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Penguins offseason progress report: What they have done, what they still need to do

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They have already been one of the most active teams in the NHL.

Columbus Blue Jackets v Toronto Maple Leafs Photo by Chase Agnello-Dean/NHLI via Getty Images

Now that the Tampa Bay Lightning are the Stanley Cup champions we are officially in the NHL offseason.

The Pittsburgh Penguins, though, have already had a little bit of a head start on their offseason building and have already made three fairly significant trades and re-signed two key restricted free agents.

They are almost certainly not finished, not only because they still have several restricted free agents to re-sign, but because you can bet that general manager Jim Rutherford has more trades and maybe a free agent signing or two to explore.

Let’s take a look at where the Penguins stand right now in the offseason and the work they still have left to do.

The moves so far as of September 29, 2020

  • Traded 2020 first-round pick, forward Evan Rodrigues, prospect Filip Hallander, and David Warsofsky to the Toronto Maple Leafs for Kasperi Kapanen, Pontus Aberg and Jesperi Lindgren.
  • Traded Nick Bjugstad to the Minnesota Wild for a conditional 2021 seventh-round draft pick. The Penguins also retained half of Bjugstad’s salary.
  • Traded Patric Hornqvist to the Florida Panthers for Mike Matheson and Colton Sceviour.
  • Re-signed restricted defenseman Juuso Riikola to two-year, $2.3 million contract.
  • Re-signed restricted free agent forward Jared McCann to two-year, $5.8 million contract.

What they have accomplished

One of the things that Rutherford wanted to accomplish this offseason was to bring a little more youth to the roster, and while none of the players acquired are what you consider to be “young” NHL players, they are definitely younger than what is leaving the roster.

The trio of Kapanen (24), Matheson (26), and Sceviour (31) bring an average age of 27 to the roster.

Assuming they do not re-sign any of the pending unestricted free agents (Justin Schultz, Patrick Marleau, Conor Sheary) the average age of the players leaving the roster from the end of the playoffs (the aforementioned unrestricted free agents as well as the traded players) have an average age of 31.1 years old. Even if you take Marleau (the outlier of the group at age 41) out of the equation that leaves the average age of the departures at 29.2. So they are have managed to get a little bit younger.

With Kapanen and Matheson they have also managed to get a lot faster at both forward and defense.

Both players should be able to contribute in a meaningful way, it is just going to be a matter of whether or not they use them in the right roles and if they end up being worth the price they paid to acquire them. This is especially true with Kapanen. There are a lot of reasons to like the player and what he can bring to the team, especially if he ends up working out on the first line next to Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel. But they gave up two pretty valuable assets that could have been used to fill a more pressing area of need while also adding decent sized contract over the next two years.

When it comes to the restricted free agent re-signings so far, McCann’s deal seems to be very fair. It is a classic bridge contract and gives him a chance to further prove himself and find his role (it also could make him more attractive in trade talks since teams know what he will count against the salary cap). He has all of the tools to be a very good player, and he has shown that he can be extremely productive, even if it a little inconsistent. I am not ready to give up on him as a third-line center just because he could not carry a line of two aging forwards in a random four-game postseason sampling after a four month break.

The Riikola contract is a little more stunning. Not only did they re-sign him, but they gave him a two-year deal with a seven figure salary cap hit. They did this despite seemingly going out of their way to NOT play him this past season and while creating an even bigger log-jam at left defense following the acquisition of Matheson from Florida.

Now, let us talk financials and whether or not they have made any salary cap savings.

When it comes to their three trades the answer to that is not really.

The trio of Kapanen, Matheson, and Sceviour bring a combined salary cap number of $9.2 million to the roster. Kapanen is signed for two years at $3.2 million while Matheson is currently under contract for more years than any player on the roster.

By trading Hornqvist and half of Bjugstad’s salary they sent away $7.35 million. Hornqvist has three years remaining on his deal while Bjugstad would have been an unrestricted free agent after next season.

But they also have Schultz’s $5.5 million coming off the books, as well the minor contracts for Marleau and Sheary, which account some added savings. When all of that is taken into account their departures and arrivals come out to a savings of around $3 million, which has already gone to the re-signings of McCann and Riikola.

Things remaining

  • They have five remaining restricted free agents, including both goalies. Aside from Matt Murray and Tristan Jarry, they also have Dominik Simon, Anthony Angello, and Sam Lafferty remaining as unsigned RFA’s. The Murray-Jarry situation is the significant one, especially as it will probably result in a trade. Most likely Murray, and probably for a smaller return than a lot of people are expecting. It also might require them to find another goalie on the free agent market (Do you trust a Jarry-Casey DeSmith duo for the entire season and playoffs?).
  • They still have to trim some salary, especially if they plan to make more changes and an addition or two in free agency.
  • Some of that salary could be trimmed by making a move involving the sudden surplus at left defense where they have Brian Dumoulin, Marcus Pettersson, Matheson, Riikola, and Jack Johnson all under contract. Rutherford said he is not looking to trade Dumoulin and Pettersson, and you know Matheson is not going anywhere since he was just acquired (give it a year and he might be traded, if recent history repeats itself). We all know who SHOULD get traded. But will that happen?

Things they should do

  • Resist the urge to make a bad, stupid trade involving Evgeni Malkin, Kris Letang or Bryan Rust. Am not necessarily worried about a Malkin trade because that just seems like it is not going to happen (nor should it), but the thought of a Letang or Rust trade does not really make much sense to me. Letang is still your best defenseman and that is going to be an impossible trade to win. Even if Rust does not duplicate his offensive numbers from this past season, he is still one of your most versatile and best all-around players signed to a very affordable contract.
  • Resist the urge to overspend in free agency, especially on defense. The word is that Rutherford wants to trim more salary to be a player on the free agent market and, well, that is kind of scary when you consider some of the possibilities. Even though the Penguins have a surplus of defenders on the left side, if Mike Sullivan sticks to his preferred strategy of not playing defensemen on their offside they are still going to need to add another right defenseman. Currently the only defensemen under contract on the right side are Letang, John Marino, and Chad Ruhwedel. Letang and Marino are studs. Ruhwedel is okay for what he is, but is probably not someone you want playing a regular role over a full season and playoffs. The concern here is that players like Chris Tanev, Cody Ceci, and Justin Braun are all right defensemen. All are players that should be avoided.
  • Put an emphasis on figuring out the third line. The first line is great. The second line should be great. The fourth line is great defensively. But what happens on that third line? Can McCann center it? Do they have the wingers to go around him? Those are the big questions. The third line is extremely important and not having a solution there this season is a big part of why they had such a disappointing postseason. Tampa Bay showed how valuable it can be when it acquired Blake Coleman and Barclay Goodrow and put together a dominant line around Yanni Gourde. Maybe try to duplicate that.