The Pittsburgh Penguins are your Stanley Cup Champions! Again! Back to Back! As much as we want to sit here and savor the moment, the time will come where we have to move on to the offseason and focus on other issues. Let’s start with the Front Office and Coaching Staff.
We already know that Associate General Manager Jason Botterill has left for the General Manager position with the Buffalo Sabres. Even though I have hated on Botterill before, losing him will hurt IMO. He did a lot in the Front Office, including salary cap and being the GM of the Baby Pens (AHL team). In possibly his most important move was his hiring of Mike Sullivan as the Head Coach of the Baby Pens. Of course Sully got promoted and now look at him, possibly the greatest coach in Penguins history. With Botterill gone, most likely his duties will be split between Bill Guerin (Assistant GM) and Jason Karmanos (VP of Hockey Operations). While I don’t have insider knowledge of the teams thinking, I would bet on those two taking more responsibilities as the Pens love to promote from within.
Mike Sullivan will return. There is no doubt about that. Rick Tocchet is the leading guy for the Head Coaching job with the Buffalo Sabres. It is widely known that he wants another shot at being a Head Coach and IMO it is now or never for him. Back to back cups, he has been getting nothing but praise for his work on the power play and for the way he is with the star players on the team. Jacques Martin is supposedly a candidate for the Sabres gig, but with his age, I don’t see him taking another Head Coaching job, let alone one that is a few years away from being a Stanley Cup contender. Mike Bales will be back as goalie coach, as the Penguins don’t change GC very often and he is doing wonders with the Penguins goalies. If Tocchet leaves, like most expect him to, the leading candidates to replace him are completely unknown. For me, I would promote Mark Recchi from Player Development Coach to the main coaching staff. Recchi is one of the greatest American Born players of all time. A 3-time Stanley Cup winner as a player (Pitt, Car, Bos) as well as winning 2 as the PDC, Recchi would be great to take over. He has a bit of behind the bench experience with minor league teams after the 2015/16 coaching switches for the Pens organization. He would be perfect to work with all the young guys the Pens are bringing up and using in key roles. Recchi scored exactly 200 Power Play goals in his career and would be a good fit to take over the unit from Tocchet. If Recchi isn’t the choice, I would likely go outside the organization for the coach, someone who has previous Head Coaching experience. Jack Capuano and Paul MacLean are two names that come to mind that are former Head Coaches that are unemployed. MacLean is regarded as one of the best assistant coaches in the game and could be a fit with the Pens.
As of now the Penguins roster will mostly return which is great news for them as they are considered the favorites for the Cup again next season. But the offseason is just getting started and let’s be honest, this offseason will be a shit show for the NHL. The two highlights: 1. The Vegas Golden Knights/Expansion Draft and 2. The likely salary cap. Let’s start with #2. The salary cap is now expected to jump 5% to around 76 million dollars. This is HUGE for the NHL and the Penguins. They are now projected to have around 16-17 million to spend this offseason. The reason I started with the Cap before the Expansion Draft is because they are tied together. With the Penguins having a great situation with Murray and Fleury, they have to lose one goalie. Fleury has a NMC (No Movement Clause) and a NTC (No Trade Clause). We have learned that MAF has waived his NMC only for Vegas. According to Mark Madden, MAF wants to go to Vegas. The Future and Present is Murray, and as much as MAF has done for the team and how much we all love him, it is time to move on. Shake his hand, give him a hug and pat him on the back and say it is time we go our separate ways. Fleury going in the draft to Vegas is the best case for the Pens. With a 5.75 million cap hit this upcoming season and next, having his whole salary off the books helps the Penguins in so many ways.
