Biggest Successes and Failures from Pittsburgh Penguins' Offseason so Far
After a regular season and postseason that were full of ups and downs, the Pittsburgh Penguins' offseason has been just as eventful.
Faced with a shrinking salary cap and growing concern about his ability to keep the team's core group of players together, Pens general manager Ray Shero has had a busy summer thus far.
With two empty roster spots and only $126,667 of cap space remaining, according to CapGeek.com, Shero's summer vacation will be anything but.
With just over two months to go until the start of training camp, let's take a look at the Penguins' biggest successes and failures in the offseason thus far.
Success: Moving Up in the Draft
Having dealt away the team's first-, second- and fourth-round picks at the trade deadline, Shero didn't figure to be very busy at this year's NHL entry draft.
Never one for inaction, Shero pulled off yet another trade—his fifth in as many months—sending Tyler Kennedy and his $2 million cap hit to the San Jose Sharks for a second-round pick.
After yet another deal with the Columbus Blue Jackets that allowed the Pens to move up to the 44th pick, Shero selected goaltender Tristan Jarry. Many believe he could be a future starter at the NHL level.
With Marc-Andre Fleury's future in Pittsburgh still in question, Shero has—with the addition of Jarry and the free-agent signing of Hobey Baker finalist Eric Hartzell—upgraded the organization's goaltending depth.
As a result, the Pens figure to be well prepared for the post-Fleury era whether it begins next year or many years down the road.
Failure: Paying Too Much for Rental Players
As in previous seasons, the Pittsburgh Penguins were once again the talk of the NHL after Shero made major moves at the trade deadline.
By acquiring Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow, Douglas Murray and Jussi Jokinen, the Pens had assembled one of, if not the most, talented rosters in the NHL in hopes of bringing the Stanley Cup back to Pittsburgh.
Given Iginla’s willingness to finish his career in Pittsburgh and Shero’s insistence that the Carolina Hurricanes pick up nearly $1 million of Jokinen’s $3 million salary next season, it seemed as though these trades were made with an eye to the future.
Unfortunately, what seemed like long-term upgrades turned out to be just short-term rentals. With Iginla now with the Boston Bruins and with Morrow and Murray expected to also sign elsewhere, only Jokinen remains a Penguin. That is unless he’s traded this summer to clear cap space.
In the end, the Pens traded away first-, second- and fourth-round picks in 2013, a second-round pick in 2014 and three prospects—including their first-round pick in 2010, Joe Morrow—to acquire four players, three of whom will play elsewhere next season.
To acquire Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis in 2008, the Pens only had to give up two NHL players (Colby Armstrong and Erik Christensen), a prospect (Angelo Esposito) and a first-round pick. In 2009, Bill Guerin, who was a big part of the 2009 Stanley Cup-winning team and re-signed with the Pens, was acquired for just a conditional third-round pick.
While no one can fault Shero for his efforts to improve the Penguins, the fact is that the Pens gave up too much to get too little in return.
Success: Reacquiring Rob Scuderi
Since losing Rob Scuderi to the L.A. Kings in free agency in 2009, Shero has spent a lot of time and money looking for a suitable replacement.
After four long years of unsuccessful searching, Shero was finally able to fill the need for a stay-at-home defender this summer when he was able to sign...Scuderi.
While most, including myself, thought that Scuderi’s market value would be well beyond what the Pens could afford, Shero was able to sell him on the idea of the benefits of being closer to home (Syosset, N.Y.) as well as being part of a team that will contend for years to come.
While Scuderi’s mobility and versatility instantly upgrade the team's defensive corps, his strong positional play makes him the ideal partner for the talented but inconsistent Kris Letang, whom many observers believed was too inconsistent and too expensive for the Pens to keep.
While the signing of 30-year-old stay-at-home defenseman might not garner a lot of attention, Pens fans may look back at this acquisition as being more impactful than any other move Shero made this season, including the much-heralded trade-deadline deals.
Failure: Leaving No Cap Space
In anticipation of the salary cap reduction following, from $70.2 million $64.3 million, Shero decided to go for broke and spent as much money as the league would allow last year chasing the Stanley Cup.
After a disappointing end to the playoff run, the Pens are now faced with the consequences of that decision. With two roster spots still unfilled, the Pens only have $126,667 left under the salary cap.
If you add in the unsigned tendered offers to Dustin Jeffrey and Robert Bortuzzo, the Pens are most likely going to be over the cap by around $1 million unless a move is made.
With less than two months remaining before the deadline for all teams to be under the cap, Shero and the rest of Pittsburgh's front office have work cut out for them. One option to clear cap space would be to trade a defenseman, with Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen being the most likely candidates.
Both are entering the final year of their contracts. While Orpik is older, Niskanen, a right-handed offensive defenseman, figures to be the more expendable especially since Kris Letang re-signed a long-term deal to remain in Pittsburgh.
Another option would be to trade Jussi Jokinen, whose $2.1 million cap hit for the final year of his contract makes him expendable. Given his ability to play any forward position on any line, unloading Jokinen would be a mistake given his strong performance filling in for an injured Sidney Crosby at the end of the regular season.
While a trade of some kind is almost inevitable, don’t expect it until after defenseman Robert Bortuzzo’s arbitration case is settled, sometime in early August. If he is awarded a salary that is more than the Pens think he’s worth, Bortuzzo may be on his way out of town as well.
Success: Retaining the Penguins' Core
While Shero has been extremely successful in acquiring great players from other teams, such as Hossa and Iginla, his ability to keep the Penguins’ great players from leaving has been truly remarkable.
While many NHL teams struggle to keep one superstar player in the fold, Shero and the team's ownership have been able to re-sign two superstars in Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin and ensured that they will most likely end their careers in Pittsburgh.
Perhaps even more impressive, Shero has avoided the pitfalls that many experts predicted the Pens would experience with two superstars and has still been able to keep a strong supporting cast in place.
Having re-signed Crosby to a 12-year contract before last season, Shero turned his attention to Malkin and was able to sign him to an eight-year deal, the maximum allowed under the new CBA.
After watching two of the game’s premier players take less money and re-sign with the Pens, Pascal Dupuis, Kris Letang and Christ Kunitz all chose to follow Crosby's and Malkin's example and extend their stays in Pittsburgh as well.
With five of the top-six forwards signed for the next four years and with three of the top-four defensemen signed for at least the next two seasons, Shero has put his team in a prime position to compete for years to come—and that has been the biggest success for the Pens this offseason.