The Pittsburgh Penguins are used to being one of the 16 teams playing in the Stanley Cup playoffs. They reached the postseason every year from 2007-19, a stretch that saw them win the Stanley Cup three times, including in consecutive years in 2016 and 2017.
However, an expanded postseason field prevented Pittsburgh from reaching the first round this year. The Penguins were the No. 5 seed in the Eastern Conference heading into the qualifying round, but they were upset by the No. 12 Montreal Canadiens in a best-of-five series.
And just like that, the Pens' time at the NHL bubble in Toronto was over.
Could that lackluster performance lead to changes in Pittsburgh this offseason? According to Rob Rossi and Josh Yohe of The Athletic, the Penguins have 16 players accounting for $68.2 million for next season, when there will be a $81.5 million salary cap. So moves could be on the horizon.
"Multiple team and league sources said the Penguins will look to spend in the low- to mid-$70 million range to start next season," Rossi and Yohe wrote. "To get there, the team will seek trades of multiple veterans, especially because ownership favors those moves over buyouts."
Although Pittsburgh general manager Jim Rutherford told reporters earlier in August that he would like to keep together the core of Sidney Crosby, Evgeni Malkin and Kris Letang, Rossi and Yohe reported that "rival executives expect him to explore a Letang trade, for multiple reasons," with one being that Crosby and Malkin have full no-movement clauses, while Letang has a "modified clause, making him easier to move."
Rossi and Yohe continued, quoting a rival executive: "Letang's market value is better, if you can believe it. ... He's still a top defenseman, and you're probably going to keep him around if you get him, so [the Penguins] would get more for him, I'd think."
Letang has spent his entire 14-year NHL career with Pittsburgh. This season, the 33-year-old defenseman had 44 points (15 goals and 29 assists) in 61 games. He's a two-time All-Star who has played 808 career games.
What's Next Move Between Oilers, Puljujarvi?
Another team that was surprisingly upset during the qualifying round was the Edmonton Oilers, who were the No. 5 seed in the Western Conference but lost in four games to the No. 12 Chicago Blackhawks. Consequently, Edmonton's focus has shifted to the upcoming offseason.
While the Oilers will have decisions to make regarding free agency and potential trades, they will also need to decide what they should do with the rights of Jesse Puljujarvi. The 22-year-old right winger hasn't played in the NHL since the 2018-19 season, opting instead to play in Finland.
Sportsnet's Elliotte Friedman recently reported that Puljujarvi and Edmonton still may not be in the same place regarding the forward's NHL future, writing: "It sounds like the Oilers thought a signing was close. The player, not so much. We will see where this goes. A trade is still possible."
In North America, Puljujarvi could only sign with Edmonton, which owns his NHL rights. That's why a trade could be in order to allow him to return to the league with a different team.
Puljujarvi played 139 games for the Oilers from 2016-19, tallying 17 goals and 20 assists. However, he also spent time in the AHL each of those three seasons, playing for the Bakersfield Condors.