The Penguins are on top of the World right now. They have claimed their spot in the history books and gave us a year to remember. But the party can’t last forever, so where do they go from here?
Off-season is in full affect, teams are out wheelin and dealin and that means Penguins management has very little time to revel in the glory of winning the Stanley Cup. It’s time to get back to work and focus on what needs done to continue the success.
First up is the NHL Entry draft on June 24th & 25th.
The Penguins have five picks out of the seven rounds. none in the first round, none in the third round and none in the seventh.
Their first pick comes at #54 (2nd rnd) with their second soon after at #60 (2nd rnd). After that the Guins have to wait until #120 (4th rnd) followed by #150 (5th rnd) and finally #180 (6th rnd).
With trade speculation swirling there is a possibility they will find a way to move up in the draft but it isn’t something I would count on.
With that said, look for the staff to build up their forward position, a position that shows the most talent this Draft.
Then as the champagne stains start to set in and days after the draft is completed all the focus will shift over to the start of Free Agency.
The Penguins only have 3 players on the UFA list; Ben Lovejoy, Steve Oleksy & Will O’Neill all defensemen.
Lovejoy is the most intriguing, but after playing some of his best hockey this post-season he is sure to see a nice pay raise from his $1.1 million cap hit. This is an area where the Penguins need to just walk away, thank Ben and wish him the best. Derek Pouliot is the most likely candidate to replace Lovejoy’s minutes, and this is an opportunity that Derek cannot pass up. THIS is his do or die time.
Oleksy and O’Neill were reserve guys, neither saw much or any time and their “minutes” can be taken up by someone else in the system. Lukas Bengtsson may be the best option depending how his first Pro season training camp goes.
Once you look past the Penguins UFA’s you will see they will have either $2.2 million in salary cap space (if the cap stays at the $71.4) or $4.82 million in salary cap space (if the cap goes up to $74 million)
This means, either way you look at it, the Penguins do not have much wiggle room to add much save some reserve players to maybe help on the defensive end or bottom six forward units.
However, as we have learned, you can’t count out Jim Rutherford and obviously there are some players the Penguins could look at trading.
Eric Fehr (cap hit $2 million), despite having a decent year, it was discovered that his style of play doesn’t mesh very well with Mike Sullivan’s high tempo scheme. There should be a decent amount of teams that would be very interested in his services.
Chris Kunitz (cap hit $3.55 million), the tough veteran has showed that time hasn’t been too kind to him. While he played very strong in these past playoffs I could see Kunitz either looking at taking the retirement route or the Penguins moving him to a young team that wants some strong veteran leadership. (Buffalo???)
Olli Maatta (cap hit $4.083 million), WHAT!? While this seems a bit unwarranted, Maatta was the best of the worst defensemen this post-season. His lack of speed really hampens the defensive breakout. This is something that could be adjusted by a full summer of training, but there is one catch to that. Olli must complete six months of military service between the age of 18 and 28, something he begins this off season and then looks to continue the following summer. That means this would be the second summer in a row where his training is almost non-existent.
While this may cause some issues with the Penguins dwindling Defensive corps, management has some options if they move on from him by possibly re-signing Lovejoy, looking elsewhere in the free agent pool or finding a trade partner with a defender needing a change.
After those three there isn’t much left on the Penguins roster to consider moving. You can buy into all the hoopla about Fleury being shopped or Malkin wanting out to be “the man”, but at this time it’s hard to believe any of those talks are serious.
So here we sit waiting to see what the Penguins will do, but for the first time in a long time, no one should be worried. Essentially the same team that achieved glory just days ago will still be together next season, ready to do it again.
Thanks for reading