The Penguins trimmed their roster down to 30 today which can only mean that the puck is about to drop on the 2010-11 NHL season.
I'm fired up!! I can't wait! There are so many questions that are floating about the upcoming season and we are going to get answers to them all real soon. But, back to the issue at hand.
11 players were sent packing by the Penguins as a result of roster reductions. In years past, most recently last year, this has been no big deal for Pens management as the crop of young players has been less than stellar. This year, however, has featured a young, agressive corp group of guys that have done well to make impressions on everyone with the Penguins organization. I always imagine that I would hate the job of telling these guys they are being sent back to the minors, especially after seeing them perform. But an issue of picking the best of the best seems like a good issue to have considering the alternative.
So who got their first-class tickets to the Baby Pens?
Forwards: Chris Conner*, Nick Johnson, Brett Sterling*, Joe Vitale, Tim Wallace*
Defensemen: Robert Bortuzzo, Corey Potter*, Brian Strait, Steve Wagner*
Goalies: John Curry*, Brad Thiessen
*Actually, Conner, Curry, Potter, Sterling, Wagner, and Wallace will all go on waivers and if they aren't claimed by noon on Thursday, they will report to Wilkes-Barre/Scranton.
Conner played for the Pens last year and the year before in limited action due to injuries to core roster guys. Most recently, he was used in a few games in the playoffs against Ottawa. I like Connor's style of play but I think his size, at only 5' 8" hurt his chances of securing a spot. If he clears waivers, I'm sure we haven't seen the last of him in a starting lineup.
The only other player that saw any kind of meaningful time in the games I have been able to watch was Brett Sterling. He was on the line with Crosby most of the time and played with both Crosby and Malkin against the Blue Jackets last weekend. While Brett seemed like a good fit, I don't think he did enough offensively to show he belongs there permanently and he too has a size issue, being and inch shorter than Conner.
As for the rest of the forwards, I didn't see anything that stood out enough to change my mind about keeping them.
As for the defenseman, I am surprised to see the likes of Bortuzzo and Strait go in this first group of cuts considering the noise they have made in camp so far. The rest of the guys aren't ready yet. I think the starting defensive pairings have been far from a mystery since the FA signings of Martin and Big Z and the fact that Orpik, Letang, and Goligoski aren't going anywhere. Simon Despres and Ben Lovejoy are my picks to make the team out of the group that is left. Although Despres would have to be sent back to WBS to avoid the restricted free agent tag. Maybe Deryk Engelland or Andrew Hutchinson will dazzle in the final two preseason games. There just isn't much room to carry extra defenseman under the cap beyond seven guys.
The goalies were no surprise because the Pens already have Marc-Andre Fleury and Brent Johnson as solid #1 and #2. Plus, there so little room in cap space right now that carrying 3 on the roster would have been pointless. I would expect to see at least a half dozen games by either Curry or Theissen this season as Fleury and Johnson may get their annual "mystery" illnesses.
So at this point, we have 30 guys on the roster (although I think I am missing someone), 18 forwards, 10 defenseman, and 2 goalies.
Here are my predictions for the final roster:
Forwards: Craig Adams, Arron Asham, Mike Comrie, Matt Cooke, Sidney Crosby, Pascal Dupuis, Eric Godard, Tyler Kennedy, Chris Kunitz, Evgeni Malkin, Mike Rupp, Jordan Staal, Max Talbot
Defenseman: Alex Goligoski, Kris Letang, Paul Martin, Zbynek Michalek, Brooks Orpik
Goalie: Marc-Andre Fleury, Brent Johnson
On The Bubble
Forwards: Dustin Jeffrey, Mark Letestu, Eric Tangradi
Defensemen: Deryk Engelland, Ben Lovejoy
Forwards: Ryan Craig, Casey Pierro-Zabotel
Defensemen: Simon Despres, Alex Grant