ARE THE PENGUINS REBUILDING?
Saying the Pittsburgh Penguins Season was shocking is true. Unfortunately, their playoff performance left much to be desired. The Pittsburgh Penguins won the East Division. While having 250 man-games lost because of injuries ranking seventh in the NHL this year.
The injuries the Penguins suffered are significant. All 6 of Pittsburgh’s top D-Men were injured this year. This handcuffed the Penguins. Forcing them to bring in fresh faces such as Pierre-Olivier Joseph, Kevin Czuczman, and William Reilly. Along with vets like Mark Friedman from the Flyers, and Yannick Weber who all logged ice time on the defense this year.
It wasn’t just the defense that was banged up. The Offense had their fair share of knocks as well. Star players and key role players like Kasperi Kapanen, Evgeni Malkin, Jason Zucker, Brandon Tanev, and Teddy Blueger missed significant time. This Caused the Pens to bring up guys from Wilkes-Barre like Frederick Gaudreau, Anthony Angello, and Radim Zohorna.
The goaltenders were not resistant to injuries themselves. Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith missed significant time as well. The Penguins again went to the cupboard. They brought up veteran goalie Maxime Legace, and Rookie Emil Larmi at one point.
Lest we forget that 15 games into the regular season longtime GM Jim Rutherford for personal reasons resigned. Team presidents David Morehouse and “Super” Mario Lemieux searched and found Jim’s replacements.
They hired a long-time rival Ron Hextall long-time GM of the Philadelphia Flyers to become the GM. They also hired longtime GM for Calgary and Sportsnet analyst Brian Burke as Director of Hockey Operations. When Hextall and Burke started they stated they were “Taking Inventory” and will move pieces if required.
They did as Hextall brought in a familiar face at the trade deadline that was very beneficial getting Jeff Carter from the Kings for 2021 third and 2022 fourth. That move along and the Crosby’s line, playing like they were possessed. The Pens under Hextall and Burke went 29-10-2 and won the Division.
THE PENGUINS PLAYOFFS
How would I rate the Penguins’ performance in the playoffs? Well, the Pens did a superb job in the playoffs. Their offense was clicking on all cylinders. The Defense though, not as good. The Pinching in the offensive zone caused them to be out of position.
Unfortunately, what Penguins fans will say is Tristan Jarry was Abysmal he was constantly getting beaten high glove side. Tristan missed the last few games of the season because of injury. So there were rumors. Apparently, he had a shoulder and abdominal injury.
In a Facebook post, that has since been deleted, Jarry’s mother confirmed that her son told her he had a torn abdominal on his glove side. This hurt him when he moved. You can say Jarry played horribly, but let’s take everything into account.
The Penguin’s best player in the playoffs was a man I spoke about before Carter. In the Six games he played he racked up five points (Four goals and one assist). Perhaps also Kris Letang, who in the six games played tallied Six points (One Goal, and Five Assists). So, now for the third straight year, the Pens were eliminated from the playoffs. The Islanders knocked the Penguins out for the second time. That is twice in three years.
Where do the Penguins go from here?
This off-season for Pittsburgh could be interesting. The Penguins have 17 players that are Restricted or Un-Restricted free agents. Some of the bigger names on the list are Zach-Aston Reese, Cody Ceci, Maxime Legace, Emil Larmi, Colton Sceviour, Teddy Blueger, and Frederick Gaudreau.
The question is in their first off-season, what will Ron Hextall and Brian Burke do? There are guys that they really have no ties to. Except for their performances in season and elsewhere to compare to. Let us not forget also that the Seattle Kraken Expansion Draft comes up on June Third.
The Expansion Draft results
So here is what I think will happen In the Expansion Draft. The Seattle Kraken are going to want a good solid guy so they will either take Jason Zucker or one of the other unprotected forwards (Tanev, Aston-Reese, Blueger). I hope they take Zucker. He has three years left on his contract with a cap hit of 5.5 million. Zucker needs to go, the experiment is over in Pittsburgh. He just doesn’t fit in with our team and style of play.
