After the Penguins regular season downhill turn was graciously interrupted by the Covid-19 pause the team used the three month hiatus to get healthy enough to win one game in the round robin. Following yet another disappointing postseason outcome General Manager Jim Rutherford went to work once again rebuilding the team he has carefully deconstructed over the past three years. This post is meant to serve as a review of the moves that were made and how each aspect of the Penguins changed with each move.
Who is Out?
Jack Johnson – Despite Bud Moonshine telling Twitter that other NHL GMs aren’t as down on JJ as Pens fans are, a trade for that awful contract could not be made and Jack Jonson was finally bought out just two years after signing a head-scratching 5-year contract. The buyout was covered by our team here. The move opened up just north of $2 million in space and the Penguins will gladly pay Jack Johnson $1.167 million to not put the puck into their net this year. My rating of the deal: A++
Patric Hornqvist – A locker room and fan favorite, Hornqvist was dealt to Florida in exchange for an Erector Set with missing pieces in Mike Matheson and career third liner Colton Sceviour. Our boy G recapped the trade with stats on both new players here. Losing Hornqvist was a necessary move for Rutherford mainly because Rutherford signed Hornqvist to a stupid contract. In 2018, GMJR signed the then 31-year-old Hornqvist to a 5-year, $5.3 million per year contract. A 35-year-old Hornqvist isn’t going to be worth $5.3 million. That being said, acquiring more salary in return because math is hard and no picks was particularly stupid. My rating of the deal: A for moving Hornqvist, C- for not thinking about the future, C+ in assets received for an overall rating of B-
Matt Murray – After a year of the relationship running its course Matt Murray was dealt to the Ottawa Senators for a 2nd round pick and a prospect. The deal was bound to happen as Murray struggled to be the man after replacing Marc-Andre Fleury. The Senators promptly signed Murray to a 4-year $6.25 million per year deal. Our own Danny Shirey discussed the trade here. The Penguins have two capable netminders in Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith, and the team feels confident with this tandem moving forward. This move was bound to happen, and given he had little leverage with Murray being at the end of a contract I give it a B+ for Rutherford.
Nick Bjugstad – The forward will be easily forgotten in Pittsburgh thanks to his unfortunate injury record during his time here. He was traded to the Minnesota Wild in a move where former GMJR assistant and current Wild GM Bill Guerin fleeced JR. The Penguins retained half of Bjugstad’s salary for an unknown reason and received a conditional 7th round pick back. This will leave $2.05 million of Bjugstad’s salary on the Penguins books this year. At that price, the team probably would’ve benefitted from just keeping him for the final year. Retaining salary and only getting a conditional 7th makes my rating for this deal a D for damn dat’s bad dawg.
Players Not Resigned
Patrick Marleau – His fantasy of winning the Stanley Cup did not come into fruition. He and his family headed back to San Jose, where he will retire without a Cup. The Penguins will not miss him. His wife’s Twitter feed was fun.
Conor Sheary – Sheary is yet to be resigned by any team, and hopefully this isn’t an oversight by GMJR. Originally traded for Dominik Kahun, Sheary was underwhelming in his second stint with the Penguins, and has hopefully tripped over the blueline in a Penguins sweater for the final time.
Justin Schultz – No surprise the Penguins didn’t even attempt to negotiate with Schultz. His time in Pittsburgh is mostly remembered for a great photograph. The team got more out of Schultz than many imagined when GMJR originally traded for the struggling defender, and JR did the right thing by letting him walk to Washington, lol.
Dominik Simon – The advanced stats darling was not resigned by the Penguins and remains an unrestricted free agent, his father, Geoff, has become the living rendition of the wolverine looking at a photograph meme.
Tristan Jarry – He was originally drafted to be the man to replace Fleury. He was then surpassed by Matt Murray on the depth charts and now the team is Jarry’s once again. Though his sample size is small, he will be the man moving forward in net for the Pens. The 3-year, $3.25 million per year deal is a great term and rate for GMJR.
