The bitter taste of defeat is still fresh in the mouths of Penguins fans everywhere yet they are one of the frontrunners for NHL supremacy next season. Let’s see if they are worthy of that lofty status in our NHL odds preview.
If there was one glaring deficiency that reared its head in the Penguins’ postseason gambit, one could quickly point to the woeful performance of starting goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury. Though the regular season saw Fleury post a respectable 2.39 GAA, .914 save percentage and a 23-8 record, those numbers would only serve to illustrate that he was a middle-of-the pack netminder. Today’s game features elite goaltenders with athletic skills that were unheard of even fifteen years ago. While goaltending has always been the fulcrum of any championship team, the sheer volume of truly spectacular netminders leads one to conclude that good is simply not enough to get it done in the postseason.
Fleury’s erratic play ultimately led to his banishment to the bench and Tomas Voukon was summoned to rescue the Penguins from an opening round battle with the Islanders that had become more hotly contested than anyone had anticipated. Voukon remained the starter throughout Pittsburgh’s playoff run until they were swept by the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Finals. But is the 37-year-old Voukon the answer to what ails Pittsburgh? Probably not but he’s a much better option than the pricey alternative, Marc-Andre Fleury.
Take a look at our latest NHL Trade & Free Agency Update.
Well lo and behold the Penguins have made a move to shore up their goaltending with the re-signing of college hockey superstar Eric Hartzell. At 6’4” tall and 187 pounds, the lanky Minnesotan led little Quinnipiac University to the school’s first ever Frozen Four appearance and on to the championship game.
While Hartzell may not be looked upon as the savior this season, his presence certainly suggests the exodus of Fleury and/or Voukon. Fleury has two more years on the six-year, $30 million contract he signed with the Penguins while Voukon is getting paid $2 million to either resume his role as a pricey backup or promoted as a moderately inexpensive starter. The Wild have expressed interest in Fleury and it wouldn’t surprise me to see him shipped out with Voukon manning the net for this year while Hartzell is groomed to assume the reigns the following season.
The NHL Odds
Most offshore books are pegging the Pittsburgh Penguins as favorites to win not only the Eastern Conference at 5/2 but the Stanley Cup as well with NHL odds of 5-1. It’s not all that surprising when you consider Pittsburgh’s enormous firepower led by the recently signed Evgeni Malkin to an eight-year extension and of course Sid the Kid. Quite frankly there is just too much talent for this team to be relegated to anything but the odds-on-favorites this year. But injuries and sketchy goaltending can go a long way to derailing those grand expectations. That is why the Penguins need to deal for a top-flight goaltender and get whatever they can for Voukon and especially Fleury. Hartzell looks like he has the pedigree to operate as a serviceable NHL backup until he gets his opportunity to be the man in net for the Pens.The defense is also a concern but I don’t think it is as glaring a weakness as some consider it to be. When your offense is as prolific as Pittsburgh’s, the defense is going to take a backseat. But the Penguins front office wielded a bit of magic by not only locking up Malkin but then secured the services of Norris Trophy finalist Kris Letang for the next eight years. This team is not only built to win the Stanley Cup Finals this year but perhaps building a dynasty is in the making.