The two years Zucker was with the Penguins in the 53 regular-season games he had 15 goals and 15 assists. In the 10 playoff games, Jason had four goals and one assist. His expectations were high when Jim Rutherford gave up Calen Addison, Alex Galchenyuk, and our first-round picks in 2020 and 2021. Jason needs end up with the Kraken and be a leader. The Penguins will not give him the significant ice time he wants and thinks he deserves.
Let us talk about trades and signings. Those are a little more complicated. Hextall and Burke both want to get the “Black Aces” Pierre-Oliver Joesph, Drew O’Connor, Anthony Angello, and Kasper Björkqvist (RFA) playing time in the NHL. The Penguins have other prospects they can bring in that are playing in Wilkes-Barre Scranton such as Johnathan Gruden, Justin Almedia, Samuel Poulin, Nathan Légaré, Josh Maniscalo, and others that can fill roles.
Penguins Signings and Trades So, let’s talk about signings and trades we could see and who is expendable. The first thing is first having to Re-Sign Teddy Blueger and Zach Aston-Reese. Teddy and Zach along with Brandon Tanev are the Penguins solid fourth line that could be a normal teams second or third line. Zach was making one Million last year. You could sign him to a two-year deal at three million. That would be beneficial. Teddy was making $750,000 if you could try to sign him to a 2-year $2 million deal. It is a raise for two key guys.
I would let a lot of the vets go to get younger so let Evan Rodriguez, Colton Sceviour, Mark Jankowski, Yannick Weber, Zach Trotman, and possibly Cody Ceci go to free agency to get their salary off the books doing that clears up cap space of 5.4 Million to be exact without Ceci’s $1.25 million contract. If you let him go you ‘re looking at $6.65 million in cap space. With that kind of cap room, you want to bring players back.
You would want to try to re-sign players other than Blueger and Aston-Reese. Frederick Gaudreau played on the third line with Jared McCann and Jeff Carter and did pretty good this year in the 25 games he played including the playoffs he had 13 points (Three Goals, 10 Assists) So, for a third-line wing that’s pretty good numbers.
Another one I’d like to see re-sign is Cody Ceci he was a good solid D-Man on the third D pairing normally with John Marino in the 59 games he played including playoffs he had 19 points (Four Goals, 15 Assists) so not terrible but doable to give him a one-year vet minimum contract. This scenario gives Aston-Reese 1.5, Blueger 1, Gaudreau 1 maybe less, and Ceci 1 that leaves you with 4.5 million to play with. That does not include the cap space you shed with any trades. Significantly helping the Penguins out in this off-season.
Now we can talk about trades. There are a couple of bodies you could get off the books, and replace them easily. Marcus Pettersson has 5 years left on his contract and an AAV of 4 Million. Pettersson was acquired from the Anaheim Ducks. He is a solid left-handed defenseman that could find a new home, and get more playing time as a top D-man. The Penguins should make a deal to get that money off the books.
That way they can plug in Pierre-Oliver Joesph in that spot or move him to the third defensive pair with Marino. Juuso Riikola is another D-man that needs to be shipped off. Even if it’s for draft capital next year. He is not being used and his 1.15 AAV contract is just wasting away. Let us send him to a team that needs a young defenseman like Ottawa or Buffalo and get a late-round draft pick in this year’s or next year’s draft.
THE PENGUINS The Big 3 SPLITTING?
Now there’s the big three, Crosby, Malkin, and Letang. Do any of them get moved? First Sidney Crosby isn’t going anywhere he says he wants to retire a Penguin and is willing to re-negotiate his contract if need be. Sidney Crosby wants two things to win cups and to represent Pittsburgh with every fiber in his being. He is my generation’s Mario Lemieux.
