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Penguins Free Agents & Departures Cost Heart

Chris Kunitz -- By Michael Miller (Own work) [CC BY-SA 4.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)],

The first weekend of NHL Free Agency was not kind to the Pittsburgh Penguins. None of the Penguins free agents have thus far re-signed and the dynamics inside the Penguins locker room are about to undergo a large change. Several stalwarts who were large pieces of the instrumental team chemistry are gone, and with their departures, they have taken part of the Penguins heart.

The Penguins were able to repeat as Stanley Cup champions because of guts and heart. Unlike a year ago, the 2017 version did not ride a wave of momentum and were not superior to their opponents. This team had to scrap and fight their way past playoff opponents.

Now, The 2017-18 Penguins will have to rebuild and discover new dynamics, as they quest for a coveted 3-Peat.

Gone is stalwart Chris Kunitz, who played 569 games for the Penguins and won three Stanley Cups. Kunitz was one of Sidney Crosby‘s closest friends and a team leader. Kunitz flanked Crosby for years, earned a trip to the 2014 Olympics, and scored 169 goals in the process. He was often the most physical forward on the roster. He is now with the Tampa Bay Lightning.

Trevor Daley quickly became a large piece of the locker room immediately upon being acquired from Chicago for Rob Scuderi. Daley’s speed on the blueline, as well as his personality quickly became prominent parts of the Penguins. Daley was such a large part of team chemistry that he was the first person to receive the Stanley Cup from Sidney Crosby in 2016. Daley’s mother was terminally ill and the gesture underscored his place in the team hierarchy.

Blood and guts center Nick Bonino hobbled to Nashville for a healthy payday.

The man they call “Dad”, Matt Cullen, is currently sitting at home deciding if he has indeed played his final hockey game. Cullen’s veteran leadership was a voice of accountability to all. Head coach Mike Sullivan, on numerous occasions, referred to Cullen as an extension of the coaching staff.

Marc-Andre Fleury, who was part of the Penguins beating heart, is teaching street hockey clinics in Las Vegas. Thousands of words have been written and spoken about his importance to the team. Fleury is now the face of the Vegas Golden Knights.

Replacing Core

For the first time since trading Jordan Staal in 2012, the Penguins are choosing to replace core players. The 2017 Penguins were fortunate–nearly all of their core players returned. The roster remained intact and the 2016 Stanley Cup dynamic remained.

Sidney Crosby’s workplace has changed. A few of his closest friends in the locker room are gone; the guys who had his back when he was frustrated with former head coach Mike Johnston. The guys who helped keep the locker room together when the undercurrent was tearing at them are playing elsewhere. Key supporting players of a team who achieved something no team has in the salary cap era are gone.

Now, the Penguins are searching for players to fill the voids on the ice left by the players who received large free agent paydays. And the locker room will have voids for new players to fill, too.

The biggest challenge to the new players signed and not yet acquired–To replace part of the Penguins giant, indomitable heart.

 

Kimmy Granger at Blush
2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. Frank McCool

    July 8, 2017 at 4:15 am

    A three-peat is a huge longshot in the cap era, as everyone keeps saying. But the players who have remained are a year more experienced. On defense, Schultz should have an even better year. Same with Dumo and Olli. Hunwick will add stability with Daley and Hainsey leaving. Letang’s return will be a huge boost on the blueline. Bryan Rust, Jake G and Rowney are the coming generation of speed and smarts, and know what it takes to win a Cup the hard way after the battles of this past spring. Murray was already number 1 in net and Niemi is no Fleury but he should be solid for under a million. Crosby and Malkin should have good years again. But Kessel could have less leeway with Mike Sullivan now that Rick Tocchet is gone to the Coyotes. Kessel’s back checking has improved but he’ll need to score more than 23 goals with players like Bonino, Kunitz and possibly Cullen gone. Replace the courage showed by those three in the playoffs is a big hole to fill. Ryan Reaves is seen as nothing more than a goon by many but the Penguins did need some toughness to make other teams accountable. Bozak could be a good fit for the 3rd line and putting Kessel on his wing would be worth a shot. They did have good chemistry in Toronto despite being under constant attack by the pack of hyenas there that call themselves hockey reporters. Kadri would be too expensive.
    So do the Penguins have a realistic shot at another Cup? Two of their series this past spring were won in Game 7 overtimes and let’s face it, a couple of bounces and calls going the other way and it could have been Washington or Ottawa moving on.
    With a gruelling 82 game regular season schedule and then the playoff wars, there are countless factors that could stop them. And reproducing the character and persistence of the Cup winning squad is a tall order. But they are among a half dozen teams with a legitimate shot at the title. Considering what it takes to get that far, if they do pull it off after all the personnel changes, it’d be nothing short of a miracle.

    • N ancy

      July 10, 2017 at 4:55 pm

      Very well written and excellent analysis….and 3 players in arbritration.For me Kuni leadership wiis is a big loss.I can’t beleive they made no efforet to keep him’Ansult considering what he has done for the pens.Obviously Stevie Y doesn’t feel he is washed up.He probably would of taken less to stay in the burgh.5 players off the roster in one off season is a bit much.I know there are wingers waiting in the wings but they will start in WBS.And no guarantee how fast they will develop to NHL level. I agree that Phil needs to have have a ubetter work ethic in regular season.He doesn’t check and avoids checks.Nice funny guy but easy to be an Iron man playing that way.

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