Move: Penguins hire Jim Rutherford as GM
What I Think I Thought: I didn't care for it. Rutherford came in with an underwhelming history and it seemed to block the heir apparent in Jason Botterill. We'd all heard how valuable he was to Ray Shero and that he was viewed around the league as a rising executive. I had no idea what upper management felt he was lacking, but had doubts Rutherford was the guy to help him improve in whatever areas those were.
What I Think Now: Rutherford did a better job than I expected (as you'll see as you read further), but I still don't get the hire, especially from the Botterill angle. If he leaves the organization (and Jason Mackey of the Trib said he thinks both Botterill and Tom Fitzgerald are gone this summer on Stan Savran's show last Monday), then I have even more questions. Hiring a guy like Rutherford raises questions on its own. Doing at the expense of a supposed rising executive (or two) raises even more. Shero taking the job in New Jersey only adds to that possibility.
Move: Rutherford hires Mike Johnston as head coach, Rick Tocchet as an assistant coach
What I Think I Thought: I knew very little about Johnston outside of him coming from a very successful junior team in Portland. An assistant being hired by the GM rather than the head coach struck me as odd though.
What I Think Now: I really liked what Johnston was able to do when he had a healthy roster. The uptempo, puck support game he had them playing was great and it played into the team's strengths. Tocchet's power play started off strong, then they inexplicably got away from doing what worked so well. He came up short in the Downie-wrangling department too.
Move: Pens trade James Neal to Nashville for Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling
What I Think I Thought: I hated to see Neal go. 30+ goal scorers under 30 locked up at $5M are hard to find. I knew very little about Spaling, but really liked getting Hornqvist and was pretty sure he'd be a great fit here, but I had a couple of issues with this deal. First, I really felt like the Pens should have been able to get a high pick (1st or 2nd) added to this deal. Second, if there was no pick involved, what was the rush? Why not continue to listen to see if you could do better?
What I Think Now: I was right on about Hornqvist. He's been everything I thought he'd be: lives in the opposing goalie's face and is relentless everywhere. He's been a great add. I'll talk about Spaling a little later, but spoiler alert: he brings down my overall opinion of this deal, and it has very little to do with his play.
Move: Pens sign Christian Ehrhoff to a 1 year deal worth $4M
What I Think I Thought: I was surprised all around. That he signed a 1 year deal, that it was for just $4M, that he signed here. A really good value signing.
What I Think Now: Injuries prevented the Pens from seeing his true value, but no one could have predicted that. If you can sign a legit top 4 defenseman to that kind of deal, you do it.
Move: Pens sign Blake Comeau to a 1 year deal worth $700K
What I Think I Thought: A cheap, bottom 6 forward that can skate and hit.
What I Think Now: $700K for a guy that was a good part-time fit on Evgeni Malkin's wing was an unexpected bonus. Not sure how sustainable that is, but it worked out great this season.
Move: Pens sign Thomas Greiss to a 1 year deal worth $1M
What I Think I Thought: It was decent value for a good backup, but I wondered if it was necessary. I thought Jeff Zatkoff did a fine job in that role. And was cheaper.
What I Think Now: They should have just rolled with Zatkoff. The difference between him and Greiss ($400K) would have come in handy down the stretch when the cap crunch had them playing with 5 defensemen.
Move: Pens re-sign Marcel Goc to a 1 year deal worth $1.2M
What I Think I Thought: They got him for $500K less than he had been making, so that was a plus. Figured he'd be a decent upgrade at 4th line center.
What I Think Now: 2 goals and 6 points in about a half a season wasn't much of an upgrade and certainly not worth that much money.
Move: Pens sign Taylor Chorney to a 1 year deal worth $550K
What I Think I Thought: Veteran minor league depth to help bring the prospects along. Good for Wilkes-Barre, a non-factor for the parent club.
What I Think Now: This ended up being more important than anyone thought. Chorney was the only defenseman able to be recalled when the Pens hit their cap crunch late in the season and he played pretty well all things considered. If he wasn't able to come up and pitch in, it's not a big stretch to think the Pens could have missed the playoffs.
Move: Pens sign Steve Downie to a 1 year deal worth $1M
What I Think I Thought: I hated this deal when I first heard about it. I never liked Downie and had zero interest in him being on my favorite team. Didn't buy the deterrent angle either. Numbers-wise, he'd done very little since posting 22 goals in 2009-2010.
What I Think Now: Downie's a lot better at actually playing hockey than I gave him credit for. Problem is, he doesn't spend enough time playing. He had 238 penalty minutes, almost the equivalent of 4 games. If he could cut that in half, think of how effective a player he could be.
Move: Pens re-sign Simon Despres to a 2 year deal worth $1.8M
What I Think I Thought: Decent deal for a young, unproven defenseman.
What I Think Now: Decent deal for a young, unproven defenseman.
Move: Pens sign Nick Spaling to a 2 year deal worth $4.4M
What I Think I Thought: $2.2M per year is a lot for a bottom 6 forward that's only hit double digits in goals twice.
What I Think Now: On ice, he came as advertised, and played all around the lineup. Put in some good work on the penalty kill, but only wound up with 9 goals and 27 points. I don't think that warrants his price tag and in my opinion, really drags down the Neal trade, which is saying something given how great Hornqvist played.
