4 Big Questions for the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2020-21

Kris Letang #58, Sidney Crosby #87 and Evgeni Malkin #71 of the Pittsburgh Penguins. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Kris Letang #58, Sidney Crosby #87 and Evgeni Malkin #71 of the Pittsburgh Penguins. (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images) /
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Jack Johnson #3 of the Pittsburgh Penguins (Photo by Joel Auerbach/Getty Images) /

2. With the defense improve with Jack Johnson Gone?

Over the summer Jack Johnson became the first-ever Buyout in Pittsburgh Penguins history. It seemed that General Manager Jim Rutherford replaced him with both Mike Matheson and the signing of defenseman Cody Ceci. We haven’t even started the season and already fans seem to be worried about Ceci following his run with the Toronto Maple Leafs last season (1 G and 8 A) and his mediocre performance with the Ottawa Senators, where he averaged between 20 and 25 points per season.

I don’t mind the Ceci deal as it’s a one-year, $1,250,000 deal, so if it doesn’t work out then he will be a UFA after the end of the 2020-21 season anyway. However, Matheson is still on the books for the next five years with a $4,875,000 cap hit and a No-Move Clause in his contract from the 2021-22 season onwards.

Mike Matheson (19)
Mike Matheson #19 of the Florida Panthers (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images) /

Matheson’s numbers with the Florida Panthers weren’t terrible as he averaged 20 to 25 points per season, including back-to-back 27-point seasons in 2017-18 and 2018-19, so I do think the defense has a chance to improve but it’s going to go up against a really tough offensively talented division. The Boston Bruins, the Washington Capitals and the Philadelphia Flyers all have depth for days when it comes to scoring, and this Pittsburgh backend will need to be on their toes.

Not just Matheson and Ceci, but John Marino, who recently signed a six-year, $26,400,000 contract, will need to continue on his current upwards trajectory, while the likes of Marcus Pettersson and Juuso Riikola will also need to step in addition to Kris Letang hopefully having a bounce-back year.

If this defensive core can hold up, it can really be a good stepping stone season for this team as we head towards what will hopefully be a normal 2021-22 season. Plus, Jack Johnson is now the New York Rangers problem so there’s that.