Tag Archives: Ian Cole

Odd Men Out

The Pittsburgh Penguins have a log-jam on defense. As of July 26, just over two months until the 2017-2018 season begins, the Penguins currently have 9 defensemen that could possibly make the roster come October. This begs the question, which defensemen will be left off the team and which will be the odd men out?

The Keepers

To me, there are four defensemen that are absolute locks to be here and playing at the start of the season; Kris Letang, Brian Dumoulin, Justin Schultz, and Ian Cole. Leaving Olli Maatta off this list is somewhat controversial sure but we’ll get to him later. Besides Maatta, this leaves Frank Corrado, Matt Hunwick, Chad Ruhwedel, and Derrick Pouliot all fighting for the remaining three spots.

The Unlikely

It would seem as though that the struggling Corrado and journeyman Chad Ruhwedel are destined to start in the AHL next season. Despite General Manager Jim Rutherford‘s high praise for Ruhwedel at the beginning of free agency, it seems as though the signing of Matt Hunwick has made him more of a depth defensemen than a top 6 guy. Hunwick is known to struggle, though, and has been driving Toronto fans nuts for years; so if he does start to flounder, or the inevitable injury to a defensemen happens, expect Ruhwedel to be the first guy up. Corrado on the other hand…well, who really knows. It seems as if he’s been forgotten over the past few months as free agency continues. Unless he stuns the coaching staff and GM in the preseason, Corrado will probably be heading to Wilkes-Barre for a majority of the season.

Three Men, Two Spots

This leaves us with Olli Maatta, Derrick Pouliot and Matt Hunwick, all fighting for the two spots that remain. As I’ve said about Hunwick, I do expect to see him on opening night, that may be in the press box or on the ice, but I just think that Rutherford would not give a three-year deal with an AAV of $2.25 million to someone just to be banished to the minors. Now, if Olli Maatta is still a Penguin by October, then there is absolutely no doubt that he will be starting. Maatta’s game went from amazing to disastrous after a slew of injuries stunted his development. Maatta’s mistakes stand out due to his lack of speed. However, when he’s not getting burned, he is still an outstanding defensemen. Maatta really has transformed his game to become a more complete NHL defensemen since his rookie season, but his speed is still something that plagues him. I personally do not want the Penguins to trade Olli Maatta. He is a great defensemen with a bright future ahead of him. That being said, when looking at the void at third line center and the excess that the Pens have on D…if Rutherford wanted to make a splash and trade for a big name, (which he does not have to), Maatta would almost have to be going the other way.  Finally there is the never-ending conundrum that is Derrick Pouliot. The Pen’s best defensive prospect has struggled ever since he stunned Pittsburgh by scoring his first goal on his first shot. Reported attitude problems and losing the ability to quickly move the puck seemingly overnight have made Pouliot spend a majority of his career in the AHL, despite his overwhelming potential. However, in an interview with The Trib, Rutherford said, “Pouliot finished the season real strong.  We feel he’s going to come in and play,” However, if the Pens were to keep Maatta, then the top 6 would include Letang, Schultz, Dumoulin, Maatta, Cole, and Hunwick. I don’t see where Pouliot fits in. I think the kid deserves a shot and also think that he is probably better than Matt Hunwick is, but again Hunwick’s contract makes it hard for me to think that he’ll be sitting many games. To be quite frank, I do not know what the Pens will do with Pouliot if this same roster is intact. Maybe he’s traded, maybe he spends time at practice and in the press box, maybe he takes Hunwick’s spot, or maybe he’s forced to spend yet another season in Wilkes-Barre.

Only time can tell what will happen to the Penguins Defense come October. No matter what does happen, a healthy Kris Letang makes the Pens defense one to reckon with next year.

Offseason Player Grades: Ian Cole

Regular Season Stats

GP:81, G:5, A:21, PTS:26, +/-:26, PIM:72

Playoff Stats

GP:25, G:0, A:9, PTS:9, +/-:2, PIM:22

Player Grade (A+)

Ian Cole may be the most underrated Penguins on the team this past year. Cole flew under the radar for most of the year with his exceptional defensive play and tremendous PK skills. But after these playoffs he is finally getting the recognition he deserves. Cole played like a top four defenseman all year while only being payed $900,000.