Jared McCann – McCann was resigned for a team-friendly 2-year, 2.94 million dollars per year deal. McCann is a great utility forward that is probably a better winger than center. His versatility throughout the lineup made this a great resigning by Rutherford.
Jusso Riikola – A surprise signing as the team has seemed to forget about Riikola since they originally brought him to the United States. Danny looked into the resigning here, as long as the team actually uses him as a defender and not a press box body this would appear to be a good deal.
Kasperi Kapanen – The big fish for GMJR this offseason was reacquiring Kasperi Kapanen from the Toronto Maple Leafs. He paid a pretty penny for the forward, with the final trade having Kapanen, forward Pontus Aberg, and defender Jesper Lindgren coming to the Pens in exchange for their 2020 1st round pick, Evan Rodrigues, David Warsofsky and Filip Hallander. The Leafs did not end up resigning Evan Rodrigues and the Penguins re-acquired him in free agency. Geoff had the initial break down of the trade, and Danny did a deep dive into what the Penguins are getting with Kapanen. The move provided depth, and the fact that the reacquired Rodrigues, makes it more palatable. The loss of Hallander is the biggest sting to the team, and one that tips the scales in Toronto’s favor.
Evan Rodrigues – Signed in free agency for a team friendly $700k one year deal as mentioned above. Rodrigues is a good addition to the Pens bottom six, and will likely spend most of this season with Jared McCann on the third line.
Mark Jankowski – A former first round pick in 2012, GMJR signed Jankowski to a one year, $700k deal. Jankowski is mostly a third line center who is very good at defense and equally bad at offense. He average 2 minutes of PK time per game for the Flames last year. Rutherford envisions Jankowski as the Pens 3C this season, he feels the current third line is McCann-Jankowski-Rodrigues
Mike Matheson – Mentioned earlier as part of the Patric Hornqvist trade. Matheson is 26-year-old Left Defender who is signed for the NEXT SIX SEASONS at $4.875 million per year. Matheson is a project, and a very expensive one at that. He has shown some strengths and some believe under the right conditions he will flourish. Whether he will ever be worth $5 million a year is another debate for another time but no he won’t be. For now, he is an upgrade on the third pairing over Jack Johnson, but probably not better than Jusso Riikola.
Colton Sceviour – The other part of the Hornqvist trade, Sceviour is a 31-year-old career third liner who will likely provide injury depth to the team. With GMJR already stating his desired third line, Sceviour, who likely puts his pinky out while drinking tea, will have to earn a spot in the lineup. He should fear not, however, given the Penguins injury history, Sceviour should be on the top line by February.
Cody Ceci – Honestly, the offseason wasn’t too terrible until this signing. After getting rid of Jack Johnson, the Penguins essentially signed Jack Johnson, as Cassy so eloquently wrote about this week. Ceci was signed to a 1.25 million dollar deal, is a Right Defender, and is pretty awful. When a 1.25 million dollar contract isn’t considered to be team friendly you know its a bad deal. He will compete with Chad Ruhwedel for the right side on the third pairing, and will likely lose that competition. The only good news about this signing is Rutherford forgot to add an extra 1 to the term and the team only has to deal with Ceci for one year.
Recapping the Forwards
So where is this team compared to last year? Equally lost but using a new map. Since storming the league with speed and skill to win back-to-back cups the Penguins have been down a rabbit hole of riddles. It almost feels like reacquiring Sheary was a white flag from Rutherford where he admitted he never should’ve departed from the original plan that lead to success. It could also be a sign that he is only signing /trading for players he knows personally. The addition of Kapanen adds a good bit of speed back to the lineup and a finishing touch that they’ve needed. The bottom six as currently constructed, won’t provide any scoring support but will defend the hell out of other teams. The fourth line last season, and especially often forgotten Zach Aston-Reese, was a defensive blackhole.
