PITTSBURGH, Pa. – Sidney Crosby went fishing. Coach Dan Bylsma visited Evgeni Malkin in Moscow. Max Talbot went to the doctor a lot less often than usual. Jordan Staal visited his doctors far more often than before.
The Pittsburgh Penguins experienced a close-to-normal off-season after missing out on the Stanley Cup final for the first time since 2007. They welcomed the break following two truncated off-seasons, but they hated the way it occurred with a second-round playoff series loss to Montreal.
“I think everybody is ready to put last year behind us,” Talbot said Friday. “Especially the way we came out in the playoffs.”
The Penguins’ roster has undergone more retooling than usual. Defenceman Sergei Gonchar signed with Ottawa and top-line forward Bill Guerin wasn’t re-signed. And a team better known for collecting top-tier scorers spent US$45 million in one day signing defencemen Paul Martin and Zybnek Michalek to upgrade a defence that ranked 20th in goals allowed.
The biggest change is ongoing. There were numerous can-you-believe-this moments Friday as players accustomed to the sparse facilities of the now-closed Civic Arena, the franchise’s home since 1967, walked into a specious new Consol Energy Center locker room or worked out in a fitness area that’s the length of a football field.
The NHL’s newest arena is proving to be a major adjustment for players who couldn’t run pre-game sprints in their old venue without encountering caterers hauling food trays to suite holders. Or to those who spent time in a tiny visitors’ dressing room that had nails for lockers.
“Yeah, it’s a little bigger than we’re used to,” Crosby said.
The ceiling in the Penguins’ locker room is designed to resemble the steel roof in the Civic Arena, and large photos of Penguins Hall of Famers such as Mario Lemieux, Ron Francis and Scott Bowman are displayed above the players’ wooden equipment stalls.
“For a brand new building, it seems pretty homey right away,” Crosby said.
While breaking in the new arena during training camp, the Penguins will sort out a roster that contains a dozen forwards on NHL contracts, a defensive corps that has two openings and settle on their line combinations, at least for now. That could prove tricky as Staal sits out camp due to a right foot infection that set in after a tendon was lacerated in the Montreal series.
Staal spent the summer recovering from what teammates said were five surgeries on the foot, and he is expected to miss the first two-to-three weeks of the season.
Bylsma plans to shift Staal from the No. 3 to the No. 2 line and move Malkin from centre to a wing to play alongside him, but those plans are on hold until Staal is healthy. With Guerin gone, Crosby must break in at least one new wing.
Veteran forwards Mike Comrie and Arron Asham give Bylsma some flexibility. Another option is Talbot, who was so slowed by injuries last season that he scored only as many goals (two) in 45 games as he did when Pittsburgh won Game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup final against Detroit.
“There’s certainly a lot in the summer time to think about for a coach, but one of them is not, ‘Here’s my lines, they’re going to stay this way the whole year,’ ” said Bylsma, who spent a couple of days with Malkin in Russia during the summer. “You always have to be aware of and plan on people being in and out of the lineup, based on injuries and circumstances.
“To think that one guy is going to play one spot, it’s not going to happen.”
Because the Penguins allocated so much salary cap space to the two defencemen, they didn’t have the money for a high-production, high-priced forward—not that there were many on the market. Crosby adjusted long ago to playing with an ever-changing cast, and he apparently will again.
“I don’t think that’s a big deal,” said Crosby, who spent some of his time off fishing in his native Nova Scotia. “I mean you want chemistry, for sure, with any combinations, but it’s pretty common to see things juggled.
“I would expect to see that during camp and the start of the season. If we start off with four lines doing well, that’s great, but you always expect it to be jumbled around a little bit.”
The Penguins play six exhibition games before opening the season Oct. 7 at home against Eastern Conference-champion Philadelphia.