As the holiday season approaches, PHR will look at what teams are thankful for as the season nears the quarter point of completion. There also might be a few things your team would like down the road. We take a look at what’s gone well in the first month and what could improve as the season rolls on. So far we’ve covered the following teams: ANA, ARZ, BOS, BUF, CGY, CAR, CBJ, COL, DET, EDM, FLA, LAK, NSH, NJD, NYI, NYR, PHI, SJS, STL, TOR, VAN, VGK and WSH.
Since coming over from the Toronto Maple Leafs, all Kessel has done is put up 166 points in 196 regular season games, 45 more in 49 playoff games and won two Stanley Cups. He’s on pace for 95 points and the best season of his career, and people still mention him third when discussing the Penguins’ firepower up front.
Kessel has been a perfect fit for the Penguins, sliding in behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin as the third musketeer. He’s even found a leadership role on the team that few expected from his days in Boston and Toronto, and is continuously talked up by teammates and coaches for his dedication to the team. It’s not often that an $8MM player is a bargain, but that’s exactly what Kessel seems to be for the Penguins after Toronto agreed to retain $1.2MM per season and salaries are starting to balloon around the league.
Next year, when the salary cap moves to somewhere between $78-82MM, Kessel’s $6.8MM hit for the Penguins will represent around 8.5% of the cap. As long as his play doesn’t drop off considerably as he enters his thirties, that number should be a reasonable amount through the last four years of his deal. The fact that the actual salary decreases significantly as well is just icing on the cake.
What are the Penguins most thankful for?
The careers of Crosby, Malkin and Kris Letang have been tarnished by several injuries, with each missing huge chunks of time with various ailments. While Matthew Murray has been in and out of the lineup, the rest of the Penguins have been relatively healthy this year. Nine players have suited up for all 32 games this season, including Crosby, Kessel and Letang, while Malkin has missed just four.
No, they’re not without incident. But after watching the team struggle to even ice six NHL defensemen during their playoff run last season, getting through the first third of the season relatively healthy is a big boost. Now with Murray back off injured reserve, don’t be surprised if you see them start to creep up the standings in the Metropolitan.
What would the Penguins be even more thankful for?
Being in any other division.
The Metropolitan Division is an absolute meat grinder again this season. Ten points separate first from eighth, and no team has a goal differential worse than Carolina’s -11. In contrast, the Atlantic houses four teams that would be in last place in the Metro and five that carry goal differentials of -14 or worse.
Currently, even at 16-13-3 and with 35 points in the standings, the Penguins are out of a playoff spot. If they’re to get themselves back into the postseason to try and three-peat the Stanley Cup, they’ll need to kick one of the other strong teams out. The Metro is set to pummel itself down the stretch until a few teams remain, and the trade deadline should be quite the arms race with so many teams still in the hunt.
What should be on the Penguins’ Holiday Wish List?
Riley Sheahan was a solid pickup for the Penguins, even if he hasn’t put up the strongest possession numbers since coming over from the Detroit Red Wings. Pittsburgh simply didn’t have enough depth down the middle, and Sheahan has recorded nine points in 23 games. Still, the team could use another real third-line center to solidify the top-9 and make them a tougher team to match up against in the playoffs.
Obviously Crosby and Malkin make any top two units dangerous, but the Penguins seem to be missing the lineup length that was afforded them by players like Nick Bonino and Matt Cullen in the past. It wouldn’t be surprising to see them go out and acquire another body to fill in down the middle by the trade deadline, even if it does cost them future assets. Win-now doesn’t even fully describe how the Penguins’ front office must feel, after taking home back-to-back titles. Why not supplement your All-World core with another star player, even if it does cost you some future talent.
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