Who predicted that GMRS would sign Arron Ashom? Not I... When I first found out about it, I didn't believe it. I just didn't think that Arron Asham was the kind of player the Penguins needed. I had it in my mind they were either going to look for a third line center or a second line left winger. Ultimately, I'd have loved to see them get a first line right winger, but the simply didn't have the cap room to get it done, and for the most part there really weren't a whole lot of promising goal scoring right wingers in Free Agency this year. I do, however, think that this ends up being a very good singing by GMRS.
Regardless, the more I think of it, the more I like it. The Penguins had very little options left, so I'm glad it got to where it did, because Asham is a good signing for the money. Anything that keeps goons like Goddard off the ice and still be tough to play against, I'm all for it. I'd just rather see the rest of the NHL do it too... First of all, let's look at the Pen's roster as a whole as it stands right now. They have the leagues best three centermen in the league (Sidney Cosby, Evgeni Malkin, and Jordan Staal), a very good and improved defense (with the additions of Paul Martin and Zbynek Michalek), a goalie that can plan well and should with a better defense (in Marc Andre-Fleurey ---- back off Chris), and a lot of good role players. What they don't have is top six scoring wingers. However, there is just about nothing else they don't have. The other parts of there lineup are as about as good as it can get in the salary cap era.
I also think this should be a good training camp and pre-season. Lovejoy will have to hold off Deryk Engelland, Brian Strait, Steve Wagner, Robert Bortuzzo, Cory Potter and Andrew Hutchenson to be the number six defenseman. The number 7 guy should be up for grabs, but it looks like Engelland will get the first crack at it since he had some playing time last year and seems to be the next canidate to take the next step. I do like Brian Strait though, and he could possible make a good partner for Alex Goligoski. It seem slike next year they could get very good looks at Simon Despres and Carl Sneep (as well as Strait again). I'm really excited to see how some of the young fellas develop. It will be the same on the offensive side as well as they'd like to get a young guy in the lineup such as Eric Tangradi, who seems to be the canidate to get the spot since he's done well in prospect camp and in his offseason workouts. Predicting what young guys will play on offense is harder though since you have to determine if they need a LW, RW, or C. A lot of people like Letestu playing some center this year, especially if they move Staal to the second line Center. However, consdier that Craig Adams is the only other true NHL caliper centerman they have on their roster right now. However, Mike Rupp and Maxime Talbot can both play center as well, though neither are particularlly good at it. They have an abundence of Right Wingers now that they've signed Asham, so I don't really see a young guy getting a crack in the lineup there. Left Wing has more possibilities. Chris Kunitz is a top 6 guy, and Matt Cook is a borderline second/third line guy. However, considering the Pens lack of top six wingers, he could get the bump to the second line. Also, the only other guy I see as a lock as a left wing is Mike Rupp since I don't see him playing Center. So how do you work someone like Eric Tangradi (also a left wing) into the lineup? You have to consider that the organization won't make Tangradi play a top 6 role for a whole season, and isn't even a lock to play for the Penguins all year. It seems young guys burn out at the end of the season, since it is longer than anything they would have experienced in college/juniors and the minors. Also, you don't want him to play on the fourth line since he won't get quality minutes and will potentially hurt his development rather than help it as he could easily get 17-21 minutes a game for the W/B Baby Pens rather than 7-10 minutes a game on a third or fourth line. Also, the Pens very well might want to get looks at Nick Johnson, Dustin Jeffrey, and Chris Conner. You also never know if Brett Sterling, Tim Wallace or Ryan Craig might impress the coaches. Regardless of all those questions, competition will be high, and competition is always a good thing.
