Early in 2022, we made some predictions for the Penguins for the upcoming year. While 2022 isn’t over, all the predictions made have come to pass (or fallen through). A summer day is a good time to look back and see where we were back then, and how things developed.
#1 Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang are re-signed to dual four year extensions
Well, it wasn’t without drama or going down to the wire, but this more or less ended up ending the way most projected. Letang ended up getting a six-year extension on July 7th, about a week prior to the July 13th open for free agency. The Penguins ended up kicking in a few extra years in order to get his cap hit down to a team-friendly $6.1 million number. Letang also has a full no movement clause for the first four seasons, which then becomes a 10-team no trade clause afterwards.
So, in a way, it’s a four year commitment, with two extra years tacked on when Letang will be 40 and 41 years old. Given his competitive nature and excellent shape, he intends to play these years right now, but who knows if that will actually come to pass. Maybe he’ll develop a skin allergy by then, or some other cause to end on LTIR or another team’s salary cap down the stretch.
The Malkin deal was right as expected, for four years. The $6.1 million cap hit to match Letang’s, and down from the previous $9.5 million hit on his previous contract is a nice feather in the team’s cap as well.
#2 Bryan Rust finds greener pastures in free agency...
Fortunately for the Penguins, this prediction was wrong. Rust was the Pens’ first major signing of the off-season, inking a six-year extension in May a few weeks after the season was over.
The unforeseen development was that Rust would opt for a path that most players don’t take. He didn’t explore free agency and see what his biggest offer would be. Signing for a $5.125 million cap hit left some money on the table considering the deals for comparable players like Ondrej Palat ($6.0 million) and even Rickard Rakell ($5.0 million) but Rust knew he was in a perfect spot and locked in for himself in Pittsburgh. Rust ensured himself a little over $30 million over the life of his contract, and gets to stay in Pittsburgh. Sounds like a win-win for all parties.
This was a happy prediction to see not go the way of expectation.
#3 ...And the Pens will tap Evan Rodrigues as the replacement for Rust’s spot
Unfortunately for Rodrigues, this did not come to pass the way expected over the first few months of the season. Rodrigues remains a free agent, finding a soft market for his services, despite a 19 goal, 43 point season in Pittsburgh.
Considering Rodrigues’ excellent play and production in the first 30-40 games of the season — when he was used in a top-six role in the injury absence of Malkin — it’s frankly a shame a team doesn’t step up and pay him and play him in a nice role and expect the same results. Rodrigues’ points went down as the year went on, but so too did his power play time and ice time all along.
But, as the cookie crumbled, the Penguins spent all their cap room on Malkin, Rakell and Rust. Tough to argue that, being as all those players are more established and should provide more than Rodrigues.
In the end it was tough for Rodrigues, his dream season turned into a pumpkin and he’s been left out in the cold. Through no real fault of his own, but that is the life of a pro hockey player still truly looking to find that right situation and full-time role.
#4 Mike Sullivan will finally get the Jack Adams buzz he deserves
This one didn’t get a huge amount of traction, but was close. Sullivan finished fourth in voting for the coach of the year, even though he probably deserved better. The long quest for league-wide validation remains elusive for Sullivan, even though the relevance is more annoying than actual. Sullivan might not be recognized by the NHL Broadcasters Association, but anyone paying attention to coaching inputs can clearly see that Sullivan is one of the top bench bosses in the league.
it's insane what the Oilers did in going from Tippett to Woodcroft. also, Sullivan should really get more credit for being possibly the best coach in the league https://t.co/HpJRy5byif pic.twitter.com/osZIkJRtrq— ck (@404ResponseCode) August 18, 2022
#5 The Pens will commit to building their young talent base
This prediction was easy to call, because Ron Hextall has talked many times about his intent and emphasis to boost the group of young players for the Penguins.
And, he has. Hextall grabbed a 22-year old former first round pick and NHL caliber player in Ty Smith. He kept his first round pick and used it on a fairly high upside defender in Owen Pickering. To a lesser degree, they added Ryan Poehling to compete for an NHL job, as well as signing a bevy of undrafted free agents (Ty Glover, Jordan Frasca, Corey Andonovski) that will hopefully pay dividends one day.
Another important development, is what the Pens haven’t done; they haven’t mortgaged the future. Pittsburgh still has first, second and third round picks in 2023 and 2024, which is unusual at this time of year that they still carry all of their high draft choices in the future.
The Pens are still a very old NHL team, and ensured they will only get older with decisions to invest many future years on players like Letang, Malkin, Rust, Rakell and Jeff Petry. But they’re also planning for the future and doing more to attempt to build up future assets as well.
#6 There will be a change in the goaltending situation in 2022
This turned out to not be true as well, since Casey DeSmith “pulled a Rust” and took a team-friendly $1.8 million salary to avoid free agency. In a climate where even Martin Jones can get $2.0 million, it was likely a discount to get DeSmith locked up.
For at least one more season, the Pens will be going back with the same netminders that they have had in place for the last two seasons. If health holds, this could be a positive thing, considering that Pittsburgh’s .914% all situations save% last year was the second best in the NHL. That qualifier about health is obviously not one to gloss over, since DeSmith has suffered a similar core injury at the end of both of the last two seasons. Clearly by re-upping him, the team believes it won’t be an issue in the future.
#7 Pittsburgh will finally have a player born in the 2000’s play for them in 2022
A sign of how old the Pens have been constructed recently and a byproduct of trading many high draft picks, it’s a minor note but an important one that it took until April 7, 2022 for them to dress a player born in the 2000’s. The distinction and trivia note goes to Filip Hallander (born 6/29/2000) who suited up for a single NHL game this year, playing just 5:52 (and only because Sidney Crosby was out with a non-COVID illness, but play Hallander still did).
It goes to show just how little contributions the Pens get from young players. In 2022-23, there won’t be too many candidates for 2000’s players to kick in. Hallander and Sam Poulin might have a shot at playing at some point, and Smith could be in the mix too. Other than those few, that’s about it, and none figure to be important pieces of the puzzle in the NHL this year.
All in all, a few misses from unexpected swerves and decisions about free agency, but feeling pretty good about how the Malkin/Letang stories were called and it was positive to see the works and efforts