Move: Pens re-sign Brandon Sutter to a 2 year deal worth $6.6M
What I Think I Thought: He'd shown signs of improved play in the playoffs and they were able to buy one of his UFA years at less than $4M. Sounds like a plus to me.
What I Think Now: 20+ goals from your 3rd line center is great, but 12 assists leaves you wanting more. I think he's a fine player in that slot, but wonder if they can afford whatever his next deal is.
Move: Pens sign Marc-Andre Fleury to a 4 year extension worth $23M
What I Think I Thought: Loved it. Was a surprised it was only a $750K raise on his average annual value.
What I Think Now: Good thing the Pens got it done early. After this past year, I'm thinking it would have cost them a bit more. As it stands right now, 13 other goalies will have higher cap hits than him next season according to NHLnumbers.com.
Move: Pens trade Philip Samuelsson to Phoenix for Rob Kilnkhammer and a conditional 5th round pick
What I Think I Thought: Not much. A guy that was buried in the minors for a depth forward.
What I Think Now: The pick was conditional upon Samuelsson playing 40+ games in Phoenix. He played 4, so no pick. And no impact on the season either.
Move: Pens trade a 1st round pick to Edmonton for David Perron
What I Think I Thought: Loved it. I watched him play a lot in St. Louis and a little in Edmonton and knew the Pens were getting a talented winger that competed really hard signed at a decent amount through next season.
What I Think Now: Still really like it, but the Pens' late season slide and the revelation that the Pens did not protect that pick if it wound up being a lottery one made things look questionable for a while. Perron's fade doesn't worry me much. Neal didn't do much when he first got here, and he ended up working out. I think Perron will too. Also, this was kind of a silver lining to Pascal Dupuis' injury. If he doesn't go on LTIR, they don't have cap space to make this deal as they did.
Move: Pens trade Marcel Goc to St. Louis for Maxim Lapierre
What I Think I Thought: Like Downie, I've never liked Lapierre either. I hate that the league is set up in a manner that guys like this are not only in the league, but effective.
What I Think Now: Lapierre upped his game in the playoffs. That's great, but maybe that stuck out so much because of how ineffective he was in most games prior. And he produced next-to-nothing at any point. I think I'm ready to see youth (Oscar Sundqvist?) in that spot.
Move: Pens claim/waive Mark Arcobello
What I Think I Thought: A no-risk pickup who didn't do much in his cup of coffee here.
What I Think Now: The Pens could have used the guy that Arizona picked up and tallied 9+7 for them. I'm guessing usage had something to do with that.
Move: Pens trade Zach Sill, a 4th round pick (2105), and a 2nd round pick (2016) for Daniel Winnik
What I Think I Thought: Winnik seemed to be the kind of guy that helps teams in the playoffs. Pens got him for 3 assets the odds say won't amount to much, so good deal.
What I Think Now: Didn't work out the way anyone thought. Injuries forced him to play higher in the lineup than he should have been, but that doesn't fully explain his sub-par play, particularly in the playoffs.
Move: Pens trade Robert Bortuzzo and a 7th round pick (2016) to St. Louis for Ian Cole
What I Think I Thought: I liked Bortuzzo, but this seemed like an exchange of spare parts to me.
What I Think Now: Cole wasn't perfect by any means, but he showed flashes of brilliance at times that make you think the Pens might possibly have a steal on their hands. Matt Niskanen, part 2 perhaps?
Move: Pens trade Simon Despres to Anaheim for Ben Lovejoy
What I Think I Thought: A real head-scratcher. Despres apparently wore out his welcome with two different sets of management/coaches, so there's something to be said for that, but Ben Lovejoy is the best you can do? You couldn't even get a mid-to-late round pick back?
What I Think Now: I still don't get it. It's worth noting that injuries forced Lovejoy into a much bigger role than he was expected to play, but that said, he struggled. He made his share of mistakes, and if you're going to deal with those, I'd rather they come from a younger guy that could at least learn from them. A mirror opposite of the Bortuzzo/Cole deal.
Results: Pens make playoffs as the second wild card, lose to the Rangers 4-1 in the first round.
Before the season started, my expectations for a team with several new players and an entirely new coaching staff were that they'd make the playoffs. They met those meager expectations, but just barely. Injuries decimated their blueline and partnered with a cap crunch to force them to play short down the stretch. Dan Bylsma seemed to be undaunted by all the injuries his teams endured, but asking a rookie head coach to do the same was a little unfair. Instead, they hung on and were fortunate enough to play the worst team in the league on the final day.
In the end, the Pens lost four 2-1 games to the President's Trophy winners. It's hard to fault them much for that, given 3 of their top 4 defensemen were watching. They battled hard, and you couldn't ask for much more. That said, if their power play was remotely competent, they would have had a chance to steal that series. Unfortunately, it wasn't. Outside of injuries, it was their biggest downfall this season and it's something that has to get fixed for next year. I was going to expand on the power play, but as this post is 2100+ words, I'll put them in a separate one shortly.
Thanks for reading this, and all of my other stuff this year!