The Roster after MAF:
Fleury will go to Vegas. Unless George McPhee has a stroke or something it’s going to happen. We aren’t even discussing who else the Penguins have to leave unprotected because MAF is a soon to be Golden Knight. After he goes, the Penguins will have about 23 million in cap space. This is so important because they have 3 key RFA’s that they MUST resign to long term deal, Conor Sheary, Justin Schultz, and Brian Dumoulin. All three are young and key cogs in this team successful future. Schultz is a valuable offensive defenseman that has a great slap shot from the point and can anchor a power play unit. Plus, with the significant injury concerns with Kris Letang, Schultz is a solid replacement. Dumoulin is very unoffensive but plays a solid shut down defense. He is very important just because of the struggles with Olli Maatta and the fact that Ian Cole could be playing his way to a huge contract out of Pittsburgh after the season. Sheary is a young talented forward that reminds me of a younger Chris Kunitz. Plays a tough, gritty style of play, he plays the corners well, will throw the body around, and can stand in front of the net and screen the goalie. Of the pending UFA’s, Nick Bonino, Trevor Daley, Chad Ruhwedel, Matt Cullen, and Chris Kunitz, Bonino will cost the most. Cullen is more likely to retire, but if he doesn’t then we all know he will likely resign to a cheap 1 year deal, probably in the 1-1.5 million dollar range. Ruhwedel is likely headed for a cheaper multi-year deal, such as 2-3 year deal worth about 1.5/year. Daley is likely to get a 2 year deal as well, probably worth about 2.5-3.5 million a year. Kunitz is similar to Cullen as well. He is 37 years old, is the active leader in Stanley Cup wins and can retire a champion and a hero in Pittsburgh Penguins history (see Pens vs. Sens game 7, 2017 ECF). If Kunitz decides to play another year, it will likely be in Pittsburgh alongside his BFF Sidney Crosby. He knows his career is winding down and won’t command much at all. He is likely in line for a 1 year, 2-3 million dollar contract. Bonino is the outlier here. He is young and has some offensive talent and can still improve some. He can get any contract within reason. He is probably in the market of a Brandon Sutter contract, such as a 4-5 year contract worth between 15-25 million over the length of the deal..
Free Agent Frenzy:
Going into the Free Agent Frenzy, the Pens won’t really have much in the terms of needs. It will all depend on them resigning the RFAs and UFAs. Tristian Jarry will be the backup goalie next season, so no need there. They are returning enough players for 3 full offensive lines, 1 full defensive pairing, and your goalie tandem. The defense and 4th line are the main concerns, IMO. Even the 3rd line could be of concern. The Pens have struck gold with most of their young guys (Rust, Guentzel) and even Wilson. But I have serious concerns about Tom Kuhnhackl and Oscar Sundqvist as well as Josh Archibald. They are widely expected to add Daniel Sprong this season but nobody knows how he will be in Sullivan’s system. Best case for the Pens is that both Cullen and Kunitz decide to give it another go and sign cheap 1 year contracts, Bonino takes less money to stay in the Steel City, and they can resign Daley, Ruhwedel, and keep both Dumoulin and Schultz long term. Worst case is they lose a few of these guys and have to enter an already weak FA Class and have to fight other teams to sign guys.
Potential Trade Market:
Honestly, the Pens aren’t going to make any trades unless the send Fleury to Vegas in a trade which is unlikely. The trade market is going to be mostly bad contracts going to Vegas and Arizona with high draft picks for a never-gonna-be prospect and/or low draft picks. Overall, this offseason is going to be a weak one with the biggest deals going to be the expansion draft, the trades to Vegas, and the Shattenkirk sweepstakes. The Capitals have the most key free agents and are likely to lose most of them. They also hold possibly the biggest trade piece in recent NHL history, Alex Ovechkin. There are rumors that he could get dealt and the GM of the Caps wasn’t committed to keeping him for next season.
The Penguins will mostly return intact for next season. But, if they lose most of their Free Agents they could suffer in the Free agent market, and with no real trade pieces, they won’t be making any swaps. There has already been one Front Office change, and is likely to be a change to the coaching staff. Overall, the Penguins will be in great position to try to defend their cup for another season, and for the foreseeable future.
Jordan Aloia is a special contributor to the Pens of Anarchy website based in Washington PA. Watch for wide ranging articles on the POA Facebook page, Twitter page, and the POA Website.
Old Posts from our site, heyyyyyfannnssss (4/11-2/15). Cute name, but impossible to remember.