NHL Season Recap – Pittsburgh Penguins

Nashville Predators

2016-17 season: 50-21-11, 111 points

  • Beat Columbus 4-1 in the First Round
  • Beat Washington 4-3 in the Conference Semifinals
  • Beat Ottawa 4-3 in the Conference Finals
  • Beat Nashville 4-2 in the Stanley Cup Finals
Head Coach: Mike Sullivan (2015)
2nd Place Metro Division General Manager: Jim Rutherford (2014)
2nd  Eastern Conference AHL Affiliate: Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins

ECHL Affiliate: Wheeling Nailers

Draft Position: 31st

Top Forwards

POS Age Name GP Points Goals Assists +/- CF%
C 29 Sidney Crosby 75 89 44 45 17 53.2
C 30 Evgeni Malkin 62 72 33 39 18 51.9
RW 29 Phil Kessel 82 70 23 47 3 47.4
LW 24 Conor Sheary 61 53 23 30 24 52.5
RW 30 Patric Hornqvist 70 44 21 23 16 53.7
C 28 Nick Bonino 80 37 18 19 -5 46.4
C 22 Jake Guentzel 40 33 16 17 7 51.4
C 40 Matt Cullen 72 31 13 18 4 48.0
LW 37 Chris Kunitz 71 29 9 20 0 50.1
RW 24 Bryan Rust 57 28 15 13 4 51.1

Top Defensemen

POS Age Name GP Points Goals Assists +/- CF%
D 26 Justin Schultz 78 51 12 39 27 51.2
D 29 Kris Letang 41 34 5 29 2 52.9
D 27 Ian Cole 81 26 5 21 26 49.3
D 33 Trevor Daley 56 19 5 14 7 46.1
D 25 Brian Dumoulin 70 15 1 14 0 50.7

Top Goaltenders

POS Age Name Games Started W/L Record Shutouts GAA Save %
G 22 Matt Murray 47 32-10-4 4 2.41 .923
G 32 Marc-Andre Fleury 34 18-10-7 1 3.02 .909
G 21 Tristan Jarry 1 0-1-0 0 3.05 .880

Trades made During the Season

What They Acquired Team They Traded With In Exchange For
D Mark Streit Tampa Bay Lightning 2018 4th RD Pick
D Frank Corrado Toronto Maple Leafs F Eric Fehr

D Steve Olesky

2017 4th RD Pick

D Ron Hainsey Carolina Hurricanes F Danny Kristo

2017 2nd RD Pick

2017 5th RD Pick Ottawa Senators G Mike Condon

Impending Free Agents

POS Age Name 2016-17 Cap Hit
LW 37 Chris Kunitz $3,850,000
LW 38 Pascal Dupuis $3,750,000
D 33 Trevor Daley $3,300,000
D 36 Ron Hainsey $2,833,333
D 39 Mark Streit $2,501,625
C 29 Nick Bonino $1,900,000
C 40 Matt Cullen $1,000,000
LW 31 Kevin Porter $575,000
RW 26 Garrett Wilson $575,000
D 27 Cameron Guance $575,000
D 27 Chad Ruhwedel $575,000
LW 29 Tom Sestito $575,000
D 27 David Warsofsky $575,000

Draft Needs

  • The Penguins have six picks in the upcoming draft, missing their second and fourth round picks, a small price to pay for back-to-back Stanley Cups.  They have taken wingers and goaltenders with their higher round picks in recent years and have a first round pick this year for the first time since 2014.  I think that they need to use that first round pick to take a center, a position they didn’t address last year at all.  With Nick Bonino likely leaving via free agency and Matt Cullen retiring, the Penguins are going to have a need at the position at the NHL level. They do have Carter Rowney and Josh Archibald, but neither are likely to be a solid third pairing at the start of next season.  They also signed college free agent Zach Aston-Reese out of Northeastern University, where he had an illustrious career and excelled during his brief time in the AHL after signing.  He is a strong candidate to be in the NHL at the start of next season.  Beyond a center they also could address the goaltending position as Marc-Andre Fleury will be leaving this offseason and they’ll need to bring in a backup for Matt Murray.  They do have Tristan Jarry in the AHL, but he is not quite ready yet to be a full time NHLer but he could make the leap during the 2018-19 season.  They’ll need to draft his replacement at somepoint.

