The Pittsburgh Penguins are Stanley Cup champions. After a challenging season and a long and winding road through the playoffs, the team and its fans deserve nothing more than the opportunity to take a moment to savour the magnitude of the accomplishment.
OK, that’ll do. We said a moment. Don’t get greedy here, Pittsburgh, the rest of us have an offseason to get to.
Nobody gets to rest on their laurels for long in the hockey world, so before all those Penguins-inspired hangovers have even faded, it’s time to start figuring out whether they can do it again. There hasn’t been a repeat Cup champion since the 1997 and 1998 Red Wings, so the odds seem slim. But the Penguins pulled it off in 1991 and 1992, and appeared in back-to-back finals less than a decade ago. Can they pull it off next year?
Spoiler alert: Maybe.
Here are five reasons why the Penguins really could repeat, and five more why they probably won't.
Why they could: They core should remain intact
Change is inevitable in the NHL, and every team adds and subtracts over the course of an offseason. The Penguins will be no exception, and next year's opening night roster won't look the same as the one that skated the Cup around the ice on Sunday.
But it won't look all that different because, in terms of the core, the Penguins have all the key pieces locked in. Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang and Phil Kessel are all on long-term deals. So is Marc-Andre Fleury, and Matt Murray is under team control for years to come. And while some of those players are getting up there, none are so old that you'd expect a major decline any time soon.
In fact, the Penguins already have a barely-full NHL roster signed to contracts for next year before the offseason even gets underway. True, the Penguins could always decide to shake things up with a trade or some other unexpected move. But if they don't want to, they won't need to.
We're used to seeing recent champs like the Chicago Blackhawks forced into rebuilding on the fly before they've even finished the parade cleanup, but that won't be the case in Pittsburgh. And that's going to mean that for all intents and purposes, they'll be able to defend their title with essentially the same team that just won it.
Why they won't: Depth could be an issue
One of the keys to the Penguins' championship was their impressive depth, a factor that allowed them to roll four lines and overcome some key injuries. For years, the knock on the Penguins was that they were top-heavy -- a team built around elite talent but lacking the supporting pieces to push it over the top. Jim Rutherford spent much of the last year addressing that issue with smart under-the-radar acquisitions, and it paid off.
While the big-name core is locked in, some of those depth pieces are unlikely to return. Matt Cullen and Ben Lovejoy are unrestricted free agents, and Justin Schultz is set to hit RFA status. None are what you'd call crucial pieces, but each played a role in the Penguins' run.
There's also not much in the way of reinforcements on the way from inside the organization; the Penguins prospect pipeline isn't strong, and cap pressure and the lack of a first round pick this year will make finding help on the trade market a challenge. Rutherford will have some work cut out for him.