When I look at the Penguins roster going into the off-season, I see a very good team with some quality pieces that simply needs a different mindset; the league is getting heavier and away from the speed game that won cups in 16 and 17. More specifically adding heavier forwards who can score on the 2nd, 3rd lines is essential to create a heavier net front presence. The fourth line should transition into a more traditional checking line that can supplement other lines while killing penalties and protecting the stars.
We all loved when Hornqvist played on Sid’s line in the 2018 season; the line tallied 24 goals in 12 games during the regular season. However, I have always believed that Sidney Crosby has preferred to run with faster players who play the give and go game with him. Guys like Pascal Dupuis, Connor Sheary, Jake Guentzel and Bryan Rust. For this reason, I would not change the Penguins top line at all going into the off-season. But I would have a conversation with Sid and explain that once the Pens bulk up the fourth line, Rust may be coming off the top unit in physical games.
With Geno’s no-movement clause and injuries at his age, I would be shocked if the Pens moved him in the off-season. For this reason, I would like to see the Penguins move Jason Zucker if a team is willing to eat his 5.5-million-dollar cap hit. I don’t see him as a good fit in Pittsburgh; he reminds me of a much better version of Derick Brassard-he just doesn’t fit. My pick for a replacement? Nick Ritchie Boston’s (6’2’’ 230) winger who’s 25 and netted 15 goals during the season. Ritchie could be dropped right in beside Geno for some added bulk up in front of the net while only taking $1,498,000 off the Bruins cap this year. Because of his age, the Pens would probably have to add another player or draft pick to the deal and that might be the perfect opportunity to deal Petterson. Kapanen stays where he is-he had sparks of greatness this season.
Jeff Carter had a fantastic run since the trade deadline; in 14 total games he netted 13 goals with 2 assists. He is exactly what you need him to be; a great third line center. Jared McCann had his best season this year as a Penguin scoring 14 goals with 18 assists. Which is exactly why the Penguins should trade him; there will be a market for him amongst teams like Nashville, Toronto or Edmonton who went out early and are looking to make changes. Freddy Gaudreau was a serviceable linemate, but he only started scoring at the end of the season not to mention he is also small and an unrestricted free agent. Here’s a massive reach pick. Hometown boy Brandon Saad (6’1’’ 206) has a no-movement clause but he will be a UFA at the end of the playoffs, I would love to see him in a Pens sweater. At 6.5 million against the cap, this signing would be totally based on whether Zucker comes back. In addition, lets give Brandon Tanev (6'0'' 181) a shot on the third line; he’s definitely earned it in hits and ZAR is most likely gone anyway.
Throughout the season, Mike Sullivan seemed to want to always keep the Tanev-Blueger-Aston-Reese line in tact at the expense of other lines. After the acquisition of Carter, the Penguins were rolling four lines that effectively all played the same style. By moving McCann, Zucker and the other known losses like Ceci and Ruhwedel the Penguins will have enough space to sign two complementary heavy wingers for Teddy Blueger to center. This enables the Pens to use a traditional checking line to slug it out, while also providing options to plug and play guys on Sid’s line when we go up against Washington and other physical teams. Here’s a deep sleeper pick that the Penguins could potentially get for a low price; Frederick Gauthier (6’5’’ 239) from Arizona who played with Sid at Rimouski in 2013. Another quick plug and play on the fourth line is to extend Radim Zohorna’s (6’6’’ 225) contract another year and try him out posted up in front of the cage.
These all seem like viable options to me but the real question is what will the conversation be like between Sullivan-Hextall-Burke when they discuss the way forward for the team? Will Sullivan change his way of coaching to adapt to the physical path the league is following? Time will tell.