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@Pensburgh Do you prefer Dumoulin or Clendending?— SRUMake (@ogmakey) August 27, 2015
The bottom of the roster spots for defensemen is probably the best training camp battle to watch, now that the Penguins have signed Matt Cullen and basically solidified their top 12 forwards.
Brian Dumoulin ought to have an edge - he's played a year with Mike Johnston's system, and played in all 5 NHL playoff games with the Penguins last season. Even though he was in a highly sheltered, low time on ice role, Dumo wasn't on the ice for a single goal against, which deserves a nod. (And, probably, a bigger nod for Marc-Andre Fleury , who played so well that series). But Dumoulin hasn't exactly grabbed the brass ring yet and through 3 years as a professional (all with the Pens organization) he's failed to show he belongs in the NHL.
Adam Clendening is a player I like a lot. He played more games in Vancouver last year (17) than Dumo did for the Pens (13 combined regular season+ playoffs) and Clendening is a year younger. Clendening is also a better puck-mover and, to me, really came into his own playing first pair minutes last year for the Utica Comets in the AHL, who went to the finals.
One last note to consider- Utica is coached by Travis Green, a former Johnston assistant from Portland, so HCMJ ought to have a great scouting report on Clendening and the solid end to his season last year.
Competition should be fairly even going into camp and it will be interesting to see which young player establishes himself.
@Pensburgh What was JR's most underrated move this offseason in your opinion?— Scuderi Free in 2017 (@Shinysmogon) August 27, 2015
A good question since many of Jim Rutherford's moves were met with so much fanfare. So we can strike the Phil Kessel trade and the day they traded Brandon Sutter for Nick Bonino and Clendening and also signed Eric Fehr, as I don't think it's possible those could be considered under-rated.
The move I think could shine the brightest is getting Ian Cole to sign for 3 years at a reasonable $2.1 million rate. Cole could have pushed for a 1 year contract and hit UFA, still in his mid-20's and possibly cashed in ala Matt Niskanen in 2014. There certainly are some similarities between Cole and Niskanen's career paths coming into Pittsburgh as former first round picks that needed a change of scenery and then really excelled once coming to Pittsburgh.
Getting Cole for multi-years at a good rate was a solid idea. It doesn't jump off the page like adding Kessel, but losing Cole for nothing as a free agent next summer to a contract the Pens couldn't match would have weakened what is already a pretty untested defensive group.
@Pensburgh any chance JR can move Scuds for a (presumably never 2 play again) Clowe?— Scipio Vegascanus (@GoldwatersGhost) August 27, 2015
A+ for creativity, and unfortunately for Ryane Clowe it looks like his hockey playing future, unfortunately, is still up in the air and not looking very good.
The 3 questions that would need to be answered would be:
#1: would Scuderi be able to block a trade to NJD with his limited no-trade clause? I've seen a lot of variations of just how wide Scuderi's no-trade team is, but considering he has a lot of family in the Long Island/NY area (and family considerations have been a big deal for him), a trade to the Devils probably would be acceptable to him, or at least, it wouldn't seem like a locale he would be likely to put high on his block list.
#2: would the Devils even want to take on Rob Scuderi for the next 2 seasons? If Shero's learned anything at all from his dismissal, I would think this would be a no-go.
#3: would the Penguins be willing to pay the 3 years, $14.55 million remaining on Clowe's deal? Scuderi is only owed $5.5 million in actual salary over the last 2 years of his deal, so are the Penguins going to add $9.05 million in salary to their bottom line?
The odds that all three questions will work seem low. Especially since the Penguins are currently for sale, it's difficult to imagine they're going to needlessly add that much expense to the company, for the purpose of improving the team.
Hopefully the Penguins can find a creative way around getting away from Scuderi, but now that we're in late August far from the buyout window, at this point it seems like the Pens are resigned to having him back again. Then again, the tandem Sutter trade + Fehr signing shows that management has been savvy at utilizing complex ways to improve. Ideally that happens again.
With the fast pace of NHL player movement, it would be almost impossible to predict with accuracy. 5 years ago right now, for example, the Penguins had not even traded for James Neal, let alone traded him away. It also would have been difficult to forecast even one or two years ago that the Pens could fit Kessel into their salary structure, but they found a way.
I would bet Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin are Pittsburgh Penguins 5 years from now in 2020, but aside from that, I couldn't take a stab at it. As we saw in our Top 25 players under 25, Eric is right that the Pens don't have a lot of good, young players. That might mean 5 years from now the team is hurting as players like Crosby and Malkin age into their 30's.
Then again, with smart player management, development and trades, the team could still easily be a perennial playoff contender. It will take a lot more good decisions than bad ones in the near future to make that a reality, though.