The Pens "core" is set in cement, so to speak. Malkin and Crosby aren’t going anywhere, Letang and Scuderi and Dupuis are currently untradeable, and Martin and Neal provide sufficient value as puck possessing Dman and 40 goal scorer.
In my highly personal opinion, players like Letang and Neal have regressed under Bylsma’s direction purely from a mental preparation and attitude standpoint, and can improve with a new coach willing to give a swift kick in the butt. Granted, Letang’s issues seem to come from caring (and trying to do) too much, but a game or two scratching after an egregious turnover would be a nice, original touch.
James Neal is currently the subject of trade speculation, and if you can swap him for Evander Kane, then go for it. But I doubt Winnipeg would. There is speculation that a move to LW would bring out the power forward in him. It's worth a try, though maybe the new coach can just make him play harder on the right wing.
The main issues the Penguins face in Free Agency have to do with their Defense. Matt Niskanen is likely to get $5 million per season at least, and probably isn’t going to be a Penguin next year. However, if the Pens trade Paul Martin, then they should have enough to sign Nisky, but that scenario is doubtful. Orpik would need to halve his salary to remain a Pen, and I believe it is time for him to move on. Would it be possible for the Pens to wipe off Rob Scuderi’s salary by his retirement? That would be awesome, and ideal. But unlikely. Buying him out would be great for 2014-15, but the next four years he would count nearly $2million against the cap, which is bad. Let’s just assume the Pens are stuck with him.
Ray Shero may be gone, but his legacy must live on. Bring up Dumoulin and re-sign Despres, and the Pens Top Seven should be Letang, Martin, Maata, Bortuzzo, Despres, Scuderi, and Dumoulin. Three veterans, four young guys. Hopefully they will come together over a season’s time.
The only Bottom Six Forwards under contract are the obviously washed up Craig Adams and RFA Brandon Sutter. Therefore, the Penguins’ attempt to improve their forwards must start at the Bottom.
Here are a few suggestions:
Trade Brandon Sutter for COL LW Jamie McGinn. Sutter will probably want more than $3million per year, and will get $2.7m at least. Since he was the primary trade bait in the mythical quest for the Great White Canuck, Ryan Kesler, he may not be willing to cut the Penguins any slack.
How about an RFA for RFA swap for Jamie McGinn, physical LW for Colorado? Colorado has a lot of cap space, but they have to sign two of their top centers, Stastny and O’Reilly, each in excess of $6 million per year. Steve Duchense is their #1 center, and Ryan O’Reilly is an all around stud and leader, so my guess is they would be willing to let Paul Stastny go, especially since he wasn’t all that productive for a $6.6m per year guy, until his contract year. Having Duchense, O’Reilly, Sutter, and McLeod down the middle, plus Talbot and John Mitchell as versatile forwards effective at center in a pinch, would allow Colorado to focus on signing a top-tier defenseman.
McGinn is entitled to 1.85m, and probably could be inked for three years, $6m or so.
He can also be moved up to Malkin’s line to provide a physical presence, but don’t tell him that before he signs.
Lure Brian Boyle from the Rangers. A monster of a man at 6 foot six, Boyle has anchored the Rangers highly effective 4th line, and has raised his game significantly in this year’s Stanley Cup run. He is an effective penalty killer and is solid in all three zones. He currently earns $1.7m, and the Pens should offer up to $2.5m.
Re-sign Marcel Goc. Goc is a solid forward who can contribute on the 3rd and 4th lines. He and Boyle can rotate as 3rd and 4th line centers based on who is playing better/ injury situation. A minor raise to 1.8 or 1.9 m should be sufficient.
Sign Daniel Winnik. A UFA from Anaheim, he is a solid, versatile physical player who is huge and can skate. Somewhere in the vicinity of $1.9m should be adequate. He currently earns $1.8m.
Give Wilkes Barre guys a full season to prove themselves. The New GM has to find out if the AHL development program is worth a damn. For years we heard all this talk of potential by Shero and the Pens organization, but when the rubber hit the road, they shelled out cash to old guys whose prime was well past. The Penguins have to risk a lost season finding out if their highly (self)regarded pool of young puck movers can hack it. Likewise with any NHL caliber forwards.
The Pens could benefit from resigning Brian Gibbons. He is fast. He can contribute when he’s not injured, and if he is playing with big players who can protect him (see above), he may be even more effective. He can be a solid penalty killer and forechecker.
Jayson Megna has nice size and speed. Let him run with the big boys for a year. Maybe his hands will catch up to his feet. Maybe something will click. He could be the next Tyler Kennedy, but bigger and better. Or in other words, Pascal Dupuis.
Adam Payerl looked like he could play at the NHL level in a Bottom Six role. Give him a chance.
With well over 50% of the cap wrapped up in seven players, the Penguins either need to blow it all up and accept a few years of suckitude or find inexpensive, innovative ways to improve their roster. The first option would be alot more fun (at least during the offseason) but it is much more likely the Pens will take the second path.
Here is my potential roster, assuming the lowest salary cap of $68m.