In this 31 part series, I will be working my way back from 31st to 1st in my projected 2019-2020 standings. I will first note some ongoing trends that are happening in the league. Goals scored per game went up for the fourth consecutive season (at 3.01 goals per game last year), shots against finally dipped last season to 31.3 per game after increasing for four consecutive seasons previously. It’s clear the league’s push towards offense is yielding its intended effect.
Twenty-First up are the Pittsburgh Penguins who are in their 52nd season as an NHL team. They made the playoffs each of the last 13 seasons. This is the longest active playoff streak ahead of the team we previously highlighted Nashville Predators (5 seasons).
2018 – 2019 NHL Stats
- NHL Standings: 7th
- Goals for Rank: 6th
- Goals against Rank: 14th
- PP Rank: 5th
- PK Rank: 19th
Projected 2019-2020 NHL Stats
- NHL Standings: 12th
- Eastern Conference Standings: 7th
- Metropolitan Division Standings: 3rd
- Coach: Mike Sullivan (Fifth season with the Penguins; 174-92-34 regular season; 38-27 playoffs; Career 244-148-15-57 regular season; 41-31 playoffs)
On offense, this team was quite strong last year with the 5th most shots for, the 6th most goals for and the 5th best power play. Is anyone really surprised though that Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Phil Kessel could do this? I think it’s fair to say there will be a hit to their power play as Phil Kessel put up a robust 36 power play points last year including 12 power play goals. That said, Sidney Crosby, Jake Guentzel and Evgeni are more than capable of keeping this offense running on all cylinders and they will certainly stay a top 10 offense. I think Jared McCann could be in for a solid year this season and this team has a great top to back set of forwards. I will be curious how much damage the deep players like Patric Hornqvist and Nick Bjugstad do as that might be able to offset the power play hit from the loss of Kessel.
Defensively, the team is more aged and mature and that’s not necessarily a bad thing on defense. Kris Letang has battled through some injuries the last few years but still put up a very respectable 16 goals, 56 points and a plus 13 across 65 games played. Brian Dumoulin had a great year with 23 points and a +31 across 76 games played. For the record that +31 was the 5th best plus minus last season behind Mark Giordano, Ryan McDonagh, Brett Pesce and Mikael Backlund. Pittsburgh did allow the 26th fewest shots against last season which will need to tied up a bit and certainly hurts Matt quite a bit in net.
In net, Matt Murray officially took the reins two years ago as the tandem with Marc-Andre Fleury split and Fleury headed to Las Vegas. Last season he had a 2.69 GAA (21st among NHL goalies) and a .919 SV% (10th among NHL goalies). I think he ultimately sits in the 10th – 15th goalie area capable of a handful of shutouts each season and 25+ wins.
Behind the bench, Mike Sullivan stepped in halfway into the 2015-2016 season and won a Stanley Cup. Surely that was a fluke I mean, luck of the draw? Well, he came back in season two…and won another Stanley Cup. I am not trying to take away from what he did as that is amazing, but after that he would lose out in the second round in 2017-2018 and then the Penguins were ousted in the first round last season, it does present an argument, is the team in a decline as they turn towards some of the younger players? I think Sullivan is still a top 10 coach in the league but will the transition to Jake Guentzel, Zach Aston-Reese, Jared McCann, Juuso Riikola etc.. have a year or two of semi-mediocrity for Pittsburgh?
- Alex Galchenyuk
- Phil Kessel
Prospects and Picks
Samuel Poulin — Taken with the 21st overall pick in this years draft, Samuel was a solid pick for that late in the 1st round. Selected 2nd overall in the QMJHL draft, he led the team in scoring with 39 goals and 76 points in 67 games. He has the size, he has the shot, he has the puck handling, I would not be surprised to see him come up sooner rather than later.
Sleeper Fantasy Asset
Jared McCann — In just 32 games last season he scored 11 goals and had 17 total points including 83 face-offs won, 32 hits and 30 blocked shots. On an annualized basis that puts him around 43 points, 25 goals, 82 hits and blocked shots. Add to this he could play serious time on the top line with Crosby this year for a prolonged time and I really think he could put up some surprising points this season.
Cap Situation: (per CapFriendly)
$81MM Spent; $0MM in Cap room; 23 players signed.