Any spring that doesn’t end with a Stanley Cup parade being held in the city of Pittsburgh leaves many questions, as well as, a few months of tremendous disappointment. Holding a commanding 3-1 series lead over the New York Rangers in last year’s Eastern Conference Semi Finals, the last thought in anyone’s mind was the Penguins being taken to a game 7, nonetheless losing that series. When you have arguably two of the league’s most lethal offensive weapons in their prime, along with a slew of other firepower and talented defensemen, there isn’t a very wide window for coming up short.
Fast forward four months later and you’ll find the Pittsburgh Penguins franchise with a complete face-lift starting with newly appointed General Manager Jim Rutherford and Head Coach Mike Johnston. James Neal, Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen, and Jussi Jokinen most notably, have all moved on. Neal was dealt to Nashville for forwards Nick Spaling and Patric Hornqvist . Orpik and Niskanen both signed with Washington and Jokinen signed a 4 year-16 million-dollar deal with the Florida Panthers. Hornqvist and Spaling will look to contribute early as well as add more depth to the four-forward lines.
The two biggest signings the Pens were able to get done in the off-season were acquiring forward Steve Downie and defensemen Christian Ehrhoff. Downie has plenty of experience of complimenting big talent lines from his days playing with Martin St. Louis and Steven Stamkos in Tampa Bay. He might also be the component of toughness the Pens have lacked in years past that can also add more protection to Sidney Crosby’s vulnerability at times. Ehrhoff was bought out of his last contract and possibly overshadowed by the last place Buffalo Sabres. On the blue line, Ehrhoff’s puck possession along with his offensive skill set should make up for the loss of Matt Niskanen. It wouldn’t be surprising to see his numbers jump to where they were a couple years ago in Vancouver considering his very gifted supporting cast in Pittsburgh.
If the Pens can remain healthy and find a solid chemistry together, there’s no reason why they can’t seriously contend for another Stanley Cup. Reigning MVP Sidney Crosby played the most regular season games (80) he has since 2009-2010 (81). When him and Evgeni Malkin are both in the lineup, the sky is the limit. If goaltender Marc Andre Fleury can keep the game in front of him and build off of his improvement in last year’s regular season and playoff performances, there is no reason why there should be any disappointment in Pittsburgh this spring.