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Penguins

Shero Hopes, By Staying The Same, Fortunes Change For Pens

By Matt Popchock
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(Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

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PITTSBURGH (93-7 THE FAN/AP) — As badly as this past spring ended for the Penguins, what followed immediately could have been worse. They may have been embarrassed in another Stanley Cup quest, but thanks to general manager Ray Shero, they were not gutted.

The Pens have suffered a string of playoff humiliations since winning their third Cup in 2009. Prior to a two-goal, four-game sweep by the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Final, there were upset losses to the Flyers and Canadiens in earlier rounds. Additionally, though they weren’t healthy in 2011, it’s fair to include a seven-game collapse against the Tampa Bay Lightning in that string.

But Shero still believes in the core of the team he built to win that last title, which is why he kept it together. Of his seven years on the job, this might have been his most pivotal one, with several key players from the ’08-’09 club either on the market or nearing free agency.

“We’ll see how it’s going to work,” Shero told the Associated Press. “I think these guys are at the right age. That core group is about 26 years old. They should be going into their prime. It’s not like we made long-term commitments to players that are 33, 34, 35 years old. These guys are special players, top players, and you try to keep them.”

Evgeni Malkin, who has repeatedly taken personal responsibility for that flame-out against the B’s, will try to atone for somewhat of a disappointing performance in the truncated 2012-13 regular season after signing a ten-year, $76-million contract.

Kris Letang, absent for at least the first two games of this season with a lower-body injury, will be counted upon to support Marc-Andre Fleury (and de facto backup goalie Jeff Zatkoff) on the back end. He might have been the team’s most polarizing player during the playoffs, but he was also a Norris Trophy finalist prior to inking his new eight-year, $58-million agreement, and Shero brought back ’09 teammate Rob Scuderi to pair up with him.

“That’s huge,” said right winger Pascal Dupuis, who, instead of free agency, opted for a new four-year, $15-million deal this summer to remain on Sidney Crosby’s line. “You want to go to battle with guys that you trust. I wanted to come back. I didn’t know how much they wanted me back. Seeing all these pieces of the puzzle falling back together, now it’s a matter of us playing together and making it happen.”

Chris Kunitz, meanwhile, will continue to play on Crosby’s left side after signing a three-year extension worth an annual cap hit of $3.85 million. Like Dupuis, he is coming off a 20-goal campaign.

Click here to read the full story by the AP, as picked up by The Washington Post.

The only key departures this offseason, as least as far as members of the last Cup team are concerned, were forwards Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy. Cooke, who signed a free agent deal with the Minnesota Wild, may be missed the most because of his sometimes overlooked scoring touch and his penalty-killing prowess.

The Pens also lost a little bit of third-line skill when they traded Kennedy to the Sharks, though in recent years the 27-year-old winger has been plagued by inconsistency.

Shero hopes center Jussi Jokinen, a 2013 trade deadline acquisition who played for Carolina against the Pens in the ’09 playoffs, will help fill that collective void.

You might call Shero an unconventional GM by salary cap era standards. When backed into a corner financially, as he has been this year, he’s found ways to escape relatively unscathed and keep his team competitive. That hasn’t always been the case for some of the Penguins’ rivals in the NHL’s new Metropolitan Division.

When the Flyers traded away Mike Richards and Jeff Carter, then went on to whip the Pens in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal, those deals looked like addition by subtraction. But then they bombed out in the second round while Richards and Carter led the Los Angeles Kings to their first Cup, and this past season they missed the playoffs for the first time since 2007.

The Jackets dealt the face of their franchise, Rick Nash, to the Rangers. In the 13-year history of that franchise, it has only made the playoffs once–an abrupt four-game sweep by the Detroit Red Wings in 2009–and despite solid late-season play in ’12-’13, Columbus still hasn’t gotten over that hump.

New Jersey saw captain Zach Parise come into his own and lead the Devils to the Stanely Cup Final against the Kings, then leave the East Coast to sign one of the biggest free agent contracts in history with the Wild. In the first year of the post-Parise era, the Devils missed the playoffs by a wide margin.

Meanwhile, under Shero, the Pens have tended to take advantage of league-wide roster attrition. Jarome Iginla and Brenden Morrow, once synonymous with the Flames and Stars, respectively, came to Pittsburgh for a brief stint. Other big-name deadline acquisitions from years past include Bill Guerin and Marian Hossa, as well as Malkin’s linemate, James Neal, who, like Morrow, was once an outstanding player for some forgettable Dallas teams.

It should be interesting to see if the play of Fleury in goal, without Vokoun to back him up, will later force Shero to break his precedent of stability.

The Pens open their regular season tonight against the Devils at CONSOL Energy Center. Despite missing the entire preseason with lower-body injuries, prodigal son Jaromir Jagr is expected to be in the Devils’ lineup.

That game can be seen at 7:00 on ROOT Sports.

RELATED LINKS:

Shea-ved Ice” Blog

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National Hockey League

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2012 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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