Review

Like I said before, Cole had a stellar year for the role he was assigned to, and arguably his best moment of the year came in that role.  His best moment was being a part of that long 5 on 3 PK and later the 5 on 4 PK at the tail end of game six of the SCF.

Preview

I think Cole will have another year similar to his last. He will still be a solid part of our penalty kill as well as possibly becoming a full-time top four defenseman depending on the Penguin’s offseason moves.

Taking A Look At The Expansion Draft

The trade deadline has come and gone and the picture has been painted much clearer on what the Penguins may do with the expansion draft this off season.

According to league rules, all teams have the option to protect 7 forwards, 3 defensemen, and a goalie. The other, more unlikely option, is to protect 8 skaters and a goalie. This option is more likely if a team has a lot of depth on defense and would rather protect four defensemen and risk the loss of a forward. I don’t expect many teams to take this option.

Impending unrestricted free agents (UFA) will not need protected. Teams can simply wait until after the lists of players the expansion franchise, Vegas Golden Knights, to sign their players. The Penguins will have a few players fall under that category.

Penguins Unrestricted Free Agents (UFA)

  • Chris Kunitz
  • Trevor Daley
  • Ron Hainsey
  • Nick Bonino
  • Matt Cullen
  • Kevin Porter
  • Garrett Wilson
  • Cameron Gaunce
  • David Warsofsky
  • Chad Ruhwedel
  • Tom Sestito
  • Mark Streit
  • Frank Corrado

The bottom six on that list would not typically be players an expansions franchise would look at with golden eyes. Those types of players could be signed through free agency.

The first five, however, are legitimate NHL talents who have played in the NHL on a consistent basis. Hainsey, Kunitz and Cullen are both reaching the ends of the careers and none of the trio would likely be taken unless the Golden Knights were in a cap bind and needed to fill out their roster. Daley and Bonino are both guys who could serve as great additions for a team just starting out. Daley being capable of a top four defenseman role has been proven over the past two seasons that he’s spent in Pittsburgh. Bonino is a third line center on a good team but could serve higher if a team’s depth needed it.

None of these players will be available to Vegas unless they hit the open market due to their contract status, as previously mentioned.

Penguins Restricted Free Agents (RFA)

  • Justin Schultz
  • Brian Dumoulin
  • Frank Corrado
  • Derrick Pouliot

Of the two lists, this one is more important. The UFA’s don’t need to be retained as they will not be under contract to be drafted by Vegas. RFA’s, however, can still be drafted because with an RFA contract, that player is still considered team property. The Penguins won’t need to be worried much about Corrado as he should come cheap and won’t be an attractive option to many teams.

Schultz and Dumoulin are much different stories. The Penguins have enjoyed stellar play from both defensemen over the past two seasons and will need to resign both at season’s end. If presented, Vegas would be foolish not to look at one of these two guys as the player they’d acquire from Pittsburgh, so the Penguins must be careful in that regard.

Who Should The Penguins Protect?

The Penguins will take the 7 forwards, 3 defensemen, 1 goalie model. I would expect it to look something like this:

Forwards

  • Sidney Crosby
  • Evgeni Malkin
  • Phil Kessel
  • Bryan Rust
  • Patric Hornqvist
  • Carl Hagelin
  • Jake Guentzel

Defensemen

  • Kris Letang
  • Brian Dumoulin
  • Justin Schultz

Goalie

  • Matt Murray

Any player who has a “No-Trade Clause” or a “No-Movement Clause” is automatically protected and counts as one of your protected players.

Crosby, Malkin, and Kessel follow this description among the Penguins forwards and take up three of the seven slots at forward.

Looking at the rest of the depth, a guy like Hornqvist must be protected. He is a very special player and one gritty presence the Penguins can’t afford to lose. He will be protected. Rust and Guentzel are two young forwards with top six roles potentially awaiting them in the future. Both have already seen time in the top six already which means the Penguins will be needing to protect them.

