How the Pittsburgh Penguins Should Fill Their Biggest Needs in 2014 Offseason
The Pittsburgh Penguins have a cloud of uncertainty trailing them into the 2014 offseason along with an array of needs that must be filled by October.
While the biggest question facing the organization is who will be filling the vacant general manager position, the Pens have other areas of concern that need to be addressed—such as who stays and who goes.
Whoever the next GM will be, he will have quite a project to undertake. This team can find the answers it is seeking in the upcoming draft, free agency and through trades this offseason. Here are four of the Penguin’s biggest needs they have to fill and how they should go about doing it.
Feel free to leave your opinions in the comment box below.
How to fill: Free Agency
The Penguins have a few great young defensemen on their roster and in their system, such as Olli Maatta and Derrick Pouliot. Maatta had a tremendous rookie season, and at 19 years old, he has a huge upside. Pouliot showed in his time with Portland Winterhawks of the WHL that he can bring an aggressive style of hockey to the Pens lineup.
Despite both of them undergoing shoulder surgery recently, they both have a shot at becoming two top-notch defenseman in the NHL, but not without some guidance.
The Pens need a quality, veteran defenseman to join the ranks because I have come to know many people who are not sold on Brooks Orpik and Kris Letang. While their futures hang in the balance, I would like to see the organization keep Matt Niskanen in the lineup, while acquiring a veteran defenseman with a sense of leadership.
Someone who could bring a tough, new look to the Pens D would be the Minnesota Wild’s Clayton Stoner. Stoner is well known for his physically imposing, stay-at-home mentality that would be a perfect complement to the more offensive styles of Maatta and Letang (if he is still a part of the team).
Stoner is still young at only 29, and he brings with him five seasons of experience.
If not Stoner, then the Pens should aim for an older defenseman such as Dan Boyle of the San Jose Sharks or Willie Mitchell of the Los Angeles Kings. While their years are numbered, they still can make plays while offering additional playoff experience to these young defenseman. Too much experience never hurt anyone.
Second Line Wing
How to fill: Draft
With Jussi Jokinen’s future uncertain as he heads into free agency, the Penguins should look to the 2014 NHL Draft for an answer if he decides to walk.
The Pens are set to pick at No. 22, and in a draft weak in defensemen, I am all for them spending it on Russian winger Ivan Barbashev from the Moncton Wildcats of the QMJHL.
Barbashev is known for his complete style of play that entails his ability to find his way into high traffic areas, score and finish his checks.
The top two lines of the Pens have an amazing array of talent, and adding the 18-year-old Russian to the lineup will certainly give it a boost in a few years. Barbashev most likely will not see ice time this season, but as we saw last year with Maatta, even the youngest guys can have success in the show.
The new GM will want this club to have a whole new vision, and Barbashev will be one of his many pawns in order to achieve it.
How to fill: Free Agency
There really is no one on the Penguins roster that I would be physically intimidated by if I played for another team. The Boston Bruins have Shawn Thornton. The Sharks have Raffi Torres. The Ottawa Senators have Chris Neil. I couldn’t even give you an example for the Penguins. Sure, all these guys I have mentioned have had one or more controversial episodes in the NHL, but what they do is a part of the game, and the Penguins truly lack in this area of it.
They need a physically imposing force on the ice, and I propose the Penguins should go out on July 1 and sign Steve Ott. I have had a couple readers in previous articles suggest this option to me, and I think it is about time I took note.
Ott is a special type of player because he can battle in the dirty areas and score those gritty goals when needed. He has 91 career goals in the NHL, including a 22-goal season back in 2010, which shows he has the offensive talent needed while still playing the role of the tough guy. That's what sets him apart from the Neils and Thorntons of the league.
He has had his share of incidents in the past, though. In 2008, Ott collided with the Colorado Avalanche’s Jordan Leopold, which was deemed an illegal hit to the head and earned the 31-year-old center a three-game suspension. A year later, Ott was given a match penalty for gouging the eye of the Anaheim Ducks’ Travis Moen.
Ott will also give star players like Sidney Crosby and Evgeni Malkin the protection they need in tense situations like the Stanley Cup playoffs. He is the guy that will do what it takes to win, and that is really all you can ask for as a head coach/GM.
How to fill: Trade
If I was told I was to become the next GM of an NHL club, my first order of business would be to make a name for myself, and to do that, I would make a big trade. While I stated in the first slide that I don’t believe the new GM should do this, I could understand why he would want to. Most likely, the new GM will have little to no experience running a NHL club, so making a big-time transaction could garner him some attention from around the league and maybe even a little respect.
I think the Pens are one of the staple franchises of the NHL, which is why I don’t condone such a move because they already have earned the eyes of the league. However, if something big were to go down, I think it would go something like this.
After his subpar performances in the last few postseasons, Marc-Andre Fleury helped silence critics this year after posting a .915 save percentage along with a GAA of 2.40. This was the first time since 2009 that he had his postseason save percentage above .900.
Despite his improvement in this year’s playoffs, I am not entirely convinced Fleury should be back in net next season. There were a few goals, especially against the Columbus Blue Jackets, that reminded me of how inconsistent he can be.
Fleury is an exceptional regular-season goaltender, and I believe there are plenty of teams that need just that, but one of those teams is not the Penguins. Let’s be honest, the Penguins could get to the postseason with almost any other goalie. Their talent up front is just too powerful not to.
So why not trade Fleury to a basement-dwelling club for a high draft pick and pick up maybe Ryan Miller or Jonas Hiller in free agency.
It really is a far-fetched idea, and I am not very good at proposing trades, which is why I am here writing this article and not at the helm of the Pens organization. You can’t deny, though, that this would be the biggest move of the offseason.
All stats courtesy of NHL.com.