The Pittsburgh Penguins have had a very active offseason so far and they have managed to lock up some key players in long term contracts to remain with the team. The Penguins had the best record in the Eastern Conference last season, and they look to be a formidable team for years to come.
The Penguins will be in a revamped division with the new realignment of the NHL next season, and this offseason roster activity will certainly have an effect on the New Jersey Devils as both teams move into a new stage in their storied rivalry.
Penguins Roster- Returns like ‘13
The best team in the East in the regular season in 2013 will return largely the same roster to the ice for the upcoming season. The big subtraction will be Jarome Iginla, who was acquired late in the season by Pittsburgh, and he left via free agency to join the Boston Bruins.
The Penguins were able to agree to an 8 year contract extension for Evgeni Malkin with a salary cap hit of $9.5 million per season (www.nhl.com). The team being able to secure their top two players: Sidney Crosby and Malkin to long term extensions allowed them to spread the money out and have more salary cap flexibility.
The Pittsburgh front office was able to retain Kris Letang , Craig Adams , Pascal Dupuis, and Chris Kunitz. They were also able to bring in a top notch defensemen in Rob Scuderi from outside the organization, the veteran Scuderi immediately upgrades an already strong and deep Pittsburgh defensive corps.
These moves combined with the announcement on Thursday that the team also came to terms on an agreement for a contract with right winger Dustin Jeffrey, and the Penguins have the look of a very formidable team in both their division and the Eastern Conference.
The Effect on the Devils
The Penguins roster is going to present the Devils with some difficult matchup problems. Their offense was the best in the entire NHL last season scoring 162 total goals (www.nhl.com).
Conversely, the Devils were ranked 28th in total goals in the NHL with 110 (www.nhl.com). Now, the Devils inability to score goals consistently, and the propensity for them to sink into long goal scoring droughts is well known. It has been an issue both myself and the other staff writers on this site have written about previously with great detail.
Then, I started comparing the roster of the Penguins to the Devils current roster and I became very concerned about New Jersey heading into the new season.
Center of strength
Great hockey teams are built with strong goaltending and strength in the middle of the ice at the center position. Then, the rest of the team is built out from there, at least any great team is built in that manner.
The Penguins are a great example of this methodology, their top 3 centers are terrific players: Crosby, Malkin, and Brandon Sutter. When compared to the Devils center ice players: Dainius Zubrus, Travis Zajac, Ryan Carter, and Adam Henrique, the advantage clearly is with the Penguins.
The faceoff is a critical component to puck possession in the NHL, and obviously the team relies upon the center ice players primarily to win those draws. The Devils are going to have a tough time winning a faceoff against the center ice players for Pittsburgh.
The wing players for both teams are areas of strength, and I would even give the Devils a slight edge at right wing when I compare the two groups of players.
The Penguins right wing players are: Craig Adams, Beau Bennett, Jussi Jokinen, and Dustin Jeffrey.
These guys are all talented players, but the sources inside the team still do not know which line they are going to use Bennett on, and what role he will have with the team (www.si.com). Adams is a veteran player who can move the puck and is not counted on for scoring goals. Jeffrey and Jokinen are skilled role players.
The Devils right wing players are: Stephen Gionta, Steve Bernier, Michael Ryder, and Krystofer Barch. Each of these players have certain intangibles they contribute to the offense, and I particularly like the toughness of Bernier and the scoring capability of Ryder.
The left wing situation is completely different, the Penguins out match the Devils in this position. Pittsburgh lines up with James Neal, Dupuis, and Kunitz, who are all bona fide 20 + goal scoring wingers.
The Devils counter them at right wing with: Patrik Elias, Ryane Clowe, and Andrei Loktionov. That is a solid group of players and certainly in the case of Elias, who has had a pretty stellar career, but they are at a bit of a disadvantage when matched up against the Penguins.
The defensive units are areas of strength for both teams. The addition of Scuderi, as mentioned earlier, upgrades an already formidable Pittsburgh defensive unit.
The Penguins protect their blue line with Brooks Orpik, Deryk Engelland, Matt Niskanen, Simon Despres, Scuderi, and former Devil Paul Martin.
That is a pretty strong group of defensemen, and Martin provides the two way defenseman that the Devils lack at this point.
The Devils counter with Andy Greene, Mark Fayne, Peter Harrold, Adam Larsson, Eric Gelinas , Bryce Salvador, Anton Volchenkov, Alexander Urbom and Marek Zidlicky.
I have written an article previously on the defensive corps of the Devils, and this group will have a nice blend of youth and experience. They will get leadership from Salvador, physical play from Volchenkov and Urbom. Larsson should take the next step in his development this season ,while Gelinas and Zidlicky will be counted on for offense.
This group is good, but I still give the edge to the Penguins who have a top notch defensive corps with well-defined roles. The Devils are in a bit of a transition mode and are looking to develop some younger players at this point.
The goaltending is very evenly matched but I give the slight edge to the Devils because of the overall greatness of Martin Brodeur and the promise of the newcomer Cory Schneider, who put up great numbers with the Vancouver Canucks last season.
The Penguins have a very strong tandem in Tomas Vokoun and Marc-Andre Fleury but Fleury has struggled and been inconsistent, which has been thoroughly reported in the media during the end of the season and the playoffs.
The Devils and Penguins will take their rivalry into the next chapter in 2013-14 with Pittsburgh one of the top tier teams in the NHL looking to contend for a Stanley Cup, and the Devils looking to bounce back from a tough 2013 season as well as a rocky off season featuring the losses of some key players.
The NHL finally released the schedule for the 2013-14 season, and the Devils open their season with the Penguins in Pittsburgh on October 3rd. The teams will meet in Newark on November 16th, they will rematch in Pittsburgh on December 13th, and they will conclude their regular season meetings with a matinee game at 1 PM in Newark on New Year’s Eve, December 31st in what will be one of the most anticipated games of the season.
I am looking forward to the puck dropping in Pittsburgh to open the new season and continue this great rivalry between the Devils and the Penguins.