That leaves one more player needing to be protected. Conor Sheary would be my pick except, under some circumstance I’m unaware of, Sheary is already protected. This leaves my next choice to be Hagelin. Hagelin isn’t a player who’s produced on the scoresheet before as his career high in goals is 17 with New York in consecutive seasons during 2013-14′ and 14′-15′. He’s still a scary opposition when he steps on the ice. His speed coupled with his vision makes him a scary commodity for teams to face and the seventh person I’d protect to finish out my forwards.

The defensemen the Penguins will have to protect and not protect could be something Vegas looks at.

Letang has a no-movement clause and is the Penguins best defenseman. There is no debate there. He’s protected regardless. The logjam only begins there.

The Penguins have eight capable NHL blueliners on their roster right now. Some listed above will become unrestricted free agents and won’t get protected. The options in need of protection are Schultz, Dumoulin, Maatta, Cole. This is also the order I’d consider when protecting them.

It’s been a blessing watching Dumoulin progress into the player he has become. The Penguins have a quality shutdown defenseman in Dumoulin. He doesn’t factor in much at all in the goal scoring department as he’s gone 128 games without scoring a goal. He’s got great foot speed and can move the puck very well though. He does get factor in on goals as he has 12 assists this season. He went over half of last season without a single penalty minute which makes him a very disciplined hockey player.

Schultz has been the biggest blessing of 2016-2017 for Pittsburgh. He has completely rejuvenated his career with the Penguins and is playing Norris type of hockey right now after being a complete afterthought in Edmonton. The third round pick Jim Rutherford gave up to acquired Schultz was brought back in when the Penguins got rid of Beau Bennett.

Through Monday, Schultz has put up a staggering 12 goals and 46 points in 64 games this season. He’s showing no signs of slowing down, either. He loves Pittsburgh and will 110% be a Penguin next season when the Penguins sign him to a lucrative extension.

Cole and Maatta are solid players. Cole is a guy that will likely be passed upon as a draft option, which is a huge plus for the Penguins. If I’m Vegas, I am looking at taking a young guy like Maatta. He is a former first round pick who has shown signs of being a good NHL defenseman. Injuries have derailed his leg speed, something which makes him a outcast on defense in the Penguins system. Despite the slower player he has become, Maatta is a +17 (through Monday) and was a +27 last season.

The goalie situation has pretty much sorted itself out. Murray has clearly become the starter as the younger option and proving he can play in the big time after winning the Cup last season. Marc-Andre Fleury will likely waive his no movement clause to allow the Penguins the chance to protect Murray.

Who Does Vegas Select?

The whole point to this article was to answer this question.

Let’s say Fleury continues playing at the level he has played at over the past couple weeks and sees some action in the playoffs and handles it well. He potentially could be sent to another team via trade if he is able to play well enough to get some value back under his name. He carries a reasonable $5.75 million cap hit and a team looking for a goalie fix right away may take the chance to jump on him.

If no team trades for Fleury, he likely will waive his clause and make himself available for Vegas to scoop up and gives them a franchise goaltender right away as he’d be the best available option for the Golden Knights.

Assuming Fleury is moved beforehand, I believe Olli Maatta would be the one to go.

Essentially, Vegas’ two best choices will be Cole and Maatta. There will be plenty of Ian Cole’s to pick from on other team’s rosters. No offense to Cole of course, but the attraction of a very young Maatta under a top four defenseman’s salary and a change of scenery could be what both Vegas and Maatta are looking for.

The June expansion draft is going to bite the Penguins harder than most teams as they will lose a valuable member of their roster. No matter who is selected, the Penguins are a deep enough team to replace that player with someone who can produce the same, if not more, than Vegas’ selection.

Monday Morning Thoughts: Not Pleased With Hagelin


So I’ve decided that every Monday morning, I will put out a weekly series giving my takes on the Penguins with some opinions. Starting next week, I’ll also address some tweets I find throughout the week regarding the Penguins. I hope to have a staff member or two helping me and giving their tales weekly as well.

– Of course, Carl Hagelin is one of the fastest skaters in the NHL currently. I’m very displeased with his play as of late. He’s having a rough time getting on the scoresheet and that’s something he’s always struggled with. But he was playing on a line with Sidney Crosby and hadn’t seemed to be doing enough so he was demoted. The line was pretty inevitable. One of the fastest skaters in the league playing with the best player in the world. Unfortunately, it just wasn’t working.

