With the weekend signing of Cody Ceci the Pittsburgh Penguins now have a full roster and just a little over $1.5 million in salary cap space remaining.
It should probably wrap up what has been a fairly busy offseason.
Justin Schultz, Conor Sheary, and Patrick Marleau left in free agency, Jack Johnson was bought out, Patric Hornqvist and Matt Murray were traded.
Kasperi Kapanen, Mike Matheson, and Colton Sceviour were acquired, while Mark Jankowski, Evan Rodrigues, and Ceci were all signed.
When everything is put together that is roughly 30 percent of the roster being overhauled in one offseason. That is fairly significant.
Now that things seem to have settled, we should take a look at some of the questions that still remain following all of the moves.
- Is there enough offense in the bottom-six?
Over the past year the Penguins have added Jason Zucker and Kasperi Kapanen to their top-six to join Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust on the wings. I like both additions, because they give both Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin some extremely talented wingers to work with. The top-six, on paper, looks to be as good as it has been in years. They should be good enough to contend with.
My concern is that when I look at the bottom-six I get some major late-Dan Bylsma/Ray Shero era vibes.
If you remember what those bottom-six groupings looked like, you know that is a concern.
When I look at these potential forward combinations I see two first lines and two fourth lines.
There is no balance offensively.
I like the Brandon Tanev-Teddy Blueger-Zach Aston-Reese trio as a shutdown fourth line defensively, but they are not going to generate a ton of offense.
Jankowski is another solid defensive presence, but is he going to be 15-goal, 30-point forward he was in 2017-18 and 2018-19? Or is he going to be the guy that only scored five goals this past season?
Rodrigues and Sceviour belong on a fourth-line.
The one player in the bottom-six that still has the potential to make an impact offensively is Jared McCann. His stock is probably at an all-time low since arriving in Pittsburgh given the way the playoffs turned out, but I am not ready to give up on him as a major contributor. But even if he does have the type of season the Penguins want offensively they are still going to need more players on the bottom-two lines to make an impact offensively.
No matter how good your top two lines are there is going to come a point where their offense goes quiet for a bit. It is a must to have a third-and fourth-line that can chip in some offense to help make up for that. Can this group provide enough of that? It is a question.
2. Are the goalies good enough?
Goaltending will make or break your season, and right now the Penguins are set to go into the season with a relatively unproven duo of Tristan Jarry and Casey DeSmith following the trade of Matt Murray to the Ottawa Senators.
What is your level of confidence in that duo?
Jarry is 25 years old, only played in 62 NHL games, and has only played at a high level for half of a season at the NHL level.
DeSmith is 29 and has not played a game in the NHL since the 2018-19 season and had rather pedestrian numbers in the AHL this past season.
The Penguins are putting a lot of pressure on two mid-late 20s goalies that are still relatively unproven.
They are a huge question, and how they answer it will be a determining factor in what the Penguins are able to do.
3. What about those changes on defense?
As long as they are healthy Kris Letang and Brian Dumoulin have the top-pairing taken care of.
You hope that John Marino and Marcus Pettersson form a strong second-paring.
Then you have a new third pairing that will most likely feature Matheson and Ceci..Ceci
What I find fascinating about this is that they are similar to the players they are replacing (Schultz and Johnson), just a little younger, a little cheaper, and maybe a little better.
Matheson brings plenty of skill and offensive potential to the blue line, but struggles defensively.
Ceci, meanwhile, is going to be regarded as the defensive presence but with little ability offensively.
I will say this: I like both new players better than the players they are replacing. Schultz has broken down a bit physically and badly regressed offensively, which pretty much destroys his value. And while Ceci is going to be the new focal point for criticism I DO think he is better than Johnson and comes with a far better contract. They are also both younger and bring more mobility and speed to the blue line.
It is just a matter of how good they actually are, and how much of an upgrade they can be.