The Pittsburgh Penguins may have just won the Stanley Cup, but no team is content to rest on its laurels. They will bid to be the first back-to-back Stanley Cup champion of the salary cap era. Here’s managing editor Hooks Orpik of Pensburgh to answer some questions about how likely they are to do that.
1. Do you expect the HBK line to stick together, or will Kessel settle into a more usual role on the wing of Crosby or Malkin?
As of now, indications are the Penguins will follow the “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” model. However, we all know NHL teams usually have to shuffle personnel around a lot anyways in the course of a long season with injuries and all, so I don’t think anything will be written in stone.
The big keys will be if Crosby/Malkin can get enough support from the “lesser” wingers to keep spreading the talent viable. If guys who played well in the playoffs like Bryan Rust and Conor Sheary can keep holding up their end of the bargain, there’s no real reason to change yet.
2. With Trevor Daley set to go UFA in 2017, and Schultz, Pouliot, and Dumoulin all going RFA, do you expect the Pens to try to move out a defenseman before the trade deadline? Do you think they'll be able to keep all of them? Or do you think they'll hold on for another Cup run and worry about the consequences later?
The Penguins will almost certainly keep all of them through the end of the season, unless they have a chance to make an upgrade somewhere. Pittsburgh has never been afraid to lose veteran players to free agency; it’s almost a right of passage for guys like Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen and Ben Lovejoy to move on to greener pastures financially. The Pens don’t really trade those impending UFA’s, they get the most out of them and then if they can’t get them signed, that’s that and everyone moves on. I would expect the same situation to play out for a guy like Daley.
Of those above, Dumoulin will certainly be the priority to retain, last year was his first full season in the NHL and by the end of it he was playing (and playing very well) on the top pair with Kris Letang. Hopefully the Pens get him signed to a long-term contract soon, but I’m sure it will work itself out with time.
3. It's very hard to repeat as a Stanley Cup champion, and yet if you don't lose any key pieces, anything else would be considered a disappointment. What would you consider a successful 2016-17 season for the Penguins?
I kind of subscribe to the old Bill Simmons saying (that went something like) if your team wins a championship then as a fan you have a 5-year period where you can’t really complain or be too upset with what happens. And, it’s still summer so everyone’s in the Stanley Cup glow and enjoying seeing all the players get their days with the Cup, so maybe ask me next spring. The World Cup of Hockey adds an extra wrinkle, since Pittsburgh players didn’t have a long summer and they’re sending several important players (Crosby, Malkin, Murray, Hornqvist, Hagelin, Maatta) to play there for an even shorter summer.
Ideally a successful season would be another long playoff run. If the Pens play next season under Mike Sullivan similar to last year (controlling play and possession) they should be near the top of the division at the end of the season. It’s always fun to win at least 2 playoff rounds and deny the division rivals their chance at the Cup. In a perfect world the Pens make another trip to the top if all the stars align, but long playoff runs are special events and they don’t happen every year, so there can’t be that much disappointment considering the Crosby/Malkin/Letang core already has 2 Cup rings.