Training camp is just over a week away, and now is a good as time as any to take stock throughout the organization in which members of the Pittsburgh Penguins are sitting on the proverbial cool throne, and who is edging towards the hot seat.
(Defined as under no outward pressure or risk of losing their spot on the squad)
Sidney Crosby: face of the franchise coming off a Hart trophy nomination and fourth place finish in the Selke last season, Crosby’s obviously in the best shape here. Which is ironic since he’ll be prepping for the season and pushing as if his job is on the line, which obviously it’s not.
Evgeni Malkin: his general manager might have been frustrated with last season, but a front-line absolute super star with a full no movement clause remains a bed rock part of the franchise and will for a while.
Jake Guentzel: armed with a long-term contract and coming off a 40-goal season, Guentzel remains a darling of the organization and for good reason, and that won’t be changing soon.
Mike Sullivan: surprised? The coach recently signed an extension that runs through 2023-24. His boss, Jim Rutherford, has been very loyal to Sullivan and never blinked about backing his coach, even when the team started slow last year. With a long deal in place, that’s not changing in a slump for the 2019-20 season, the players will be the ones that take the heat if things go wrong, not the coach.
Jim Rutherford: the GM himself has signed an extension within the last 12 months and is under contract through 2021-22. Some fans are frustrated with his recent ideas, but it’s also worth pointing out that Rutherford has been on the job for five years and has delivered two Stanley Cup banners, and deserves a lot of credit for his re-tool from 2014 to 2016. If the team flounders again in 2019-20, does the seat start to get hot? Perhaps. Pens’ ownership hasn’t always been a patient bunch. But Rutherford has driven the results that they wanted to salvage Crosby’s championship legacy.
Brandon Tanev: six year contract, $3.5 stacks per and a 10-team no trade, what kind of crazy team would pick that up? Hahahah let’s keep laughing so we don’t cry and move it along.
Marcus Pettersson: the team is very much enamored with the young defenseman, who impressed last season.
Matt Murray: one of the high-end goalies in the league at times and under contract for a reasonable rate in 2019-20, there’s no reason to think that’s going to change.
Brian Dumoulin: legit first pair defenseman on a value deal. Nothing not to like on or off the ice.
Kris Letang: as a Norris votes receiver who led the team and finished third in the league with almost 26 minutes played per night, Letang is an irreplaceable piece of the puzzle.
Should be OK but who knows
Nick Bjugstad - his $4.1 million cap hit is sizeable for a team always scraping near the upper limit. In a cold streak could he be moved along? Seems plausible given the trade-happy tendencies of the GM.
Dominik Simon - will be looking to boost his boxcars and provide a bit more value but Simon has always been a guy trusted more by coaches than some segments of the fanbase.
Jared McCann - twice traded but retaining some value, McCann’s place on the team should be secure as he looks to establish roots and settle into a niche and role.has some
Erik Gudbranson - his solid play in 2018-19 with the Penguins will likely buy Gudbranson a bit of slack for this year. Plus you can’t break up the Pushback Boyz just yet.
Teddy Blueger - fourth line players don’t usually have a totally firm grip on their job or spot in the lineup, but Blueger figures to get the opportunity to make it his own and ought to have the ability to do so.
Dominik Kahun: a new face, the team is excited for his speed the youth and bit of skill he’ll add to the group. Likely to play his way towards the cooler throne if all works out, just has to have the chance to prove it.
Casey DeSmith: no reason to give him a three year extension to waive him anytime soon, and since he was one of the best backups in the league last season posting a .916 save%, he probably wouldn’t clear waivers so the team shouldn’t get cute at trying to cut salary if it means risking a good player to waivers.
Call David Bowie, under a bit of pressure
Patric Hornqvist - the team is comfortable and confident with what Hornqvist brings, but he’ll need to do more than the four goals in 39 games he ended last season with. He’ll have three years left on his deal next off-season, will buyout or LTIR speculation be en vogue with more head injuries?
Jack Johnson - healthy scratch in Game 1 of the playoffs and involved in off-season trade talk to Minnesota has warmed it up. It remains to be seen if the Pens will weasel out of this bad contract, but Johnson’s spot in the lineup during the 2019-20 regular season ought not to be as secure as it was in 2018-19.
Alex Galchenyuk - has to replace Phil Kessel, the guy who scored 43 5-on-5 points in what many called a “down year”. Also an impending free agent. Galchenyuk is under enough pressure he just might turn into a diamond if he harnesses it the right way.
Bryan Rust - has some trade value courtesy of a reasonable contract with no trade protection and is also prone to long hot and cold stretches of play. Rutherford has loved to harp on items like “players getting too comfortable” and “lack of hunger among guys who have been here for a while” and tends to trade those types of players. More a gut feeling than anything else, but something to keep an eye on.
Zach Aston-Reese: Only has 59 career games under his belt, has been banged up a bit. Plus played a little arbitration chicken with the club, earning him a two year deal. This seems like the role/player that Pittsburgh cycles through a lot of guys quickly. Needs a solid start to hit the ground running, especially if the team doesn’t trade away any forwards.
Justin Schultz - in a contract year and really if you dig hard he’s had one really good season (2016-17) and a bunch of other years that were injury-filled or just meh. Has the tools to have a better year and he’ll probably need one to carry momentum into his free agent negotiations with the Pens or otherwise.
Juuso Riikola / Chad Ruhwedel: look like two guys fighting over one roster spot in training camp. Pittsburgh doesn’t have the financial space to keep eight healthy defenders if they want to bring back Pettersson without trading anyone. Thus the loser of this battle could be inline to be waived.
Tristan Jarry: now is waiver eligible, per The Athletic there’s been no trade market for him. And why would anyone pay a price for him if he’s just going to be waived at the end of training camp? Jarry’s also lost every meaningful comparison/battle against DeSmith which also doesn’t bode well. Unless he clears waivers his stint with the Pens appears to be at its end.