It is no secret that the Pittsburgh Penguins have been known for their depth over the last seven years. Ever since Jordan Staal got drafted in 2006, the Penguins had what was known as the best depth down the middle when Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin were healthy.
This made it very difficult for opposing teams to match up against. And with the additions of role-players on the respectful wings of those three centers, Pittsburgh has made six consecutive playoff appearances and won the Stanley Cup in 2009.
Now it is the dawning of a “newer” era. The depth now is even better. There always lies a problem with too much depth as there’s not enough ice time for all the great talent, yet rarely does it ever come across too negatively.
On Sunday, General Manager Ray Shero struck again. He dealt one of the Penguins’ top prospects Joe Morrow in exchange for Dallas Stars’ captain Brenden Morrow.
This is a great deal for the Penguins as the team had tried to find a solid left winger for Malkin all season long. Although Beau Bennett has shown some promise, Morrow is the guy to fill this void. Many are comparing this to the deal that brought Bill Guerin to Pittsburgh during their Stanley Cup year.
There was no way Head Coach Dan Bylsma was ready to break up the top line of Crosby, Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis arguably the best line in hockey. So, it is clear that Morrow will skate on the second line with Malkin and James Neal– a former teammate of Morrow in Dallas.
Here is where things get interesting as many fans are beginning to speculate. With the bottom six who’s in and who’s out?
Is it possible to see Bennett get sent back down to prepare him for the years to come? Sure he has been great thus far and an asset on the Penguins’ powerplay especially the 5-on-3 since he is a right-handed shot. In 18 games this year, the former first-round pick has 2 goals and 7 assists with a plus-minus 7 rating. On top of that, he has proved he can play on the top two lines.
Where does Dustin Jeffrey fit in? Can Pittsburgh truly afford to scratch Craig Adams? What about Matt Cooke and Tanner Glass? Or could this be the end of the Tyler Kennedy era?
Not so easy it?
The fans can go on to predict who will be on the Penguins’ roster all they want but the answer lies in what Byslma has for breakfast that specific day. Or what color tie he wears. Or maybe he got in an argument with his wife the night before, right after he arranged the lines in his head for the next game.
The point is Bylsma is an enigma.
The lines and rosters are constantly changing. So this might become the answer come playoff-time.
With the top two lines written in stone, the third line will get centered by Brandon Sutter who came from the Carolina Hurricanes to replace Staal. So far this season, Sutter has made numerous fans forget about “Staalzy” by scoring nine goals and assisting on five others with a plus-minus 7 rating (4 of the 9 goals being game-winners).
Seeing how Bennett has played a lot with Sutter with the absence of Malkin, it is quite possible to see those two reunite on the third line with Cooke.
Now it is down to the nitty-gritty the ever-so treasured fourth line. Glass becomes expendable as one of the forwards. The least likely to go is Joe Vitale who is arguably one of the best fourth line centers in the National Hockey League if not the best. Not to mention a role-player with his success in the faceoff circle.
Adams is one of the Penguins’ top penalty killers and shot-blockers so there is no way he is replaceable on this team.
So it really comes down to Kennedy and Jeffrey.
There has been quite the buzz going around town that Kennedy’s days in Pittsburgh may as well be over. Yet, do not forget about “TK’s” ability to score in the post-season. In the first-round elimination against the Philadelphia Flyers last year, Kennedy tallied six points (3 G, 3 A) in six games. During their Stanley Cup run in 2009, he scored five goals and nine points (three game-winners).
As far as the defense goes, that is a totally different animal.
The top four are a no-brainer with Brooks Orpik, Paul Martin, Kris Letang, and Matt Niskanen. The bottom two could include a few variations of Derryk Engelland, Mark Eaton, Simon Despres and the newly acquired Douglas Murray (from San Jose).
Who is it going to be?
Attempting to figure out Bylsma’s brain is like trying to solve the Rubik’s Cube.
After sitting down and truly analyzing Pittsburgh’s roster and knowing how hard it is to scratch certain players because of its depth, this makes the Penguins a top pick to win the Stanley Cup.