How Each Offseason Addition and Departure Will Affect Pittsburgh Penguins
The Pittsburgh Penguins are known around the hockey world for having one of the most talented cores ever seen in the game of hockey.
However, the past few seasons have ended in a disappointing fashion, which has the front office scrambling for answers on how to return to their 2009 championship form.
It’s easy to see that the problem isn’t the core itself, but the players surrounding them. General manager Jim Rutherford is addressing this situation by adding and subtracting quite a few players in his first offseason with the club.
Let’s take a look at each of the team’s many offseason moves and how each will effect them in the 2014-15 NHL season.
Addition/Departure: Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling/James Neal
Rutherford’s biggest move so far was trading away one-time 40-goal scorer James Neal to the Nashville Predators in exchange for forwards Patric Hornqvist and Nick Spaling. While it may have stung a bit at first for Pens fans, it’s still hard to deny that it was a smart transaction.
Hornqvist doesn’t score quite as many goals as Neal, but what he can do is score in almost the exact same ways. He is a valuable guy to have in front of the net and in the slot, but he can play defense as well, which was something Neal wasn’t very accustomed to.
Spaling, who is still awaiting a new contract as a restricted free agent, is often the afterthought of the trade. With the Predators, the 25-year-old had 32 points (13G, 19A) in 71 games.
For those who don't know much about the forward, The Hockey News gave him a nice writeup: “[Spaling] Kills penalties and checks opponents with aplomb. Works hard in all three zones and at improving his overall game. Has a projectable frame, two-way instincts and scoring upside. Can play both center and wing.”
The Penguins came out of this trade the winners, and it should show by the time next season kicks off. The team seems like it's finally is getting a lot grittier, which fans should love.
Addition: Kasperi Kapanen
Kasperi Kapanen was selected by the Penguins in the 2014 NHL draft at the No. 22 slot. Hailing from Finland, the 17-year-old is the son of former NHLer Sami Kapanen, who was drafted by Rutherford when he was the GM of the Hartford Whalers.
Like his father, Kapanen possesses a great hockey sense and spectacular puck control. It was a surprise he would even fall to No. 22 in the first place, which makes for another successful Penguins draft story.
Kapanen still needs to physically become more present on the ice. His 6’0”, 180-pound frame might need to be beefed up before he hits the NHL ice, which may not be for another year or two. Management will want him to become more accustomed to the North American game, but at his age, he shouldn't be pressured to get here anytime soon.
Departures: Tanner Glass, Joe Vitale and Deryk Engelland
The Penguins are going to miss a lot of the dirty work that Tanner Glass, Joe Vitale and Deryk Engelland provided over the past years. However, in order to restructure a franchise, players like these guys have to go.
Vitale, who will be playing for the Arizona Coyotes next season, will probably be missed the most by Steel City residents. The St. Louis-born winger was drafted by the club in 2005 and was part of the 2009 championship roster. Like Glass and Engelland, he provided that agitation factor that teams hated to play against.
In the end, these guys knew they weren’t going to be invited back to play next season, but hopefully, they will find success in their new homes.
Additions: Steve Downie and Blake Comeau
Blake Comeau and Steve Downie are bigger and better versions of the guys I just listed.
Downie, who is a former Philadelphia Flyer, hits like a semi and has skills on both sides of the puck, while Comeau brings a laser-accurate shot along with offensive versatility to the table. They are able to complement a team's superstars well, which is good news for the Penguins.
The outlook for this upcoming season is bright for these two recent free-agent pickups. Downie will most likely be a top-six forward playing alongside Hornqvist on the second line with Evgeni Malkin anchoring it. Comeau, the ex-Columbus Blue Jacket, will support Brandon Sutter on the third, which will finally give the team the depth they desperately needed.
Opponents will have trouble keeping up with these guys next season due to the high energy that accompanies them each time they hit the ice.
Addition/Departures: Christian Ehrhoff/Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen
The most solidified area of the ice for the Penguins has to be on the blue line. There is so much up-and-coming talent the team has brought in through tremendous drafting that will allow management to focus on other areas of concern.
This makes losing Brooks Orpik and Matt Niskanen to free agency an easy pill to swallow. Orpik was a fan favorite, no doubt, but his age is finally catching up to him. At 33, it’s getting more difficult for him to quarterback the defense.
Rutherford surprised everyone with his acquisition of Christian Ehrhoff who was one of the top free agents on the market this year. He turned down many lucrative offers to sign with the Pens.
Having Ehrhoff captain a defensive unit consisting of Kris Letang, Paul Martin, Olli Maatta, Simon Despres and Rob Scuderi, as well as prospects Brian Dumoulin and Derrick Pouliot, means it will be a top-five defensive unit in the league next year.
Departure: Jussi Jokinen
Jussi Jokinen made a huge statement in his short-lived tenure as a Penguin.
He was extremely smart while possessing the puck and rarely ever lost sight of it. His small frame made him easily manhandled by the opposition at points, but his versatility at each forward position and high scoring percentage in shootouts were more than enough to make up for it.
Now a Florida Panther, Jokinen made himself a home on the second line with Malkin and Neal last season. It would have been nice to see what he would have been able to accomplish if he had stayed, but Rutherford made it clear he didn’t expect the 31-year-old Finn to re-sign.
He will be missed, but his replacements look promising.
Departure: Brian Gibbons
Brian Gibbons came onto the scene in the second half of the season and was able to impress his coaches enough to get a chance to play on the postseason roster.
He is a very small skater, standing in at only 5’8”, but he has incredible vision on the ice. This was mostly seen in his time with the Pens’ AHL affiliate, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (check out the video), when he danced through defenders in the minor league's postseason bout with the Providence Bruins.
His future may still be a bit cloudy in terms of whether he ends up being a career AHLer or finds a niche in the pros. He will fit in well with the emerging Blue Jackets, but he will now be the enemy when he returns to Consol Energy Center this season.
Addition: Thomas Greiss
As I stated in a past article, I was very confused about the signing of Thomas Greiss, the German-born goaltender who will could be replacing Jeff Zatkoff as Marc-Andre Fleury’s backup in net next season.
Greiss is a very solid goaltender who did a great job backing Mike Smith with the Coyotes last season after posting a save percentage of .920 and a goals-against average of 2.29 in 25 games.
Zatkoff, who posted similar numbers in his rookie season with the Penguins last year, will now have to worry about a goalie battle in training camp. It may be that Rutherford doesn’t trust Zatkoff replacing Fleury if he decides to tank in the playoffs again.
Whatever the reason, Greiss is a solid goaltender with good upside and may earn a starting job one day in the NHL.
The goaltending position is getting stronger, but it may be the weakest area of the ice for this club.