Other real questions are the following...do they really put Staal on the second line and move Geno to Right Wing? There has been a lot of talk about it, and it could very well happen. I just figured that if that were to be the case that GMRS would have gone after a centerman in the offseason instead of someone like Arron Asham. Who would play third line center in that case? Superstar? Maybe. Or do they keep strength down the middle and have a revolving door as Geno's wingers again? I hate this idea, as the Pens will need to find Chemistry. Speaking of Chemistry, I do think that is a good nod as to Chris Kunitz and Pascal Dupuis remaining as Sid's wingers. I think some chemistry is developing, and can get even better this year.
If I had to predict what the roster will look like for their opener on October 7th, I think they'll be looking at two different options. Consider:
Kunitz - Cosby - Dupuis
Cooke - Staal - Malkin
Tangradi/Rupp - Talbot - Kennedy
Rupp/Craig - Adams - Asham
Letang - Michalek
Martin - Orpik
Goligoski - Lovejoy
Kunitz - Cosby - Dupuis
Tangradi/Talbot - Malkin - Asham
Cooke - Staal - Kennedy
Rupp - Adams - Talbot/Johnson
Martin - Michalek
Letang - Orpik
Goligoski - Lovejoy
I then see them working Eric Tangradi gradually into the lineup. I don't see him getting top 6 minutes right away though.
So again, thinking about the roster, I think the Pens can have a very good team this year, barring any major injuries.
I heard talk that GMRS is still trying to get Bill Guerin for the cheap, but realistically, there isn't roster space or cap space. Granted, I'd love to see Billy G around for his leadership, but he just doesn't have the wheels. The only way I see GMRS signing Billy G is for REALLY cheap and with the understanding that he'd play in the middle of the season, while Eric Tangradi and other youngsters can get playing time in the first 10 games of the year, then let Tangradi get top 6 minutes in Wilkes-Barre Scranton Baby Penguins, then let him be groomed to take over for Billy G later in the year when Billy G's wheels are getting slow. I still fully believe that Billy G can still bury a puck, I just question his skating abilty through an entire season. He is old, let's face it. Also, if they Pens do sign Guerin for say 700,000, that would leave the pens with just over 1.4 million in cap space if you count Tangradi against the cap. The pens will also need room for callups like Deryk Engelland / Nick Johnson / Chris Conner / Mark Letestu, etc. GMRS also has had a history of keeping additional "wiggle room" to allow for the pens to trade for a player at the trade deadline. Remember that from the trade deadline to the end of the season, the player's remaining cap hit gets spread over the entire season. For example, last years deadline was March 3rd. It has yet TBD for this year, but lets just say it is again the same day for 2010/11. The Penguins would have 21 games remaining in their season. That would account for 25.6% of the season. Say they would trade for Jason Arnott of Nashville, who is to be come a Free Agent after next year. His cap hit for the whole year would be 4.5 million. If the pens would add him to the roster, they'd have to have 1.15 million in cap space to fit him under the cap. However, I'd really like to see RS not continue to spend draft picks and trade away young players unless they know it is a guy that will definately help and may have a potential of resigning. Poni really leaves a nasty taste in my mouth.
But anyway, let's just take into account the Pens roster as it is now. The ONLY glaring weakness is their top 6 scoring wingers. However, that can be partially made up for with Tangradi's potential and their now burgeoning group of role players. Lots of players on the Pens roster have the potential to chip in 30 points in the season, and others like Dupuis and Kunitz can easily be mid to high 40 point producers.
However, lets compare this team to the cup winning team of 2008-2009. The pens had Petr Sykora, Miroslav Satan and Ruslan Fedotenko on their team. I know, Fedotenk stunk last year, but two seasons ago he was a plus 18 player with 39 points. Sykora, though he was on his decline, had 25 goals that year. Satan also had 17 goals and 36 points. The pens don't have any of that this year. However, I do think Dupuis will continue to get better, and I think of Kunitz stays healthy, he can produce. I also think if they give Cooke an expanded role, he can produce more as well. I also see Staal to get better as well. They they don't have as many goal scorers this year as their championship team, they have better depth in their role players and their young guys keep getting better. I see this year as very promising... No team is perfect, let us all remember that fact.