Are you allowed to say on the Internet that you haven't recovered from the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals? Can you say you haven't recovered from the 2012 losst o the Flyers?
Because we haven't. And not because the Penguins lost.
It was how it happened
You watch an NHL season. Night in and night out, you get a feeling for the team you watch.
And then 2012 happened. A dominant regular-season team got dismantled, fell apart, was left in pieces. And then the 2013 Eastern Conference Finals happened. It wasn't a hard-fought seven-game series. It wasn't even a series. The Penguins scored two goals.
They got swept. A dominant team, left in ruins. A fanbase eating itself.
Then came Dan Bylsma's bizarre postseason press conference. Then came his extentsion. And the Letang contract thing. Then Dupuis re-signing. And Kunitz extended. Shero brought Rob Scuderi back and said goodbye to TK and Matt Cooke.
Hockey's regular season is always a fun ride, but the playoffs are already in our heads. The last two years have broken our minds when it comes to the regular season. It is like some temporary vortex. We know the regular season matters. We love hockey. We love the Penguins.
Are we spoiled? Well, take a quick look at the seven season previews we've done since we started this thing.
The last seven years of season previews.
The Penguins will begin the season with the youngest roster in their 40-year history. They are 65-1 odds to win the Stanley Cup. Sometime during this season, we may know for sure if the Penguins are leaving or staying in Pittsburgh. We have Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Marc-Andre Fleury. It might not happen this year, but the Penguins will make some noise in the playoffs soon.
Everyone wants the Cup this year, and it could happen.
We now expect the Pens will be in the playoffs, but how can anyone be sure.
It is an 82-game battle, and you know there is going to be some tense times.
We started last year taking one game at a time. And we will do that this year as well.
There is nothing worse than an overconfident fan base.
If the Pens do make the playoffs, it will be a matter if last year's playoff experience, and if the season-long tutelage of Roberts, Sydor, and Sykora, will be enough to win 16 games in the spring.
Oh, here comes the hangover.
Oh, the Pens have lost too many players.
Pens fans better shoot themselves in the ass.
What retarded sportswriters and people around the NHL don't understand is,
Pens fans can't be more pleased.
For the last 3 or 4 years, free agency was the last thing on Pens fans' minds.
We just wanted our team to stay in the damn city.
Good thing we're not Dan Bylsma or a Pens player.
Disco has been preaching to forget about last season.
As fans, we never will; we'll keep watching Game 7 highlights every day like we've been all summer.
2008-09 was a vegeance tour. It was about righting the wrongs of years passed.
2009-2010 is a defense. A defense of the greatest title in professional sports.
It is one last defense of the only Arena we've ever known.
It can easily be debated that the Pens may not have one of the best lineups in recent memory because they don't have the winnnnnnnngers for Sid. Wah. They didn't win the Cup with Hossa and Malone and Sykora. They won the Cup with Kunitz and Guerin. But more importantly, they won the Cup with Hal Gill, Rob Scuderi, and Dan Bylsma's decision to roll 7 defensemen throughout a bulk of the Cup run. When playoff time comes around, if you have Crosby, Malkin, and Staal lurking, it's up to your defense to hold the line. Last year's defense didn't. This year's will.
50 wins are happening. Winning the division is happening.
This team is already built for the playoffs.
The Penguins didn't have a big off-season. They weren't making headlines with big moves. But in almost every season preview, they are picked to win the Cup. Even the EA Sports simulation predicted the Pens would win it. (Third period comebacks must have been turned off. )
There is a reason for this, though. Look at the roster. The Penguins still have a young team, but they have six players with at least 600 games played, and almost the rest have at least 300 games. Insane.
We admit — we miss the days of taking one game at a time, watching young players develop. Expectations used to be "hey, just get to the playoffs."
Now they are Cup or bust.
If you disagree with any of the following stock trends, that means you would be willing to put money on the fact that we’re wrong about how a certain player is trending. Wish we could all go into the concrete jungle and place some bets, but it’s the Internet and we’re not allowed to do that.
