<
>
Insider

Top contenders to end the Penguins' Stanley Cup run

play
Melrose: Depth a concern for the Penguins (1:03)

Barry Melrose talks about the key veterans Pittsburgh lost in the offseason and how it could impact the Penguins' Stanley Cup hopes. (1:03)

The Pittsburgh Penguins' Stanley Cup victory did not surprise anyone last season, but it probably should have.

Of course, when a team sports two of the top players of a generation in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin, the expectations are set at a championship every season, but heading into the playoffs the Penguins didn't fit the profile of a team that was a lock to raise the Cup.

While every other recent Stanley Cup winner had been dominant on the shot counter, the Penguins ranked 16th in 2016-17. They were also missing their No. 1 goalie and No. 1 defenseman entering the postseason. Traditionally, health has played a large role in playoff success. During a six-year stretch when the Chicago Blackhawks won three Stanley Cups and the Los Angeles Kings brought home two, they ranked No. 1 and 2 in fewest man games lost.

So the Penguins had some hills to climb, but they got goalie Matt Murray back in time for the Eastern Conference finals and Stanley Cup Final, and a gaggle of defensemen patched together the giant hole left by Kris Letang to defeat the Nashville Predators.

Pittsburgh won the Cup in large part because its offensive attack and power play were just too much for opponents to handle. The Penguins produced 3.08 goals per game, easily the best mark of any playoff team. Murray also had an incredible .937 save percentage in the postseason.

So with Crosby and Malkin still dominating, Murray just beginning his prime and Letang returning, the Penguins deserve to enter 2017-18 as the favorites for the Stanley Cup -- and sportsbooks have installed them as such.

However, two of the club's valuable centers, Nick Bonino and Matt Cullen, left in free agency, and Pittsburgh's depth at wing is highly questionable.

Here are five contenders whose deep forward groups would make a tough matchup for the Pens: