Penguins minor league affiliate and the big club multiple times, unfortunately it seems he has never been given a real shot to prove his skill as he is made for top two line minutes but only given fourth line duties on this team. If I could say one thing to Tangradi it would be “Give it your all”, there is not a single thing that will keep him off this team if he plays to his potential and shows management that he is ready for the NHL. Something you may not know, but the Penguins have not had a pure goal scorer come through their system in quite some time, yea we have had players like Talbot, Armstrong, and Malone make their way through, yet none of them are true goal scorers. Before I get to the Pens ace in the hole Dustin Jeffery has had a rough couple years, in the AHL he is a stead 20-25 goal scorer yet when he makes the jump to the NHL he has a little trouble adapting. Is it because of coaching, or is it that he is not suited for the high level of play? Either way I think he will have a decent shot at making this team because prior to an injury he suffered in 2011 he started to show flashes of what he brings at the AHL level. Without further adieu allow me to introduce Beau Bennett, this will be a name you hear though out this season, whether he is on the Penguins roster or building experience in Wilkes-Barre. So far this season he has 6 goals and and 23 points in 28 games, and I know what you are thinking “Those are not pure goal scorer numbers.” Yes you’re right, but that is not the role he is given on that team, I can assure you when he makes his debut on a line with Geno or Sid we will see big numbers and 30 or 40 goal seasons are not out of the picture with this kid.
The Bottom Six
The Penguins fourth line is pretty obvious and will have a couple players jump on and off depending on who we play on a night to night basis, but the third line may be a little tricky. Brandon Sutter was brought over in the Jordan Staal trade to take over Third line Center duties,but who can build chemistry with him, who will mesh with his style of play? Immediately i say Kennedy and Cooke, as they both played with Staal on a very effective third unit, but like I said above Cooke and Kennedy have a chance to play in the top six which means whoever is unable to crack the top six will be put with Sutter. When it comes to the fourth line its obvious who will be playing there. Adams, Glass, and Vitale will be on fourth line duty come January 19th. You will see those who can not make the top 9 to occasionally get time here through out the season though.
Whose out there?
To be completely honest no one is really out there, the best shot the Penguins had at gaining another all star forward decided to sign with Minnesota this off season, that doesn’t mean that there are no players the Penguins should attempt to trade for. Some names I have heard are Ryan Malone and Jarome Iginla. Iginla is on the final year of his contract in Calgary and wherever he lands may be his final shot at raising the Cup, so why don’t the Penguins put together a nice deal with picks and prospects and maybe one NHL ready player for the services of Iggy? He played well with Crosby in the Olympics, even assisting on Sid’s Gold Medal winning Goal. Could be interesting. Ryan Malone’s name has been floating around since he left the Burgh for Thunderbay, and honestly besides his high price I can not find a reason on not bringing him here. He played VERY well with Geno while he was here and he has strong roots in Pittsburgh. Maybe one day we see him back in the Gold and Black, one day. Finally a name that only recently came about, Mike Knuble. Knuble could be an interesting fit on this team, obviously he is no longer in his prime, but he could bring a great sense of leadership all the while being an important role on the Powerplay or maybe occasionally on one of the top two lines.
Granted the Penguins were #1 in scoring last season, and again that was with Crosby not in the line up for 60 games, but can Cooke, Dupuis and even Malkin continue what they had started last year? Malkin has been notorious for becoming invisible when Sid is healthy and playing well, Dupuis though he had a career season and even ended it with a 17 game point streak may not be able to transition that play after a LONG summer, and what about Cooke? He tweaked his play and showed everyone he was more than just a “bully” on the ice, yet at anytime he could fall back into old habits. Add all of that on the fact that Jordan Staal was traded it seem this team will have an uphill battle to claim the #1 spot in scoring again this season.
My Prediction on who we see Opening Night.
As much as I would like to see Iginla with a Penguin on his chest, i do not believe it will happen by the start of the season, what i suspect is Shero and Bylsma will utilize who they have until they see what problems truly need fixed or a deal too good to be true falls in their lap.
Line 1a: Neal – Malkin – Cooke
Line1b: Kunitz – Crosby – Dupuis
Line3: Kennedy – Sutter – Tangradi
Line4: Adams – Vitale – Glass
Bennett will make an impact this season at some point, he may even slide his way onto the Opening Night Roster, but Unless a player like Kennedy is moved to clear space he will unfortunately be the odd man out.
So there you have it a look into the Penguins offense, what do you think, who will make the cut and who wont?
Check out my next article when I cover Goaltending and Special Teams.