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Penguins Perspectives: Finding the road back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs

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Welcome to Penguins Perspectives, a weekly column by KDKA-TV Digital Producer Patrick Damp. Each Friday, Patrick will talk about the week that was, the week to come, what to watch for, and more.

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) - There is a time of year that for the past 16 years has become just as much a part of the calendar here in Pittsburgh as Picklesburgh. 

A time of year when the sun sets a little later, the sun shines to a point you can feel the warmth, and the warm air just hits different. 

It's not a season, it's not a singular event, no, it's the best time of year - The Stanley Cup Playoffs. 

This past year, the Pittsburgh Penguins, for the first time since 2005, were not invited and we were left wondering who we'd root for or if we'd even watch. 

Rightfully so, the Penguins not being invited to the dance has led to a lot of changes, both in the front office and on the roster. 

Now, the big question sits in front of us - how do the Penguins make it so come next April, they're one of the 16 teams vying for Lord Stanley's Cup? 

Let's look at a couple of factors that the Penguins will need to work in their favor to take a run at the franchise's sixth Stanley Cup. 

Tristan Jarry

Tristan Jarry is the Penguins' goalie. Like it or not, newly-hired President of Hockey Operations Kyle Dubas gave the 28-year-old goaltender a five-year contract on July 1. 

It's a risk and a sizable one at that. 

While the NHL's salary cap is expected to rise over the next few seasons, a goalie on a multi-year deal with a spotty track record will be difficult to divorce yourself from. 

However, I do believe there is evidence to prove that Tristan Jarry is the guy. 

I have no reason to think Jarry's media availability on Thursday was him saving face or putting up a front. By all accounts, he's one of the fiercest competitors the Penguins have ever had between the pipes and with that, holds himself to a near-unrealistic standard. 

That kind of mindset can be self-defeating, especially when the future is uncertain. 

Now, with a long-term deal secured with Pittsburgh, Jarry's focus is simply on the play in front of him. When healthy, Jarry finds himself in some pretty good company, as I wrote last season, the names Hellebuyck, Vasilevskiy, and Ullmark are in the conversation. 

He says his injury is not chronic and he's "100-percent." 

He must be. While he doesn't need to be Vezina level he does need to be better. The Penguins as a franchise have always had firepower, so beating a team in a 2-1, defensive chess match isn't how they win games.

To get back to the postseason, Jarry doesn't need to steal games, but he can't give them away, either. 

Filling Out The Depth

Stop me if you heard this one before: the Penguins will need more than just Crosby, Malkin, Letang, Guentzel, Rakell, Rust, and now Reilly Smith to score. 

One of the glaring issues the Penguins had last season was while the top six were elite, the bottom six was damn near below replacement level. 

Now, the additions of Lars Eller, Noel Acciari, and others both at the NHL and AHL levels, give the Penguins more options when it comes to forward depth. 

Last season, Jeff Carter was the only consistent player in the bottom six to score 10 or more goals. 

Eller, Acciari, and Matt Nieto all scored more than 10 goals. Giving Carter now the ability to shift to the wing will not only likely help his effectiveness, but it will also give the Penguins a bottom six group of forwards that while they may not light up the scoresheet, will take some pressures off of the top six. 

A big issue last year wasn't just the lack of production from the third and fourth lines, it was the fact that when they were on the ice, their opponents had the puck more often than the Penguins. 

These additions change that. Being able to wear down opponents through a good forecheck, puck possession, and making sure that they aren't relying too heavily on the first two lines. 

Doubt & Motivation

It's no secret, the Penguins are no longer a young hockey club. 

All the big names in Pittsburgh are on the other side of 30 and the clock is ticking on their careers. 

It's easy to think that, as Kurt Russell said when he depicted legendary coach Herb Brooks in the movie Miracle, "Their time is done." 

I'd be willing to bet that the big three don't see it that way. 

There are nearly two decades of stories about the competitiveness of Sidney Crosby. Everything from framing that year's Stanley Cup championship picture in his home gym to use as motivation to not leaving the locker room until he wins at throwing tape balls into the trash can, the man honestly may hate losing more than he loves winning. 

That's also the standard that he has set for the Penguins organization. 

Following a season when both he and Evgeni Malkin remained remarkably healthy but still failed to qualify for the postseason will surely be used as a tool to jumpstart this team. 

Analysts across North America have begun writing the obituaries and retrospectives of this era of Penguins hockey all while this team is still here. 

It's not something tangible, but now, this team and its leaders will use that doubt as a motivating factor. 

The Dubas Factor

Fenway Sports Group got their man this summer when they made the decision to dismiss Ron Hextall and Brian Burke. 

They hired Kyle Dubas, a forward-thinking, young, and seemingly well-liked across the league, executive to run their hockey operations department. 

He also isn't afraid to take risks or bet on the people who have brought him success. 

Once he officially took over as general manager in Toronto, his first offseason, he made the biggest splash - signing John Tavares. 

Dubas once again has an opportunity to make the biggest splash of the offseason in his first season with the Penguins. 

By all accounts, it is down to the Penguins and Carolina Hurricanes as the preferred destination for Norris-winning defenseman Erik Karlsson. 

I've said it, you've read it, and it has been tweeted (or threaded) dozens if not hundreds of times in the past few weeks - the Penguins are a team built on high-end talent, skill, and goal-scoring. 

Karlsson checks each and every one of those boxes. 

He also is known for finding market inefficiencies as a roster builder. Players who may not jump off the page but will become key contributors to a contending team. Players such as Michael Bunting, Connor Brown, Zach Hyman, and others who produced big numbers for the Maple Leafs and went on to get paid elsewhere. 

For the Penguins to get back to the playoffs, a lot of these players will be needed. Think of players that contributed to the back-to-back championships in 2016 and 2017: Nick Bonino, Matt Cullen, Eric Fehr, and Patric Hornqvist. All players that may not have been among the highest scorers, but when the team needed a boost, they were there. 

The eastern conference is again turning into an arms race, with young teams coming of age and contenders taking their last few shots at winning a title. 

It won't be easy, but as far as aging teams go, the Penguins find themselves in a position to get back to the playoffs and take one more good shot at the Stanley Cup. 

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