Second Evgeni Malkin this one makes me wonder. Malkin has a No-Movement Clause. Unless, as the fans call him, “Geno” wants to leave, I don’t see him leaving though. The real question is, could the Pens survive without Geno? The Answer is yes. The Penguins played without Evgeni Malkin for a good chunk of the season. They won the East Division.
Do I think the Penguins would be better off without Malkin in the lineup? Well., kind of, unfortunately. I think it would upset the captain, and that’s not worth it. My opinion, if any of the big three get moved, I could see it being him. The third name on this list is the one that everyone is saying will be the one to be traded. I’m here to tell you it’s not happening.
Kris Letang not only has a Modified No-Trade clause which means he gives you a list and then it’s still up to him if he wants to leave. He also has a No-Movement Clause. Penguins fans unless Hextall and Burke can convince him to waive the No-Trade, he isn’t going anywhere. I don’t want him to.
Kris played by far his best season in the last few years the stats to say it, but the way he played showed that he deserves to be on this team for the near future. Let us put into perspective how much the Penguins love these guys. “Sid the Kid” has five years left on his contract at an AAV of 8.7 mil. Geno has two years left on his contract at an AAV of 9.5 mil. Kris has two years lefts on his contract at the paltry AAV of 7.25 mil. If you are trying to make more cap room and get younger Geno is the way to go. I am not saying that I want him to, though.
WHAT OUTSIDE IMPROVEMENTS COULD THE PENGUINS MAKE
Ok we talked about who the Penguins should re-sign, let go, and trade. Now we can talk about if the Pens should sign anyone or make a move for some pieces? Remember we said the Penguins had 4.5 mil to play with after all the key signings.
The question is what do you spend the money on? The first thing apparently is the Goaltending situation. It is not good now. Tristan Jarry’s performance in the playoffs brought that to light. Mind you, Casey DeSmith was injured. That may have gone differently. Who do the Penguins look at? Well, there are some pending free agents that could fit. You may get for a one-year deal such as what the Hurricanes duo of James Reimer and Petr Mrazek signed. With the emergence of rookie Alexander Nedeljokvic. The Hurricanes have a new number one, and both their backups are free agents. The Pens could look there.
James Reimer this season played 22 games. He was 15-5-2 with a GAA of 2.66 and a save percentage of.906. Which is the 21st best in the NHL. Petr Mrazek was injured a lot this regular season. He will look to rebound. In the games that he played, he was very good. In the 12 games before the injury, he had a record of 6-2-3, a GAA of 2.06, and a save percentage of .923.
A comparison to Tristan Jarry shows he was better than both Reimer and Mrazek. His record was 25-9-3 with a GAA of 2.75 and a save percentage of .909. Desmith was 11-7-0 with a GAA of 2.54 and a save percentage of.912. Jarry and either of these two gentlemen would be an improvement over DeSmith. They are both going to want big money even on a one-year contract. Maybe look somewhere else.
Another goalie they could look at is Florida Panthers Backup Chris Driedger. Driedger will most likely not re-signed with the Florida Panthers since the emergence of Spencer Knight,. He only has a cap hit of $850,000. You could get him on a one or two-year, $2 – $2.5 million deal. That would be good. Driedger in the 23 games played was 14-6 with 3 shutouts, a GAA of 2.07, and a save percentage of .927. He could be a solid backup to Jarry or Desmith and send the latter to WBS.
That’s my take on the Penguins off-season. Even though they came through this adversity to win the East. We again lost in the first round of the playoffs. That is unacceptable. There must be changes made. Whether they are minor or major becomes the question. Do we look to replenish our goaltending situation? Should we ship off one of the big names to clear space? Get more prospects and picks? Will we just ship whatever we can and rebuild? Those are the questions for Ron Hextall and Brian Burke.
I will say this. If we make some moves, and we end up in the same position next year. Then what’s the plan?
Let me know what you think? Comments are welcomed.
Jeremy “Fox” Miller