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Moving Forward, Minus the Drama

By Michael Shea

After Jaromir Jagr spurned the Penguins offer and signed with cross state rival Philadelphia, GM Ray Shero immediately went to his original plan of adding a gritty winger. Enter Steve Sullivan, who has ties with Shero linking back to their time together in Nashville. Shero got the man he wanted all along for a friendly cap hit of 1.5 million on a one year deal. Shero also locked up three of his own free agents with deals to bring back Aaron Asham for one year, and Tyler Kennedy and Pascal Dupuis on two year deals. There is still concern about lack of scoring punch from players that aren’t named Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, but the team will not lack of character, something that could not have been said by adding Jagr and the circus that comes with him.

The health of both Crosby and Malkin still looms like a dark cloud over the organization, but there is some light at the end of the tunnel. Malkin has been reported to be skating hard back in Mother Russia, and it’s been said by more than one person there that he is in the best shape of his career. One thing for certain is that Malkin needs to come back and have a big year, as the last two seasons have been somewhat disappointing, the knee injury notwithstanding. Crosby on the other hand has been given clearance to skate and workout, and also has been cleared for light contact. There is no doubt that he will be handled with kid gloves when training camp rolls around, and if Sid isn’t 100% they will start the season without him.

There are some very interesting line combinations that Head Coach Dan Bylsma can work with going forward. Crosby as expected will be back with his old line mates Chris Kunitz and Dupuis. While they both lack the scoring touch of James Neal, Sidney will bring out the best in both players as he has done in the past. Malkin may once again be placed with center Jordan Staal to see if they can spark the same offensive output from Staal that he had in his rookie season. And with James Neal on the other wing, they have the potential to be the most dominating second line in the league. Mark Letestu will most likely replace Staal in the middle of long time wingers Kennedy and Matt Cooke. It will be interesting to see how he fills in with their grinding style as opposed to his more free flowing game we saw in his rookie season. And Cooke will need to re-define his game and learn to keep his elbows to himself as he proved last season to be a marked man, and doesn’t want to be called to the principal’s office again this year. The forth line will be counted on for quality minuets again this year with the resigned Craig Adams most likely being teamed up with Asham and Sullivan. Sullivan will bring some finishing skills to blend with the aggressive fore checking of both Adams and Asham. Eric Tangredi seems to be left out in the cold again, but he’s only 22 and if they want him to play every day, it might have to be for the Baby Pens in Wilkes Barre.

On defense really not much is going to change. The team doesn’t have any starters older than 30, and there is depth in the minors that will allow Shero to be active if needed at the trade deadline. 2009 number one draft pick Simon Despres may still be a year away but he will get a good look from the coaching staff in training camp. With the signing of free agent Alexandre Picard, Bylsma now has 8 NHL level blue liners at his disposal. Kris Letang will need to expand on his All Star season of 2010 and improve what can only be called a terrible power play from last season. Brooks Orpik will be his usual bone crushing machine, and last year’s best free agent signing Zbynek Michalek showed Pens fans he was well worth the 4 million a year contract by blocking more shots then Shaquille O’Neal in his prime. Injuries are bound to happen, but this team has proven it can bounce back from them and the depth on the blue line will be key.

Penguins fans felt terribly betrayed with not only Jagr, but Stanley Cup hero Max Talbot both signing with their bitter rivals in the east Philadelphia. The first chance to see them in those ugly orange uniforms will be in Philadelphia on December 8th, and everyone in Pens nation has circled December 29th on their calendar to see both Jaromir and Max get what is sure to be a rude welcome home reception. I certainly wouldn’t want to be either of them that day, but look forward to seeing what will no doubt be a hard hitting affair. Most of the talk has been positive on the many questions the Penguins have, and a healthy Crosby will let the entire kingdom sleep well again.

Follow Michael Shea on twitter at @mshea46w

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