What I Wrote About Them Before the Season

  • Prior to the season starting, I speculated that perhaps the Penguins were going to move Marc-Andre Fleury during the season rather than potentially lose he or Matt Murray in the Expansion Draft.  I predicted that they would be a strong contender for another Stanley Cup if Murray played up to the level he showed last season.

Success/Failure

  • Success – The Penguins became the first team since the 1997-1998 Detroit Red Wings to win back-to-back Stanley Cups.  That is something very difficult to do at any point in NHL history but especially hard during the salary cap era.  Being able to keep a team under the salary cap and still be competitive is like working a jigsaw puzzle year in and year out.  A team’s front office has to define its core, be willing to pay those players and then build around them with cheap talent.  The Penguins have been a model franchise for doing this in recent seasons as Crosby, Malking, Kessel, Letang, and Fleury (now Murray) are their core and they find cheap, talented players like Jake Guentzel and Conor Sheary to play alongside their core players. They have also done an excellent job at pulling players off the scrap heap such as Justin Schultz and then developing them into solid players with Mike Sullivan’s system.  The Penguins played very well throughout the regular season as Crosby and Malkin were both point-per-game players and Crosby will likely finish as the runner up for league MVP this season.  They also got incredible depth scoring from the likes of Sheary, Patric Hornqvist, Guentzel, and Bryan Rust.  On defense, they once again had to deal with a serious injury to Kris Letang but made up for it with solid play from Brian Dumoulin, Ian Cole, and Justin Schultz, who should receive Norris Trophy votes for this season.  They have done a better job than almost any other team at calling up underwhelming prospects to fill roles when players got injured.  It also helps that their AHL affiliate runs the same system as in Pittsburgh so players can fit in seamlessly when they get to the NHL.  In net, GM Jim Rutherford did the correct thing by holding onto Fleury throughout the season as Murray was injured at the start of the season and then at the start of the playoffs and Fleury’s play ultimately saved them time and time again, allowing them to win a second straight Stanley Cup.  Rutherford, in general, made no wrong moves this season, even acquiring multiple depth defensemen to insulate against any injuries to their blueline, a problem that arose as Letang, Olli Maata, and Trevor Daley all missed significant time.  In the playoffs, one could make the argument that the Penguins got lucky, especially in the rounds after defeating the Blue Jackets.  They were outshot in each series against Washington, Ottawa, and Nashville but were still able to overcome their poor shot control numbers.  A big reason for this are Crosby, Malkin, and their goaltenders.  Fleury bailed them out against the Capitals the entire series despite being outplayed in almost every game.  The Penguins having Crosby and Malkin on separate lines, plus Kessel skating on the third line most games, helps to never give the opposition a break and these three players always have the potential to score.  Regardless of them getting lucky, they were able to fight back against injuries and being outplayed and were able to defeat the Predators in the Final.

