(Also posted at The Devils Advocate)
What they lost: The stigma of being a losing team. The only players they lost are Kris Beech, Matt Bradley, Michal Roszival, and J.G. Aubin. Hardly the kind of players who would be considered monumental losses.
What they gained: Hope… and a ton of it. The most notable addition to this team is Sidney Crosby. While it remains to be seen just how much of an impact he will have on the ice, it is hard to imagine this kid being a flop. The future of the NHL is a Penguin. Aside from him, Pittsburgh has completely re-tooled their team. Adding firepower are Mark Recchi, John LeClair, and Ziggy Palffy. Recchi is a leader and a terrific playoff performer. LeClair’s physical brand of hockey has taken a toll on his body, but he will be influential nonetheless. Ziggy Palffy has always been among my favorite players, right from his days with the Islanders. On defense, Pitt has added the offensive-minded Sergei Gonchar and the defensive stalwart Lyle Odelein. Providing a veteran presence in net will be Jocelyn Thibault.
Staying at home: This is Mario’s team, and he’s lacing up the skates for one more run at the Cup. Most of the other players returning are top draft picks from years past. Ryan Malone and Marc-Andre Fleury headline this group. These guys have had to wait an additional year to make a bang in the NHL… look for them to explode.
Bottom line: The Penguins will win the Atlantic. They’ll be the Cinderella story of the year. With new rules that will only make Mario’s curtain call an easier one, he will be among the league leaders in all offensive categories. This season, Crosby may not be the dominant scorer that he will one day become, but he will be very good. I can’t think of a team in the entire NHL that has done as much to improve their roster as the Pens. If Fleury isn’t spectacular in net, Thibault is right behind him and more than capable of carrying the starting load. Their mix of stunningly promising young talent and grizzly seasoned vets make this team dangerous. A dynasty could be born, or at least conceived, this season.