Our Pittsburgh Penguins 2020-21 Preview is part of a one-a-day series covering the entire NHL. Click here for the rest of the teams in the leadup to another action-packed NHL season!
The Pittsburgh Penguins finished 3rd place in the Metro Division with a 40-23-6 record and 86 points. The team ended up 13th in the league for goals for, and 10th in the league for goals against. They ended up being upset in the Qualifying Round of the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs by the Montreal Canadiens.
So what was the season like for the team? Turns out they had some key injuries, a lot of trades and a hot young goalie. So you know, a run of the mill Penguins season.
Jake Guentzel was having himself a season until he injured his shoulder on December 30th 2019. In the 39 games he played, he potted 20 goals and 23 assists for 43 points. It looked like he was going to get 40 goals for the second straight year. Havin him out hurt the Penguins’ scoring depth.
General Manager Jim Rutherford realized this and in early Februray he traded away Alex Galchenyuk in exchange for Jason Zucker. Galchenyuk clearly wasn’t fitting in with the roster with 17 points in 45 games so he was shipped out with a 2021 1st round pick to the Minnesota Wild in exchange for Jason Zucker. Zucker came in and got 12 points in 15 games. Zucker immediately gelled with Crosby and scored his first two goals as a Penguin in the same game, both assisted by Crosby. Rutherford wasn’t done there though and was active at the trade deadline. He also acquired veteran Patrick Marleau from the San Jose Sharks in exchange for a 2021 3rd. From Buffalo he got Evan Rodrigues and former Crosby linemate Conor Sheary in exchange for Dominik Kahun.
After the Penguins season was ended, Rutherford made a few more moves. He started off with a real banger where he sent a 2020 1st round pick and Evan Rodrigues, David Warsofsky and Filip Hallander to the Toronto Maple Leafs in exchange for Kasperi Kapanen, Pontus Aberg and Jesper Lindgren. Essentially this deal boils down to a 1st round pick for Kasperi Kapenen, which is so far beyond a premium price I don’t know what Rutherford was thinking. This deal combined with the Zucker deal mean that the Penguins had no 2020 first round pick, and they won’t have one in 2021 either. With the Penguins window for another cup closing fast, I think this is a head scratcher move. The Zucker one makes sense, but Kapanen was a Penguins 1st round draft pick in 2014. Seems to me they would be better served by selecting a younger player with a higher ceiling than Kapanen who is now known as a fast 45 point player who plays the penalty kill sometimes.
Rutherford wasn’t done here though. In another deal with the Minnesota Wild, he sent Nick Bjugstad (at 50% salary retained) for a conditional 7th. So basically free at half price for the Wild. He sent fan and team favourite Patric Hornqvist to Florida for Colton Sceviour and Michael Matheson. This caught even Hornqvist by surprise. He was asked to waive his no trade clause and did so immediately, opting to got a team that wanted him around. And finally, he sent Matt Murray, 2 time Stanley Cup goaltender to the Ottawa Senators for a prospect, Jonathan Gruden and a 2020 2nd round pick. But Burke, why would they trade their starting goaltender? Well dear reader, remember I originally said they had hot young goalie in the mix.
Enter Tristan Jarry, the reason Matt Murray lost his job. The cycle continues, as Murray stole the job from Marc-Andre Fleury too. In 38 starts, Murray had a 20-11-5 record with a .899 save percentage and a 2.87 GAA. His goals saved above average was -11.60. Overall not great and a substantial drop for Murray. Jarry came in and in 31 starts, he had a 20-12-1 record. His save percentage was .921 and his GAA was 2.43. He flipped Murray’s goals saved above average too and had a 11.07 for that. Jarry was better. Simple as that. However it is a bit of a risk shipping Murray out after just 30 odd starts for Jarry this season. Jarry has only played in 62 games in the NHL. Definitely a gamble for the team, but they needed cap space to sign a few players.
The cap space is also why they bought out Jack Johnson. That and the fact he straight up sucked. The team needed to make room for Zucker and Matheson’s acquired contracts for the season, as well as the new contracts of Jared McCann and Kapanen.
