The Pittsburgh Penguins have built a potential dynasty team out of essentially nothing and the rest of the league is trying to figure out their secrets. Although luck certainly played a part in the fact that the Penguins were able to draft 5 of the NHL’s most elite talents there was plenty of thought involved in the process as well. Below we discuss how the Penguins were able to build their team so quickly and why they are yet another textbook example of building a championship team in the modern NHL.
Record during the 2008-09 season:
45-28-9 (99 pts)
Position in 2008-2009 conference (league) :
What method did they use to build their team?:
The Pittsburgh Penguins have been referred to on several occasions as the prototype in rebuilding a franchise. For the most part the Penguins used their high draft picks to pick up talented prospects who they believed could be elite NHL players. They reinforced the players acquired in the draft by bringing in free agents and making the necessary trades to add depth players. The team obviously got fairly lucky in their drafting, getting two once in a generation players in Evgeni Malkin and Sidney Crosby. It almost seems unfair that one team was able to acquire the top two players currently playing the game. However the team was able to have the foresight to draft these players instead of other possible prospects. On both occasions they got the best player in the draft. Meanwhile the team has also done some excellent scouting when it came to trades. One of the best trades they made was a deal that saw them acquire Pascal Dupuis and Marian Hossa without making any significant changes to their roster. The team has also been able to bring in some solid veteran presence, including Gary Roberts, Steve Sullivan, Mark Recchi and Bill Guerin to aid the growth of their young core. Meanwhile these players also made fairly significant statistical contributions to the team.
Why was this method effective?:
This method was particularly effective for the Pittsburgh Penguins because they didn’t waist their excellent draft positions. Teams can be made and destroyed by who they use their high draft pick on and the Penguins consistently got it right. While ideally the team would never have gone into an incredible slump to get these players they were able to rapidly dig themselves out of the hole via the draft. They were also able to draft an elite goaltender, something that is key to building a hockey team. In no small way was Marc-Andre Fleury responsible for the Stanley Cup that the team won in the 2008-09 season. In fact it was his save in the dying seconds of the 7th game of the series that clinched the cup for the Penguins. Several of the rebuilds that were reviewed in our how not to build a hockey team in the modern NHL (see links at the bottom of article) had goaltending problems. Finally, the Penguins have added solid veteran players to their lineup to support their core and it has been highly effective. Bill Guerin is probably the best example of this phenomenon. While Guerin didn’t spend much time with the Penguins during their regular season campaign in 2008-09 he did have a solid 5 goals and 12 points in the 17 regular season games he spent with the team. In the playoffs he was just as crucial an addition contributing 7 goals and 8 assists for 15 points in the 24 games the Penguins needed to win the Stanley Cup. He also had 45 points in 78 regular season games the next season while adding 9 in 11 playoff games. The 2009-10 was his last in the NHL.
What experience did the General Manager have going into his position?:
Ray Shero, the General Manager of the Pittsburgh Penguins, did play hockey at a high level but never played in the NHL. The son of Flyers legend Ray Shero played college hockey for Lawrence University and was drafted by the LA Kings but never ended up playing a game. Going into his position as General Manager Shero did some work for the Ottawa Senators as an Assistant General Manager for 6 years. He followed that up by becoming the Assistant General Manager of the Nashville Predators from their inception in 1998 until 2006. He then joined the Pittsburgh Penguins as a General Manager in 2006 and quickly led them out of a team slump and into more competitive days, including the team’s fourth Stanley Cup. Considering everything Shero has done for the Penguins it will take quite a bit for him to ever leave the organization.
What can we expect from this team in the future?:
If they can continue to play their cards correctly this team could be one of the great teams of this modern era of hockey. With one Stanley Cup and two finals appearances already under their belt it remains to be seen how much this team can accomplish. Several of the teams’ stars are locked up long-term and appear very happy to be members of one of the best organizations in modern hockey. The team is fairly solid in all positions and continues to be excellent at assessing and adding depth players. The addition of James Neal was an exceptional move and one that provides the Pittsburgh Penguins with yet another world class talents. With Neal, Crosby and Malkin the Penguins have a 1-2-3 punch unmatched in the rest of the league. Also all three of these players are highly competitive and will not take a shift off like some of the leagues’ other elite players. Their are only a few foreseeable problems that could prevent this team from reaching their potential of being the best team in the NHL for the near future. To begin with if goaltender Marc-Andre Fleury loses confidence over his recent play in the Stanley Cup playoffs the Penguins may have some goaltending problems. Furthermore, if the team is too limited in cap space with the amount they are paying their star players they may find it difficult to pay depth players. Finally, although there are no signs of it currently a bout of infighting among the team could sacrifice this teams’ potential. However, without those circumstances this team still has plenty of potential that should be realized over the next couple of years.
How was the core of this team put together?:
The core of the current Pittsburgh Penguins team consists of 8 players. The forwards include James Neal, Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Pascal Dupuis and Jordan Staal. On the blueline the two core defenders for the Penguins are Brooks Orpik and Kris Letang. In goal Marc-Andre Fleury continues to be one of the elite goaltenders in this league. While most of these players were acquired in the draft a select few of them joined the team in some insightful trades. Neal was acquired in a trade with the Dallas Stars. Sidney Crosby was drafted 1st overall in the 2005 draft while Malkin was drafted 2nd overall in 2004; so too was Jordan Staal, selected in 2006. Dupuis was acquired from Atlanta as part of the Marian Hossa trade.
As for the defence Brooks Orpik was drafted 18th overall in 2000 by the Penguins while Kris Letang was drafted 62nd overall in 2006. In net Marc-Andre Fleury was also drafted by the Penguins; 1st overall in the 2003 draft. Like the team studied in the article before this loyalty has played a key role for the Penguins. They have been able to keep all of the elite talents that they have drafted and it is because of this that they are not one of the most talented teams in the league.
Average Age: 29.0
Average Time Player Has Been With The Team:Joined 2008
Using your high ranked draft picks to the best of their ability is something that is very important in either rebuilding or building a team. Drafting in general seems to be the consensus way to put a team together in modern hockey and therefore scouting is more important then ever. In the Pittsburgh Penguins’ case they were able to put their team together by drafting in more than one area. They made sure to lock up long-term goaltending by drafting Marc-Andre Fleury. They also drafted plenty of defensive players as well and ended up with some very good ones in Kris Letang and Brooks Orpik. Up front, the place where many teams overdraft the Penguins were able to pick up three of the best players in the league. The key with the Penguins was that they were able to use all of their first round selections without wasting them. Also, they were able to draft highly competitive and loyal players who got along with one another.
Finally, a key that wasn’t mentioned earlier in the article is the coaching of this team. Dan Bylsma has brought a coaching style and attitude to that team that has a perfect chemistry with the cast of players. His performance as a coach was not only key to the Penguins winning the Cup in 2008-09 but ranks him amongst the best coaches in the entire league. This past season he was able to keep his team one of the best in the NHL without the best player of the planet in Sidney Crosby and Kris Letang, an All-Star defenceman, for large stretches of the season. The depth and fighting spirit of this team only bodes well for the future and despite a shocking first round exit to their rivals Philidelphia they have a lot of potential to still be realized. Of all the teams we will talk about in this series this is the one that has build the team that has the best future ahead of it.