Just remember that this is how the players are trending. An excellent example is Sidney Crosby. He is the best player in the world, but is his stock actually rising? Not sure it can go any further up when he is already considered the best in the game. It sure as hell isn’t going down, though, either.
Two changes on the coaching staff. A traffic cone replaces the lifeless Gilles Meloche as goalie coach, and Jacques Martin enters stage right to help the defense and provide us with a suggestion on who should replace Bylsma when the Pens struggle.
While there remains some discussion regarding the Penguins’ depth chart (Who exactly is the third line? Is it Beau Bennett or Jussi Jokinen on the second?), you’d have to be more brain-dead than Leafs fans poking fun at George Parros’ concussion to not realize what the top unit is.
Sidney Crosby is your #1 pick in every fantasy draft. Anyone who doesn’t take him should have their fantasy card taken away. We all know what we’re getting with Sid. The no-show against Boston was an aberration. He’s gonna be good. Like, really good. If he produces at the scoring pace he did a year ago, he’d notch 127 points, which would be a career high.
Two questions remain with Crosby, however. Unfortunately, the bad question that has to be asked from now to eternity is “Can he remain healthy?” He’s gone from playing the majority of the season in four of his first five seasons (at least 77 games in those four seasons) to missing significant, significant time over the last three.
The other question and the one way Crosby’s stock would improve is if he remembers that a few years ago he was a 50-goal scorer. He actually is shooting quite a bit more these days, but he was on pace for “only” 34 goals last season. Get that number up to 45+ and forget about it.
Malkin and Crosby are basically Apple stock at this point. It may waver up and down a little bit, and some people may try to manipulate the stock with stupid articles, but they've both reached their plateau. They're considered two of the best players in the game.
There is enormous pressure for Malkin to perform this year, not only in the NHL, but also at the Olympics in Sochi. He is healthy by all acounts. He'll reach 100 points this year.
Is Pascal Dupuis really going to become a 30-goal scorer? On the one hand, it’s hard to say he will, considering he’s a year older at 34 and had never before put together two straight seasons of 20 goals. On the other hand, of his three 20-goal seasons, two came in the last two. So it makes sense to say he’s trending the right way, and who’s to argue at this point?
And especially given what we saw on the opening night of hockey when there were 26 goals in three games, with no team scoring less than three, maybe scoring will be up and that could reflect on Dupuis, whose speed continues to be an extreme asset alongside Crosby.
Which brings us to Chris Kunitz. Remember when so many people hated him, said he wasn’t any good on the top line? We didn’t hear much from those people last season. Those who knew Kunitz's style and skillset knew he’d give you 20-25 goals a season and do the dirty work that finesse guys won’t do. His chemistry with Crosby is as good as Dupuis’ with Crosby, and Kunitz became better than a point-per-game player. But of the three, Kunitz might be the most likely to see a drop in his production just because you have to wonder how long it is before his rugged style of play begins taking a toll on him physically, although he hasn’t missed a game since 2010-11. So that’s good, you know.
We are at the point where we should expect a 25-goal, 50-point season from Kunitz. That’s basically been his ceiling throughout his career. The bottom line is there’s not much reason to think that the top unit as a whole won’t produce as much as it did last season.
Jokinen was on an absolute tear at the tail end of the regular season last year when he joined the Pens. His 7 goals and 4 assists in 10 games would have him on pace for 57 goals and 32 assists in an 82-game season. If he comes anywhere close to that production, given his salary, this is an absolute steal. His stock is definitely rising. Would you buy shares in Jussi Jokinen right now? We would, too.
Bennett's young and has the pedigree of being a first-round pick. He's gotten a taste of the NHL, and he has been told to bulk up, so he did. He showed some flashes last season, and if we had to put money on it, we'd say Bennett will score at least 15 goals this year if he blends in well enough with Malkin and Neal.
Anyone in their right mind would've given Sutter a RISING rating going into last season. He was on a new team, had offensive promise, and just seemed like a great third-line center.
