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Ranking the Penguins’ offseason moves so far

From re-signing the key free agents to the trades to reshape the defense.

Edmonton Oilers v Pittsburgh Penguins Photo by Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images

There are still a couple of months until the start of the 2022-23 NHL season and there might be another move or two to be made for the Pittsburgh Penguins this offseason. They still need to clear a little salary, and they can not possibly be finished constructing their bottom-six forward lines.

Even with that being the case, there have been nine significant roster transactions made this offseason by general manager Ron Hextall and his front office. Some have been really good. Others have been a little weaker.

Let’s rank them.

  1. Re-signing Kris Letang. Maybe the term is too long, but if the goal is to win in the next couple of years — and it should be — then this was a must. Letang is still an elite defenseman, there is no chance they were going to find an equal replacement (and certainly not an upgrade) and the term kept the salary cap at a very manageable level. In the short-term, the contract is a bargain. In the long-term, it really does not matter what happens in four or five years given where the team will probably be at that point.

2. Trading for Jeff Petry. Actually love everything about this trade. Mike Matheson had a strong year, but would he repeat that? Would he be a capable second-pairing defender again? Or would he go back to being the Mike Matheson chaos machine? The Penguins sold high and managed to get a significant upgrade on the right side, giving them a defensive lineup that can have one of Kris Letang or Jeff Petry on the ice for 70-80 percent of every game. Between Petry and Ryan Poehling this trade might have added some short-term salary cap dollars, but they also upgraded the roster while Petry’s contract is actually shorter in term than Matheson’s. Poehing is a complete wild card, but the Petry addition is a significant move.

3. Re-signing Evgeni Malkin. Maybe he is not the player that he was, but I do not think he is finished, either. He can still impact the power play and his 5-on-5 goal scoring was as good as it has ever been in his career. It was the 5-on-5 assist numbers that tanked a year ago. Give him some better linemates and see if that changes. Losing Malkin and signing somebody like Vincent Trocheck was not going to move you closer to competing or rebuilding. Might as well keep the star.

4. Re-signing Bryan Rust. Of the big three free agents Rust was the one I was least sold on re-signing. He is excellent. Been a key player for several years on championship teams. But I am skeptical of signing non-stars in their 30s to long-term deals. On the other hand, as we said with Letang and Malkin, the only thing that matters is the next two or three years. So why not bring him back? You know he is a key cog and you probably got him for a cheaper price than his equal replacement (assuming one actually existed) would have cost them in free agency.

5. The John Marino trade. I like this trade in a vacuum. Marino never took the step forward the Penguins hoped and he seems to have peaked as a rookie. Maybe Ty Smith did as well. But he is younger and a lot cheaper and still has some pretty significant offensive upside.

6. Re-signing Rickard Rakell. Remember what I said about signing non-star players around age 30 long-term deals in the Bryan Rust section? The same thing applies here, only worse, because Rakell has not been as consistently good as Rust has been in recent years. Now, do not take that the wrong way. I really like Rakell. I love the way he played after the trade, and his season overall was a nice bounce back year. He played amazing with Sidney Crosby and Jake Guentzel, but that is still probably Rust’s spot which will move Rakell to Malkin’s line, which might be what they both need over a full season. The question is, willl Rakell be a 15-20 goal guy, or will he be a 25-30 goal guy again?

7. Re-signing Kasperi Kapanen. It would not have been a bad idea if the Penguins just did not even extend him a qualifying offer. But the two-year extension at $3.2 million per year just seems wild to me. A one year prove-it deal? Okay that makes sense. But two years? Bizarre. He has shown flashes of being a really good player, and I like the way he played at the end of this past season and in the playoffs, but not sure he will do that all season.

8. Signing Jan Rutta in free agency. Rutta is fine, and the contract is fine, especially given what defenders like Ben Chiarot and Erik Gudbranson signed for on the free agent market. My issue here is that $2.75 million per year could have been better used on improving the forward depth. The Penguins seem committed to always having a third-pairing defender making too much money for too many years. I understand they wanted to reshape the defense a bit, but the opportunity cost here is not doing more with the forwards.

9. Signing Josh Archibald in free agency. There is nothing about this contract that I like, I do not care how short it is or how low the salary cap number is. Archibald is not very good, does not improve the third-or fourth-line (which both badly need improved) and unless something has changed his vaccination status will keep him out of the lineup for several games this season. No use for this signing at all.