– I’ve been kind of wrong about Conor Sheary. After watching him in the playoffs last year, aside from the Tampa Bay series, I didn’t see much to say that Sheary should’ve stayed on Crosby’s line. Sheary has actually thrived playing with Sid. He drives play well and compliments the speed of Crosby perfectly. He’s a small guy and doesn’t seem to have the finesse to score tons of goals, but I’m completely okay with what I’ve seen out of him.

– Right now, it’s pretty obvious that Matt Murray is playing out of his mind right now. Or is it really within his capabilities? I really think we are seeing the type of play from Matt Murray that we are going to see forever. He really is just that good. He’s so poised and big in the net that it’s tough for teams to find space behind him. I’m a huge Marc-Andre Fleury fan but if the day soon comes where the Penguins plan to lean 100% towards Matt Murray, I won’t be any less confident leaving the goaltending of the team in Murray’s hands full time. Speaking of MAF…

– This dude’s still got it. That sequence of 5 minutes in OT on Saturday when he had to make six saves and none of them were at all ‘gimmes’ showed me all I need to know. Flower doesn’t plan on giving up that net easily even though the odds are stacked against him. Say what you want about the lack of defense or the not clearing of the rebounds around his net, but Flower has struggled. He’ll bounce back. He always does. Even though it’ll be tough for either goalie to get into rhythm, if both goalies can hit some kind of stride this team will enjoy themselves a nice little ride.

– You’ve got to respect the early season role reversal that Sidney Crosby and Phil Kessel have enjoyed. Crosby is scoring at an elite rate (28% of his shots have gone in to be exact). That’s a highly unsustainable number even for the best player in the world. Kessel is dishing out assists like no other. I’ve seen tweets bashing Kessel for his lack of goals this year. Who cares? He’s still showing up on the scoresheet and the team is winning. I’ll pay Kessel to score 4 goals and push this team to wins as opposed to paying him that much to not show up on the scoresheet and lose. Back off, he’s a Stanley Cup Champion after all.

– “Goodness gracious Geno.” I often find myself saying this more often than not lately after one of these patented Geno penalties hes taken throughout his entire career. It’s nothing new. A pissed off Geno is a Geno that’s fun to watch. He’s capable of taking over games. I know this was an unpopular opinion with some people when I tweeted it a few days ago. If his penalties continue to hurt the team…do you consider healthy scratching him? Obviously it’ll never happen because of the negative rapport it would have throughout the room. But it’s something that would piss Geno off. I guarantee he’d respond with a hat trick the next game.

– One guy that’s flying under the radar is Olli Maatta. Maatta is one of those players that, if you’re not hearing his name, he’s doing a fine job. Ever since the early part of the season, I’ve rarely heard his name spoken. He’s finding himself again and playing a lot better with Trevor Daley. He’s a guy I want to see playing exceptional hockey to the point where he gets more recognition. But with the type of player he is, he’ll never get recognition. You can bet your bottom dollar he will get negativity his way if he plays a bad game, though.

– Justin Schultz is a guy I’ve quietly fallen in love with. He’s such a sound defenseman who can skate and generate offensive opportunity. He deserves time on the top powerplay. It’s never easy with the star power the Penguins have and they value Letang’s work in that spot, but I like what Schultz brings. Him and Ian Cole have meshed very well together to create a nice, reliable shutdown third-pairing. Schultz came from an Edmonton team that makes high draft picks look like me trying to skate. It doesn’t go well. Given the right style and playing conditions, Schultz thrives.

LTP Three Stars of the Week:

  1. Sidney Crosby
  2. Matt Murray
  3. Phil Kessel

Pride, Passion, Pittsburgh…Penguins?

For those of you who love Pittsburgh’s baseball team, I apologize. This phrase doesn’t really apply to your team anymore. This really applies to Pittsburgh’s hockey team. The one at the ‘Paint Can’ on 1001 Fifth Avenue in Pittsburgh.

In a game where all hope seemed further than than the distance between California and Pennsylvania, a few players poked there heads out and did some big things when their team needed them the most.