As it stands now the forwards will be something like:
Zucker, Rust and Kapanen will likely be switching places until something gels. This is a better group of forwards than Sullivan has had to work with in recent years. The biggest oversight could be the creation of two defensive minded lines in the bottom 6, placing all of your scoring emphasis on the top 2 lines which are centered by aging superstars. If a team shuts down Crosby and Malkin, you’re asking a lot from a group of players who couldn’t score at an orgy.
Recapping the Defense
Jack Johnson and Justin Schultz are gone, it is difficult to not improve with those two moves. Unless John Marino hits an awful sophomore slump the defense as of now is much better than it was last season. The current pairings would probably look as such:
Dumoulin – Letang
Pettersson – Marino
Riikola/Matheson – Ruhwedel/Ceci
Brian Dumoulin and John Marino made an impressive pairing last season, and I wouldn’t be opposed to see them become a pair while Pettersson slots with Letang. This move would help even out an aging Letang’s minutes while also creating a dominant shutdown pairing in Dumo and Marino. The defense without Schultz and Johnson is much improved. Potentially having $6 million in Matheson and Ceci as healthy scratches is mind-boggling.
Recapping the Goalies
With Murray out all eyes turn to Tristan Jarry. Many fans have adored Jarry simply because he wasn’t responsible for Fleury’s departure. Jarry has shown flashes of brilliance, as illustrated by his All-Star bid last season, but he has also put together an AHL resume of average goaltending between these flashes of brilliance. Pens fans are hoping he will play at his outlier numbers, but I wouldn’t be shocked to see him regress to his norm. Being backed by DeSmith will add good protection if Jarry struggles. Overall, the Jarry/DeSmith tandem is neither superior nor inferior to the Murray/Jarry tandem of last year, but gets a boost solely because they wont have Jack Johnson in front of them. With the third and fourth lines also being defensively minded, the Penguins goalies should be well protected this year, and given Jarry’s salary you have to give GMJR credit for how he handled this position in the offseason.
The Penguins lost yet another first-round pick in the Kapanen trade. They also lost one of their top prospects in Filip Hallander. Their offensive prospects have dwindled to Samuel Polin and Nathan Legare. Defensively they have Pierre-Olivier Joseph closing in on a jump to the NHL with the rest of the AHL squad far off from NHL action. In goal they have social media darling Emil Llarmi and Alex D’Orio.
Things aren’t much better on the picks side. As of right now the Penguins have 5 picks in the upcoming 2021 draft, however their earliest is in the 2nd round, and the others are in the fifth round and three in the 7th round. They currently have all of their picks in the 2022 and 2023 draft at the moment.
Behind the Bench
Mike Sullivan lost his old crew. With his departure, Mark Recchi will no longer be in charge of running an awful powerplay. Jacques Martin moved on to the New York Rangers where he gets to continue coaching Jack Johnson. Todd Reirden and Mike Vellucci were brought in as assistant coaches. Reirden was an assistant coach for the Pens from 2010-2014 before getting fired. He was immediately hired by the Capitals as an assistant coach and ended up being their head coach for two years in 2018 and 2019, replacing Barry Trotz. The Capitals finished first in the metro both years under Reirden before experiencing first-round playoff losses, so he is a perfect fit. Mike Vellucci was originally hired as the WBS Penguins head coach and thought to be a candidate to take over for Sullivan in the event that he were fired. Now Vellucci is even closer to the thrown, earning a promotion to assistant coach after one season with the baby Pens.
The Penguins team that hits the ice this year will look much different both on the ice and behind the bench than the one that lost to Montreal. The defense is much improved. The offense will be a tale of two cities with the top 6 driving offense and the bottom 6 shutting teams down. The goaltenders won’t have to be amazing and should get the job done. The special teams coaching can’t get much worse. With Vellucci beside him Sullivan will be feeling the heat more than in previous seasons. All-in-all, the professional team is a better one right now on paper than the one they finished the season with. The execution of this team will be the deciding factor. The pipeline and pick situation is rather drab, but in a win-now mentality that is expected. It becomes in issue the longer the team does not win now.