The Biggest Questions for the Remainder of Pittsburgh Penguins' 2014 Offseason
Many items on the offseason checklist were addressed this year through free agency, trades and the draft. With what he has done so far, general manager Jim Rutherford gave what some could call an overhaul to his new club.
Some fans will say it was a solid job, while others are still skeptical in terms of whether this roster is an improvement over last year's.
Three big questions still cloud the team, and it needs answers soon. Let’s take a look at them here and go over how Rutherford and Co. can address them in the waning days of summer.
Will Brandon Sutter Get a New Contract?
With the recent signing of forward Nick Spaling to a two-year, $4.4 million contract, the Penguins have about $4.2 million left in cap space.
Spaling’s new contract also means that there is only a single restricted free agent left for the Penguins to sign, and that is center Brandon Sutter. The 25-year-old has been engaged in talks with his team for a while, but both sides have been on different pages until now.
Shelly Anderson of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette tweeted out Thursday that Rutherford believed a deal should come very soon.
The reason it has taken some time to get a deal done between Sutter’s group and the Penguins was due to the length of the contract. According to Inside Pittsburgh Sports writer William DePaoli, Sutter wanted only a one-year contract versus a four-year deal the Pens have offered. (Keep in mind you will need a subscription to view the whole article.)
With things looking bright on the free-agency front, this question may be the first to find a resolution. The other two? Not so much.
Who Will Play Right Wing on the First Line This Year?
Finding out who will lace up on the first forward line this season won’t be too hard considering two-thirds of the puzzle is already in place. After coming off another career year, left wing Chris Kunitz will be back in his usual slot alongside captain Sidney Crosby. Finding out who will be playing on Crosby’s other side is what’s stumping hockey writers.
There isn’t really a whole lot to go on in terms of finding solid facts about who will be the top right wing until training camp. Until then, we can only speculate. I'm predicting that the position will not be filled by Pascal Dupuis, the guy who pretty much owned the spot until he went down in December with a torn ACL. I say this because he is now 35 and his career is slowly taking a tumble, especially with the recent injury.
Management may be looking to youth to fill the spot, and Beau Bennett may be the guy in mind. Bennett is 22, but he hasn’t played an entire NHL season yet. He competed in only 47 total games over the course of two years, but many still believe in the talented upside that Bennett possesses. Hopefully, that talent can be tapped into by the likes of Crosby and Kunitz, who can be great teachers for the winger.
The coaches will have their hands full trying to make these lines as perfect as possible. Dupuis and Bennett are really the only two possibilities. It’s between youth and experience here, and while I’m not an NHL coach, I think youth should overtake experience in this situation.
Is This New Roster an Improvement?
The Penguins lost eight players to free agency as well as James Neal, who was involved in the draft-day trade that brought Spaling and Patric Hornqvist to the Pens.
Each area of the ice looks remarkably different compared with last year's team. Two of the Penguins’ loved defensemen are gone, as well as two-thirds of the team’s second line. Rutherford gave this team a big face-lift, if you even want to call it that yet.
Fans know how frustrating it is to have amazing talents such as Crosby, Kunitz and Evgeni Malkin but still be unable to get back to the Stanley Cup Final. The team is being built for the postseason. Never mind the tremendous work this club has done over the past regular seasons. Winning another league championship is all Rutherford has on his mind.
This question will certainly not be answered until after the season is complete. Wherever the 2014-15 Penguins end up will determine if the GM has had a successful first year as the mastermind of this team.
Salary-cap information courtesy of CapGeek.com.