The Pittsburgh Penguins are Stanley Cup champions for the second-consecutive season. While common sense would suggest that they don’t have to make many changes the reality of the new NHL demands that they will. The salary cap and economics will put pressure on the Penguins to stay ahead of the curve. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh will also have to deal with expansion draft and the potential to lose another key piece. General manager Jim Rutherford has done an excellent job of surrounding his core group with key pieces over the past couple of offseasons and that trend will need to continue in order to stay on top. Here is a look at the Pittsburgh Penguins offseason plan.
3 Things The Penguins Have To Work On
1. Bring Back Key Free Agents
Once the NHL expansion draft is complete, the Pittsburgh Penguins can turn their attention to bringing back the key free agents that they will want back in the fold for next season. Pittsburgh is projected to have just over $12 million in cap space but they have a number of players set to hit free agency. Matt Cullen, Chris Kunitz and Nick Bonino are all free agents up front while defensemen Trevor Daley, Ron Hainsey, Chad Ruhwedel and Mark Streit will also be unrestricted free agents. Meanwhile, the Penguins will have to worry about signing restricted free agents Conor Sheary and Justin Schultz this offseason as well. Rutherford will have some tough decisions to make in terms of who to keep and who to let walk so it will be interesting to see how he approaches his own free agents.
2. Find Value In Unrestricted Free Agency
The one benefit Pittsburgh should have will be negotiating with UFA’s that are willing to take a pay cut for the chance to win a Stanley Cup. With a championship core in place, the Penguins could convince some veteran players to take a chance on them with short-term deals. Justin Williams is one name that comes to mind. Williams scored 24 goals and recorded 48 points for the Washington Capitals last season. At 24, he might be willing to take a shot at winning one more Stanley Cup with Pittsburgh. Radim Vrbata, Thomas Vanek and Sam Gagner are among the other veteran free agents that might be interested in a short-term deal with Pittsburgh. The Pittsburgh Penguins won’t have much cap flexibility so it will be on Rutherford to convince UFA’s to join Pittsburgh at the right price.
3. Promote From Within
In addition to free agency, the Penguins have the luxury of promoting from within. Matt Murray is a two-time Stanley Cup-winning goaltender at 23-years-old. Jake Guentzel scored 13 goals in 25 playoff games during Pittsburgh’s most recent Stanley Cup run. Meanwhile, Daniel Sprong and Derrick Pouliot are ready to take the next step and could be quality fits in the Penguins lineup. Sprong is a talented offensive winger that scored 32 goals in 31 games in the QMJHL last season. Meanwhile, Pouliot has flashed his offensive potential in a couple of NHL stints but needs to be more consistent. With little flexibility under the salary cap, the Penguins best option might still be to promote from within with their wealth of young talent.
Key Free Agents
Sheary and Schultz both have two Stanley Cup rings and have enjoyed tremendous individual success in Pittsburgh over the past couple of years. The Penguins should be able to reach a reasonable number with both players as RFA’s. Meanwhile, the UFA pool is a little more complicated with the potential for major changes on the back end. Hainsey in particular was excellent during this year’s Stanley Cup run and at 36 he might be willing to negotiate a reasonable contract to stay. There is a good chance that neither Daley nor Streit will be back next season. Meanwhile, Bonino has thrived as the No. 3 center behind Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin so the Penguins will likely want to bring him back. There is a good chance that Cullen and Kunitz will not be back in Pittsburgh unless they agree to take small-money, short-term deals.
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