In a funny move, Evan Rodrigues ended up signing with the team as a free agent so I guess he enjoyed his seven games in Pittsburgh enough to come back after traded out to the Leafs.
- Michael Matheson
- Colton Sceviour
- Cody Ceci
- Jonathan Gruden
- Kasperi Kapenen
- Frederick Gaudreau
- Mark Jankowski
- Evan Rodrigues
- Pontus Aberg
- Matt Murray
- Patric Hornqvist
- Nick Bjugstad
- Conor Sheary
- Patrick Marleau
- Jack Johnson
- Justin Schultz
- Dominik Simon
Pittsburgh Penguins Roster Preview
The Penguins had a lot of shake up in their roster, let’s dive into this.
The top two lines are going to be solid. Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby are still the league’s best one-two punch at centre. Head coach Mike Sullivan will have to play either Guentzel or Zucker on left wing with Crosby and the other with Malkin. Zucker has been known to play right side though, and with the early chemistry he showed with Crosby, why not try that out? Malkin played a lot with Bryan Rust who had a breakout for himself with 27 goals and 29 assists in 55 games last season. I expect those two to comprise two thirds of a line again.
Conor Sheary, Dominik Kahun and Dominik Simon all left the team in one way or another during the season. They all played with Crosby and now we will have a new vacancy in the top 6. Will it be Jared McCann or the newly acquired Kasperi Kapenen? I think one of those two cracks the top 6 but it won’t be a stable spot if the chemistry with Crosby or Geno is off.
The third unit will have either McCann or Kapanen, along with Sam Lafferty and Colton Sceviour.
Line four we will have Brandon Tanev, Zach Aston-Reese and Teddy Blueger. These three formed a consistent line combination last year. They didn’t generate much offense with only a 1.46 expected goals for per 60 minutes, but they also shut it down with onyl a 1.4 expected goals against per 60 minutes. Unless Sullivan wants any of these guys for offense, in which case they’ll move to line three.
Evan Rodrigues will be an extra guy to fill in when called upon.
The way I see things the Penguins have four serviceable defensemen at this time. They moved on from Justin Schultz and they bought out Jack Johnson.
Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin should play together on the first pairing. They saw time together last season when Letang wasn’t burdened with Johnson. John Marino and Marcus Pettersson should form the second unit. These two played well together and had an even strength expected goals against /60 of only 2.06. For comparison, the even strength GA/60 of Dumoulin and Letang together was 3.7. To be fair though, the calibre of player the top unit faced was probably better.
In my opinion adding Mike Matheson and Cody Ceci were bad moves. These two are both liabilities out there and as a fan of another Metro Division team I’m looking forward to them being taken advantage of. The Penguins will either have to split these two up or have them play together. My guess is that they will have Matheson try to play up to his $4.875 million contract with six years left on it and play first or second pairing. Ceci seems like an equivalent to Jack Johnson and should play bottom pairing minutes.
Jusso Riikola awaits action on the left-side, and Chad Ruhwedel is available to fill in on the right side when needed.
Tristan Jarry stole the job last season, now he must prove it should be his to keep. Lucky for him the Penguins aren’t exactly rife with talent in net anymore. He and Casey DeSmith are the tandem. DeSmith didn’t play in a single NHL game last season, but in his 50 games at the NHL level, his numbers are pretty good. With a condensed schedule this season, that doesn’t exactly inspire confidence though. An unproven starter, and an unproven backup could be either a huge boom, or a huge bust.
Pittsburgh Penguins 2020-2021 Prediction
4th-6th East Division
The Penguins really shook up the team with some of the off season moves. I think the prices they paid for these moves were very high, and they are trying to go all in. I don’t really see the team getting better with these moves. They are also putting a lot of faith in a young, unproven goalie tandem. The raw talent of Crosby and Malkin will still drag this team into a playoff spot despite any shortcomings in the defense or netminding.
That concludes our Pittsburgh Penguins 2020-21 Preview. Check to see if your team has been covered yet in our 2020-21 Season Preview Series.
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