Digging back through the archives to see what I could find, there was this interesting shot at looking at the Penguins roster in 2020 from back in July 2018. Technically this wasn’t meant to pay off until after this offseason for the 2020-21 season, but right now who knows what the 2020 offseason will mean. Will there be compliance buyouts? A salary cap cut? A partial salary rollback? A season starting on time or at all? All of it up in the air as of now, and none of it can really accurate be predicted or known at this time.
So might as well sit back, check out what we thought 22 months ago and what has changed. Here was the 2018 stab at a roster projection in 2020-
Jake Guentzel - Sidney Crosby - Daniel Sprong
Bryan Rust - Evgeni Malkin - Phil Kessel
? - Jordy Bellerive - Patric Hornqvist
Zach Aston-Reese - Teddy Blueger - ?
Brian Dumoulin / Kris Letang
Olli Maatta / ?
Jack Johnson / Jamie Oleksiak
Some lessons learned?
Projecting specific prospects is really tough
Neither Daniel Sprong, nor Jordy Bellerive have graduated to become full-time NHL players since the time of this projection. Neither are likely to be next season either. On the other end of the spectrum, no one in Pittsburgh knew who John Marino was 24 months ago, now he’s a mainstay. (Probably Marcus Pettersson too, for that matter). There’s a couple of minor wins though in seeing the NHL fourth line futures for Zach Aston-Reese and Teddy Blueger making the leap from AHL to NHL full-time.
But, it’s a tale as old as time: hockey fans, writers, coaches, managers always fall in love with their top prospects. Accentuate the positive and ignore the negatives, believing that they will grow into top-end players. In reality, very rarely does this happen. Still, it’s fun to dream. And the Pens have developed youngsters like Marino, Pettersson, Blueger and Aston-Reese, so it’s not like prospect-to-NHL growth doesn’t happen...It’s just that usually it happens from strange and unforeseen places, and a lot of times the prize prospects of the moment (ala Sprong and Bellerive) can fall by the wayside, for one reason or another.
Trades from a very active GM are the wildcard
In a swipe, Phil Kessel and Olli Maatta were gone. Players like Dominik Kahun, Tanner Pearson and Erik Gudbranson were traded for AND traded away in between the time of the first projection to now. Hell, Conor Sheary was traded away and brought back (and still might leave again via free agency). Obviously you can’t go 100% on predicting a roster years ahead of time, and personnel moves like that just drive it home.
Core is obvious
It’s not rocket science to see that the Pens are a franchise built on the foundation of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang. Jake Guentzel and Brian Dumoulin have inched into the upper echelon of key players as well, and should both remain stable pieces for at least the next three seasons given they have long-term contracts that are very team-friendly (Dumo with three more years after 2019-20, Guentzel with five). Bryan Rust is probably getting there too at this point.
Hold goalies until you can’t
The biggest question of the Pens’ 2020 offseason — whenever that may be — is what they will and should do in net. Matt Murray has slumped in recent years, a glorious double Stanley Cup start to his career fading into the back. 2020-21 is also the last year of team control. Do the Pens sign him long-term — even though betting big money on goalies seems to be more trouble than it’s worth?
Tristan Jarry feels like a better lock to be on the roster next season in some form or fashion, but will it be as kinda the 1B that he was from January - March? Or if Murray is moved will the team really ride with a Jarry / Casey DeSmith tandem?
Lots of questions and it’s been an uncertain outlook all season long as the play of both goalies ebbed and flowed all season. The pandemic is clearly the ultimate uncertain variable that has been thrown into the mix, since now no one can be certain in this moment what the future might hold. As of now, it’s wait and see what the future might hold.
One thing we’ve long learned from Jim Rutherford is that he won’t be in a hurry to remove a good goalie from the roster, until the circumstances absolutely dictate that he must. Maybe that means moving a salary like Nick Bjugstad so that the team has room to re-sign both Murray and Jarry. Maybe that means something else. Either way, I think I’d still bet on the crafty GM finding a way to navigate the salary cap and try to get one more look at Murray/Jarry tandem before charting a course by committing to one and turning the other loose later on in the future. Count on him kicking that can down the road for as long as possible, with the major looming question being - just how long will that be possible?