Offseason Needs

  • I think that the Penguins have a lot of work to do this offseason to even think about making another run at a Stanley Cup.  They caught a huge break from Fleury when he agreed to waive his No Move Clause, allowing the Penguins to protect Murray in the Expansion Draft.  This all but guarantees that Fleury will be either taken by Vegas in the draft or he will be moved before then.  I think that Rutherford should see if a trade can be made with Calgary for him, but Fleury has to approve almost any trade beforehand.  The positive to that would be the Flames are a contender already while Vegas won’t be competitive for several seasons.  With the absence of Fleury, the Penguins will need to find a quality backup goaltender to play behind Murray as he is still young and has been injury prone in his short NHL career so far.  Perhaps they consider signing Chad Johnson or trading for Antti Niemi if the Stars are willing to eat some of his remaining salary.  They also have a long list of unrestricted free agents to make decisions about which include Matt Cullen, Nick Bonino, Chris Kunitz, Trevor Daley, Ron Hainsey, Mark Streit, and Chad Ruhwedel.  That doesn’t even include Conor Sheary, Brian Dumoulin, or Justin Schultz, who are all restricted free agents.  The cap space freed up by not having to buy out Fleury and his salary being off the books will come in handy when attempting to re-sign these players.  I think that Cullen is going to retire and that Bonino and Daley will be priced out of the Penguins’ comfort zone so they will have to find a way to replace these three off the top. I also think that Kunitz is either going to retire or the Penguins will have little to no interest in retaining him as he played quite poorly this season and is already 37 years old.  He was incredible during his time in Pittsburgh but sometimes teams have to make these difficult decisions.  I also think that Streit falls into this category as he was a healthy scratch most playoff games.  That leaves Hainsey, Ruhwedel, Sheary, Dumoulin, and Schultz.  I think that re-signing Hainsey would be smart as they only have three defensemen currently signed for next season and he would probably be quite cheap to re-sign.  He was also really good for them after coming over at the trade deadline.  Ruhwedel will also be cheap and provided nice depth down the stretch.  The Penguins will do everything to re-sign Sheary and Dumoulin and hold basically all negotiating rights so deals should be able to get done.  Dumoulin is probably their best overall defensemen (factoring in health) and he will not be cheap but perhaps they can sign him to a long-term deal with a lower cap hit in order to keep their salary situation manageable. Sheary will be interesting because he is clearly not as good without Crosby as he is on his line. If he keeps that in mind, the Penguins should be able to get a long-term deal done with him this offseason.  If not, look for it to be a shorter bridge deal.  I think that the Penguins have to re-sign Schultz.  He was beyond good this season, had his best season, and will likely receive Norris Trophy votes as a result.  With the constant injury issues with Letang, they need a good offensive defenseman who can anchor their powerplay.  I think that Schultz will take a paycut to stay in Pittsburgh but they can’t expect him to be paid pennies.  I predicted a deal for him in my free agency preview that will be posted in the next couple of days.  The next question for the Penguins will be the Expansion Draft.  If Fleury is not moved before then, he will likely be taken by Vegas.  If he is moved, however, then I think the Penguins attempt to convince Vegas to take Carl Hagelin, freeing up $4 million each of the next two seasons.  In terms of free agents, the Penguins won’t be heavy players in the market, not wanting to dish out a lot of money with Bryan Rust, Tom Kuhnackl, Scott Wilson, Carter Rowney, Ian Cole, and Matt Murray all needing new deals in the upcoming seasons.  They will need to potentially sign a third line center unless they feel Rowney, Josh Archibald, or Zach Aston-Reese can fill that role.  Lastly, I think a discussion needs to be had over the Kris Letang and Olli Maatta mess.  Letang played in just 41 games this season and has had just one full season in his career, all the back in the 2010-11 season.  He has had some bizarre injuries, including three concussions, a stroke, and a neck injury that required season-ending surgery.  He is now 30 years old and these injury problems will only continue to get worse as he leaves his prime playing years.  While it is true that he takes a lot of heavy hits and teams most likely target him, other players receive this treatment as well, including his teammate Sidney Crosby.  The difference between Letang and other players, even elite defensemen such as Erik Karlsson or Duncan Keith, is that the others are able to play through injuries.  Their bodies don’t break down in the same way that Letang’s does and that has to be alarming to the Penguins since they invested an eight-year, $58 million deal in him that doesn’t expire until after the 2021-22 season.  There is a chance that he can return from injury and finally play healthy but his track record doesn’t show that to be likely. When he plays, he is elite, but he doesn’t play enough.  If I am the Penguins front office I would consider putting him on the trade block and attempting to re-coup assets for him.  He has a modified No Trade Clause, but they would likely be able to find a partner within the 18 teams he would have to submit.  Next is Olli Maata, who has had his own injury problems.  He had thyroid cancer during the 2014 season, multiple injuries to the same shoulder that has been surgically repaired at least twice, and had to have surgery on a broken hand this season. The cancer and the broken hand are outliers but his should is concerning since he hasn’t been the same player since coming back from his first surgery.  He made a lot of bad puck decisions in the playoffs this year and got beat one-on-one several times in his own zone during the Final. These are inexcusable for a defenseman who should be a solid top four player.  The good news about Maatta is that he is still just 22 years old so he will likely to continue to develop, but perhaps he needs a change of scenery.  The Penguins could get a haul for him on the trade market as he is cost controlled through the 2021-22 season and has a very manageable cap hit. He still has potential and a team like Colorado, Toronto, or Winnipeg would likely consider moving one of their young forwards for him.  If that player could be a young center, that would be a trade the Penguins would have to consider making.  He also has no trade protection so the team can move him without his approval.

*All stats and information came from hockey-reference.com, rosterresource.com, spotrac.com, NHL.com, hockeydb.com, capfriendly.com, tsn.ca, and eliteprospects.com*

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