Through-out the course of the year Jim Rutherford has been tweaking his team in attempts to push them closer at becoming a true Stanley Cup contender. So the question is, are the Penguins better post NHL trade deadline then they were prior?
Penguins roster prior to injuries and trades
Centers – Crosby, Malkin, Sutter, Goc
Wingers – Kunitz, Dupuis, Hornqvist, Bennett, Comeau, Downie, Adams, Spaling, Sill, Klinkhammer, Arcobello
Defense – Martin, Letang, Maatta, Ehrhoff, Despres, Scuderi, Bortuzzo
Goalies – Fleury, Greiss
Penguins predicted Playoff Roster
Centers – Crosby, Malkin, Sutter, LaPierre
Wingers – Perron, Hornqvist, Kunitz, Bennett, Comeau, Downie, Adams, Spaling, Winnik
Defense – Martin, Letang, Ehrhoff, Scuderi, Lovejoy, Cole, Pouliot
Goalies – Fleury, Greiss
2015 1st round pick
2015 4th round pick
2016 2nd round pick
2016 7th round pick
Grit, Intensity, Leadership & Heart
The four words above describe what Stanley Cup winning teams all possess and throughout the past five years the Penguins have either lacked one or more of those qualities. This year however, despite very rocky points through-out the season, this team has been regaining much of what they needed.
Early in the year we saw a Penguins team that could score with the best of them, they excelled on the Power Play and even stayed strong on the Penalty Kill. Unfortunately after nearly two months of that success injury and illness began to run rampant through the squad.
And while it took nearly 3 months and a few acquisitions to finally get back on track, the Penguins held strong enough to not lose too much ground in the standings leading up to the trade deadline.
So have they been able to position themselves to succeed come playoff time?
Well, before the season even began General manager Jim Rutherford made quite a few signings as well as a trade to help better this team. during this time he addressed two very big qualities the Penguins have lacked, leadership and grit.
By making a controversial trade moving James Neal for Patric Hornqvist. In doing this Rutherford removed a problem (yes Neal was more of a nuisance than not) and brought in a strong leader in Patric Hornqvist as well as bottom six depth with Nick Spaling.
He (Rutherford) then signed Steve Downie and Blake Comeau, two players who bring grittiness to this team as well as an ability to chip in here and there on the score sheet.
So going into the season Rutherford addressed leadership and grit by acquiring, in some way, Patric Hornqvist, Steve Downie and Blake Comeau.
The Penguins GM knew at this time, leading into the coming season, that many of the unanswered questions would need to be rectified through trade. One of the biggest has been a proven and strong winger to play along side Evgeni Malkin. And while that was an area the Penguins were unable to address this season, Rutherford made sure to properly and effectively tackle all the others.
Bringing in a player like David Perron from a unbelievably bad Edmonton Oilers team Rutherford ensured that we would have a player that not only produces, but finally has something to play for…. to bring Heart to the team. The additions of LaPierre and Winnick continued to solidify the Penguins bottom six, grit…. and Heart.
Intensity may be the most difficult thing a team can develop as its not something that a single player can bring. This develops over time when teams battle through adversity, much like the Penguins have done all season.
And while all of these qualities have been addressed there is a factor within all of this that must improve from previous years. The Penguins Superstars.
Evgeni Malkin, Sidney Crosby, Kris Letang and Marc-Andre Fleury need to bury their demons of the past and carry this team….THEIR team through the post-season. While it may not be an easy task, Jim Rutherford has ensured they have the assets needed to be successful. It’s true Malkin doesn’t have a true top six forward to play with him on his wing, but Comeau has proved to be a strong component for the time being. The bottom six is more than capable of chipping in here and there, but this coming spring will not be about the depth of this team, but rather the stars who have failed time and again since last raising Lord Stanley’s Cup nearly six years ago.
This is your Pittsburgh Penguins team who will march towards the playoffs, and you may not particularly like losing Despres for Lovejoy or Bortuzzo for Cole, but don’t think for one minute if this team fails in the post-season it is because of either of them.
Everything now rests on the shoulders of those who are considered the best in the world and personally I think they are up to the challenge… do you?
Thanks for reading!
– Robert Slavinsky