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Are the Pittsburgh Penguins Better Than Last Season?

Okay Penguins fans, the excruciatingly long off-season is finally about over as training camp is almost upon us. Unless you have been under a rock this off-season, you already know that the Penguins roster underwent some major changes over the summer. The Penguins lost several key contributors to free agency and made a huge trade by sending James Neal off to Nashville.

The Penguins are searching for their first Stanley Cup since the 2008-2009 season. After winning the Cup and making back-to-back Stanley Cup finals, common thought was that the Penguins would be the next NHL dynasty. Their combination of young stars and good role players was a rarity in the NHL.

Five years later, Pittsburgh is in turmoil from its failures. All of a sudden, their stars aren’t so young anymore and their role players either left, or stopped producing.

That led to this past offseason. After another disappointing postseason defeat, the Penguins sent a ripple throughout the league and their locker room by firing General Manager Ray Shero and Head Coach Dan Bylsma. They then traded their best winger, James Neal, for two players they hope will help turn the team around.

Don’t get me wrong, after the playoff debacles of the last few years, the Penguins needed to make changes this year. The question now becomes, did their changes actually improve the team?

Are the Pittsburgh Penguins better than last season?

Let’s take a look at the roster moves. In free agency, the Penguins lost Brooks Orpik, Matt Niskanen, Deryk Engelland, and Dylan Reese on defense; they lost Jussi Jokinen, Tanner Glass, Joe Vitale and Chris Conner at the forward position.

 To circumvent those loses, the Penguins signed: Christian Ehrhoff (defenseman), Blake Comeau (forward), and Thomas Greiss (goalie). They also got forwards Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling from the Nashville Predators in return for Neal.

On paper, it looks like the Penguins got worse. Niskanen was their best defender last season and Orpik has been the proverbial leader of the defense since their last Stanley Cup victory. Although the signing Ehrhoff helps stabilize the defense, it will still be very challenging to replace Orpik and Niskanen both on and off the ice.

The Penguins will also greatly miss Jokinen. He emerged as an excellent line mate for Evgeni Malkin last year and produced the second most points in last season’s playoffs for the Penguins. Now with both Jokinen and Neal gone, Malkin will have to start at square one with new line mates.

Hopefully, Hornqvist will help fill the void left behind from the departure of the aforementioned Neal and Jokinen. The Penguins need him to be a top-6 winger or it will be a very long season for their fans.

There are many young pieces in the Penguins system in which they are hoping to improve their lineup with. These young players have an abundance of talent, but leave a large uncertainty about their possible production. When you have 2 once-in-a-lifetime talents like Malkin and Sidney Crosby, the last thing you want is uncertainty with the other players.

So are the Penguins better in 2014 than they were last season? In my opinion, no they are not. There are too many holes in the roster that have been left vacated by the Penguins upper management this offseason. Hopefully, they are right that the young pieces they have will step in and be big contributors in 2014. As a Penguins fan, I fear the worst if they are not.


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