It’s almost impossible to win back-to-back Stanley Cups these days, but the Penguins have enough talent top to bottom to have a decent shot.
THN is rolling out its 2016-17 Team Previews daily, in reverse order of 2015-16 overall finish, until the start of the season.
THN’s Prediction: 2nd in Metro
Stanley Cup odds: 10-1
Key additions: None
Key departures: Ben Lovejoy, D; Beau Bennett, RW; Jeff Zatkoff, G
-Can Sidney Crosby win the scoring title? He probably could win the Art Ross Trophy again, but he won’t. Crosby is fully entrenched as the best player in the world right now, but he does so as a devastating two-way player, not a scoreboard scorcher. Sure, if the Penguins need a goal, he’ll be there, but so will a healthy Evgeni Malkin, another superstar center Pittsburgh can rely on. Crosby, 29, will leave the Art Ross races for Patrick Kane, Jamie Benn and Connor McDavid, focusing instead on another deep playoff run.
-Can the Penguins repeat as Cup champs? No. It’s just too hard – especially in a World Cup year in which Crosby and Malkin will have played big-time games earlier than usual. While the Penguins will still be one of the top threats in the NHL, so much has to go right for a repeat, and no longer will instant heroes such as Matt Murray, Conor Sheary or Bryan Rust be surprises to opponents. Plus, Tampa Bay came very close to eliminating the Penguins in the East final even without Steven Stamkos in the lineup for almost the entire series.
-Can the defense hold up? Kris Letang and friends did just fine en route to the Cup. And though Ben Lovejoy is gone, Trevor Daley is healthy again. Brian Dumoulin is a hidden gem no longer thanks to his play last season, while growth from Olli Maatta and Derrick Pouliot will help. But coach Mike Sullivan’s system of getting the puck out and up to the forwards ASAP may be the biggest advantage. While there may be some off nights during the regular season, the team’s efficiency in the post-season gives it a great template.
Player projections are based off a three-year version of Game Score (which you can read about here) weighted by recency and repeatability and then translated to its approximate win value (Game Score Value Added or GSVA). Team strength was derived from the combined value of every player’s GSVA on a team. The season was then simulated 10,000 times factoring in team strength, opponent strength and rest.
The Pittsburgh Penguins are the best team in hockey. That’s what this model thinks at least, and that’s sort of what the shiny new rings on everyone’s fingers proves. They’re the reigning Stanley Cup champions and they’ve got the best shot to win it all again this season.
Yes, it’s tough to repeat as champions in the modern era, but that’s almost entirely due to how thin the margins are for winning at all in the first place. Even if the Pens have the best chance (and they do), it’s far more likely that anyone else wins just by virtue of hockey being a random game with many other very good teams that are all very close in talent. Still, the Penguins are in a class of their own at the top, finishing ahead of the second best team by an average of 2.9 points. That’s the same as the gap between second and fifth.
But really, how could they not be the best? They’ve got the best player in the world in Sidney Crosby and another top 10 center in Evgeni Malkin. Then they’ve got one of the most talented goal-scorers in the league in Phil Kessel manning his own line, a line that crushed every team in its path during the playoffs. With those guys rolling on three separate lines, it’s extremely difficult to contain them.
Pittsburgh finally has the depth to fill the rest of the lineup with talented players that can actually play with their stars. They’ve emphasized speed, transition, and forechecking all toward a goal of creating as many scoring chances as possible. They have a very underrated and mobile defence group led by Kris Letang that gets the puck on the skill forwards’ sticks in motion. That’s all thanks to Mike Sullivan and it turns Pittsburgh into a nearly unstoppable team.
In net, it really doesn’t matter who starts as both Marc-Andre Fleury and Matt Murray are very talented goaltenders. With them manning the cage, the team can play the up-tempo, offensive style that’s made them so successful because they can trust their goaltending to stop whatever is coming the other way.
Don’t count out the Penguins just because they won last season. It’ll be difficult to repeat, but this team has the talent to do it. It’s mostly the same guys coming back and you better believe they’re hungry for another one.
Up next: St. Louis Blues
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