Scott Wilson took a puck that bounced away from a hit in the corner and scored. It looks as though Chris Kunitz may have pushed home a shot that rang off the post. The hitter and shooter off the post happened to be Patric Hornqvist.

Hornqvist just had one of his patented games tonight. He actually dumped the puck in on the play where he hit Brendan Dillon in the corner and then forced Braun to turn it over right onto Wilson’s stick for a goal. He pounced on a rebound with his net front presence and banged it off the post. He was given credit for the goal but upon second look, Kunitz may have finished it into the net.

Horny was in front of the net making Martin Jones’ night as hard as he possibly could. When Jones had a puck slide under his pad in the third, Hornqvist went in hit and shoved and shoved hoping he’d lodge the puck over the goal line. It didnt work, but he showed the heart and hustle. That’s what Patric Hornqvist does. That’s what Patric Hornqvist brings. Tenacity.

That’s just one man. There are four guys who deserve the spotlight tonight.

“No pressure.”

Those were the words uttered by Mike Sullivan to the four defenseman on the Pens roster for the night who were healthy enough to go back out for the third period. Those four defenseman include: Brian Dumoulin, Trevor Daley, Ian Cole, and Justin Schultz.

With Kris Letang already out for tonight, Olli Maatta and Derrick Pouliot, playing in his first game since only playing 34 games last season, both went down with injury. This left the four aforementioned names to be left out to die in the third.

Except, the Penguins turned a two goal second period deficit into a 3-2 victory. This happened with FOUR defenseman. Incredible stuff.

Run it by me and I’ll tell you that’s some pride. That’s some passion. Without Letang and captain Sidney Crosby, the Penguins lead an impressive comeback on the Sharks further proving that their victory last year was just that. A simple, overmatching victory.

The Sharks peppered Marc-Andre Fleury with 34 shots tonight. He only cracked on two occasions. Martin Jones was very stellar and then an inspired third period happened. The Pittsburgh hockey team lit him up for three goals in that period.

“We can win them ugly,” Ian Cole said after the game to reporters around his stall. That you did, my friend.

So the next time the Pirates try to shove that “Pride. Passion. Pittsburgh Pirates.” slogan down your throat, just know that it’s really the Penguins who exemplify that.

2016 Penguins Preview: Defenseman

I feel it. You can feel it. The electricity is in the air from the Pittsburgh Penguins’ transition into the upcoming title defense season. How can you defend a Cup without you’re defense?

It’s nearly impossible to retain a whole defensive core for consecutive seasons without players seeking a raise in pay with another team. It’s even harder to return the entire defensive core after a Stanley Cup victory. The Penguins did that, minus Ben Lovejoy as he signed with Ray Shero in New Jersey.

Returning a core as good as this one takes commitment. Justin Schultz is committed. Either he really wanted to play for another chance at a Stanley Cup or he just didn’t recieve any offers out on the open market because the Pens got him on a cheap deal. Otherwise, this staff is ready and committed to being just as good this upcoming season.

Kris Letang: 71 GP, 16 G, 51 A, 67 PTS


Letang will head into 2016-2017 as the unquestioned leader of the defense. Not that he wasn’t before, but his start to last season indicated he may not be any longer.

After being paired with Ian Cole, Letang suffered through a two and a half month stretch of misery before finally finding a rhythm within the Penguins offense.

He found success with Trevor Daley throughout the season until Daley went down right before the playoffs. Then he got to play with Brian Dumoulin down the stretch. The two never looked back, both scoring goals in game six of the Stanley Cup Finals. The Penguins won the Cup that game.

A healthy Letang has the possibility to be a legitimate contender for the Norris Trophy if he plays well the entire season. Last year, half a season wasn’t going to win him the award. The Penguins are in good hands with this guy on defense.

Olli Maatta: 67 GP, 6 G, 13 A, 19 PTS


The young Finnish defenseman who has been through a tumultuous beginning to his career, including cancer and surgery, was rewarded a six year deal to stick around and hopefully become Letang’s long term partner.

If this pairing comes into fruition, it could be one of the hardest to defend in the league. The only problem would be Maatta’s foot speed. After inconsistent playing time, Maatta could never get his feet underneath of him.

