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30 Teams in 30 Days - Pittsburgh Penguins Written by habsfan93 - September 9th, 2009

Over the course of 30 days, yours truly is going to take a look at each team in the league, examine their off-season moves, assess the biggest issue facing the team, highlight a player or two to watch for, and finally give an outlook on the season.

Next up, the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Pittsburgh Penguins
Season 5: 28-43-7-4 (15th East, 5th Atlantic)
GM: Spicy McHaggis (4th Season)

Currently Projected Season 6 Roster:
(Incoming Player in Bold, Rookies in Italics)

Parise - Pavelski - Hagman
Brunnstrom - Sharp - Guerin
Moulson - Kennedy - O'Sullivan
Jones - Kreps - Burish

Blake - Hainsey
Gleason - Burns
Orpik - Smaby


What They Did In The Off-Season:

Season 5 for the Penguins represented a 3rd consecutive rebuilding year, as they failed to hit the 30-win mark once again and finished dead last in the Eastern Conference. That said, rebuilding is not an easy process and a slow and steady rebuild can lead to great rewards. The Penguins look to be in terrific shape, with a bevy of up-and-coming young players ready to usher this franchise into the next era. GM Spicy McHaggis made some moves this summer that will help spring that process along.

The summer started with the loss of a couple of players to retirement, most notably, defenceman Janne Niinimaa. That said, although his veteran presence will be missed, his large salary cap hit will not. Other players lost include backup goalie Mikael Tellqvist, and grinder Trevor Letowski. The Penguins then got to work early, as GM McHaggis opened up the summer with couple of trades, dealing Ryan Suter to the Ducks for Brent Burns. Suter, after 3 years in the Penguins system, was having a hard time sticking on the Pro roster. Burns, on the other hand, is well acquainted with rebuilding teams, having scored over 50 points twice on a very raw Toronto Maple Leafs team in Seasons 3 and 4. Given the opportunity, he could prove to be a very wise acquisition for the Penguins.

McHaggis continued to tweak the defence corps, next dealing James Wisniewski to the Islanders for RFA Ron Hainsey. Hainsey has proved over the last two years to be a very reliable defensive defenceman who can chip in 30 points, and he is no doubt a defensive upgrade over Wisniewski. The Penguins were then able to come to terms with all their RFA's in relatively short order. At the Entry Draft, the Penguins held only 2 selections, a 2nd and 7th round picks, with all their other picks having been dealt previously. Well, rather than making a selection, they dealt their 2nd to Toronto for goaltender Martin Jones, who posted an absolutely stunning 45-5-4 record in the WHL last year. This could prove to be a major steal in a few years from now if Jones pans out. With their sole selection, the Penguins then took center Jordan Nolan, out of the OHL.

Following the draft, GM McHaggis decided it was time to make some noise and he made three trades that drastically improve the Penguins playoff chances in Season 6. First, he dealt up-and-coming forward Martin Hanzal to San Jose for Joe Pavelski. Pavelski is a small speedy center with lots of offensive potential and a dominating faceoff ability. Paired with Zach Parise, Pavelski should easily surpass his career high of 42 points. A quick look at some of the powerhouse teams in the league, the ones that consistently go far into the playoffs reveals one key characteristic - the presence of a top level goalie. So GM McHaggis reached out to the Sabres and acquired Evgeni Nabokov. The price was high - top scorer Pierre-Marc Bouchard and 2 1st round draft picks. But the Sabres are eager to pass the buck onto Carey Price and GM McHaggis must have felt that the price was worthwhile. Nabokov has a career record of 168-134-38, a career GAA of 2.57, and has never had a losing season. He is always in the Vezina discussion at the end of the year, and he instantly makes the Penguins a threat. Finally, in order to bring a veteran presence onto this young team, the Pens grabbed winger Bill Guerin from the Leafs who were desperate to rid themselves of his salary.

But they weren't done there. With a big salary cap window, the Penguins, feeling a little weak on the blueline, made a big pitch for the best defenceman on the UFA market, and signed Rob Blake to a two-year, $7,750,000 deal. Blake isn't the offensive threat that he used to be, but he is steady as ever on defense and vastly improves this team.

Biggest Issue Facing the Team:

Salary. With veterans Blake and Guerin eating up massive chunks of salary cap space, the Penguins are right up against the Salary Cap, and have absolutely no flexibility at the moment. Someone on the current roster is going to have to go to make this work. Maybe its Patrick Sharp. At $3,500,000 he is very attractive to a lot of teams, but the Penguins could probably find someone equally as good in the $1,000,000-$2,000,000 range.

Free Agency Next Summer. The Penguins have a lot of key players heading to free agency next summer. That 2-year deal for Rob Blake is really going to hurt them next June when guys like Nabokov, Burns and Parise come knocking for raises.

Player To Watch:

Fabian Brunnstrom - Touted last summer as the best player outside the NHL, Brunnstrom was lured to Pittsburgh with a hefty 4-year deal. After a year of acclimitization in the minors, it looks like Brunnstrom may be ready for the Pros, and has the potential to score 30-40 goals for this team, which would be a welcome addition.  

Season 6 Outlook:

If the Penguins can successfully navigate their Salary Cap issues throughout the year, I don't think it would be unrealistic for the Penguins to be in the running for a playoff spot come April 2010. With Nabokov in net, an excellent top 4 D corps, and a much improved forward group, this is by far the best Penguins team I have seen since Season 1. Fans in Pittsburgh have to be excited right now with the product GM Spicy McHaggis is putting on the ice!

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