Crosby Malkin

Backhand Shelf’s previews for the 2013-14 NHL season are going to work like a choose your own adventure novel, because fans only hear what they want to hear anyway, so we might as well embrace it.

You’ll get the flippant barstool prediction, the push-the-glasses-up-your-nose numbers take, the team is going to be good take, the team is going to be bad take, and then we’ll try to bring it back full circle at the bottom. Let’s get to it.

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Added: Rob Scuderi
Subtracted: Jarome Iginla, Tyler Kennedy, Matt Cooke, Brenden Morrow

The Penguins are going to be good

It’s ridiculous that I even have to explain this to you. I should just cut a paste a picture of their roster. They have the World’s Best Hockey player Sidney Crosby, for one. Like, thee actual guy. Not someone “in the conversation,” the universally accepted “best in the world at this sport.” That guy. Last year he played in 36 of the 48 games and lost the scoring title by a few points. He was dominating the league when he left, and uh-oh, he’s healthy this year and had a healthy summer of training. Ohhh, and they also have a guy who’s arguably the second best player in the world in Evgeni Malkin. He’s only won a Calder, a Hart, a Lindsay, an Art Ross, a Conn Smythe and a Stanley Cup. Then they have some fill-in schulbs like James Neal, who has a 40 goal season on his resume, and scored 21 times in 40 games last season.

It’s an embarrassment of riches: Pascal Dupuis scored 20 times in a shortened season last year, and hit 25 the year before. Chris Kunitz might make Team Canada after scoring 22 in 48 games last season (and was coming off two prior 20+ goal seasons). Jussi Jokinen has scored 30 before. Brandon Sutter is a stalwart defensive center who’s scored 20+ in the past. It never ends, even coming from the back-end, where they have one of the best defenseman in the league in Kris Letang (over a point-per-game last year, 38 in 35), and other talents like Paul Martin. Then they’ve solidified the group with tough-to-play dudes like Brooks Orpik and Rob Scuderi, who play in front of Stanley Cup champion Marc-Andre Fleury. You know, the guy people give a hard time to who finished with an above average save percentage last year? (.916 with a 2.39 goals-against). If they don’t win the Cup, it’s been a disappointing year. They’re stacked.

The Penguins are going to be bad

This section should just be .GIFs of Marc-Andre Fleury flailing away in the crease as he pisses away games the Penguins should never lose. This guy is literally seeing a sports psychologist to figure how he’s somehow ended up this bad at stopping pucks. He’s worse than a sieve. He’s a funnel. And that’s going to be highlighted when guys like Letang and Martin, who barely care about D at all, give up chances going the other way, or even when boats like Derek Engellend and Rob Scuderi get roasted wide multiple times a night. Kunitz and Dupuis are “meh” players being dragged to pretty numbers by Crosby, who is physically incapable of playing a whole hockey season. He should switch namebars with number 15 on his team so he can have the more accurate “Glass” label on his jersey. They’ve paid so much money to such a small pool of guys that they’re forced to have at least a handful of players you couldn’t pick out of a police lineup for “depth.” This team is going to give up way too many goals to be a good team.

Flippant barstool prediction

This team will have it in neutral by November and will coast to a top seed.

The numbers:

When your team finishes first in the Conference, your numbers will be good, or say, great. They were first in the league in goals-per-game by a sizeable margin (scoring 3.38 per, over Chicago’s 3.1), which comes from having the second best powerplay in the league (24.7%), and the second best 5-on-5 goals for/against ratio (1.35). Their +46 goal differential in 48 games was literally double the second place team in the conference, Montreal. They kept the puck out of the net fairly well overall (12th in the league, 2.48 against per game), but their penalty kill needed some work (79.6% success rate, 25th overall).

Okay, but seriously:

It comes down to two things: is Sidney Crosby healthy, and can Marc-Andre Fleury play goal anymore? If Crosby is healthy, it’s like having Tom Brady – I don’t care who he’s playing with, that team has a chance to win. As for Fleury, I actually don’t think he’s that bad, he’s just such a debacle in playoffs. If he gets things figured out and at least provides them with average goaltending, they can win. If healthy, they’ve just got too much talent to not be among the top teams in the league. Obviously one of the contenders for the Cup.

Your NHL.com preview: