The Pittsburgh Penguins have a lot of questions to answer heading into what will hopefully be a 2012-2013 season. As stated last week, there's concern over whether or not they are still the best team in the Eastern Conference. Subsequently, there are some run-off stories to this team with each player carrying their own headlines for 2012. Here are the top five player stories:
"Geno" proved his offseason training/rehab regimen last year was no joke, tallying 109 points and winning the Art Ross, Hart, and Ted Lindsay awards. Malkin was great nearly every night with downright breathtaking performances sprikled throughout the season. The big question: can "Geno" repeat his MVP calibre play? He certainly has the talent to be the best player in the world, but, at times, shows lapses in concentration. Malkin went back to Russia to train vigorously for the upcoming season. He seems to have found the perfect conditioning plan which will, hopefully, transition into another 100+ point performance.
When Ray Shero signed Martin to a 5 year, $25 million deal, he envisioned an excellent puck moving defenseman who could take care of business in his own end. Two years into the deal, Martin has turned from defensive anchor to salary cap killer. Despite Nashville having strong interest to Martin's rights, Shero, elected to hold on to the 31 year old from Minnesota. This could be Martin's last season to make an impact on the Pens. If he has a performance anything like last year, Shero may not be so patient to pull the trigger on a deal.
Fleury's 2011-2012 campaign was a giant roller coaster. After looking like a breakout goaltender halfway through the season, Fleury threw his name into consideration for the Vezina Trophy. The final month, however, became a free fall as Fleury's GAA rose by over one full point. Now, with the prime of his career starting age-wise, can Fleury pick up where he left off in March and finish the season in June with a Stanley Cup?
The most exciting player in the game finally made his return to hockey after battling over one full year of concussion symptoms. Unfortunately, Crosby's return spelled the end for Pittsburgh as they forgot how to be a successful team with their captain back at the helm. Crosby's nearly invisible performance in the playoffs against the Flyers didn't ease the pain but he may have been out of shape from not playing for so long. The question now is, can Sidney Crosby stay healthy for an entire season while also playing at a world-class level?
The biggest piece of the Jordan Staal trade (for now) will try to replicate #11's defensive role while providing excellent third-line offensive production. Sutter may not be the complete package like Staal, but he could become a more vital piece as he will likely be tasked to center the top penalty kill and defensive lines. Despite being just 23 year old, Sutter showed the leadership qualities for the Carolina Hurricanes who were reluctant to include him in the trade. With so many stars and leaders already on the Pens, Sutter will don the black and vegas gold as a second-tier player. However, his demeanor on and off the ice could make him a fan-favorite for Pittsburgh fans.
Assuming the league doesn't commit suicide with another lockout, the Penguins will have a lot of questions to answer. If they're going to be a Stanley Cup-contending team, they will need these five players to lead the charge toward what will hopefully be a fourth Stanley Cup championship.