The start of the regular season just days away officially brings to an end the 2013 Penguins' offseason.
What began in disappointment in Boston after being swept by the Bruins in the Eastern Conference Finals will end when the Pens take the ice and fans get a chance to see what kind of team they have.
As the Pens and their fans look ahead to the regular season and another shot at chasing the Stanley Cup, let's look back at what has been one of the most tumultuous offseasons in recent memory and give a final grade for the Pens offseason moves.
As disappointed as Penguins fans were after the loss to the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Finals, the re-signing of Evgeni Malkin to a 10-year/$76M contract and Kris Letang to an 8-year/$58M contract were welcome consolation prizes.
Not wanting to try to chase the Stanley Cup under the cloud of uncertainty that comes with impending free agency, Pens GM Ray Shero moved aggressively to lockup Malkin and Letang and ensure that the Pens are going to be contenders for the foreseeable future.
While it could be argued that Letang’s deal was perhaps more expensive than it should have been considering his play against the Bruins in the ECF, Shero was willing to bet big that Letang will continue to improve.
With regards to Malkin, while it is always possible that he might be tempted to return to Russia and even bigger money in the KHL, he has repeatedly stated that he is happy in Pittsburgh and has no desire to leave.
For that, Pens fans should be grateful for last year’s work stoppage during which Malkin and others returned to Russia and apparently got their fill of the KHL.
Having traded away their first and second-round picks in the deals for Douglas Murray and Jarome Iginla, the Penguins didn’t figure to be one of the more active teams at the 2013 NHL Entry Draft.
Ray Shero, however, is never one for standing pat and he quickly moved back into the early rounds by trading away Tyler Kennedy to the San Jose Sharks for a second-round pick.
Shero made another move, packaging a second and a third-round pick to the Columbus Blue Jackets to move up in the second round and take highly-touted goaltending prospect Tristan Jarry.
Jarry projects well to the NHL due to his strong technical play and positioning and, depending on whether Marc-Andre Fleury’s struggles continue, could be in line to be the Pens’ future starting goaltender.
With the rest of his picks, Shero was able to acquire a good mix of talent and size and the Pens, despite the lack of picks, were able to have a successful draft.
While Pens fans were certainly excited to see Jarome Iginla, Brenden Morrow, Douglas Murray and Jussi Jokinen join the team, they were just as sad to watch Iginla, Morrow and Murray leave it.
Having spent several draft picks and highly touted prospect and former first-round pick Joe Morrow to acquire three impending free agents, the Pens paid a heavy price for these trades and got a lot less in return.
In addition, the loss of Matt Cooke to the Minnesota Wild in free agency and the trade of Tyler Kennedy to the San Jose Sharks transformed the Pens third line from an exclamation to question mark.
To offset these losses, Ray Shero was able to bring back Rob Scuderi to stabilize the Pens blue line and also brought in strong supporting players such as Matt D'Agostini and Chuck Kobasew to strenghten the Pens bottom-six forward rotation.
While Pens fans understood that re-signing Malkin and Letang and extending the contract of Chris Kunitz made retaining the Pens trade acquisitions difficult, the disappointment of how last season ended coupled with the frustration over how Jarome Iginla was handled by Dan Bylsma, turning what should have been a high point into a bad memory.
While the sting of losing can overshadow even the most productive offseason, Ray Shero and the Penguins management and ownership performed as well as could be expected.
While they still need to resolve their salary cap issues as they are currently more than $1M over the limit, the resigning of the Pens core for the next eight seasons outweighs the disappointment of losing the Pens trade acquisitions and the draft picks that it cost to get them.
In the end, however, the final grade for the 2013-2014 Pens will be determined on the ice and not in the front office so the jury is still out until we see how far the Pens advance.
Overall grade: B+