He finally started to get hot towards the end of the Tampa Bat series and heading into the Cup finals against San Jose.

I like the young kid’s composure and I think he can thrive if he plays with Letang. I expect to see a ton of Maatta this year and I can foresee a much better season out of Olli Maatta.

Brian Dumoulin: 79 GP, 0 G, 16 A, 16 PTS


This man is my favorite Penguin. It’s been documented before and will continue to be documented that I love him and he’s the most under appreciated Penguin on the squad.

The least offensive threat across the NHL has a puck moving presence. He by no means is faster than his matchup on the ice, but is incredible at keeping people to the outside and not being beat.

His defense is his strength. He matches opponents speed and is rarely caught out of position. I could count the turnovers from him last season on one hand and he got to play with Kris Letang during the Cup final after the Trevor Daley injury.

He scores two goals in the playoffs last season. One against Washington in a crucial game and one in the clincher against the San Jose Sharks.

This season, fans will appreciate Dumo more and watch him become a shut down defenseman. Remember, Paul Martin was originally known for being a sound defenseman in season one but became an offensive threat after that season. They’re two different types of players, but you never know.

Trevor Daley: 53 GP, 6 G, 16 A, 22 PTS (with Penguins)


What a great trade that made absolutely no sense! Who trades Rob Scuderi for anything more than a bag of pucks and an eighth round pick? (yes, I’m aware there isn’t one, it’s my poor sense of humor).

Daley came onto the scene and played some great hockey. It’s unfortunate that he went down with an injury right before the Cup Finals rolled around but he’ll be more than ready to jump into action opening night.

Daley likely will play again with Dumoulin. The Penguins have every intention of getting Olli Maatta to the point where he can play with Kris Letang and do it well so expect this amazing pairing from last season to stick around.

Can you think of a better trade in recent memory? The David Perron one comes to mind, but nothing helped a very teetering defense more than trading an old, no longer serviceable defenseman for a puck moving defenseman with some foot speed to fit the scheme head coach Mike Sullivan put into place.

Ian Cole: 70 GP, 0 G, 12 A, 12 PTS


Before I get talking about Ian Cole, how beautiful are those jerseys?

Anyway, Cole started out last season terribly with Kris Letang. I mean bad. He eventually sat a couple games and come back around about mid way through the season.

Cole didn’t score a single goal in the regular season either but he was a very good Defensive defenseman once playoff time came around.

If Cole can replicate his second half play from last season, there’s no reason he can’t keep his spot in the lineup.

Justin Schultz: 18 GP, 1 G, 7 A, 8 PTS (with Penguins)


I like the fact that Justin Schultz was given up for a third round draft selection that was reacquired when they got rid of an excess player in Beau Bennett.

Schultz wasn’t exactly an offensive protegé when he got here but he had Norris Trophy potential coming into the league. Unfortunately, being an Edmonton Oilers defenseman is something not too many people would do by choice.

He can be an offensive threat for sure as his career high in goals is 11 for Edmonton. He had 1 goal in 18 regular season games for Pittsburgh so if he gets a consistent chance to play as a top-6 defenseman, expect that production to be higher this season.

Derrick Pouliot: 22 GP, 0 G, 7 A, 7 PTS


And finally, the interesting case of Derrick Pouliot, as I wrote about him about a week ago, is something that will be fun to monitor.

I suspect you’ll get to see more of him this year but Jim Rutherford has really given some mixed signals about his plans for number 51.

Many believe that he continues to endorse Pouliot because of his struggles and how they can boost his trade value. But if you’ve seen pictures, Pouliot looks like an entirely different person.

He’s much skinnier and has cut his long hair. Could a changed physical appearance give him the opportunity to change his on-ice performance? Only time will be able to tell.

Depth Is More Than Just Perception In An Ever Changing Game

It’s 2016. The style of hockey played today is different than the style played a short seven years ago, the Penguins last Stanley Cup in 2009. But this years Penguins team isn’t the only team getting help from more than just their stars. A shutdown pair in that season would’ve included Hal Gill and Rob Scuderi, physical defenseman who couldn’t move the puck one iota. A shutdown pair in 2016 consists of Ian Cole and Justin Schultz, two defenseman who can skate well and move the puck with the best of them while making the necessary solid blue line play. What else makes these teams similar? Let’s dive in.

