As I write, the 2016 ‘World’ Cup of Hockey is still to be played. However, I don’t think it will bother all that many people if I ignored that gimmicky tournament to focus on the upcoming NHL season for a little bit. The regular season will start in less than a month now (October 12th) and preseason games will be played before then. Heading into that preseason, the Pittsburgh Penguins are considered the favorites to win the Stanley Cup.
Pittsburgh certainly are not heavy favorites, and there are some sportsbooks that have shorter odds on the Washington Capitals to win the Cup (Coral). Furthermore, there are many well-known sportsbooks that have Washington and Pittsburgh as co-favorites (i.e.,. bet365). However, it’s Pittsburgh that is getting the slight nod for outright favorite (i.e.,. Ladbrokes) following their successful Cup run from last year’s post-season. With so many pieces involved with that successful run returning, it’s understandable that many would foresee the Pens being very dangerous again in 2016/17.
Pittsburgh’s returning cast looks to include a now 29-year old Sidney Crosby, a 30-year old Evgeni Malkin, a 29-year old Kris Letang, and a 28-year old Phil Kessel (he had hand surgery in early July). All of those players are still in their prime and, without looking at other forwards or defensemen, the Pens already look like a deep team for skaters.
However, in net, there is some potential for drama. Marc-Andre Fleury is still just 31 years old. However, he’s facing a challenge for playing time from Matt Murray, the 22-year old upstart that was crucial for Pittsburgh during last season’s Stanley Cup run. On September 15th, NHL.com reported that Fleury “hasn’t asked to be traded despite likely time-share with Matt Murray.”
The veteran netminder, who signed a four-year contract extension with Pittsburgh in November of 2014, spoke with Pittsburgh’s Post-Gazette:
“I’ve always said (Pittsburgh) is my home. I wish I could play here all my career. I’ll try my best to do good for the team, for the organization, and hopefully stick around a long time.”
That Fleury wants things to work in Pittsburgh definitely shows that the situation there is solvable with the current roster. But since things seem just a little up in the air between the pipes, that there could be problems in net is something that can’t be ignored with this Pittsburgh team.
If the Pens do trade Fleury, which I think would be a mistake, then they will be parting ways with a steady performer for over a decade now. Who is to say that the 22-year old Murray is going to live up to expectations in the upcoming season, even if all he did was platoon or “time-share”?
His entire NHL career still only has amounted to 13 regular-season games and a hot streak in the post-season. Any goalie in the NHL is capable of a short burst of high-level performance that sees them post amazing results. However, with Murray, there is a big question of whether he can keep it up over the long term. Couple that concern with concerns over Fleury’s injury problems then nothing makes Pittsburgh look like all that convincing of a favorite right now.
In regard to the other favorites, I don’t have much confidence in the Washington Capitals doing much in the post-season. Barry Trotz and Alex Ovechkin have a clear track record that doesn’t include winning multiple playoff series in the same season.
When I look at the short list of favorites, I see potential in the Dallas Stars. The 4th or 5th favorites, depending on which firm you look at, return two point-per-game guys in Jamie Benn and Tyler Seguin. Those are two players that are 27 and 24 respectively, and I think they are still improving. That’s a scary thought for anyone in Dallas’ way as the duo could light the lamp enough this season to offset what appears to be a “suboptimal situation in net” (Tarik El-Bashir/CSN Mid-Atlantic/August 10th).