Ron Hextall has been making pretty small moves this offseason so far, with the exception of a couple moves here and there (namely McCann getting shipped out). These small moves would be fine on a team that did not have some major concerns going into next season, but the Pittsburgh Penguins are far from that kind of team this offseason.
It's for that reason that I have been thinking the past week or so about what roster moves I'd be expecting Hextall to make in the upcoming weeks. These are by no means organized in levels of importance, ease, or anything else. The list is simply how I have come about thinking about these moves.
With that, let's begin talking about these changes...
Moving Jarry + Signing/Trading for a New Starter
This is one that nearly everyone expected coming out of the playoffs. Jarry struggled mightily against the Islanders and really let the team down. DeSmith has been a serviceable backup and even excelled in that position a few times in his NHL career.
I expected moving Jarry to be among the first moves the Penguins made this offseason. Of course, recent interviews and press conferences seem to imply that Hextall is fine with keeping the combination of Jarry/DeSmith for next season, but is taking a look into improving the position. With day 1 of free agency done, most of the goalies that would've been the Pens starter are already under contract. There are still options in free agency, but none that stand out more than taking Jarry.
Tuukka Rask is currently a UFA, and most might jump at the chance to make that signing. However, there's a couple problems with that. For one, underwent surgery recently and will not be healthy to start the season - this is why the Bruins signed Ullmark yesterday. And if the Penguins were okay with waiting for a bit for him to recover (they very well might), there's the additional problem of his cap hit. The Penguins currently have 3.6 million free cap to spend, and that is unlikely to be enough to sign Rask. We'd need to move a couple of players to make this signing, and we'd not have him playing for us for the start of the season.
Devan Dubnyk is also a UFA, and some people may remember how good he was a few years ago. If it was that Devan Dubnyk that we would be getting, he wouldn't be a UFA after yesterday. He's since fallen from grace and struggled in the past few years. He's cheaper than Rask is, but comes at the risk if being as bad as Jarry was in the playoffs, but for the entire season. This is not an option the Pens are likely to pursue.
After that, there's not a whole lot of options in free agency. We would have to move to making a trade for a goalie, an idea that would likely result in having less cap space if it was a one for one deal. There's mumblings of the Pens being interested in Marc-Andre Fleury coming back, but Hextall denied any interest in him yesterday. There's the possibility of looking at teams with two potential starters and trying to trade for one of them (Islanders, Dallas, Vancouver).
Seattle also have several goalies that are considered NHL ready and are likely to be looking to trade - what? They already traded Vanecek back to Washington? Huh...alright. That leaves Grubauer, Driedger, and Daccord...yeah, they aren't gonna move from those three this offseason.
Which leaves us at a rough situation in goal, right back where we started at this piece. The slow pace of looking for options has hurt our chances of improving in goal. A trade would be the way to go, whatever that may look like.
Third Pair Defensemen
Many people have called on moving Pettersson to open up cap space and give Pierre-Oliver Joseph a spot on the NHL roster. The idea of opening up cap space and a slot on LD for POJ is really appealing to me, I must admit, but I believe people are looking at the wrong man to move.
Matheson is the left defensemen I would want to move on, and I have a few reasons for this. For one, he's got a much larger cap hit, at nearly 5 million in comparison to Pettersson's 4 million. For another, Matheson has struggled to find chemistry with anyone on the Penguin's current roster. The player he fit the best with was Cody Ceci, and we lost him to free agency due to a lack of cap space. Perhaps I put to much stock in chemistry between players, but Matheson played with every other regular defensemen on the team and never found a rhythm with any of them. My third argument is that Pettersson is extremely talented as a shutdown defenseman. He had some of the best advanced metrics on the team this season and, in my opinion, passed the eye test. Why Sullivan moved him down to the third pair I don't know, but I would wage Pettersson and Marino being relied upon this season more than Matheson and whoever he would get paired up with. Thus, I would trade Matheson. He could be apart of any potential goalie deal, or he could be used to get picks. Either way, moving him would free up lots of space for the Penguins in the cap.
Whoever we brought in to play with POJ on the right doesn't particularly matter to me, as third pair defensemen aren't major pieces more times than not. Vatanen wouldn't be a bad pick up to pair up with POJ, but he's far from the only one on the market.
Upgrading the Third Line/Looking for a Center
This is the one I've thought about the least, truthfully. However, with Malkin's start to the season in question and a question mark on our third line even before that (Carter and who else? Simon? Rodrigues? O'Conner? Angello? Lafferty? Zohorna?).
Thus, looking for another good third liner, preferably able to play center if we need him to, would be really good. Right now, what my forward lines look like at full health are as follows (assuming qualified RFAs sign).
Guentzel - Crosby - Rust
Zucker - Malkin - Kapanen
??? - Carter - ???
McGinn - Blueger - ZAR
Now, that's not good, especially if Malkin is injured and we have to move Carter up to the second line. We're likely going to see some of all the names I listed above, but that's a lot of players to cycle through and figure out a winning third line. I would want to add another center that could play on the wing (that last part is not required as Carter can also play wing). Depending on how much money we have left over, going for a Anisimov, Johansson would be difficult. Filppula wouldn't be a bad pick up, but he's older than Carter is.
Who knows what we could do here? Looking for a trade would be non-preferred due to our tight cap situation, so unless we get a steal of a sub million contract for a player in a trade we're looking to do, don't expect this player to come from a trade.
Here's hoping Hextall figures out what to do about these problems soon. While I would prefer to start rebuilding this season, I'm content that this season could very well be the last major chance we have at making a cup run for a long time. However, with what our team looks like right now, I fully expect a round one exit once again for the Penguins.