Going back to 2009, the Penguins third line that consisted of Matt Cooke, Jordan Staal, and Tyler Kennedy was considered “The Best Line in Hockey” at the time. Each component of that line played all 24 games the Penguins needed to win that elusive Cup. That line totaled 25 points. That’s a pretty solid number. The line wasn’t known entirely for its offensive contributions though. They managed to be a +20 rating overall, never lapsing and focusing on only one part of their game. It was one of the best two way line combinations in the Stanley Cup Playoffs history.

Fast forward to the Stanely Cup Finals of 2015, Chicago Blackhawks (eventual winner) and the Tampa Bay Lightning. The loser Lightning threw out a line that was called “The Triplets”: Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, and Nikita Kucherov. That line totaled 61 points and was the reason that the Lightning made it as far as they did.

Move ahead one more season and your Pittsburgh Penguins roll a line called the “HBK” line: Carl Hagelin, Nick Bonino, and Phil Kessel. Through their 19 playoff games so far, the combination has 47 points combined and has been a vital part of a potential Stanley Cup Champion in the making.

As you can see, the game has changed drastically over the seven years since Pittsburgh’s last Cup. A point per game performance with stellar defense was all it took to earn the title “Best Line In Hockey”. These last two seasons, it’s been secondary lines and their ability to score often that have stepped up for teams to carry them to the Finals, relieving the star players on their teams of hurting their backs from carrying the entire load.

A great example of what a lack of depth can do for your team was front and center in past year’s flop against the New York Rangers. Marc-Andre Fleury and Sidney Crosby, the Penguins expected playoff performers, were on the top level of their respective games.

Evgeni Malkin? Not so much.

Did the Penguins have enough contribution from everyone below the second line? Haha, nope.

With guys like Daniel Winnik, Maxim Lapierre, Nick Spaling, and Steve Downie are the main cogs in your bottom six, that’s not enough sustainable depth to win you a blow-for-blow battle with King Henrik Lundqvist in net. With the re-tooling of the Penguins roster, it shows that an improved bottom six does wonders for your playoff aspirations.

Did you think it stopped with the offensive side of the game? Hell no.

Depth at goaltending comes at a premium and only the best teams can find a goalie tandem that includes a capable backup incase the heralded, high priced starter faulters or is injured late in the season.

Last season’s hoister of Lord Stanley in Chicago saw Scott Darling take over for Corey Crawford in the Western Conference Finals against the Nashville Predators after Crawford had an abysmal 6-2 loss early on in the series. Crawford eventually regained the crease and helped power the Blackhawks to their third Stanley Cup in six seasons. But the ability to have confidence in both goaltenders was evident as Darling won a few games that he was the netminder for.

The Lightning’s goalie situation was also a bit tricky. Andrei Vasilevskiy, who was phenomenal against the Penguins this postseason, had to come in on occasions during the Stanley Cup Finals because his goalie partner Ben Bishop had torn his groin in game two. Not the most ideal situation for Tampa Bay, but ‘Vazy’ held his own in net. What a surprise, huh?

The Penguins have a similar path to the Cup Finals in the goaltender region. After Marc-Andre Fleury went down with a second concussion in three months, Jeff Zatkoff was tasked with winning a game one in front of the home crowd against the New York Rangers and did just that. He was then replaced with Matt Murray in game three of that series and he has since dominated teams going 12-4 in these playoffs. Fleury was reinstated in game five of the Eastern Conference Finals against the Lightning but was tagged for four goals and a loss, giving way to Matt Murray who’s won his next three starts.

Times change, people change, but the Stanley Cup grind forever remains the same. There are many similarities between this Penguins team, recent Stanley Cup contenders and champions. One thing is for certain, Phil Kessel being considered a third line player and Matt Murray going from AHL record setter to NHL playoff starting goaltender in under a season is more than just depth. It’s more than just impressive. It’s a formula for success that teams have been trying to piece together. Unfortunately for the rest of the NHL, I believe Jim Rutherford just wrote the damn recipe.