But looking back on last season, there’s only like 2 things that come to mind when you think about Brandon Sutter: his OT goal in Montreal and his goals in that comeback game against the Bruins. Oh, and he scored one of the Pens’ two goals in the ECF. Otherwise, he seemed to be just drifting around.
He’ll probably get 20 goals this season. He broke through the 20-goal milestone in 2009-2010, so there’s really no justification to say his stock is rising. EVEN seems fair.
Jeffrey’s stock is falling, but that’s not his fault. If he would’ve been allowed to play in the playoffs last year and maybe score a goal or two, his stock rating would be RISING here. But he wasn’t allowed to play. He’s worthy of an EVEN rating, but he may be going the way of Mark Letestu: getting traded to another team where he would be a lock to make the lineup every night.
His stock is rising because he still has to reach that 50-goal mark, and he will this season.
Fart sounds. No idea what Kobasew will bring to the table. Hopefully he gets 60 goals.
Ask us before last season, and we say his stock is rising. And it did. He finally hit a point per game and was finally considered as a legitimate Norris Trophy finalist. Hell, he even hit over a point per game in the playoffs. But now that he’s established his level, it’s up to him to stay injury-free, keep up the offensive production, and get away from losing his mind in games. Would you bet all the money you’ve saved up for retirement that Letang will improve over last season? If so, then our EVEN rating for him is incorrect.
The Piece is The Piece. Simple as that.
Niskanen's stock is rising because of the old stock-market advice: Buy low and sell high. It's been great watching him get better year over year the last couple seasons, but his name keeps creeping up in trade rumors when it comes to salary-cap wiggle room.
He's the longest-tenured Penguin, and it just seems like he's becoming the grumpy grandfather in the locker room. We'd love to give him at least an EVEN rating, but he's in the final year of his contract and may ask for more money this time around.
His stock is rising basically because the Pens may be forced to play him if there are injuries. Hard to find a Pens fan who doesn't like Bortuzzo, either. Probably should've given him an EVEN rating, but we don't even know what the point of this stock shit is.
He showed some amazing stuff last year. We would give him a RISING if we were 100% sure that the coaching staff had any confidence in him whatsoever. Sadly, we just can't see ourselves betting the farm on the organization allowing Despres to take a giant leap this year.
Would love to have Maatta rising, but he doesn't live in Pittsburgh yet. Betting your kids' college tuition on Maatta today? Can't do it. He's probably gonna be a beast, though.
He’s Deryk Engelland, and his stock is falling because there are too many other defensemen in the Pens’ system knocking on the door.
Well, if the ESPN ranking of top goalies in the league is any indication, Fleury’s stock has definitely fallen. Read any Pens prediction for this season, and the question mark surrounding Marc-Andre Fleury is front and center. If you want a goalie who can backstop a perennially high-scoring offense to 40 wins a season, then he’s your guy.
But are you betting your 401(k) on MAF in the playoffs? If you’re a stock advisor, are you advising clients of yours to buy, buy, buy shares of MAF? If you're betting on him, you're betting with your heart. We are obviously pulling for the guy to succeed, but he’s another playoff meltdown away from the Pens really being in trouble.
So, the reason for all the EVEN ratings? Well, it just worked out that way. And because the Penguins have the 5th-oldest roster in the league if you’re looking at the average age. Hard to have a lot of players on the rise when most of them have reached or just reached their primes. Does this mean the Penguins aren’t contenders this year? Hell, no. Chicago won the Cup last year, and a bulk of their roster would have EVEN ratings going into this season, as well. The EVEN plateau for a player can last several years. If you have a team full of players that are RISING, that means your team just ain’t there yet. And God help you if your team is full of players that are FALLING.
Bottom line: The Pens’ roster is in a good place when it comes to this bullshit stock-market theme.
The regular season is all well and good, and it will be entertaining, but the hay is made come playoff time.
Just got to sit back and enjoy the ride. Go Pens.
Prediction: Pens will go 82-0 and win 15 straight playoff games before losing 4 straight to the Minnesota Wild in the SCF.